Forests of fireflies – Tlaxcala

In an attempt to explore just a part of the wonders that Mexico has to offer, my girlfriend Karen and I left the busy capital: Mexico City and headed to the forests. First we visited Tlaxcala to see fireflies followed by an adrenaline filled trip to Xalapa where we did a zip-line tour and some white water rating (that I will write about in a later post).

Coming from the UK, such a small country, my definition of a long journey is very different to that of Karen. Buses, usually equipped with TVs showing movies in Spanish, run very frequently everywhere that I’ve visited in Mexico and usually provide a comfortable and affordable way to get around. As I believed that the 4 hour journey to Xalapa was a long way we decided to stop halfway in Tlaxcala. Tlaxcala is only a small colonial town so the buses don’t run so frequently and when we missed our scheduled 6am one, the journey ended up being longer than the original 4 hours as we went there via a nearby town called Puebla (where I visited later in my trip).

The trip, even with the detour, was worth while as after strolling around the churches and museum of the small picturesque town, we went on a tour to see fireflies in the forest. It was the reason that we went to Tlaxcala and it was an amazing experience.

We went on an extremely comfortable minibus with spacious seats and a big TV at the front along with about 10 other people. Our first stop, late afternoon, was to a plantation where they farmed Maguey Plants that are famous for producing tequila. But in this region the process that they use to harvest the plant produces another spirit called Pulque, one of two less famous cousins to tequila that I would taste (one time each as they are both bad) whilst in Mexico.

In the vast fields filled with the Maguey Plants, a local farmer showed us the method of collecting Aquamiel (honey water) from the centre of the big plant, around 3 litres in one go, by sucking through a tiny hole at the end of a big tube and cupping the end before decanting it into a larger container. I was not envious of the long process, carried out in Mexican heat whilst being careful to avoid snakes, spiders and scorpions.


Inside the farmhouse we were given a history of the spirit and then had the opportunity to taste it in different forms. Without alcohol, with alcohol and in various flavours all had one thing in common. They were disgusting. With lingering bad tastes in my mouth, we made our way back to the minibus for an hour or so trip to the forest as the daylight began to fade.

After playing some slightly awkward ice breaker games and stretching, in preparation for an hour walk in the dark, with our young guide, we began walking away from the small restaurant, close to the tiny cabins that some people deicide to stay in. The evening was turning into night as we walked and we began seeing solitary fireflies flittering around us.

I still remember feeling pretty excited when I spotted the first fly, lazily floating around with its butt flashing on and off. For some reason, when it’s night time in a forest, it just feels right to whisper so there was very little noise as more and more flies began zigzagging around our heads. As the forest filled with flashing lights we each found a spot on the floor where we could watch as hundreds of the flies made the forest look magical for about 30 minutes before they slowly began disappearing. Like a nightclub, it started off with a  few that were keen to get out there, followed by a mad rush and as we walked back there were the last few, clinging on searching for a mate late on in the night.

It all seemed to happen all to quickly but I had a smile on my face from the moment that I saw the first fly in the forest. It was a truly magical experience that made me want to go and watch Disney movies for the rest of the night. I’d never heard of Tlaxcala before but I’m glad that I have now!

CDMX – Mexico City

Now I’m here, on my second visit to Mexico I feel especially bad for not finishing the write up from my trip almost a year ago!!

When I was here last I did two separate visits to Mexico City, first for a few days and then again right at the end of my 6 week trip, for a week.


Mexico City, to me, felt a lot like any other big city in the world. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting but my perception of what Mexico: a ‘third world country’ should be like was wrong. The technology and shops are just as contemporary as anywhere else in the world but I guess things that separate it from other places are the way the government is run, how the education and health system works and a big gulf in the division of wealth.

