You never forget your first; Mariner of the Seas

Singapore12400551_10156430441335788_1314610664610134034_nTwo years ago today I made the decision to leave the the clouds, wind and rain of the UK and go in search of warmer climates. I traded my double bed for a tiny cabin with a bunk bed, traded the football pitch for sandy beaches and the four wheels of Mazey my Mazda for the floating city I’d call home for the next five months. When I was looking at places to travel I hadn’t much considered Asia so when my first contract was offered: Mariner of the Seas, sailing out of Singapore, I wasn’t sure how to react.

I was sat writing the first draft of this post, at a Caribbean beach bar in St Cruix and reflected on how lucky I was to get that first ship. I flew out of Heathrow airport on November 10th 2015, an easy date for me to remember as it was the day before my 25th birthday. Having gone through the recruitment process for Royal Caribbean, I’d never considered not going to the Caribbean. Now I have met so many colleagues who are ‘bored’ of this beautiful paradise as their contracts always seem to be on the tropical islands where the majority of our fleet is based.

I had to pay for my initial flight as a new hire (flight home and every other one since being paid for by the company) and 16 hours worth of travelling, via Doha,  was spent unaware of the two years ahead.

I would soon learn that there is no comparison to life working on a ship. It is close to university life in the fact that you are in a bubble of your own, life outside is still turning but unless you actively go out of your way to check on it, you don’t notice. But you work a lot harder than at uni (which in my uni experience isn’t saying much). A ‘day off’ means working mornings and evenings but getting the chance to see amazing ports during the day and I would visit some really amazing ports on the Mariner mainly in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand but also touching Base in Vietnam, China, South Korea and Japan.

Singapore12196330_10156237500575788_5198914690020644665_n (2)My birthday on the 11th was spent in a hotel in Singapore with John the drummer from the UK. The guy at the reception desk sent a birthday cake to the room as he had noticed the d.o.b. On my passport as I checked in. It was a very weird experience to share a birthday cake with a complete stranger in a foreign country but it fitted in with my spontaneous outlook on life and I took it in my stride!

The following morning, at silly a.m. I boarded the shuttle bus, along with another 50+ crew members, most of whome had been through this same process countless times before and knew what they were doing. Amongst the group I was found by two other youth staff, June and HuiFang, who had already been in contact with our manager Pierre and were under instructions to be on the look out for a new hire.

There is no mental preparation for the first time you see a cruise ship up close. Until you see it with your own eyes, your head can’t quite comprehend the size of it. How it can possibly float is still beyond me to this day! Considering the Mariner of the seas is now one of the medium sized ships in the fleet, it was still a spectacular sight.


The outside of the ship is a beautiful sight. The inside is a maze. My sense of direction is very good but I spent a week not having a clue where I was going as every corridor and staircase looks almost identical in crew areas! The first directions I learnt as a new hire was to get from my cabin, which I shared with a Brazilian light and sound technician, to the training room.  Anybody who has worked on a ship before will tell you that this is where you spend the majority of your first two weeks.

Singapore12705553_10156599665060529_7464358508984735232_nIf I was to create a list of things that I don’t want to do whilst suffering from: jet lag and being tired from just finishing a previous job less than a week before, not to mention leaving-parties and early birthday parties which naturally included a lot of drinking,  I’d put training sessions (usually two a day lasting 3 hours each) right up at the top. Fire fighting training, drugs and alcohol awareness, save the waves environmental training were just a few of the things I had to sit through in the first 2 weeks and not being able to get off of the ship because of it. The first time I was able to get off was because Pierre called in a favour to chief officer safety, asking that I did my life raft training at a later date so that I could join the rest of my team on a day out to Universal Studios Singapore!

I met some amazing people on that first contract. My manager Pierre, who was delighted that I was joining him on a team full of women, Annie a fellow new hire from London, who followed me to the independence on our second contract (and we often meet up on our time off as our holidays usually match). Erin from Canada and Laura from Scotland  were only there for a few weeks but I learnt a lot from them both in that short time. And my Chinese family, too many to name who were all awesome. Every turnaround day I would try (and succeed more often than not)  to scare Tiny Tony, usually with my partner in crime Ada who I shared many an adventure with.

When working on ships, friends come and go in a short space of time. Contracts are always overlapping and that can be difficult, but, at the same time everybody has a similar attitude to life and friendships are forged very quickly and can be lasting. My brother Mykahl, a dancer from  New York was a constant companion at the crew bar. Annie Mykahl and myself would often be found hanging out until the early hours of the morning at the back deck (the crew bar on deck 5 at the back of the ship which is open and affords some spectacular views of the Asian sea particularly in the evening).

