Puerto Ricans, Hurricanes and Dry Dock – The adventure on Adventure of the Seas

I have worked with so many colleagues who are tired of the Caribbean, with the endless beaches, perfect weather and the relaxed vibes I can understand why. No wait. That’s wrong, I can’t understand why and I was really excited to be doing my first Caribbean run, in my two years working for Royal Caribbean (yea try and work that out).

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When I finished my third contract on Ovation of the Seas I was supposed to go to the Navigator. I was happy with this as I’d heard good things about the ship, but it would mean spending half a contract around Europe, doing a very similar itinerary to my second contract on the Independence before doing the crossing to the Caribbean. This contract was cancelled due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’ and I was momentarily disappointed before seeing that on Adventure of the Seas I would be in the Caribbean for my whole five and a half months (which would later turn into over six months) and it is arguably one of the best itineraries in that part of the world.

The Adventure has Puerto Rico as its home port, an amazing country although the guests can be challenging (more on that later). It does two different one week itineraries: the first around Eastern Caribbean including St Martin, St Thomas, St Kitts, St Lucia, Antigua, Barbados and the second around the Dutch Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

The contract was like no other that I’d completed so far with major itinerary changes due to the two huge hurricanes: Irma and Maria and ending with a month in dry dock, where the ship underwent renovation with no guests on board.

I signed onto the Adventure in August and was lucky to sign on with two other youth staff legends, Julia from the Ukraine and Jasmine from USA (don’t hold it against her). Signing on to any Adventure Ocean team is very easy as everybody there knows exactly what it is like to leave your family and friends behind, so new friendships are forged very quickly on ships. But there is a special bond shared between ‘sign on buddies’ that hang around through the long sign on process together and have to endure long pre-departure-safety training and will often sit together at meals during that awkward period where you don’t know anybody and don’t want to just pitch up on some random table and say ‘hi do you mind if I sit here?’ (I know you’ve had the urge once or twice to turn around and say: ‘Yes I do mind, now f off’).

Like any other ship people came and went throughout my contract. On this occasion more people went as I did a longer contract than usual and by the end I was last-man-standing out of our group that would always hang out in the Activity Managers cabin eating Pineapple, listening to music and playing cards.

As mentioned before, our itinerary ended up getting altered quite a lot after the September hurricanes. If you haven’t already, you can read in more detail about the humanitarian cruise that was provided by Royal Caribbean on one of my earlier blog posts. We had no paying guests on board for a cruise, instead families were picked up from Puerto Rico, St Croix and St Thomas and evacuated to Fort Lauderdale.

St Martin and St Thomas were unavailable for tourists all the way until December and January, respectively, due to the damage that was done. Sadly the residents are still facing a very slow rebuilding process. In January I rented a quad bike in St Martin and rode around the whole island. In the area that our ship docked, the rebuilding had been quick. There was still evidence of the recent hurricane but most businesses were back up and running. On the French side of the island, however, the destruction was devastating. Palm trees bent in half, hotels deserted and debris everywhere. Unfortunately, when the damage done by the hurricane has been reported and the story slips out of the news, it also slips out of the minds of the world so any aid that was originally sent dries up so it will be months/ years before the island recovers.

As well as the devastation left by the hurricane I was able to witness the true beauty of the Caribbean. Although each island is similar in the fact that they are all tropical paradises with laid back mentality and a soft spot for rum punch, each island has its own unique feeling. It is very hard to explain even though I know what I mean but The happy friendly vibe in Barbados seems different to the laid back, do what ever makes you feel happy vibes of St Kitts. And the  tranquillity found in the Chrystal clear waters of Bonaire feels different to the bright happy views of Curacao. I don’t even know the vibes that made Aruba one of my favourite islands but if you ever get the chance to visit I’d highly recommend.

