Tribute to Amy Kotkin

photoI am very lucky to have spent so much of my career with Amy Kotkin, Smithsonian Journeys’ Director since 1995. She retired last week after a brilliant career at the Institution, where she held several important posts during her decades-long tenure there.
Amy was at the helm of the largest, most comprehensive museum-based travel program on earth, through good times and challenging ones. She rode the wave of the economic boom of the “go-go 1990s” and bore the shock of 9/11 and Americans’ ambivalence to travel at all for some time afterwards. She helped open up destinations previously off limits to Americans, like Saudi Arabia and Cuba, and pioneered new ways to see the world, whether by private jet, chartered train, or small ship.

She challenged us to scale new heights of creativity with the types of programs we proposed to Smithsonian Journeys each year. She allowed us to contribute our talents to the Smithsonian brand, which has always been an honor and a pleasure for our staff.

We will sorely miss our smart, funny, fair-minded, forward thinking, passionate, practical, kind colleague in travel! Our gratitude and best wishes, Amy! We are excited to hear where you will travel next.

Chase Poffenberger


It just doesn’t get any better than this.

MaryBeth Mullen, Deputy Director of Smithsonian Journeys, took her son Jack on the Smithsonian’s Family Odyssey Through Greece trip earlier this month. She shares her impressions and experiences. To read about future trips in Greece aboard the Pantheon, please see:

If you are interested in learning more about this family voyage and others, email MaryBeth at

I just returned from Smithsonian Journey’s Family Odyssey in Greece, our family cruise in the Greek Islands! Our group of 19 parents and children enjoyed calm seas and warm weather on this incredible learning vacation. We began in Athens, and then boarded the Pantheon, our private yacht, for seven days of sailing in the Aegean. Following are highlights of our journey.

Exceptional Educational Travel: Our study leader, Eleni Zachariou, was a master. She is so well versed in ancient history that the stories just flowed and we were enchanted. Our youth leader, Eleni Premeti, captured the children’s imagination immediately. She told them stories about the ancient Greeks on Delos, led them on a charge of the fortress at Mycenae, home to Agamemnon’s Palace, and engaged them in the ancient work of Aristophanes through a short reenactment of his play, The Birds.

The Ship and Crew of the Pantheon: The ship was fabulous! Sparkling, clean, and relaxed. The Captain was very eager to raise the sails and allow us to swim off the ship, which was enormously popular with the children (there were safety precautions in place with one crew member in the zodiac watching the kids, and two other crew member in the water with the kids). We used tenders at several ports, which worked well with this group. Our hotel manager also played photographer. He took photos of the kids swimming off the boat, and photos of our passengers enjoying the views. We all enjoyed our “down time” on board this comfortable ship. There was some star gazing at night and it was amazing; kids also got a tour of the ship from the captain, he taught them how to tie a true nautical knot.

Shore Excursions: Our island shore excursions were well paced and meticulously timed. The sequence of visits worked well. In Delos, Eleni presented a content rich history on ancient Greek history. Our Naxos day was truly rich with several private home visits. Mykonos and Santorini included cultural tours, complemented by beach and swim opportunities. Upon arrival to Milos, the captain found a private beach for us to tender to where we enjoyed a swim. At Nafplion, we toured some of the most dramatic sites, the ancient theater and temples, followed by the play, the Birds, starring the kids! We all sat down on the large stones that were in a circle, then watched the children come out slowly in their costumes of wings and beaks and headdresses. They all had a role, and they performed beautifully. The final island visit to Aegina included stops at several temples and a very personal and welcoming lunch at Eleni Z.’s home. We all enjoyed a wonderful lunch and sweeping views of the surrounding olive groves. Eleni P. staged a treasure hunt for the kids by providing key words and descriptions of things learned on the trip while they ran all over the house and property to find the treasures.


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