Japan12592627_10156733897450402_620055116570658623_nSingapore was an amazing home port and Langkawi, a small island off Malaysia, remains one of my favourite ports to date. There was always plenty to do in Phuket, Thailand, and my last two weeks on board were sailing around Japan during cherry blossom season.

Other top memories from the Mariner, which seems like a lifetime ago now include having to cut my afro, as the hotel director didn’t think it was suitable for the work (I was half expecting it and in a way kind of glad to have an excuse to finally cut it. But seeing some of the questionable hair cuts around the ship I didn’t fully see his point). I went to the cabin of Fabian from Trinidad and watched in the mirror as he turned me into a skin head.

Ma1461302_10156353118440402_4002764232694356303_nI spent Christmas day dressed as an elf, a very ill elf wearing pink sunglasses to hide the fact that he only had 3 hours sleep. We had a 3 day charter cruise called ‘it’s the ship’ where DJs from all over the world came on board to perform for guests who had all come to party. I did a zipline tour, a bungee jump we had overnight stops in Phuket, Pattaya (near Bangkok) and in Hong Kong and so much more all crammed into just under 5 months.

The first 2 months of that contract I, along with the rest of the team worked my butt off. As a new hire I didn’t know exactly what to expect so I considered it to be normal to work between 10-12 hours every day. It turns out that we were working that hard because we were first two and then one member of staff down during high kid count in Singapore (and finally at the end of the holidays, during low kid count, we typically got a full team). In a way working that hard made me learn my job well and now I can appreciate any schedule I’m given as it doesn’t come close to that first two months on the Mariner.

So many unforgettable experiences were had in that first contract and more have followed on contracts since. I will always have a fond memory of the Mariner of the Seas, not the biggest or the best in the fleet but it will always be my first.


Budapest – culture, relaxation and festival

Budapest – culture, relaxation and festival
For my third and final holiday of my two month break from ships I took a trip to Budapest with my old uni house mate Andy. A few weeks before the trip a few of us met up at his parents house in Marlow for a BBQ. Andy spoke of his disappointment at not being able to join the boys on our trip to Barcelona. He joked that he was free the following week if anybody fancied going away. The more we drank the more appealing that idea sounded to me. A few rums later and we were researching cheap flights and eventually settled on Budapest.


There wasn’t a great deal of thought behind our decision but we ran into a whole lot of luck. The unheard of airline ‘WizzAir’ (with the monotone stewardess and old school safety demonstration) flew us event free from Luton airport, our apartment booked on Airbnb was amazing and it turned out that our trip would coincide with Sziget festival.

We arrived at our apartment, ‘happy homes blue’ via the taxi service booked through the company. We were greeted on arrival and showed around the awesome little apartment.

Everything had a blue colour scheme, not overpowering but enough to see why it got its name. The front door opened to a small kitchen area with a fully stocked espresso machine and a fridge with a few sodas, water and some beers. On the main table was a bottle of wine and the bathroom, just around the corner from the sofa bed was stocked with towels and toiletries. The main room had an old style pinball machine, a guitar, a keyboard as well as a TV with Netflix available. The welcome pack included plenty of recommendations for food, bars and activities in the area and had a bio of the founder of Happy Homes, Sven. We were in his original project which he bought after moving from Belgium and since then acquired a number of other properties each with their own unique colour scheme but same amenities.

Up the stairs were two rooms with very low ceilings, which, we were told is the typical style of Hungarian apartments. A Fred Flinstone sign warned you to watch your head but that was very apparent as you had to duck as soon as you got to the top of the small staircase. The two rooms were basically balconies. At the end of the comfortable double beds you could look down into the rest of the flat.

Our first evening when we arrived we took a walk around to gather our bearings. Our apartment was ideally placed within twenty minutes of the main centre and a minute or two from bars and restaurants. We chose to eat at a place from the welcoming pack left for us at Happy Home Blue. I chose a local dish, a pretty basic chicken and potato which was disguised under a Hungarian name that I forget. The food was well priced and the atmosphere was nice but local cuisine probably was the wrong choice. But you’ve got to try it right.

After the meal we made our way down through some of the ruin bars before heading back to the apartment (after attempting to get into a wrong apartment on an adjacent street).

We considered a city bus tour on our first full day but decided on the free walking tour being the fit young lads that we are. That and being relatively hangover free. I expected to turn up to the meeting point and see a few old grannies and some backpackers, so I was pretty surprised to find over a hundred people waiting for the tour. The tour leaders were very enthusiastic and knew their business and efficiently split us into English and Spanish speakers. The four English-speaking guides introduced themselves and we ended up in a small group with Lara: ‘like Lara Croft’ she said whilst posing with gun fingers in imitation of the fiction character.

