Published: January 31st 2012January 20th 2012
Title: Boarding and First Day on the Ship
Location: Nassau, Bahamas
First day on the ship!!
Got up this morning early, ate a quick breakfast and got Starbucks, made sure everything was in my duffels, checked my email one last time, and got in a cab with other SAS students and parents to go to the ship. I felt very excited and ready to get going as we drove through the morning island traffic to the port. Upon arrival I got in a line and was given a nametag and paperwork to start filling out. I started to feel a little nervous and anxious as I was overwhelmed with the feeling that there was a lot to do. It hit me that this was actually happening and I could see all the students hugging their parents as their parents cried, and then they would step through a door with Bahamian military officials. I got to that point and said my goodbyes with mom crying and hugging me so tight I thought she might never let go and then I stepped through the door with my bags and into a line of
security, waving goodbyes behind me to mom and dad.
I waited my turn and chatted with a guy from Canada as we shuffled our bags slowly forward in a strange wharf warehouse that had all sorts of giant colorful Chinese decorations being stored in the corners, maybe for Chinese New Year. Finally it was my turn. My bags were scanned, my backpack searched, I walked through the metal detector and was wanded and searched. They loaded my bags on a truck with the rest and I was instructed to continue through a cement hallway. I entered a room where I was to hand over my passport, yellow fever vaccine information and my Bahamas immigration form. Well crap, Dad had the Bahama immigration card. I panicked for a second as I realized where it was: back at the hotel. I explained what happened and they said it was not necessary, so I took a breath and moved on. I walked out of the dim room and out into the hot sunny day on the dock. There it was…the MV Explorer!! What a great looking ship! The Semester at Sea logo printed huge up on the smoke stacks, blue
and white with all the little windows lined up on the outside; my home for the next 105 days…WOW!
I walked all the way down the dock to the gangway (ship entrance) where two guys with a point and shoot camera met me who wanted me to participate in their interview. With excitement and curiosity I agreed and they asked me a few questions about Semester at Sea while filming me and then they asked me what word came to mind when I thought Caribbean? I thought for a second and suddenly said Pirates!! Realizing it was a cheesy answer, I laughed and said, “I guess that’s only a good one if they actually still exist, which is something to worry about if they do.” As I stepped onto the metal platform between the dock and the ship I heard my name being yelled behind me. I turned around to see my parents and a Semester at Sea lady sticking their heads out a door and waving at me and taking pictures of me entering the ship.
I entered the dim lit gangway struggling to see after squinting in the bright Bahamian sun. I
walked through a metal detector again and was instructed to go up the stairs. There are seven decks (levels) on the ship and I had entered on level two. As I started up the grand looking stairs I took notice to the wood walls, nice carpet, perfectly shined metal handrails and glass engraved with quotes hanging on the walls. I felt like I was about to enter a fancy ballroom in a five star hotel or something. I passed deck after deck of beautiful looking hallways and rooms to check out later until I reached deck six. I suppose I had a confused look on my face, because a guy introduced himself and pointed to a table I was supposed to go to. I was in a very large room with many nice cushioned swivel chairs all lined in rows in a half circle around a dance floor with a piano. The ceiling had fancy woodwork as well and the drapes looked like something from a mansion. It looked like a performance room. It was called the Union and was currently being used to check in everyone who boarded the ship. I was given my Semester at Sea ID at
one table, a sheet with all of my personal info and what I still needed to do on another, and then came up on a table that gave me a sheet of what semester at sea trips I was already signed up for. They told me right at this moment I could sign up for any other trips I wanted but it had to be right now. I felt anxious again as I had no idea this was going to happen and was not sure if I wanted more trips. I had figured I would figure that out after I had made friends and learned what they were doing, but no, right now! So I looked over all the options again and realized that I had been told by a previous SAS student to go on the SAS trips for the first three ports and plan the rest myself. Well I had only one day out of five planned for Brazil and only one day out of four planned for Ghana, the second and third ports. So, panicked and a little worried I signed up for an Amazon explorer trip and an African drumming and dance workshop. I then helped
my new Canadian friend look over trips.
