The WORLD ODYSSEY paid her first visit to San Diego, California on December 21, 2015, ending the inaugural fall voyage of the ship for Semester At Sea. Built in 1998 as the DEUTSCHLAND, her elegant, ocean-liner interiors have been retained in their latest role as sea-going classrooms. Following 11-days of rest in the nearby Mexican port of Ensenada, the vessel returned to San Diego, greeting the New Year on January 2nd with an open house and evening fundraiser for high-end donors and alumni. Two days later, parents and family members were invited aboard for a reception prior to the ship casting off once again for Ensenada. On January 5, 2016 the Spring Semester departed for a 102-day voyage around-the-world, visiting 11 countries and 15 cities in Asia and Africa before concluding in Southampton, England on April 16th.
The previous year, 2015, was a tumultuous one for both the ship and Semester At Sea. The previous owner of the DEUTSCHLAND, Peter Deilmann Cruises, failed in their attempt to secure financing for continued operation of their one-ship line which catered to luxury cruises for the German market. The scheduled World Cruise was cancelled, with bankruptcy proceedings beginning in the German courts during January. The 22,496 gross ton ship remained idle until it was announced on May 19th that it had been sold to an American firm named Absolute Nevada for about $21 million. Then came the surprising revelation that the ship would be chartered to become the next floating campus for Semester At Sea under a new name WORLD ODYSSEY. Before that service commenced, the DEUTSCHLAND was pressed into service on a charter basis for the Bremen-based firm of Plantours & Partner from June 9th until July 29th, as a substitute for their own disabled HAMBURG (ex C. COLUMBUS), giving it one more opportunity to sail under its original name with German passengers.
In the meantime, Semester At Sea was undergoing a transition of their own. Their previous ship the EXPLORER (ex OLYMPIC EXPLORER, OLYMPIA EXPLORER) had completed the 118th educational voyage with the Spring, 2015 semester sailing. It would also be the last one with that ship. An agreement had been reached which would return the ship to the bank holding the mortgage, when the vessel reached Southampton on April 29th at the conclusion of the semester voyage. The EXPLORER was subsequently chartered to Louis Cruise Lines for their new Celestyal Cruises division and renamed CELESTYAL ODYSSEY. What was to have been a three-year charter only lasted one season. The ship was sold to a new Chinese operator, Diamond Cruise International who announced their intention is to rebuild the 24,318 ton ship by adding two extra decks on top of the forward superstructure, creating a rather ungainly, top-heavy profile. So like the DEUTSCHLAND, the EXPLORER also had a checkered year during 2015 under the ownership of three different operators.
Semester At Sea first announced plans for their upcoming voyages without disclosing whether they had a ship or not. In May, after months of delays, worrying both perspective cruisers and their parents, it was finally announced that the bankrupt DEUTSCHLAND would be the organization’s new ship. It would be given a new name, the WORLD ODYSSEY. With dimensions of 575 in length and 76 feet in beam, both the old and new ships are similar in size, however as the DEUTSCHLAND it was designed to carry only 520 luxury passengers, lowering the capacity over that of the 836-passenger EXPLORER by 316 berths. This was compensated for somewhat by converting a number of former crew cabins on Deck 3 into minimum-priced student staterooms. The WORLD ODYSSEY now accommodates 608 guests in cabins on five of her eight passenger decks.
Very little has been altered aboard other than the addition of some flat-screen televisions to aid in classroom studies in the existing public rooms. The WORLD ODYSSEY is the sixth ship operated by Semester At Sea over their 53-year history. A minor cosmetic refurbishment took place during the month of August before the first voyage commenced on September 13, 2015.
The central focus of Semester At Sea ships is The Union where all students and staff can congregate for meetings. On the WORLD ODYSSEY this spectacular two-deck-height space is the former Kaisersaal or Emperor’s Ballroom.
Plush upholstered furnishings, a balcony, painted ceilings and chandelier distinguish this remarkable space, spanning the forward section of Decks 6 and 7. When not being utilized by the entire ship’s complement, up to four classrooms can occupy the spacious venue.
Deck 6 contains many of the main public rooms. Midship, one of the most attractive of these is the Salon Lili Marleen which serves as a classroom by day and student lounge at night. The forward section is somewhat divided from the rest of the room and features a faux fireplace, while aft is a beautiful, although on student voyages, non-functioning wooden bar.