The range of activities wasn’t quite the same as other contracts where there is a whole host of things to do. The most adventurous outing I did was a tour in St Lucia where I went to a drive-in-volcano. The crater had collapsed long ago so it allowed a road to be formed and you can drive right up to the smoking crater. The tour also included a trip to the botanical gardens and I acquired a bottle of local rum made to taste amazing by the infusion with real pineapples.

I was able to see my cousin Rosemary in Antigua and my Uncle in St Kitts when he came over from Nevis. I also got the ferry over to Nevis on one occasion and only just made it back on with a few minutes to spare! I saw countless amazing beaches cool wildlife like iguanas, turtles and a host of different birds.

The guests sailing from Puerto Rico could sometimes be hard work. The majority of the guests that you get on any ship generally come from the country that you are sailing from and that was no different on the Adventure. Unfortunately in life we often remember the bad more than we remember the good. I find it difficult to recollect a 10-year-old boy saying to me, after late night on new years eve: ‘Mr Lion, I had a really good time tonight so I’d like to say thank you’. But kids crapping themselves, kids misbehaving or parents being rude comes to mind all to easily.

The majority of the guests that we received on The Adventure were Spanish speaking. Or Span-glish I guess as even some of our Spanish speaking staff would find it difficult to communicate with them. ‘Ekumi – you peaky epany’ is a phrase I will never forget when thinking of Puerto Rico as you think to yourself: your passport literally states that you are American and you can’t speak English? Manners seemed to be in particularly short supply, although you can get people without manners all over the world. I think that the English are probably the only guests that can be rude whilst still using manners so I guess that manners aren’t everything. Rudeness and difficult guests aside I did enjoy witnessing yet another culture and now hablo un poco espanol (I speak a little Spanish).

Another great contract was rounded off in dry dock (until I volunteered to extend 3 weeks because there was no replacement for me). It was officially ‘wet dock’ as the boat wasn’t taken out of the water whilst renovations were made but what ever it was called we had no guests – in The Bahamas – for a month, as extra cabins and an Izumi sushi bar were added to the ship and general repairs made.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses without any guests (not that much sunshine at all actually as it was mainly cloudy with a lot of wind for the month that we were in Free Port Bahamas). We had to work everyday doing ‘fire-watch’ an extremely boring six hour shift sitting around watching the contractors do their work, with a fire extinguisher nearby, making sure that the ship didn’t burn down. You’d sit for hours on end, imagining how fast you could run away if a fire did in fact happen around one of these men who have probably been working with fire since they became an apprentice as a teenager and have been fully trained in what to do if the situation went bad.

Once the boring fire watch was done, your time was your own. Our HR department put on many activities for the crew and you could get off the ship for as long as you want without thinking: what time’s all aboard? By this time most of my friends from the contract had signed off, five close ones signing off right before the start of dry dock. They were replaced by the Mexican mafia and Karen was forced to look after me, taking me on bike rides, going to the beach and eating at a sushi restaurant where they fed reef sharks right off the side of their balcony as you ate. beach bonfire parties and all crew parties made the free time go fast, even if fire watch made the whole month go slow.

So finished another successful contract with Royal Caribbean. These posts always end up going longer than I anticipate, and that’s even leaving out the Christmas holidays where I had to dress up as a stupid elf from the end of November right through December. So as always I appreciate anyone who has got this far and taken the time to read my blog, even though I have been less successful at posting as I had first hoped, I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s come so far.

Humanitarian aid – Post Maria

DSC_0243This cruise is going to be something approaching normality for us here on the Adventure of the Seas. On the back of two weeks that has been a truly unique experience, providing aid and transportation for those who were effected by Hurricane Maria. Itinerary changes, an extended cruise and a cruise cancelled for paying customers is a brief summary but doesn’t begin to cover a few weeks where most of us haven’t known what would be happening the following day.

Voyage 841 began as a normal one week cruise but the path that Hurricane Maria was taking meant that we would avoid the scheduled islands of St Kitts and Antigua which had both already suffered from run ins with Hurricane Irma a few weeks before. Our first port was St Cruix, a port replacement for the ruined St Martin and after that we took a safe route down to Bonaire and Aruba. St Cruix would get hit by Maria a few days later and we would return a week later to evacuate hundreds of residents and stranded holiday makers.

