When I first heard about GeekCruises.com a few weeks ago, I was skeptical. Trying to convince upper management today to reimburse the costs of a cruise for the purpose of IT certification training seems far-fetched. The idea initially struck me as an excessive expense, like those usually associated with failed 1999 dot-com firms. But, after some review, the concept makes complete sense.

Business travel is business travel
I’ve always been surprised at how much money companies willingly spend to send employees across the country on short notice to critical meetings that often prove to be less than critical and, in many cases, unnecessary. Sometimes, exorbitant amounts of cash, upward of $10,000, are spent in sending employees to IT training and certification classes.

By contrast, starting for around $2,500 (not counting airfare), IT professionals can sign on for Geek Cruises’ Certification Sail II, which leaves Tampa, FL, on Nov. 9 and returns on Nov. 16 after stopping at such popular locales as Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, and Cozumel.

While on board, IT professionals attend 40 hours of focused certification training. Participants select from either Cisco or Microsoft certification instruction. Specifically, training is provided for the following:

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate exam 640-607
  • Cisco Certified Advanced Routing exam 640-503
  • Cisco Certified Advanced Switching exam 640-504
  • Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional exam 70-210
  • Microsoft Windows 2000 Server exam 70-215

Instead of the training occurring at a plush property in California or Florida, common sites for many IT seminars and conferences, or at an office park in your city’s suburbs, the instruction takes place on a 50,000-ton cruise ship with 10 passenger decks and two outdoor pools. What’s so bad about that? In fact, there are some practical advantages.

Geek Cruises benefits
The fact that attendees are a captive audience is a big plus. If you’re out of the country where no cell phone calls or pages can reach you, it’s safe to say your studying efforts won’t be interrupted by calls from the office. Considering that onboard sessions occur while the boat is at sea, it’s unlikely that attendees will be tempted to skip out on training classes to hit the beach, tour city sites, or attend a sporting event—all of which are risks that exist even when training is conducted without travel.

The fact that attendees are traveling on a cruise ship is another benefit. There are no per diem or meal fees. Entertainment, lodging, and meals are included in the conference cost.

Facility quality is always a concern when signing up for certification instruction. In the case of Geek Cruises, experienced and qualified instructors lead training sessions. McGraw-Hill/Osborne, a well-known IT publisher, supplies the conference training materials. Believe it or not, many of the Cisco classes even include access to lab equipment.

Many companies have placed confidence in Geek Cruises. You wouldn’t be the first to try it. If the concept is good enough for the likes of Microsoft, the U.S. Department of Defense, and Fidelity Investments, among others, it’s likely appropriate for your organization.

Another obvious advantage is easy to overlook: The 40 hours of training are broken up by three days of sightseeing and relaxation. Unlike an intense boot camp, the training sessions are not stacked on top of one another like planes waiting to land at O’Hare. Instead, the training introduces breathing room, which is sure to help attendees relax, unwind, and remember more of the content being taught.

A certification-based cruise really isn’t that expensive, either, compared to other certification training classes and events. Of course, certification cruises have a few drawbacks too.

Geek Cruises drawbacks
The biggest challenge of a Geek Cruises conference is that unless you’re paying out of your own pocket, you’re going to have to sell someone else on the idea. At first glance, seeking funds for a cruise-based conference is likely to be interpreted as a request for a company-sponsored slackfest. But, if you can successfully compare a certification cruise and its benefits to other $2,500 (or higher) seminars or instructor-led courses, you’re halfway home. You’ll still have to justify the airfare. But that shouldn’t be too hard, since most other conferences and events never include airfare in their fees and charges, either.

One of the advantages also has a downside. While being out of the office means your studies won’t be interrupted, it also means that you can’t get to the office if something comes up requiring your attention. Of course, this is no different than if you traveled out of town for a meeting or another special event.

It’s probably also safe to say that your significant other may not be thrilled about the idea of you sailing off on one of these cruises. It’s one thing to tell your mate you’re heading to an IT conference in San Diego or attending a weeklong certification course in town. It’s another to say that you’ll be spending a day in Montego Bay and a day in the Grand Caymans while mixing in some other tourist activities. Your significant other may wish to tag along for the cruise and tourist portions of the journey—which is allowed. Your traveling companion would save approximately $1,495 by not attending the certification training. However, the advantage of not being tempted to skip classes while at sea could easily erode if your significant other tags along.

Another potential problem is simply the fact that you’re on a cruise ship. Unless you’ve taken a few cruises before, you’re likely to find the experience novel and slightly distracting. You’ll need to muster up some self-discipline in order to keep this issue from becoming a problem.

Eckel’s take
I see nothing wrong with studying for a certification exam while traveling on a cruise ship. I think it’s a great idea to break up what are sure to be information-packed and intense sessions with a few rest days, which is exactly what the Geek Cruises program does.

Knowing that the word “cruise” is associated with the training, though, is sure to make the idea a harder sell within your organization. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. These are legitimate training courses led by qualified individuals. Further, the pricing doesn’t seem unreasonable, especially when compared to the cost of instructor-led classes for the material that’s covered during the cruise.

If Microsoft or Cisco certification isn’t in your plans, and you like the idea of cruise-based seminars, you’re still in luck. Geek Cruises offers several other floating forums. Upcoming excursions include a Linux event, a World Wide Web development conference, a .NET development voyage, a Perl seminar, and even a Macintosh trip.