Proceeding around the room I talked to the ship doctor about any medical conditions and then was told my room number and that I was free to go. I think I must have looked like a deer in headlights because I just stood there for a minute not knowing what to do or where I should go first, so much to take in! OK room first, maybe my roommate would be there. So I headed back to the stairs and headed down to the third deck. I was so lost. My Room number is 3080 but the massive hallways ran the length of the ship so I sped walked down one side until I got in the correct number range. Wait what? The rooms jumped from 3079 to 3081…umm okay, now what? I turned a corner at the front of the ship thinking maybe zeros were in a different area, nope. I walked the hallway again and then felt like an idiot, haha this is only half of the ship and there are no even numbers in this hallway, I’m on the other side. So I went to the correct
never ending hallway of wooden walls and doors and found my new bedroom door.
My name was posted next to it along with my hometown and state and a very nicely decorated blue CD with my name on it. Above mine was my roommate’s: Ashlyn Thompson from Houston, Texas. My heart sank. Great, I have a high maintenance Texan for a roommate. I immediately stopped myself, “Brynn don’t stereotype, she is probably very nice and you will become good friends and it will work out great!” So with that I opened the door with my new ID, which did not look like me and confused everyone because I still had 17” of hair in the ID picture, and dragged my duffels that had been conveniently placed in front of my door into my new room. Empty; she wasn’t on the ship yet. My room was very nice, placed in the direct center of the ship where there is the least rocking. There are two small twin beds on either side. We each have a small three-drawer bedside table and share a little glass table and chair, a built in vanity/desk and chair, a built into the wall
mini TV and fridge with three drawers underneath. The closet is maybe four feet long with shoe racks at the bottom and a side shelving area with six shelves. I thought it was incredibly nice looking and spacious given the small area and my expectations. Opposite the closet is a tiny bathroom, just big enough for a small toilet, sink and a mini shower. Well I wasn’t expecting that at all, so YAY for personal bathrooms! I like it! The window is bigger then I expected too! I was too excited to learn more about this fancy ship, so I left unpacking to be done later and went exploring.
I decided I wanted to wander on every deck from front to back of the ship and see where everything was. Deck two through four I discovered are only rooms, besides the restricted areas. Just long forever-going narrow hallways of doors with name tags and fancy wood doors. On deck five I started at the front of the ship and walked towards the back discovering that there were still some rooms with bigger hallways and bigger doors that were spread further apart, probably nicer bigger rooms for faculty
and Life Long Learners. Also on this floor was a circular open area called Tymitz Square, where there are bulletin boards of information and several desks, field office, activates and the main info/pursers desk. Some of the bulletin boards have pictures of everyone on the ship with their name. In the center was a big open circle where you could look up to the next level. Continuing there were more rooms and the hallway eventually turned a corner and opened up into the entrance to the main dining hall. The dining hall was very nice. It looked like a ballroom fancy dinner restaurant with mirrors on the ceilings encircling big glass chandelier. Windows around the entire room with a view of the ocean made for the perfect dinning experience around the big oval tables with soft blue chairs. Near the entrance was an island table that looked like a bar. Just outside the dining hall were also doors to outside decks, which I explored and found lifeboats and beautiful views off the ships side of the city of Nassau.
Continuing up to deck six I was at the back and I discovered a place called the garden
lounge. Not quite as nice of a dining area, more like a cute diner also lined with windows. The coolest part about this room was the colorful columns of bubbles going up the walls on either side of the buffet line. The room also led out to the first real nice outside deck I had seen. There were tables and chairs all sitting on the large deck that overlooked the ocean. Half covered by the deck above and half not it was the perfect place to dine outside. I am so excited to eat out here and watch sunsets! This also had a nice granite topped bar.