I’m often asked if Mexico is a safe place to visit and I guess the reality is no it’s not. But by sticking to main areas and listening to advice of where not to go I never found myself in a situation that made me feel uncomfortable. The closest thing to crime I saw was a run-down-looking local man running (very slowly) away from a police officer, who didn’t look very interested in chasing him. The man fell over, picked himself back up and kept running, was nearly bitten by a stray dog, but kept running, he looked around to see that he wasn’t being followed but still he kept running in – slow motion.


On that occasion my girlfriend Karen and I were visiting an area called Garibaldi. Admittedly, the 5 minute walk from the metro station is not the safest neighbourhood (which is where we saw the rogue runner) but the square itself is a tourist attraction and so quite safe.

It is a square where the famous mariachi bands play. In the Square itself there are lots of different bands, with their big instruments and extravagant clothing, roaming around looking for people to pay for a single song or two. Inside the bars and restaurants bands will entertain people that sit down to eat and drink and come and ask for tips and attempt to sell CDs containing their music. We listened to 4 or 5 different bands play on a square stage in the centre of the room as we sat and ate our meal. A very authentic and enjoyable experience.

Like any other big city there are plenty of activities to do. Whilst there, I visited museums, walked through a park that surrounded a castle that boasted great views of the city, I took an open top bus tour – that took most of the day to complete the three different lines – and went up a cell tower that took you above the sky line. Unfortunately, Mexico City is one of the more polluted cities in the world and the views were spoilt slightly by a layer of smog that makes seeing far into the distance difficult.

All over Mexico, even a year on, I find myself comparing prices to those in the UK with great surprise. To go to the cinema and get a large drink and popcorn I paid in the region of £5. And that’s for seats that are classed as ‘VIP’ in the UK. It is very rare to find a meal for much more than £10 including a drink and usually I’d be paying around £4 or £5. To get the metro anywhere in the city costs about 40 pence. But my favourite bargains whilst visiting Mexico City were my two trips to the 90,000 capacity Azteca Stadium.

In the UK, if I want to watch my brother play football, in the 7th tier of English football, alongside 100 or so other people, I pay £8. To watch, first Cruz Azul and then Club America – in a party like atmosphere with tireless staff walking up and down stairs with snacks, beers and even hot food on trays carried on their head – I paid around £5. The standard of play in the Mexican top division was not that great but the players are constantly running and you can see the passion amongst them. The atmosphere from the moment I got on the metro to the stadium until way after the final whistle was awesome.


From Mexico City Karen and I went on two cultural trips an hour or so outside of the city. One was to a place called Xochimilco (pronounced Hochimilco), a place where you can pay to be ferried along a busy river way. The traffic included 100s of brightly coloured boats, with long tables under the shelter of a roof, captained by a local man at the back using a pole to propel the boat. Boats containing Mariachi bands offering their services also navigate the river and people selling snacks. On the banks you could find snacks, restaurants and souvenirs.


Our other trip was to the extremely impressive ruins of Teotihuacan (tetiwacan). The ruins of Chichen Itza, near Cancun are the most famous due to a phenomenon which happens once a year that creates a shadow in the shape of a snake, but in my opinion the ruins of Teotihuacan are much more impressive. At the North End you can climb the pyramid of the moon (not quite all the way to the top) and have an amazing view along ‘The Avenue of the Dead’ that stretches for 2 kilometres and is 40 meters wide. All along the avenue are pyramids and temples including the biggest halfway along, the Pyramid of the Sun that you can climb all the way to the top.


After a long day in the sun we were able to buy a nice meal for about £2 which, for me, is unthinkable at such a tourist destination! But that’s only because I’m constantly comparing to UK standards. As I touched on at the beginning of this, the wealth in Mexico is far from equally distributed. It can help give perspective and make me thankful for everything that I have.

Cuba – Trinidad

Throughout Cuba, I was mistaken for a local and I began telling people that my grandfather was Cuban. Trinidad was the place that I chose to tell people that my fictitious grandfather was from as it was easy to remember due to the Caribbean Island that it shares a name with.


