The journey begins

Times Staff Writer

The gangway of the Explorer, our campus at sea for the next 101 days, leads into a room that is about the size of a two-car garage. It was in this tight space, not in the sprawling amphitheater or the two Vegas-style buffet dining halls, that hundreds of students said goodbye in Nassau, Bahamas, to parents, siblings, grandparents and other loved ones who were reluctant to let go.

“See you in San Diego in December,” one dad whispered to his daughter, kissing the top of her head before he turned and made the lonely trip down the gangway, her empty suitcases in tow.

Light-hearted public address announcements encouraging “stowaways” to leave the ship broke up some of the lingering parties, but an hour after last call, two parents and one girlfriend still clung to a male student.

Feeling pressured by the clock-watching crew, they devised a plan for the student to be on one of the portside decks so they could wave goodbye.

As the ship slowly pulled away, a string of about 100 parents, who had endured a downpour followed by a furnace-blast of sunshine and hours of waiting, trailed along the dock, waving and flashing “bon voyage” banners. When they reached the end of the dock, they shouted an orchestrated “We love you!”

“We love you too!” replied the students, leaning into the deck rails and taking photos of parents taking photos of them.

After months planning, weeks packing, a day or more getting to the ship, the voyage had begun.

Inching away from loved ones, Semester at Sea participants knew they would be separated in another way too: Those on land would stay much the same during the next four months, but those on the ship would not. What would they still have in common with these people who were putting on this show of love?

On the dock, a few mothers formed a Radio City Music Hall Rockettes’ routine, kicking feet left, then right. For a laugh, a male student on the top deck said, “Time to go home, Mom.” Added a voice in the crowd, “Since we don’t have streamers, maybe we should thrown apron strings.”

Quote of the day: One student trundled her two bags down the skinny hallway, opened her cabin door and announced: “This room is so big!”

Then she struggled to maneuver her elephantine luggage inside and quickly gave a follow-up report: “It’s so small.” This may be the theme of the voyage: First impressions, then second, then....

Next: The ship is rocking its way to Venezuela.