The vibe onboard was strange. The world-class entertainment that can be found on all Royal Caribbean ships around the world continued, meals were served in our various restaurants but there was an air of uncertainty. Guests, the majority of whom came from Puerto Rico, knew that there was a category 4 hurricane aiming for their home. On the one hand they might have felt grateful that they were safely away from danger but on the other, friends and family would still have to face that danger, as well as thinking about a home with all of their belongings left to the mercy of mother nature.

News stories began coming in showing the destruction Puerto Rico had suffered. Reports suggested that there would be no electricity on most of the island, maybe for as much as 3 months and the airport was closed meaning those not from our home port would be stranded. Captain Thomas, a Puerto Rica resident himself, kept the ship informed of the plans as regularly as possible and the decision was made to sail to Fort Lauderdale where guests could choose to disembark or remain on board a further three days and return to Puerto Rico.

I must commend my employers Royal Caribbean at this moment and everybody onboard Adventure of the Seas who rolled with the punches helping in any way possible during this time of uncertainty. Over 3,000 guests were seen personally to find out if they would remain on the ship or disembark in Fort Lauderdale. Assistance was provided (in many cases financial assistance) to reschedule flights with many airlines that were unhelpful and even extortionate. I heard of one family who were being quoted $5,000 to return to Mexico. Free internet was provided so guests could follow the unfolding events and contact family where possible and the everyday running of the ship was maintained, with prices dropped to half-price, to keep spirits high and try to give what ever comfort possible.

After two days at sea we arrived in Puerto Rico. Our usual dock had received a lot of damage, and still today two weeks later is looking battered. We docked in the spot where our ships that are visiting the island mid-cruise usually dock, in old town Puerto Rico. Old town didn’t look to badly effected but as we were in the capital we were looking at some of the most solidly built buildings on the island and news stories had already made it clear that other areas were badly effected. We remained overnight and looking out there were very few buildings with the lights on and it was a very eerie atmosphere. With no guests on board we crew were given the opportunity to use the water slides and the pools that night and it was nice to relax before the crazy few days to come.

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Royal Caribbean had made plans to evacuate people from Puerto Rico, St Cruix and St Thomas over the following days. The line outside the ship the following morning was huge but the government already had a manifest of people who would board our ship. Throughout the day people arrived on buses, with dogs cats and birds. Crucial supplies for the island were taken off the ship and tired looking people got on. A similar scene awaited the following day in St Cruix. Where we docked there aren’t many buildings so the damage wasn’t evident to the naked eye but the day after in St Thomas battered structures littered the hillside, strong metal had been left twisted and dented and the swimming pool outside the bar Senior Frogs looked derelict as if it hadn’t been cleaned in years. In contrast to the sad-looking landscape, loud carnival music was being played from somewhere just off the ship and some of the islanders were out there partying. It left a smile on my face to see those people getting on with their life despite what they had been through.

The following two days at sea on route to Fort Lauderdale were draining. There were many different types of people onboard, far from our usual clientele. The majority showed true gratitude for the help they were receiving but laced in there were some whose attitude showed an entitlement to help and could even be rude. There were rumours of others who didn’t even require evacuation and sadly just took the opportunity for a free cruise. We had many children onboard who come from undisciplined backgrounds so running games at points was impossible in a room containing up to 60 kids. children played rough together, argued and required extra vigilance but it is an experience that I would never want to change. It was easy for me to keep my temper as I only had to imagine what some of these kids had witnessed, in some cases just throughout the hurricane, in other cases through life.