The 2 hour bus journey, from Santa Clara to Trinidad cost us 8 CUC each (less than when we got ripped off a few days previously) and took us on a winding journey through lush greenery. Trinidad itself was a fairly touristy area with Belgium style cobbled streets, spectacular views of rolling hills in the distance and lots of bars and restaurants. One of those restaurants provided us with by far the best food that we had whilst in Cuba.


At ‘La Botija’ Karen and I shared an amazing Spag Bol, a kebab with beef, onions, prawns and pineapple after fish cakes and loaded potatoes for starters. The food was really well presented and just 22 CUC (£15) each for two courses and a drink.

There were plenty of excursions being offered around the town at a variety of prices and we opted for a horse ride to the waterfalls. Now, I’ve never ridden a horse before and enjoyed the first 20 minutes but after that I was kind of bored and extremely sore!!

Any apprehension of riding disappeared after we met our guide Jorge. His son, no more than 5/6 years old came trotting along on one of the horses, feet not even reaching the stirrup and a mischievous grin on his face. He got told off for trying to ride too fast. The apprehension quickly returned as we had to walk the horses down a steep cobbled path and my horse kept stumbling and losing its footing.


The guide explained to us how to control the horse (simply pull the reigns to the side that you want the horse to go) but might as well not have because my horse just did what it wanted. On many occasions my horse cut across Karen’s, sometimes pushing them into the bushes, to ensure that we remained in front. We stopped for fresh coffee and a cigar on the way to the waterfall and food on the way back. I was glad to make it back in one piece on my horse that was anything but sure footed. My everything hurt and a relaxing beach day was perfect for the following day.


The beach in Trinidad wasn’t even close to as nice as in Valadero, despite recommendations by Jorge the horse guide. I did go swimming in the merky water but quickly got out having been scared by a stingray that decided to jump out of the water just a few meters behind me.

The evenings had a nice vibe in Trinidad. Live music, bars and restaurants were all around and on one night down in one of the main squares there was a live DJ and a sort of street party. We also went to a really cool nightclub that is built within some caves.

On our last day we arranged a taxi to take us the 4 hours back to Havana. The taxi we shared with another couple and cost us 20 CUC each, which was the same as the 7 hour journey on the bus. We watched England reach the semi final of the World Cup and then drove back in the afternoon. We went to our original hostess Ani who organised for us to stay with a friend as she was full that night.

We spent our last night in Cuba in a huge nightclub. It was a long wait to get into the big building with about 6 different rooms that included music rooms, an Art gallery and a cinema room. The barman gave me the bottle to pour my own drink and looked at me disapprovingly when I politely only filled the massive glass half way (so I finished the bottle off instead).

The next day we got a taxi to the airport and flew back to the future, where there was nice food, modern cars and WiFi in Cancun.

Cuba – Santa Clara


Travelling from Matanzas to Santa Clara (The home of Che Guevera), Karen and I had another taste of how difficult it was to find transport around Cuba. After watching Mexico lose against Brazil in the morning we made our way to the bus station. It took a while, speaking with people that didn’t have a clue, but we eventually learnt that the next bus to Santa Clara wasn’t until 7 in the evening. This would have meant arriving very late in an area that we didn’t know looking for accommodation that we didn’t have.

We decided to take the adventurous route and basically take buses in the correct direction using Google maps. The first bus, a collectivo, took us to Colon for 2 CUC (£1.50). In life you get what you pay for and we paid very little for a two hour trip and ended up on a rickety old bus that looked like a War transport. I was not surprised when a girl had to lean out of the window to throw up because I wasn’t feeling so bright myself.

We gratefully got off the bus in Colon a small town that could have been used as the set for a Western. Cart horses were the main mode of transport and the town was essentially one long road with smaller ones running off. We’d been told before that local transport is just for locals and we had a dodgy experience getting on a coach (which was very normal in comparison to the previous ones).

