I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about making the MV Explorer my home for 4 months. It is a new ship and I knew it had nicer cabins and nicer indoor space, but wasn’t sure about what to expect. The ship we sailed on during the Spring 2003 voyage, the Universe Explorer, was a 1950’s steamship. It certainly had its quirks and unpleasant issues so I am a bit surprised to find that I had formed an emotional attachment to it. Unfortunately, it was scrapped on a beach in India so it will never sail again.
The Universe Explorer had a long history both as a cruise ship as well as with Semester at Sea. A fantastic website shows photos taken during its various incarnations as well as deck plans which is why I have provided the link below. The Universe Explorer had a lot of outside decking available and I spent a great deal of time sitting on deck reading, listening to music, walking or simply staring at the horizon. This was particularly important because the cabins were not exactly where one would want to spend a lot of time.
The new ship, the MV Explorer, is a bit narrower and just over 20 feet shorter than the Universe Explorer (the old ship). The cabins are larger (and we have a real window instead of a small porthole) which means that a lot of outdoor deck space has been eliminated. So, we have a trade off. The cabins are more comfortable and pleasant, but I am guessing that I will spend less time outside on deck which was a wonderful part of the previous voyage. So far, the seas have been rough and winds (some gale force apparently) strong enough that they’ve closed the decks and it hasn’t been an option. The lack of deck space will eliminate the walks I enjoyed. I do have plans of testing out a route on Deck 5 that involves going in and outside a lot and I am not sure how well that will be received. Some of what appears to be deck space in the plans shown in the link below is actually outdoor balcony space for the swankier cabins and an outdoor sports court that has nets at either end. We are in cabin 4104 and will have lots of students on our deck…aargh!
One of the great parts about a Semester at Sea voyage is the camaraderie and friendships formed with fellow participants. One feature of the Universe Explorer that facilitated this was the deck plan. One deck housed the main dining hall at the back (with outdoor seating), the Union, the field office, the deans offices, the campus store, etc. with the Union being midship. This meant that most people spent some time on that deck each day and ran into one another in the Union where impromptu visits would take place. Its location encouraged people who did not know each other well to chat and for increased social interactions. The Union in the MV Explorer is at the front of the ship (bad for seasickness) and does not seat the whole community. So, global studies – a mandatory class for ALL participants – will not bring everyone together. It can be watched on closed-circuit TV.
For now, I am keeping my mind open about this ship and how well it will function for Semester at Sea. We are still meeting new people and it is much too early to formulate opinions about any of them.
The food is better than I remember – as with our last voyage there is always milk, yogurt, cereal and fruit available as well as French toast, fried potatoes, sausage, etc. available at breakfast, but at lunch and dinner in addition to the options in the buffet there is a pasta station and soup. The lunch and dinner buffet always include iceberg lettuce with cucumber slices, tomatoes, shredded carrot and sometimes red bell pepper as well as some sort of fish and meat, potatoes and vegetables. Pretty much the type of food you get if you go to a meeting. Not terrible, but not great. I also remember that the quality of the food declined once the students boarded the ship. Tonight is a bon voyage “party” – a time when the parents can come on board and see the ship. The students will board tomorrow. Then we’ll see how the food shakes out!
My apologies for the lack of pictures, but sea sickness and figuring out a new camera don’t mix! I hope the seas are semi-calm on our way out for the sake of the students and so that I can get some pictures taken.