Continuing aft, the Berlin Restaurant is the main dining room but also converts to a classroom at non-meal times. Throughout the ship there is the feel of old ocean liners but perhaps nowhere more so than in this lovely room. Wooden chairs, marble columns and circular overhead, backlit ceiling décor add to that flavor, while the forward bulkhead features an exceptional Expressionist painting dated 1929 by Cesar Klein, said to be from a German liner of the period.
The galley separates the fitness center, sauna and steam rooms, which can only be accessed from the deck above which leads down to a lovely terrace overlooking the sea at the stern. At the top of those stairs, short promenades flank the Zum Alten Fritz pub.
This very traditional German bar does double-duty as the Fritz Classroom and the Faculty and Staff Lounge, this time with a fully functioning bar.
Like most classrooms on the ship, the Vierjahres is a multi-purpose space. The central area holds classes but at night this room returns to its original purpose as the elegant Four Seasons Restaurant. Even on a student ship, there is specialty dining and this one commands a $30.00 extra tariff.
Continuing forward from Vierjahres, passengers walk through a curving colonnade that was the shopping gallery but now is home to everything from the dean’s offices, to the campus store and hair dressing salon.
There is no shortage of public areas aboard the WORLD ODYSSEY. While Deck 8 is made up primarily of upper-end staterooms and suites, there is also the Kino Cinema, a theater, (you guessed it) that doubles as a classroom. At the aft end is the well-appointed Aldon Library which is entered through double doors off the aft Sun Deck. On the EXPLORER and earlier Semester At Sea ships, they could boast of having the world’s largest seagoing libraries. However, on this ship it is very small to the point that the textbooks have to be kept in boxes to checkout as needed. When looking past the clutter another faux fireplace with wooden mantle, glass-fronted bookcases, round ship tables and inlaid writing desks become visible.
The top Deck 10 is all open air with some spectacular views to be had. The same can be said for Deck 9, also known as the Lido Deck with open decks surrounding more interior public spaces.
Forward is the Lido Terrace, a rather lavish observation lounge typical of many German ships, decorated in white with wicker chairs, columns and a small dome over a statue of two female figures. Brass lamps and etched glass light globes set off the otherwise all-white bar at the aft end of the lounge.
Midship is the outdoor swimming pool and adjoining snack bar. The tall, iconic funnel towers over the pool, made famous in the television show Das Traumschiff, the German version of “The Love Boat.”
Rounding out Deck 9 aft is the Lido Restaurant, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner along with more classes. Bright and airy, paneled in light woods and marble this room is perhaps more elegant than it seems on first appearance. Here, and throughout the ship, are fixtures of leaded glass and etched glass lighting. Unlike most modern ships where plastic replicas abound, on the WORLD ODYSSEY it is the real thing. Photographs of shipboard scenes add to the atmosphere, including a large print of the Hamburg America Line, IMPERATOR of 1913.
With the possible exception of the ex-crew cabins on Deck 3, students will find their accommodations much more plush than they may have been expecting. While not terribly large they are all very well-appointed. Most resemble early 20th Century ocean liner staterooms and some even have tiled works of art in the bathroom showers. Faculty and “Lifelong Learners” who sign on as passengers will generally reside in the larger accommodations on Deck 8.
One thing that had worked against the ship in its incarnation as DEUTSCHLAND was that except for a single veranda on one suite, the ship completely lacked balconies. This will soon be rectified at the beginning of May when French balconies are installed on Decks 7 and 8 in a refurbishment prior to the commencement of a secondary charter to Phoenix Reisen.
At that time, the ship will revert to the name DEUTSCHLAND which is still clearly welded on the bow, simply painted over with WORLD ODYSSEY. The charter, which will last until September 7, 2016, will be operated again during the summer seasons for five years, between Semester At Sea voyages and marketed to German passengers under the ship’s original name.
Under whichever name, the ship’s builders, Howaltswerke Deutsch Werft, of Kiel, Germany can be proud of their creation. Peter Deilmann was known for building quality ships whether ocean-going or designed for use on European River Cruises, well before they became so popular.
Guests normally enter or exit through the Reception Foyer on Deck 5 which contains the purser’s office and field office; the equivalent of a shore excursion desk. The foyer, along with the semicircular atrium with its monumental artwork extending through the two decks above, again makes one wonder if they are actually on a ship built at the end of the 20th Century, rather than the beginning.
Whether one is a student of maritime history and architecture or an actual university student embarking on the wonderful adventure of a Semester At Sea voyage around the world, the WORLD ODYSSEY is certain to be a magnificent experience.
Links to Shawn Dake’s articles related to Semester at Sea, EXPLORER and DEUTSCHLAND on MaritimeMatters:
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.