Posted on Monday, August 22, 2011 by Shawn Dake
Ship Shape, A Bow-To-Stern Tour of the MV EXPLORER
Shawn J. Dake
All photographs by Shawn J. Dake, unless otherwise noted.
Facts about the MV EXPLORER
Owner: Institute For Shipboard Education / Semester At Sea
Builders: Blohm + Voss Shipyard, Germany, Yard Number 962
Original Name: OLYMPIA EXPLORER (Constructed as OLYMPIC EXPLORER)
Completed: April, 2002 delivery to Royal Olympia Cruises
Present Service: Entered service for Semester At Sea in 2004 on charter basis
Purchased: December, 2007
Gross Tonnage: 24,318 tons
Length: 590 feet (180.45 meters)
Beam: 84 feet (25.50 meters)
Draft: 24 feet (7.3 meters)
Passenger Capacity: 836 double occupancy
Propulsion: Twin Screw, controllable pitch propellers. Four main 9L46C Wartsila NSD engines generating 9,450kW of power each with four additional 2,000kW auxiliary engines. Total power 37,800kW.
Cruising Speed: 22 knots with only two of the main engines running. Cruising speed on four main engines, 27.5 knots. At full power, maximum speed is estimated at 33 knots, or nearly 38 miles per hour.
Academic Sponsor: University Of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
The EXPLORER is a gem of a small ship. Within modern, angular exterior lines, the interior contains an assortment of attractive lounges, classrooms and dining areas. Staterooms and suites are found on five of the seven passenger decks, arranged in eleven categories with seven basic cabin configurations. Perfectly suited to the type of educational voyages it undertakes for much of the year, it is also a very comfortable cruise ship which retains nearly all of its original features and charm. This story will take you on a tour of nearly everything the EXPLORER has to offer onboard.
The topmost deck accessible to passengers is the observation platform forward on Deck 8. The location commands a view in all directions and is an excellent spot to watch port arrivals, river or canal transits, and at night can be a darkened platform for stargazing.
Only the forward-most part of Deck 8 is accessible to passengers. This section is stepped up slightly from the rest of the deck providing space for the domed ceiling in the lounge below. Everything aft of the observation deck is designated as Crew Only. The deck continues past the base of the funnel ending one-level above the Pool Deck at the stern.
Deck 7 is the highest deck containing both public rooms and suites, while also being the primary level for outdoor activities. Forward a large open deck provides views forward and to both sides. As on many ships the forward section is restricted with navigational equipment, so passengers can not quite overlook the bow.
The open deck surrounds the Glazer Lounge, formerly known as the Aventurine Panoramic Lounge. Nearly all of the directional signs aboard the EXPLORER still reference the names of the decks and public rooms as they were known in the Royal Olympia Cruises era, however the rooms themselves have new monikers.
Besides the great view, the Glazer Lounge serves a wide variety of functions, which themselves vary depending what type of voyage the ship is on. During the day it is a quiet lounge, lightly used by guests reading or relaxing. While on Semester At Sea voyages, this room is the faculty and staff lounge as well as a retreat for Lifelong Learners, those non-student adult passengers who travel on the long, educational voyages.
During Enrichment Voyages which are open to everyone, the 138-seat lounge transforms into a late-night discotheque, continuing its original purpose. At various times the Glazer Lounge is also used for private receptions, cocktail parties and Sunday worship services.
Just aft of the stair landing are the finest accommodations aboard the EXPLORER. Twelve Deluxe Oceanview “Sky” Suites are aligned, six on each side, with spacious balconies. Each Suite has a name in addition to a room number.
At the entry to each suite is a bathroom with a tub and shower. There is generous wardrobe and drawer space, more than ample for long voyages. Beyond the bedroom, with a Queen size bed, is a sitting area outfitted with a coffee table, chair and sofa which can be opened for an additional bed as needed. Floor to ceiling glass doors open to the very large balconies equipped with two sun loungers. While all of the suites are similar in size the aft two #7011 and #7012 are the largest.
Just beyond the Suites, Deck 7 dead ends at the funnel casing. To proceed aft you need to exit to the open deck. The port side is unimpeded space, while on the starboard side is a netted area for sports such as volleyball or basketball. Windscreens separate the aft end from the pool area beyond.
There are actually two gymnasium areas, one on deck and one indoors. Both are well patronized, especially on voyages with students. The spa offers a beauty salon, sauna, massage and treatment rooms with most services priced well below other cruise ships.
Passing through a heavy wooden door with a large porthole, you emerge on the lido deck surrounding the pool. The Bar at the Pool Bistro features a colorful mosaic mural created by the Italian artist Ignazio Moncada, and dated to when the ship was built in 2000/2001.