The coach we were getting was parked outside of a lunch hall and when the driver finished his break lots of people just appeared out of nowhere. A guy who looked to be in charge negotiated a price (30 CUC which seemed excessive) with us, he then proceeded to try and skip past all of the people in the line and wouldn’t allow us to speak with the driver. He personally took the money from us and on reflection of the event we are sure that we got hustled. But we were on our way, and for half the original price of 30CUC each that he asked for.

The rest of the journey and stay in Santa Clara was pretty uneventful. We found a modest Casa Particular, 15 CUC per night and got upgraded to the owner’s second, more spacious property, after our first night due to a problem with his water tank.

We visited the Che Guevara memorial museum, where one of the army guards, as the theme of the week, mistook me for a Cuban. The museum was loaded with a bunch of junk that Che had once touched or in some cases belonged to someone who had been under Che’s command, things that had no way of proving the authenticity.


Apart from that, there wasn’t so much to do in Santa Clara. The main square was a place to hang out, there was a short shopping street and a couple of bars open at night. The food, like the rest of Cuba was average with little variety. We took a walk up a hill that provided a very nice view over the city but the three days that we spent there was more than enough.

Viva Mexico – Tulum

My third and final stop down the Quintana Roo was in Tulum and was probably my favourite place. Despite feeling ill, seeing a big-ass snake and swimming with a small-ass crocodile I really enjoyed my time there.

The bus from Playa Del Carmen took just under an hour and the bus station was about a 50 minute walk away from ‘Lucky Travellers Hostel’ where I was staying. Usually I wouldn’t have minded walking this distance but feeling ill as I was I decided to flag down a taxi.

The drive was literally straight along the road for about 10 minutes and the only navigation required was a quick lap of the block so we were facing the right direction. This, however, didn’t stop the driver, who knew only a few words in English, from constantly asking ‘where we go? Tell me! Tell me!’ It took me a couple of minutes to realise that the taxi driver was pretty drunk. Maybe after the second or third time of him pointed at a woman walking along the street and saying: ‘Look! Big Bum’.

Luckily the road was fairly quiet and didn’t have much traffic and I arrived to my hostel safely! The place was the first ‘all inclusive’ hostel that I’ve seen and was pretty good with free bike rental, a cinema room (shock some English guys were already in there watching football) and generally loads of space to chill out.

I forced some food down, which was average at best but I didn’t expect much better from a buffet, and took a laboured walk to the beach. Like Playa and Cancun the beach was full of seaweed but the potential could be seen beyond the brown waters and the horrid smell.

Each day the hostel organised an excursion on bikes. The two days that I stayed, we were taken to different Cenotes (pronounced say-no-tays) by a tiny Brazilian guy who originally came to Tulum for a few weeks and ended up staying for 6 months.

A Cenote is pool of water stretching underground and there are lots of them found around the Yucatan area, many linked to each other and the sea by underground tunnels. There are open, semi-open, underground and cave Cenotes. The first day we visited a cave and the second was open.

The connection of underground tunnels allows wildlife to arrive in the Cenotes and in the cave, besides many fish that would bite your toes in a free pedicure, there was a baby turtle. They also had some turtles in an old bath tub where they held them before being released somewhere (less tourist infested) later. In the open cenote I even spotted a baby crocodile in the reeds which only made me question where mummy and daddy were.


The cave Cenote was basically just a few holes in the ground. A couple of small holes were about a meter or two wide and the main hole about five meters. Down the main hole was a rugged ladder so people could climb up and down into the bat infested cave or most people just jumped the 4 meters down anywhere that they weren’t likely to land on someone’s head. I was surprised whilst inside to see a bunch of bubbles appear in the water, they were promptly followed by a man in full scuba gear who had been exploring the underground rivers.

The next day we went to an open Cenote. The guys at the entrance warned us that there was a baby crocodile around, which I spotted almost as soon I jumped in, off the man-made diving platform. It was kind of like a big pond with clear water (which made it kind of creepy) and a beautiful jungle back drop, the water was very refreshing on a hot day.

The other thing that I did during my short stay in Tulum – which is a typical thing to do in Mexico – was to visit the ruins. The ruins of Chichin Itza were impressive but these ones were visually stunning.