We arrived in Fort Lauderdale and Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley came onboard to deliver a ship-wide message, wishing the best to all guests (including their dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and the single guinea pig onboard). Off the ship media coverage witnessed the arrival of the Adventure and when I got off later in the day there were still a lot of people around the terminal, some with messages of thanks written on posters. Some of the most cynical people may whisper that Royal Caribbean has provided so much help in order to get positive news coverage but what I have witnessed with my own eyes goes way beyond any media coverage. From things as small as our housekeeping team having to clean up dog crap from all over the ship all the way up to cancelling a cruise so that we could evacuate those in need and deliver crucial supplies.

When we debarked our guests it was time for us to take a couple of days to relax. We would remain in Fort Lauderdale overnight (with a midnight curfew) followed by two days back to Puerto Rico with no guests on board. We arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday on Friday and begun slowly embarking guests for the cruise starting today, Saturday 7th.

FB_IMG_1507054363774From Fort Lauderdale a group of us decided to make the 45 minute drive to Miami for a well deserved day out. Myra, Jasmine and me went out to rent two minivans whilst other people finished debark and other jobs. We returned to the ship with two big white Chrysler, 7 seater, ‘soccer mum’ vans. I always thought driving an automatic would be easier than a manual but it was a very weird sensation to cruise down the freeway, on the wrong side of the road, my left foot twitching as it wanted something to do.

We had a great day out on Miami South Beach. We took a walk to the beach, which was still recovering from the effects of hurricane Irma. We then found a really cool beach bar for food and drinks. Some of the group went to a shopping mall and others took a walk around before re-joining at the original bar ‘The Clevelander’. It was a quiet evening as it was a Tuesday night and the weather was windy with sessions of heavy rain but our group of crew members were determined to have a good time and there was such an awesome vibe in the place.

Over the next two quiet sea days, we did deep cleaning of working areas during the day and partied at night. Our pool party was postponed due to weather but the pyjama party in the bar usually reserved for guests followed by the party down the Royal promenade helped us all unwind ready for getting back to normality.

Outside the ship, our usual turnaround-day dock is in ruins. The steps to the deck four gangways are twisted and ruined, the roof is missing in places and it all looks derelict but still guests arrive, using the deck 1 gangway. Just past the port, the usually quiet small airport is buzzing with activity as military planes and helicopters fly supplies around the island. We remain in hurricane season, with Nate heading for New Orleans right now, but I feel very safe onboard Adventure of the seas. Thankfully we have taken no unnecessary risks messing with storms and have been on hand to provide aid to those in need. I feel quite proud to be a part of Royal Caribbean at this time.

Hurricane IRMA aftermath

DSC_0246Less than two weeks ago, I walked along deck 12 on my way to work and looked out at the tropical paradise of St Martin. At the end of the pier where we docked there were a host of multi-coloured shacks stocked with souvenirs to be sold to the +3,000 guests that would step off the Adventure of the Seas. Further in the distance you could see the palm trees standing proud along the road as a guide towards the picturesque beach off to the left of the ship. In the amazing blue waters were people having fun on Jet Skis, Paddle boards and engaging in other types of water sports.

DSC_0031_1Today I walked the exact same path along the top deck and the scene was completely different. The shacks vanished, the palm trees look bedraggled and tired from trying to stand up to 200 mph winds and the only people to be seen were getting off a bus and lining up solemnly to get onto our cruise ship that has stopped on a Humanitarian visit.

Last week it was business as usual on my ship the Adventure of the Seas and as we set off from our home port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was blissfully unaware that I was in the vicinity of a natural disaster of such an enormous scale. At our next port, Curacao, I received some concerned messages and I saw news stories online which showed a category 5 Hurricane in the area but the blue skies and blazing sun gave no hint as to what was a few days sail to the north of us. We had a slight change to our itinerary and visited Bonaire rather than St Kitts but all seemed well.

We arrived back into our home port: Puerto Rico, San Juan. Where we dock, looked a bit wind beaten but, other than some power failures, that part of the island looked OK visually. The itinerary change for the next cruise had us spending two days in Aruba instead of our planned trip to St Martin but I can honestly say that I am very happy that a decision was made to make a Humanitarian visit to the devastated island on the second day of the cruise.

In the wake of the monster Hurricane IRMA Royal Caribbean has postponed cruise vacations on some ships.  Empress and Enchantment of the Seas are ready to assist in Miami and Majesty will visit St Martin and St Thomas. On our Humanitarian visit we have provided provisions and have picked up 300 guests to be safely delivered to other islands.

I was at work this morning as we approached St Martin. Looking out of the window of our Adventure Ocean Aquanaught room at 10am I could see the island looking much the same as all of the other Caribbean islands. Multiple shades of beautiful blue in the ocean leading up to the shores masked the havoc that had been reeked. As we got closer and closer over the next hour I began to notice buildings that had been semi destroyed and palm trees, which in our minds we associate with good times and relaxation drooping sadly towards the ground.DSC_0243

When we docked next to a military ship I could finally see the scale of the destruction. Where there once stood buildings there is just flat ground. There are huge crates, that you would usually see on the back of lorries that have been blown around and the strong metal casing crushed. Up on the hills, that look down on the port, damage to buildings is evident including one of two sturdy looking water towers that has had the top blown off.

DSC_0035_1Even from deck 12 I could see the haunted look on the faces of some of the people that we are here to evacuate. For five days now they have been stuck on the island with no electricity and little to no contact with the outside world. I can’t even begin to imagine what they are thinking, going through the tedious process of boarding the luxury vessel having feared for their lives just a few days before.

Today has been a truly humbling experience. Guests and crew remained on the ship and we could only see but a fraction of the damage done by IRMA but it was enough to make me value the small things in life. I’m glad that the company that I call my employers are doing so much to aid those in need and I feel for all those effected!

Appreciate the small things. Live with no regrets.

What do you even do on ships?

So there is no short answer to this question. No, wait, that’s a lie, I always give the short answer when people ask. So I’m going to attempt to give the full answer in this posting!
If you’ve asked me what I’m doing at the moment and I tell you ‘I work on cruise ships’, there is no polite way of putting this but that’s the shortened version of the short version and I probably can’t be bothered to talk to you. Sorry if that’s you.
DSC_0141If I say something along the lines of ‘I’m a youth staff for Royal Caribbean, so basically I keep kids entertained whilst travelling the world.’ you are in the majority category. That is an extremely basic summary of my job but in truth, child care is my primary role but any youth staff will tell you that we are also fire fighters, first aiders, health and safety officers, welcoming committee, crowd control, entertainers, dancers and even lifeguards on certain ships. Some of the veterans of the company (Yea Pierre, SherLynn, Patty, Lana, Adele I’m talking about you) speak of the good old days before cross utilisation when a youth staff just dealt with kids but that’s ancient history and before my time!
There isn’t really an average day for us but here’s the simplistic guide to what we do: Adventure Ocean (AO) is the name given to the kids programme on board all Royal Caribbean ships. The programme caters to 3-11 year olds and is the same across the fleet, it is a free drop off service where children are signed in and out by parents from 9 in the morning till 10 at night (parents can also pay to leave their kids after 10 if they want to go get on the session until 2am). The age groups are split into Aquanauts 3-5 year olds, Explorers 6-8 and Voyagers 9-11. Generally you will have two members of staff in each room with up to 30 Aquanauts or up to 50 Explorers and Voyagers. I’ll give some details about the activities in a later post.
Teens is also free but the teens come and go as they please, opening times vary on different ships but the discos usually run until 1 or 2a.m. During high kid count the age groups will be split into 12-14 year olds and 15 to 17 year olds.FB_IMG_1513191176291
Royal babies and tots is a paid service for 6 months to 3 years old. I can’t tell you that much about it because I have successfully avoided having to work in there throughout my 3 contracts. Most babies, particularly in Asia, are terrified of me so that has helped my case but a preference for working in teens on my part has kept me there. All youth staff can be scheduled to work in any age group but generally there are a few nursery specialists, a few teen specialists and everybody works in Adventure Ocean.
There are three different styles of days whilst working on ships: Turnaround days, Sea days and Port days (and occasionally hybrid days like Port Klang which is such a crap port that it’s a port day that runs like a sea day).
All ships have a home port where they return at the end of each cruise for example Miami, Southampton, Sydney or Singapore. The lengths of the cruises vary depending on the clientele for example the Asian market prefers shorter cruises so 3/4 night itineraries are the norm where as out of the UK two-week cruises around the Mediterranean are normal. On a turnaround day the ship returns to the home port, the old guests are off usually before midday and the new guests are on by mid afternoon. So to answer a common question yes there are pretty much always guests on-board 365 days a year.


