Reunited with the MV Explorer

Feb 7

We had all these grand plans to wake up at the crack of dawn to watch our beloved MV Explorer pull into the Hong Kong harbor. However, the alarm went off and we decided an extra two hours of sleep was needed to survive the day, and we were right. We left the apartment and walked to the waterside and immediately teared up as the proud looking, blue and orange ship came into view. Our old home!

We found the cruise terminal and entered the gangway leading us right in front of ship security. This semester, the chief of security was named Dirk, and his harsh Eastern European accent along with his perfectly trim figure commanded attention from everyone in his presence. We had arranged with the Outreach Coordinator to board the ship to help out with set up for an Open Ship event later that day. Dirk was in no mood to let us on, so instead we helped set up from land and joined some current Semester at Sea students on a tour of Hong Kong University.

After the tour of HKU, we rushed back to the ship to finally be let on board (thank you, Dirk) to help give a presentation to Hong Kong University students thinking about studying abroad. We even saw some SASers on board that had gone to Ozone the night before, which made us feel like we belonged on the ship with our newly made friends.

It was an amazing feeling walking through the familiar hallways and sitting in the plush circular chairs in the Union, just like the good old times on Fall 2013. We each led a group of students on a tour of the ship, which meant I got to reminisce in all of my favorite places: the pool deck, Tymitz Square, the Garden lounge and patio, and most of all the piano lounge. I was gushing about all my favorite memories on the ship to the visiting students, hopefully getting them just as excited as I was about being on such an incredible vessel. I was amazed that I still remembered my way around the staircases leading to different decks and various shortcuts. All too soon the tour was over and the Hong Kong students were leaving.

Luckily, the Outreach Coordinator invited us to stay on the ship to help out with another tour later on with important officials and university administration from Macau. This meant we had the opportunity to have dinner on Deck 5, which was such a treat. The dinner rolls and cheese cubes, and pasta and potatoes that we once were sick of, now made us so happy and brought back so many memories. We ate our dinner with huge smiles on our faces, so happy to be back, even if the current students thought we were crazy.

The Macanese officials embarked and were impressed by our floating university. Even though they didn’t speak much English, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Explorer. After enjoying champagne and shmoozing with the officials, we went to Deck 7 to see the nightly laser show with the best view in the entire harbor. We disembarked the ship, grateful that this wasn’t goodbye and we would be returning the next morning.

We met up with Shaleen, Bryan, Dylan and a multitude of other SASers and took the ferry to Long Kwai Fong, the notorious night scene of Hong Kong. The streets were crammed body to body with noisy bars and clubs lining either side of the road. It didn’t feel like we were in Asia because the majority of bar hoppers were drunk white people speaking English, with some of them SASers. It was madness, but we managed to stay together mostly as a group as we traveled from club to club, dancing and loving the fact that we were all reunited for one night. After our fill of drinks, pizza, and fun, we rode in a taxi back to the apartment and tried to get some sleep.

Feb 8

We were doubly exhausted when we woke up at 6:45am after back to back nights of staying out late, but we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to eat powdered eggs and soggy French toast on the ship and we weren’t going to miss that for the world. We hustled out of bed and embarked onboard the MV Explorer for one last time. The Outreach Coordinator had been nice enough to let us get on the ship early before we had to give tours, which meant we could have breakfast with our old Semester at Sea friend, Jessie, who was sailing again. We found her cabin door (after taking a quick pic in front of my old cabin door) and woke her up to join us in the dining hall. Breakfast is not very exciting to those that live on the ship and eat it every day, but for us, we were so excited to pile runny eggs and plain bagels on our plate and give a giant hug to Perry, a favorite waiter from our voyage. It was surreal to be back in that dining hall just like any other day at sea.

Today, we were helping give tours to students attending the UWC high school in Hong Kong, which is a highly regarded international school. They had all kinds of great questions and the looks on their faces showed their amazement that students actually lived and took classes on the ship. I lingered in each spot on the tour, taking it in for one last time before we had to disembark. Semester at Sea is selling the MV Explorer, which means this voyage is the last one that the program will be on this ship. After the tour, we took long slow steps along the railing to the gangway, making sure to blow a kiss to our former home. We must have looked ridiculous to the security guards, trying to hold back tears and make every second on board last as long as we could make it. I couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity to get back on board, even if it was only for a short time. It felt like we were able to give the ship a proper goodbye.

Our friends Jessie and Lauren (another Fall 2013 alum) were waiting for us to go off to Victoria Peak with them. We grabbed Shaleen and headed over to Central, where all the maids were out sitting on cardboard boxes congregating with other maids on their day off. We took a bus all the way to the top of the peak, ate wonton dumplings, and had a walk around Luggard Road for a clear view of the city. With the city and the MV Explorer in the background, we got a picture with seven of us alum from Fall 2013. It’s incredible we all ended up in the same place at the same time. After a green tea McFlurry, we headed down the Peak and back to the ship to say goodbye to our SAS friends that had to get back on the ship to avoid getting dock-time.

Bryan, Shaleen, Byron, Max and I went to an all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant where we tried all kinds of Asian vegetables. Soon it was time to head to Victoria Harbor to watch as the MV Explorer sailed away to its next destination. We ran to the top level of the mall parking garage and were at the same level of the ship’s Deck 7. We were able to spot Jessie and Lauren and had a conversation shouting over the water about how much we’d miss them. The ropes holding the ship in place were loosened and our magnificent vessel started floating away from us. We started running the length of the parking lot, pushing past people and ruining a bridal photo shoot in our attempt to follow the ship. We reached the end of the parking lot, so all we could do was just wave and shout our goodbyes. At the same exact time that the ship was pulling away, the nightly Hong Kong laser light show began, casting beams across the harbor and providing an incredible skyline backdrop for the ship’s departure. We watched as the lights of the ship got smaller and smaller and finally disappeared from view, sadly for forever. There were tears in my eyes, but I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to say goodbye to the ship. The Semester at Sea program will continue to sail many many voyages, but I’m always going to be happy that I got to spend my voyage on the MV Explorer.

We trudged back to Shaleen’s apartment after reminiscing about our favorite SAS stories and climbed into bed for some much needed sleep.

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