Two 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.
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.
If 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).
Singapore 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.
I 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.