Life Aboard the MV Explorer

Oceans and Seas » Pacific
May 2nd 2012
Published: May 2nd 2012
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A lot of people have asked me what it is like to travel around the world on a ship so I have pulled together some random thoughts on the matter. There are approximately 650 students, from gap year students through graduating seniors; 100 or so faculty and staff from well known institutions like Princeton, Cornell, Stanford and the like to small, to obscure schools that no one outside of the local community has ever heard of; around 50 children ages 2 through 17 who are traveling with their faculty or staff parents; and 150 members of the crew, most of whom we never see.

Our vessel is 590 feet long, which means that no matter how hard you try, you can’t get very far away from anyone. We have only a handful of communal spaces – and only one of which is for faculty and staff only, the rest is teeming with college kids no matter the time of day. Generally, we consider our lounge our living room since that is where we hang out when we get off work. For a few short hours of everyday the bar in there is open and the bartender Jerry has a very heavy hand. There are also disco lights as well, which we use for dance parties, both impromptu and planned.

We have two dining rooms, cafeteria style. The quality of the food is ok, but…..well…. similar. The joke of the voyage is that all we ever eat is pork, pasta, and potatoes. And it’s funny because it’s true. The ports in which they provision the ship are few and far between so usually the fruit and veggies are not very fresh. Our tomatoes are a pale pinkish red, our lettuce is white… you get the point. I recall thinking at the beginning of the voyage that the food was good. Now, most days I dread eating. When one really gets desperate you also have the “7th deck pool bar” where you can pay for hamburgers, smoothies, bags of chips, sodas, etc. As the days wear on, the 7th deck has shifted from a luxury to a necessity for sanity. For as bad as the food is, the dining experience has one major plus: we have the most spectacular view for every meal. And when the timing is right, the sunsets over the ocean just blow us away. Often the meal will just stop and everyone will watch the sun go down, many people taking pictures.

Some people don’t get dressed. Don’t get me wrong, we all got dressed at the beginning of the voyage, but we reached a point somewhere along the way that people just started wearing pajamas for the better part of the day (not me, by the way, I’m just saying). Many of the students think they are wearing pants, but really… They look like they forgot to put pants on before leaving their cabin. Ah, college students. As we have progressed across the globe, people have also taken to wearing some pretty funny stuff that they have bought along the way. It is cool to see stuff from all over the world, but I often wonder if they would really wear those pants in their land lives.

We live where we work. My office can’t be more than 20 feet from my cabin. Which more often than not means that we are always working. Even if I’m walking somewhere in the middle of the night, someone (students and faculty alike) will stop me to ask a question and then I find myself in my office putting out a fire before heading back down the hall toward my destination. Every day at sea is a workday and the motto in our office is that we never close. No, that wasn’t my idea. But even if we were to “close” the office at the end of the day, someone would come up to me during dinner (of pasta and potatoes) and ask his or her question there.

The flip side of living where you work is that you also get to hang out with your friends all the time. And I mean all the time. We get to share every meal together, participate in community activities and clubs and events hosted all over the place. The students tend to be quite creative in finding activities to do to avoid studying.

Our internet connection doesn’t work well in general. But specifically, in people’s cabins. So people sprawl all over the hallways in the hopes of getting a better connection. This means that even if you try to focus on whatever you are doing, there are going to be a zillion distractions.

The general mood and condition of this place depend entirely on the mood of the sea. If the seas are rough, it is rough going in our community. Sure, people get seasick. All over the place too, if the seas are really bad. A community full of nauseous people…. Fun! But we also get tossed around quite a bit. Walking down the hallway feels a little like being a pinball that’s bounced all around. And at this point, we take it all in stride that people will fall all over you and you on them. One must also watch out for random stuff to come flying at you while you are sitting quietly in your room, it having just been launched by a particularly jolting wave. It is a funny thing to come in to the office to find it looks like a tornado has struck, with everything everywhere. We have learned to “batten down the hatches” or whatever so that we don’t have to clean up big messes all the time. We joke that we will all leave the ship being addicted to one of the seasickness remedies. The only time that rough seas are not frowned upon is during our dance parties. It is so much fun to dance while the floor is rolling and rocking back a forth. Some people argue it makes them a better dancer to be tossed all around the dance floor. Either way, it sure is fun.

On any given day, the conversations are generally dominated by two things: 1) stories of things that have happened to us in that last port or along the way somewhere and 2) people making plans for what to do in the next port. It is a cool thing to be able to collaborate with 700 other people on where to go and what to do on your upcoming vacation and then be able to download about the experience afterward and compare notes on how it all turned out.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention time changes. We have a lot of them. We have been slowing chipping an hour off of our days over and over and over again. 27 times, to be exact. An hour may not seem like a lot, however, 5 time changes within 6 days is brutal.

And while the conditions are weird at best it is also so. much. fun.


2nd May 2012

Hi Kelly,
Loved the overview, opinions and descriptions. We look forward to meeting you soon. Happy travels.

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