I took a walk through the jungle and then ducked through a small arch before being hit with a large plane with buildings spaced out on lush green grass with a backdrop of beautiful blue skies that ended with the cliff to the ocean below. The scenery was so stunning that I didn’t even think how impressive the buildings, built thousands of years ago by the Mayans, actually were.

On the way out of the ruins, again through a jungle (but a wide man made path) I was scanning the trees to my left when I had to double take. The tree which I thought had strange patterns actually had a big snake coiled around the branch. Thankfully it wasn’t moving so I stopped long enough to snap a picture and made my way out of there sharpish.

Tulum was a good way to end my week alone in Mexico before heading back to Cancun to meet my girlfriend Karen and continue my travels on to Cuba.

Viva Mexico – Playa del Carmen

The second stop on my Mexican Adventure took me just over an hour south of Cancun to Playa Del Carmen. Buses run very frequently and I opted for an ADO luxury coach with toilet, comfortable reclining chairs and a movie (in Spanish) for a bank breaking 60pesos (about £2.40). The other option was a ‘collectivo’ minibus that costs 45 pesos.

On arrival into Playa I instantly liked it more than Cancun. There are lots of bars and restaurants all leading down to the beach which unfortunately, just like Cancun, was full of seaweed that made it look unattractive and smelled even worse.


The hostel, ‘La Isla’ that I stayed at was right on the beach. From the balcony you could see along the (smelly, ugly) beach. It was also right above Senor Frogs so it’s a good thing that I can sleep through almost anything, as their music was loud until the early hours of the morning.

On my first night I didn’t even notice that the music was playing, or maybe I got back late enough (and possibly drunk enough) that it had stopped.

As soon as I arrived at the hostel I met a guy from the West of Mexico who was in Playa searching for work. He hadn’t been very successful due to the temptation to go out and party all the time. He took me to a local restaurant, away from the tourist area for cheap Quesadillas and we got some drinks to have down the beach.

We ended up going out with an American in his mid 30s on some kind of midlife crisis. He came out with no money, spent the night trying to hit on girls 15 years younger than him and always wanted to ‘find somewhere better’ than the free bars that we were confined to, as I definitely wasn’t about to pay his entrance fee. Despite this guy it was a good night with a nice vibe.

The following day I met up with some ship friends. Ilke, who I met in Cancun, came to catch a ferry with me to Cozumel and we had a nice meal with our friend Annie who’s ship, Oasis of the Seas, was docked. Annie followed me to my first two ships Mariner and Indy and we remain good friends meeting up when ever we are in the same place at the same time.

After cocktails at ‘no name bar’ where crew members visit whenever they dock in Cozumel, we headed back to Playa. Ilke and me had a couple more drinks and her boyfriend came to see us and drove us to get some street food.

The following day, not feeling good at all, either because of the all day drinking, with cheap cocktails or the street food, I watched Mexico beat South Korea 2-1 before heading for my next stop in Tulum.

Viva Mexico – Cancun

Time is a weird concept when you stop to think on it. The last month and a half has gone so quickly but trying to think back to where it all began it seems so long ago!!

Cancun was the first stop of my trip, the place famed for spring break, beautiful beaches with beautiful bodies on those beaches. I actually only saw the beach at night time and went for the more cultural option of a trip to Chichen Itza instead.

I had one week on my own when I arrived in Mexico and researched things to do on the Quintana Roo. I was unsure if it would be best to stay in Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum so in the end I did a couple of nights in all of them!

When I arrived in Cancun I caught up with a ship friend, Ilke from Belgium who was living in Cancun with her boyfriend. We had a couple of drinks at my hostel and then a cocktail at a bar where one litre cost just 60 pesos (£2.10). Once her boyfriend had finished work he took us for a drive around the area.

