The Sea Voyager, swiftly steaming its way down the St, Lawrence River, is scheduled to dock at St. Mary's City Friday morning. Starting Monday, the 286-foot ship will house more than 200 students while the college's Prince George and Caroline residence halls are stripped and carefully cleaned.
The idea was first floated by a college alumnus, who knew the Sea Voyager would be passing through the Chesapeake Bay on its way to Virginia.
"When the suggestion was mentioned to the senior administration, we at first thought it a playful thought," college president Joe Urgo told ABCNews.com. But faced with finding stranded students nearby homes, the ship idea began to hold water.
Mold, which can trigger stuffy noses, irritated eyes and wheezing in people who are sensitive, thrived in the damp aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
When it was found in residence halls last week, college administrators moved 320 students out of affected dorms, squishing some into occupied rooms and checking others into hotels up to 20 miles away.
"The arrangement, while healthy from the standpoint of mold remediation, is far from ideal academically or in terms of the cohesiveness of our community," Urgo wrote in a message to students Tuesday. "Because the St. Mary's River is an integral part of our campus, we have options unavailable to other colleges."
Urgo's announcement about the Sea Voyager drew cheers from some students but stirred fears in others.
"The rooms are extremely small, and we just got settled down at the hotels," St. Mary's student Karen Wood wrote on an open message board. Wood, who currently commutes to campus from the distant Holiday Inn, said the close quarters sound "less than community binding."
But fellow Seahawk Katie Dreyer said she'd choose community over space any day.
"I would live in a closet if it meant being able to live back on campus," Dreyer wrote. "I think people should look at this as a positive thing, and a great story to tell. Nobody else can say they spent a semester on a cruise ship."
The multi-deck ship has a restaurant, pub and lounge (with a piano), as well as laundry facilities. The cost to the college is on par with that of renting hotel rooms, Urgo said.
While some parents are leery about space, safety and seasickness, others see the college's response as a special opportunity for their kids.
"Sometimes you are not in control of everything and just have to roll with it," Jon Piper, whose son will be living on the ship, wrote on the open message board. "He has maintained an upbeat attitude through all of this and will come out stronger and smarter when he gets back to 'normal.'"
St. Mary's is not the first college campus to climb aboard a cruise ship. Students and faculty from Tulane University spent five months on the 800-foot MV Dream after Hurricane Katrina. The idea was also the premise of "Breaker High," a Canadian TV show that aired in the late '90s, starring Ryan Gosling.
"My hope is that those students will have a restored sense of connection to the campus," said Urgo, adding that students' health, studies and their social well-being are the school's top priorities. "As well, we hope to emphasize the centrality of the St. Mary's River to our campus culture -- my hope is that this group of students will get a little extra lesson in that regard."
St. Mary's will hold a press conference Friday when the Sea Voyager arrives and a Town Hall meeting Sunday to address concerns from students and parents.