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).
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.