Cancun is divided into two areas, downtown and the hotel zone. The hotel zone is where you find all of the night clubs and the beaches. There were advertisements for bikini parties that cost around £50 to get in and all you can drink. Driving along the strip with music pumping everywhere you could see why it has the reputation of being a party town.

Unfortunately the time of year that I went to Cancun the usually beautiful beaches were full of washed up sea weed and it carried the smell to go with it. I found out later in the week that it was the same all along the coast.

In my only full day in Cancun I took a tour to one of the seven modern wonders of the world: Chichen Itza. The tour could have been taken anywhere alone the Quintana Roo and my journey was very long as the tour company picked up guests from Playa del Carmen and Tulum first (and in reverse in the way back). It meant that I got picked up for my tour at 8am and wasn’t back again until gone 11pm. Lucky I didn’t have anything else to do that day!


Chichen Itza was pretty spectacular. On arrival I was sent away with a tour guide who was to do an English tour. He seemed like he had done the tour way too many times and couldn’t be bothered with the detailed descriptions of the Mayan history. After about 40 minutes, glossing over the main points, he gave us an hour and 20 minutes to look around by ourselves which suited me fine.

It took most of an hour to walk around all of the different ruins that surround the big iconic pyramid. With no shade around in the midday sun I was ready for the next part of the tour, a trip to Cenote Ik Kil (pronounced say-no-tay).

Cenotes are a combination of underground rivers that run along the Quintana Roo and there are lots of different ones to visit where you can go and swim. The one that our tour visited was quite spectacular and was one of the venues on the ‘Red Bull Cliff Diving’ circuit.


We arrived at the very top of the cave (where they would usually have the platform for the cliff divers) and looked down the 26 meters to the bottom. There were hundreds of tourists down there swimming, many wearing bright orange swim vests to stop them drowning in the 40 meter deep water.

The stairs down have a few viewing platforms where you can look at the vine covered walls that go all the way down to water level. Once at the bottom there are some diving platforms set up, the highest being about 6 meters high. When I jumped in I did my best to forget that it was once a place used for human sacrifice by the Mayans thousands of years ago.

So I didn’t see a huge amount of Cancun whilst I was there but saw enough to know that I wasn’t a huge fan. It was a bit too spaced out between downtown and the hotel zone and everything in the hotel zone seemed over priced. I’m sure if I was there with the boys to go and party I would have loved it but as it happened I moved on to Playa del Carmen instead.

Viva Mexico – Manchester bound

I can’t believe it’s been less than a week since I was back home in the UK, pouring pints and labouring on a building site. Now I am chilling out in a hostel in Tulum, Mexico having ticked off one of the seven modern wonders of the world. I’m going to share some of my experiences on my travels and many thanks in advance for those who read. I hope you enjoy!

Monday 28th June 2018

I set out for Manchester, to catch my flight to Cancun that was leaving early on Tuesday. Some research on skyscanner had helped me to locate a one-way ticket to Cancun, for just £210 with Thomas Cook.

I would just like to point out for those wondering, it was only a one way ticket because I don’t know my plans going forward and not because I don’t intend to return!

My trip to Manchester was pretty straight forward, I’d booked my ticket with ‘Mega-bus’ (or Mega-shite-bus as my good friend Loz refers to it). Obviously it wasn’t the fabled £1 that they advertise but no-one has ever seen but £14 wasn’t so bad. At the bus stop I met a traveller from New Zealand. I’d barely left my home and here I was next to a fellow traveller.

Now there are a few different types of traveller that you find out there. Some laid back, some keep themselves to themselves, some love life and all the beauties that it has to offer especially the parties. This particular traveller was none of the above. This was the type who feels the need to share his life story within the first 3 minutes of meeting (including, for some reason, the fact he only had 4 pairs of underwear with him). If you’ve met this type of traveller before you will know that he has definitely done everything that you’ve done in your life and if he hasn’t he’s heard of someone that has!

When the bus finally arrived, I strategically positioned myself far away from that dude and settled in for the 4 hour journey via Coventry and Birmingham.

