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.

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.