Embarkation at its finest
On September 6th, we woke up in the Radisson Blu Hotel Hamburg Airport, which is so close to the airport that it could be considered Terminal 2. A last-minute run to Aldi was in store for us this final morning on land. We had found this nearby supermarket the previous day and had already visited once. Stocked with Trader Joe salads, German snacks, and 2 euro bottles of wine, we made one last snack run.
Around noon, many Semester at Sea people (SASers) began congregating in the hotel lobby. We introduced ourselves to faculty, staff, and families, all of whom we would be spending the next four months with on a ship going around the world. It’s funny to meet someone and know that you will be living in such close quarters of them for an extended period of time. We will be spending a majority of our time within 500 feet of each other, and there is no way around that.
We gathered outside the hotel and loaded up our luggage into a trailer pulled by the double decker bus. Some brought more than others. I thought we did okay with luggage. Between us, we brought one large piece of luggage, 2 medium sized backpacks (our travel backpacks), and two small backpacks with personal items. It seemed reasonable but not as minimal as I feel like I would usually bring. Since it’s just a matter of getting it on the ship and unpacking, I wasn’t as concerned about it.
Three hours later, we arrive to Bremerhaven and enter the shipping port. Our bus zig zagged all around the port, mostly used for commercial shipping rather than passenger ships, and we arrived at the terminal with our new home waiting for us. The MV World Odyssey is what we will call home for the next four months. Leased by Semester at Sea for nine months out of the year, it is converted into the MS Deutschland in the summer months to be used as a German 5-star luxury cruise liner and travels anywhere from northwest Russia to Iceland. The ship, as you’ll see in the pictures, is as elegant and ornate as you might expect a German luxury cruise ship to be. On the other hand, it’s not exactly what you would expect for a ship carrying almost 600 college students. The 10-foot classical mural hanging over reception, the statues of busts of German artists, and the chandelier and table lamps in the Kaisersaal Union room.
Embarking was a pretty simple process; just show your passport and go through security. We found our way to our room, located on Deck 5 right by reception. After putting the luggage in the room, we immediately started exploring the ship with our map. We searched out the library, the Kaisersaal Union, the Fritz Lounge (quiet area + lounge only available for non-students), the Fitness Center, the Lido Restaurant and Berlin Restaurant (dining halls), and the swimming pool. Yes, we are sailing around the world with a swimming pool and a fitness center.
Most of the classrooms are makeshift. One dining room is converted into a classroom, the Kaisersaal Union (seats 600) is used for large seminars and is carved into two different sides for smaller classes, the Lido Terrace is a well-lit lounge area used as a classroom. There are almost no “desks”, per say, but students use clipboards and books as hard surfaces on which to write.
When we embarked on the ship, Semester at Sea had quite literally just taken over the lease. The SAS home staff and the ship crew completely changed over the ship to a college campus in the matter of a few days. The expensive jewelry store was converted into the Executive Deans’ office. The souvenir shop was converted into the campus store. The cigar lounge on Deck 8 was turned into a cozy classroom. Most cabin beds were separated to accommodate two college roommates rather than a middle-aged German couple. It was quite the process, but it all worked out and they were successful in changing it to the Semester at Sea campus.
We had a three-day orientation on the ship with all faculty and staff before students were on the ship. In total, there are 27 staff, 27 faculty, and I believe around 30-40 family members (including around 15 kids). It was calm and quiet when we had everyone but the students onboard, almost like the calm before the storm.
The evening before students embarked, there was a parent reception on the ship. Any parents who made the trip to Bremerhaven for invited on the ship for a few hours for dinner and drinks. It was fun to see the parents and their excitement as they toured the ship and got a glimpse into what their childrens’ lives would be like as they sail around the world. The Executive Dean said it best when he said to the all the parents, “I know what you’re thinking. We’re all here. Crew is ready. Let’s just set sail now.” I think most of the parents would’ve been okay with being on the ship themselves without their children.
Finally, student embarkation day came on September 9th (we originally embarked on September 6th). The entire morning and early afternoon brought waves of students onto the ship to see their cabins and explore the ship, exactly what we had done three days earlier. Soon, there were 559 students added to our final number, along with the 170 crew and the faculty and staff and families. At 7PM, we officially departed Bremerhaven. Some parents were there at the port waving to us as we departed Germany. It became real as the distance between the ship and the port widened, and we were soon surrounded by water.