Just around the corner from the bar, on the portside, there is a grill that serves cooked-to-order, hamburgers and hot dogs during the lunch hour. A large canvas shelter covers the otherwise open-air deck providing protection from the sun and the rain, although without a breeze it can get hot in the tropics. There are ample tables and chairs to enjoy a casual lunch or a cocktail. Just beyond is the ship’s only swimming pool, complete with two shallow areas on the sides to cool off in.
Passengers can sit around the pool on wide, raised-teak areas on either side creating a circular feel. Two round, tiled showers behind the pool complete the scene. Comfortable deck chairs were available during the day, and carefully stowed away at night. The view looking aft from Deck 7, out over the wake, is unsurpassed.
The heart and soul of the EXPLORER can be found on Deck 6. Whether being used by passengers on cruise voyages or as student classrooms, this is where the majority of people will spend most of their time. The entire deck is devoted to public rooms, with one notable exception. The navigation bridge occupies the forward end, of this level. The arrangement is a bit unusual among passenger ships, and with this vessel’s low profile necessitated some modifications.
The EXPLORER is equipped with retractable bridge wings that can be extended when the ship is maneuvering in port. The bridge is narrower than aboard sistership GRAND VOYAGER, originally built as the OLYMPIC VOYAGER, which has permanent wings built into the structure. With the low position of the bridge, this allows the EXPLORER to safely pass through the locks of the Panama Canal, while the original owner, Royal Olympic Cruises never intended for the VOYAGER to do so. The clean, modern bridge has all the latest high tech equipment, with a center console flanked by two adjustable chairs putting most of the major gadgets within easy reach.
The engine telegraph controls and joy sticks are among the smallest examples found on any ship. Digital readouts show the output of the ship’s four main engines. More traditionally, there are still a few plaques on the aft bulkhead presented to the ship when it made its debut in 2002 as the OLYMPA EXPLORER. A chartroom containing colorful signal flags, books and of course charts, is attached within the bridge separated by a low divider. Tours of the bridge are offered most days at sea.
The former Main Lounge is now called The Union. It has seating for 380 guests. Most social gatherings, such as the Captain’s Cocktail Receptions are held here. The multi-purpose lounge can also be used as the largest lecture hall aboard, a showroom for evening productions, and as a movie theater. On student voyages the entire room can be used for meetings, or the two aft corners can be divided up into smaller classrooms.
Altogether the ship has nine designated classrooms, and within the lounge they are numbers 6 on the port side and 7 to starboard. Moving aft on the starboard side is one of the most interesting rooms that retains the original artwork and décor from when the OLYMPIA EXPLORER first set sail. This room had been the Explorers Club Cigar Lounge, furnished with heavy tables and chairs, built-in humidors and even a faux-fireplace. It is now Classroom 8.
Among the most interesting features are two artworks on the wall signed E. Paolucci. Presumably these are tributes to the famous Italian artist Enrico Paolucci whose works appeared on all of the preceding Sun Line ships and many other vessels. Since he passed away in 1999 and this ship wasn’t nearing completion until 2001; not to mention that the signature style is different from his, these were likely done by someone else, but who? The answer may remain a mystery unless an astute reader knows their provenance.
The foyer holds the wide main staircase, and the two lifts connecting all decks. All elevator signage denotes decks and public rooms as they were named when the vessel was newly constructed. Across on the portside are restrooms for both men and women.
Surrounding the upper level of the two-deck high atrium is an area that has been vastly repurposed from the EXPLORER’s days as a full-time cruise ship. The 9,000 volume Taormina Library occupies on the port side, where gambling tables once stood. The bar is original, but instead of serving alcohol, it is now the library desk.
Additional bookshelves are found on the starboard side, including shelves to swap books you’ve read for those left by fellow passengers. When this was a casino, the starboard side held the slot machines. Now it is the Hudson Computer Lab with about two dozen terminals providing free Internet access. There is also free Wi-Fi throughout the ship.
Moving aft, the second, midship staircase leads down to the lower decks, while on the portside only, a corridor leads past the two small gift shops.
On the exterior the lifeboats are nested along the sides. Lining the starboard side of the interior corridor are showcases filled with rare minerals, mostly from Greece, that are original to the ship. Opposite this are two small lounges that were once the original Library and Card Room. They are now Classrooms 5 and 4 respectively.
Click here to continue exploring Deck 6 and beyond on:
Click below to begin Shawn Dake’s three part travel blog:
See also Shawn Dake’s article from April 2011: