SHIP SHAPE, A Bow-To-Stern Tour Of The MV EXPLORER Part One

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


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

Registry: Bahamas

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.

Deck 8

From Deck 7 looking up at observation area on Deck 8 and the mast.

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.

Looking aft along starboard side of Deck 8 while in the Panama Canal.

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 8 goes past the base of the funnel, while Deck 7 just below provides exterior access for passengers. The “Deluxe Sky Suite” balconies are also clearly visible in this view from the port side.

Deck 7

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.

A portion of the open deck on the portside.

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.

The Glazer Observation Lounge, forward section looking toward starboard.
Looking aft toward the bar, with a built-in piano.

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.

The Glazer Lounge at night.

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.

The Forward Staircase on Deck 7. Each stairway features poetry and philosophy in both English and Greek.

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.

Deluxe Oceanview Suites such as this one are the top accommodations on the ship. Photo courtesy of Semester At Sea.
Violetta, Suite #7010.
Violetta Suite bedroom made up for the night.

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.

The starboard side looking aft on Deck 7 toward the volleyball/basketball court.

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.

Gym equipment along the sheltered deck on the starboard side.
A small indoor gymnasium adjoins the spa.

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.

Entrance to the Wellness Center spa.

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.

The Pool Bistro looking toward portside.
Moncada signature and date of installation.
The adjacent grill serves hamburgers and hot dogs.

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.

The Pool aft on Deck 7, looking aft.

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 Pool Deck at night.

Deck 6

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 large windows of the Bridge span the width of the ship. Note the retractable Bridge Wings on either side.
The shipshape bridge interior.
A detail of the Bridge Wing, retracted while at sea.

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 miniature engine telegraph on the bridge.
The chartroom is part of the bridge itself.

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 Union is the Main Lounge of the ship.
The Union, looking aft.

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.

This aft corner on the portside of the lounge can be partitioned off to form a smaller classroom.

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.

The Explorer’s Club Cigar Lounge as it originally appeared.
The same space 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.

One of two artworks attributed to E. Paolucci.
Detail of the artist’s signature and the particleboard-like material.

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.

Entrance to the Taormina Library on the port side.
The Atrium on Deck 6 looking toward starboard.

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.

Books can be checked out from the Library desk.
Another bit of original art, among the stacks of books.

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.

The Hudson Computer Lab.

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.

A circular lobby between the sundry and gift shops.
Minerals displayed in the corridor midship.
Looking forward through the midship corridor from the Piano Bar.

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.

One of two nearly identical small lounges looking forward.


The former Card Room looking aft.

Click here to continue exploring Deck 6 and beyond on:

SHIP SHAPE,  A Bow-To-Stern Tour Of The MV EXPLORER Part Two


Click below to begin Shawn Dake’s three part travel blog:

EXPLORER Enrichment Voyage To Central America And The Panama Canal – Part One

EXPLORER Enrichment Voyage To Central America And The Panama Canal – Part Two

EXPLORER Enrichment Voyage To Central America And The Panama Canal – Part Three

See also Shawn Dake’s article from April 2011:

EXPLORER Cruise Ship/Floating University by Shawn J. Dake



Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake

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