Down the hall, in the lounge, freshman Nicole Jackson has opened her laptop and a cup of macaroni in front of a big window facing the river. "I get to watch the sunset every night as I walk back from class," the Baltimore native says. "This is an experience I'll never be able to have again. I just kind of forget sometimes that this is really happening. This is my life."

In the background, Jason Mauck, a junior from Bowie, sidles up to the lounge's baby grand piano and fills the room with a pleasantly liquid melody. He pauses to call up an image on his cellphone of the mold that darkened the ceiling in his dorm room. "Everyone was really upset," he says. "But the whole situation has flipped. I really have to give President Urgo credit. The boat was a million-dollar idea."

When the ship idea emerged, some parents worried about safety, visions of rowdy parties ending with students tumbling into the chilly river. The reality, Jackson says, is that if they're looking to cut loose on Saturday night, they walk to campus.

"It's been really chill here," she says of the mood aboard ship.

The Sea Voyager's captain, Georgios Theodorou, had his initial doubts about hosting a pack of teenagers rather than the ship's usual gray-haired clientele. "I really need to express my congratulations to the parents and role models of these kids," he says. "I was expecting to have more problems, but they have been wonderful."

The captain peppers his small talk with observations about the nature of life. The students, he says, have demonstrated an important lesson with their adaptability: "It's our choice whether to be miserable or happy."

In a few weeks, the ship's residents will depart for winter break and when they return in January, the Sea Voyager will be gone. That will be strange, especially for the freshmen who barely know what it's like to live a "normal" college existence.

"I'm definitely going to miss it," Jackson says, looking up at chandeliers that would never be found in a typical residence hall. "This is just so insane."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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