The tour took around 3 hours, starting off in Pest before crossing the bridge to Buda. Lara provided us with many facts, most of which I’ve forgotten now but in a brief summary: Hungary has pretty much been on the losing side of most wars, was occupied by Russia under the pretence of them helping the country, after they sided with the Nazis in WW2 and lost land and their economy took a battering. The most remarkable person from their history was the guy who invented the rubix cube (which I think should be kept a secret rather than celebrated). But after such a stunted history they are finally trying to stand on their own feet.

From the local people I met in Budapest I got the sense that they are a proud nation but with not much to be proud of. Everyone was friendly and welcoming but the tour was full of boasts that weren’t particularly impressive. That being said the scenery was stunning and the cities had such a nice vibe going on.

We enjoyed the walking tour and decided to join the pub crawl that night, organised by the same tour group. Marcus was the tour leader and greeted us at the meeting point which was located a convenient five minutes from our apartment. The pub crawl was good fun, we met some cool people from all over the world. The first people we met were two American guys. One of them was a nice guy, or he seemed like a nice guy from what little he got to say as his mate was a talker. When I say talker, he was a ‘anything you can do I can do better’ kind of talker, a one-up-man. Basically he was a dick. Michael from Ireland was awesome, Sergio, who still had jet lag from the flight from his native Brazil was a good laugh, the Danish girls spoke better English than me and there were some Dutch girls, one of which was a nurse who may or may not have had a drinking problem judging from her stories.

The pub crawl was free but there was the opportunity to buy a 10Euro wristband to get free shots, a cocktail and entrance into the last club. Worth it. Sneaky Marcus asked for tips after the second bar (following the strong green cocktail called a Shrek) early enough that you were feeling intoxicated and generous but not too late that you forget to tip.

The following day we were feeling less than fresh so we went for a relaxing day at one of Budapest’s famed thermal baths. There were a lot of different choices from small male only local baths to the giant one that we finally chose, not only because we didn’t want to share with big hairy Hungarian men but because Irish Michael had recommended it the night before. It took us about 40 minutes in the sweltering heat to get to the Szechenyi baths which were a big building with 15 different sized pools at different temperatures surrounding three large outdoor pools. All the pools, with water sourced from natural hot springs under Budapest, helped us relax and the saunas and steam rooms helped sweat out the alcohol from the night before just so we were ready to go again that night as we went out and stumbled across a karaoke bar.

Our last full day in Budapest we had got tickets for the major European festival at Zsiget. We thought it would be easy to make our way to the island in the middle of the Dunabe river but we were mistaken. Four tourist information desks, that you can find all over the city centre, managed to give us four different sets of information but we finally made it to Zsiget (after being quoted extortionate tourist price by a taxi driver) via the underground system that has definitely seen better days.

On entering the festival Andy and myself were given the customary security pat down but Andy walked past the second set of security while a big gorilla in uniform spoke to me in Hungarian and gestured that I needed to return to the table and empty my pockets for him. After emptying my pockets he miraculously found some English words and asked ‘Are you sure that’s everything?’ I was very baffled by this experience which I’m sure had nothing to do with the fact that the headlining act Wiz Khalifa was one of the only other black men on the island.

We relaxed for a few hours, soaking up the atmosphere around the beach area which you had to walk through BO infested tents to get to. The smell walking through the camping area was horrific and that was only on day two of the five day festival. Day slowly turned to night and we got slightly more intoxicated and enjoyed the amazing, friendly atmosphere at the festival that had a real variety of music. It went from lovey ballads by Tom Odell to crowds creating mosh pits to heavy metal from Biffy Clyro ending with the rap music of Wiz Khalifa. Thousands of people singing along to ’till I see you again’ was pretty spectacular and was only topped by thousands of White guys rapping along to ‘Black and Yellow’.

Budapest rounded of my mini European tour nicely which included 3 amazing holidays, each one totally different from the last. After all that travelling it was time to get ready for the day job. Travelling around the world with Royal Caribbean.

Sorry for the delay

Just yesterday whilst in St Kitts my ship Adventure of the Seas docked at the same time as Grandeur of the Seas and I was fortunate enough to meet up with my first Adventure Ocean manager from what will be two years ago next Sunday. Pierre was kind enough to remind me that I haven’t updated my blog in a while so thank you Pierre for this motivation.

I am going to add another day to my 2015 adventure in Costa Rica, which you can find on the drop down menu and I have finally written up my trip to Budapest in August.

Thanks again Pierre and it was good to catch up with you. And if you’re reading, it wasn’t bad seeing you too Jack, my good friend from Ovation of the Seas.