Going back inside I noticed two classrooms on the side of the garden lounge. I continued out and walked down a hallway past the stairs and into an amazing place called the piano lounge. This ship was way too nice to have been built for students! No wonder this semester was so expensive. Filled with tables, comfy chairs, couches, a piano and a nice sized snack bar with all the candies, coffee, chips and cup noodles you could ever want. The perfect place to sit on your computer, read and
do some homework in the evenings, maybe even play some games with friends. Down the hallway a little further still were two nice looking classrooms; one with desks and one with tables and chairs. They were fairly small so I knew my classes wouldn’t be all that big; hurray for small classes and more one on one time with teachers! The other side of this hallway was a huge display of rocks, gems and minerals each in their own glass case lined up on the wall! Wow!
Then I stumbled across something I had heard was on the ship but wasn’t sure would be as nice as they were. There are three little shops all in a circle in the hallway. One is a SAS merchandise store, one a tiny bookstore and the other a supply store of pens, notebooks, lanyards and small tubes of shampoo and sunscreen, basically tons of miniature things that people may run out of or have forgotten. I immediately promised myself not to spend too much money on anything in these stores because the prices of all extra food and merchandise is twice that of stores on land in the US.
Back in the square, I was now on the top floor and could look down on the desks. Upstairs on either side of the circle was the ship library and tech lab with a few rows of computers. I walked past another classroom with desks and was back in the large crowded Union. To get up to the final deck I had to go back to the garden lounge and up the stairs. Deck seven is apparently only accessible to us students on the back half of the ship, but what I found was really cool!! The outside deck was covered in sun lounge chairs and tables with chairs. In the direct middle was a small pool about 5 feet deep with the SAS logo at the bottom. At the very back of the deck under the canvas canopy was an even bigger snack bar with a grill! They made smoothies, ice cream, cookies, pizza, hamburgers, grilled cheese and had all of the same delicious snacks the other bar did. Of course the snack bars all cost extra compared to our already paid for meals in the dining halls, though I bet they will be a nice change
to have now and then when the dining hall food gets old.
To the side of all of this were weights and all of the common work out equipment. Continuing around the outside of the ship on this deck there were outside basketball courts and volleyball courts all netted in. There were places for all sorts of activities and exercise. Continuing inside I found something crazy!! There is a wellness center on this ship, which includes a salon to get your hair cut and your nails done, a spa to get massages, facials and waxes. And of course a workout room with treadmills, stair masters, bikes and ellipticals. I couldn’t believe this was here, but I guess it could come in handy. Lastly I learned that the health center was back on deck two and that deck one was off limits due to it containing storage and all of the ships workings. Deck eight (where the bridge is located) is also off limits, except for the one viewing deck where you can look out over the front of the ship.
Done exploring, I decided to go unpack so I didn’t have to think about
it later. I went back to my room to find my new roommate sitting on her bed crying. We introduced ourselves and I asked her what was wrong. She was just in shock and was having a really hard time leaving her family behind. Turns out I like her a lot. She is a very nice girl who does not fit the stereotype I had placed at all. We got to know each other for a short amount of time until she decided she wanted some air and left. While she was gone I unpacked. I realized that she had more full luggage then I did so I gave her a bit of extra space since I did not need it. I took half the closet, two shelves and one drawer so that she had plenty of room. I put my magnets and few photos up on the walls, along with my magnetic calendar, placed toiletries in a portion of the cabinet under the sink and determined what I would be using least and left it in my duffels which I flattened and rolled under the bed.
I jumped as a loud voice boomed over the speakers
that I did not know existed. “Good afternoon and welcome aboard the MV Explorer. At this point all passengers have boarded. The ship was originally scheduled to depart within the hour, however we have ten students who are stuck in Florida who are having issues with their Brazilian visas and they cannot board the ship until they have them. We do not want to leave them behind so we have decided to depart at 8pm this evening when they arrive. There will be an emergency lifeboat drill in ten minutes. Please look at the card on the back of your door to locate your muster station. Please wear warm clothing, close-toed shoes, a hat and your life vest from your cabin and convene at your muster station. This is a drill, but please take it seriously, wear the proper clothing and remain quiet at your station while attendance is taken. Thank you.” So I changed into the proper clothing and got the life vest out of my closet. When the signal was made everyone flooded out of their rooms like a herd of cattle down the hallways. Moving up the stairs was slow. Everyone flooded out onto the outside decks
at their specified muster stations. It looked pretty strange and reminded me of the Broncos as the bright blue decks were covered with people organized in orange life vests. One crewmember held a sign that said PLEASE BE QUIET over the crowd while the other with a clip board called out each cabin number and waited for the response of its two inhabitants. Slowly but surely he got through the entire list as people whispered their conversations out of boredom. Some people hadn’t heard their number or were in the wrong place, which took a while to sort out. Once everyone was accounted for a hush went over the crowd as the captain of the ship walked all decks inspecting that everyone was properly prepared and everything set to go with other high status crewmembers following behind. All was clear and we were free to go.
Ashlyn knew of someone through a mutual friend on the ship who she introduced me to, Mary Witt with a double first name. We all decided to go to dinner together, being the only people we knew. We went to the main dining hall and wandered down the buffet line filling
our plates with salad, pasta and meat. We sat almost directly in the center of the room with the chandelier hanging from the ceiling near by. Two women who are Life Long Learners asked if they could join us- Holly and Debbie. They were both great to talk to and Holly had done SAS as a college student. She talked all about her journey and how she had ended up back on the ship this time and was planning to do everything she felt she had missed the first time around. She owned her own company, was recently divorced and had the travel bug. So here she was on SAS with her own room this time, auditing classes that sounded neat and planning to do extensive travel in every country we stopped in. She was very excited and enthusiastic. She gave us some words of wisdom and explained to us how strange it would be to arrive back in the US and back home where we would have extreme culture shock and want to be back on the ship after a few days. None of us could believe that, but figured she would probably be right.
in the evening we had a ship wide meeting to introduce and welcome everyone to the ship. The Union was packed with the aisles and all floor space covered in people. The academic and executive deans introduced themselves as well as our captain from Croatia named Roman Krstanovic. Here I was informed that this was the 108th voyage of SAS. The MV Explorer was actually formerly a small cruise ship, that explains a lot of why it was so nice on the inside. The company that had it built went bankrupt so SAS bought it from the bank at half price of around $87 million and they still owe around $60 of that! There were several other SAS ships before this one and apparently weren’t as nice. Another interesting fact is that SAS is a nonprofit organization meaning that even though it costs so much, all of the money goes towards staff and faculty of the ship, maintenance of the ship, fuel, food, paying off the ship and other necessary expenses, but none of it actually goes to the University of Virginia which is the current sponsor of SAS. I learned that this ship is 590ft long, is the fastest
ship of its size in the world traveling a maximum of 28 knots or 32 miles an hour. The maximum capacity of the ship is 836 people but on this voyage there are 780. 570 of them are students, 70 are crew and 58 are their families with approximately 32 of them being dependant children age 2-17 and 50 are life long learners. There are 50 people from CU Boulder among other Coloradans and there is one other HSU student named Sam along with many other people from California. They also mentioned that the ship was very sustainable, but I have no idea how.
We went over tomorrow’s events and then the dean focused on the 10 people who were not yet on the ship. They were still stuck, so we were going to spend the night in Nassau to wait for them. He explained that this was the first time in SAS that anything like this had happened and that we would continue to wait for them if necessary. People seemed unhappy about our delayed departure, but if it were any of us stuck without visas we would want the ship to wait for us too.
The dean got all of them on the phone where they proceeded to yell over the phone, “Please wait for us!!!” The entire ship replied, “WE WILL!!” and clapped. They were all very excited. Apparently many people had had trouble with getting visas and correct passports back from Brazil. I was thankful that I had no troubles with mine.
Next up we had our sea meetings. I didn’t realize what this was, but there are basically RAs that are assigned to certain resident halls of the ship and we are all a big team that does stuff together and competes against the others in fun games. Silly me misread which sea I was in and went to the wrong meeting though. So, it is time to sleep for the first night on the ship.
There are more photos below