Travel is a fun way to see other parts of the world, discover different cultures and traditions, try new food and more. Cambridge Enhanced Senior Living decided to simulate the experience of travel through decorations, food and activities, and took its residents on a weeklong virtual cruise back in mid-September in celebration of National Assisted Living Week.
“A virtual cruise gave our residents the ability to visit several countries without actually having to pack a bag! In addition to the excitement of going on a trip, the residents also had the opportunity to learn about new cultures, hear various types of music, taste foods from countries around the world and more,” said Kathleen Leypoldt, executive director of Cambridge Enhanced Senior Living. “This was a fun activity, but extremely educational as well.”
They first stopped in Jamaica on Monday, then went to Greece on Tuesday, Cuba on Wednesday and France on Thursday. And on Friday, they returned to the “home port” of Moorestown, NJ, where the community is located.
“We thought these countries would be popular because they each have quite distinctive cultures. We wanted to choose exciting ports that would allow us to plan a wide variety of activities so there was something for every resident to look forward to and enjoy,” said Leypoldt. “Every day, we had activities that truly helped to bring our ports to life for our residents.”
One of the main activities involved traveling around the countries—using virtual reality technology. “We offered VR tours of each country,” Leypoldt began. “In Cuba, we went to a classic car show. In France, we visited the Louvre. We saw the ruins in Athens, Greece, and took a general island tour of beautiful Jamaica.”
They used both VR goggles and projected the VR videos onto a screen, so residents could enjoy the experience whichever way they preferred.
“Many residents said they felt like they could reach out and really touch things,” Leypoldt continued. “Others who had previously visited some of these countries in real life said the VR experience made them feel like they were right back on those vacations.”
They also incorporated samba into the virtual cruise. “[It’s] our seated exercise class that combines rhythmic dance moves and music,” Leypoldt explained.
Food was another significant part of the travel experience.
“Everyone loves to eat!” Leypoldt said. “These countries offer delicious culinary flavors [that] our chefs were able to share with residents every day.”
In addition to meals inspired by the countries’ cuisines, the community also hosted daily happy hours.
“Our residents loved trying new foods at lunch each day, as well as [the] port-inspired happy hour snacks and signature cocktails,” explained Julia Jackson, life enrichment director at Cambridge Enhanced Senior Living. “This was truly a highlight of the cruise.”
Happy hour consisted of ham and pineapple skewers with piña coladas in Jamaica, chips and tzatziki dip (each resident made their own) with limeade in Greece, pigs in blankets with mojitos in Cuba and crepes with wine in France. And when they returned to “home port,” they had caprese salad with ‘Jersey Fresh’ tomatoes.
They also had a “captain’s lunch” on Friday to celebrate the end of the virtual cruise.
“We invited residents’ families to join us, and offered carving stations and farm-to-table food options,” said Leypoldt. “This was a great way to celebrate ‘Jersey Fresh’—with roasted vegetables from the beautiful farmlands of South Jersey.”
They also had some food catered for the “captain’s lunch.” Both the taquitos (the appetizer) and pie (the dessert) came from a couple local restaurants in Moorestown.
And, in staying with the travel theme, they gave out mini suitcases filled with candy to wrap up the celebration.
“My favorite thing [about the cruise] was watching the residents receive the passports we made for them. Every resident got a sticker in their passport at the end of the day, showing the day’s port. They really got a kick out of this creative activity,” Leypoldt said. “If we ever do something like this again, we may encourage residents, their families and staff to wear colors of the countries’ flags and hats/costumes.”
Additionally, the virtual cruise helped change some residents’ attitudes about the countries they visited. For example, Leypoldt noted that the community has some veterans who had served in Cuba, and those residents didn’t have the fondest memories of the country.
“But we gave them a different viewpoint [and] talked about the culture, the people and the food—and, of course, the cool cars,” she said. “This gave people a much different perspective of the country than they had before.”
The theme of this year’s National Assisted Living Week was “Joyful Moments”—and, according to Leypoldt, there were definitely many of those during the virtual cruise.
“It was an amazing week, and the smiles on the residents’ faces told us everything we needed to know—everyone really enjoyed themselves,” she said.