On a turnaround day a Youth Staff will be scheduled for a number of different roles:
Debark usually means waking up at silly a.m. to help the old set of guests off the ship (not good when you’ve had a goodbye party for a leaving colleague the night before)
Open house and registration is greeting parents, explaining the programme and helping them fill out consent forms which must be filled out before a child can be signed in to AO.
Gangway is meet and great with all of the new guests and answering any questions they have (about the whole ship so knowledge of all different departments is required).
YEP is handing out youth evacuation plan wristbands to ALL children between 3-11 that get on the ship (always fun in China when guests completely ignore you or think you’re trying to sell them something).
Once all guests are on-board Youth staff go around to the different muster stations (the place guests would go in case of an emergency) during the pre-departure safety drill and put wristbands on any children who were not caught during YEP or, in most cases, who ripped their bands off.
In the evening the first session of the cruise usually runs for two hours in AO and Teens will usually be open for the whole night.
IMG_20191124_165507Sea days are usually very straight forward but can be extremely long and busy because the kids get bored, especially on the smaller ships, and AO gets swamped. There are three sessions, morning afternoon and evening with family activities e.g. discos, trivia etc, run in-between.
Port days are what most of us are there for. Another answer to a common question: we do get chance to get off the ship and explore but in 5 months + of working we don’t get a day off. If we are lucky enough to be off during port hours, chances are that we will work in the morning, helping to sort out tour groups, or crowd control during the debark process or helping guests in wheelchairs off the ship and then working again in the evening.
AO is open at the same times as on a sea day but between sessions staff take the kids to get meals whenever the ship is still in port. So if the ship is in port until 4.00pm then staff will take kids to lunch. If the ship is docked until 7.00pm staff will take the kids to both lunch and dinner. If you are working on a port day we call it a ‘Port Zone’ which is working straight through 8.45 in the morning to 5/ 5.30 in the afternoon. These can be one of the worst things in the world if you are tired for any reason (probably you just couldn’t sleep properly). The morning session from 9-12 is usually fine as you’re running on the adrenaline of getting up, the two hours between sessions when you take the children for lunch is the killer. After lunch you feel the food coma on the horizon. So you’re struggling. And you know there is still the three hours of the afternoon session left. Killer.
So that is what every youth staff will do across every one of the 25 ship in the fleet.

DSC_0350Other jobs that youth staff are required to do vary from ship to ship. Welcoming guests to shows; helping sport staff with activities such as bumper cars or roller skates; or supervising pool areas/ water slides are just some of the shifts that we might be scheduled for, usually as an hour shift before being replaced by another youth staff.

Being a youth staff and working on a cruise ship really is like no other job in the world. It’s an amazing job you can love it, hate it and love it again all in one day. It can be very difficult to work every day for over 5 months and be away from friends and family for that whole time. To live, work and play all in the same place can be testing but the amazing people you meet and the stunning places you visit make all of it worth while and then some. On our largest ship, Harmony of the Seas, there are 2400 staff on board there will usually be staff from between 50 and 100 different countries working at the same time so there is the chance to meet people from all over the world and I do feel truly blessed to be able to say I have met good friends from many different countries. Other than the travelling that is my favourite part of the job!