When you stop being in a rush and have nowhere in particular to be, a four hour journey can actually feel relaxing and the time flew by. I arrived in Manchester and found my £11 accommodation: ‘Hatters on Newton Street’ and found somewhere to set up camp for the afternoon and watch football. I spent as much on two drinks as I did for a night’s accommodation, but the pub I found had a good atmosphere!

A lot of people hate the stress of travel but the only stress I felt all day was watching England play! Even surrounded by Manchester United fans, the much loved Lingard was taking abuse for missing so many chances (the place nearly erupted when Rashford came on). I’m willing to give Sterling a free pass for playing so badly as at the moment he seems to be shouldering all of the ill will and harassment from the British press which is usually spread out across the whole squad during a big tournament. He’s taken one for the team there.

After Kane’s stoppage time winner, the pub erupted as though we had won the whole tournament and the Mancs broke out into verse of ‘football’s coming home’. I grabbed some food and went to get some sleep before my early flight.

Hostels can be great or a nightmare depending on your luck. In my room with 8 beds I was sharing with four people. At about 4am I heard a Scottish voice shouting ‘hey, buddy, can you stop snoring’. No I wasn’t the one snoring, but I was the one that got woken up by his shouts. Not once but 3 times over the next 20 minutes.

The guy snoring was going at it. He was in a hibernation type sleep that any bear would have been proud of. ‘Hey, BUDDY, can you stop snoring please.’ at least this dumbass was being polite with his request but as the rattling snores continues I wondered what was the point in asking someone that can’t hear you to stop doing something he has no control over. ‘hey buddy, buddy! HEY BUDDY!’

That was it for me ‘dude shut the fuck up! I can deal with his snoring but you shouting the whole time is too much!’ I heard a little whimpering reply ‘well I’m sorry, but I’ve been laid here for hours’ I wasn’t feeling very sympathetic by this point so replied ‘yea well next time don’t be so tight and get yourself a private room!’

The rest of the night was uneventful before waking up at 6am to get to the station and airport.

Ovation of the Seas – is bigger better?

Having spent a busy month dressed as one of Santa’s little helpers, a ghetto elf with pink shades,  I finally find myself with a relaxing bit of time on a beautiful beach in Aruba where I can write about my third contract out of the four I’ve done so far.

I’ve been unbelievably lucky with my contracts so far, each one has taken me to a different continent and Ovation of the Seas gave me the opportunity to see Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia before doing a similar itinerary to my first contract on the Mariner, sailing out of Singapore, around Malaysia and Thailand and finally sailing from China and visiting lots of Japanese ports.

Ovation of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s Quantum class ships, meaning it is the second largest design of ship in the company holding almost 5,000 passengers if it was full. For the first week on the ship I felt like a new hire again trying to find my way around. I now take for granted the awesome things that Royal floats around the oceans, like rock walls, surf simulators, sports courts and theatres but on the Ovation: bumper cars, an indoor skydiving tunnel and an observation tower that raises up to 300 feet above sea level really do need to be seen to be believed.


It was an amazing contract for me, workwise I lucked out, I arrived the day that Australian summer holidays finished and we went from 1,200 kids on board to just 300 and I left on the day that the Chinese school holidays started so again avoided the cruise where the number of children on board went over a thousand. I managed to keep hold of a cabin with no roommate for almost 2 months and the ship was forced into an unexpected dry dock and so we had a week and a half with no guests at all.


The ship sailed out of Sydney, which provides one of the most spectacular ‘sailaways’ that I’ve witnessed on ships, for a bit over a month and then we changed our home port to Singapore, again for just over a month before relocating again and sailing from Tianjin, China. I had overnight stops in Tasmania, Thailand and Japan, I visited Universal Studios Singapore and Disney Land Hong Kong and explored a remote Chinese island while we had to have repairs made to one of the the ships propellers.

The only – I’m going to say – ‘difficult’  part of my contract was dealing with Chinese guests. Something else that needs to be seen to be believed. My team of Chinese staff were all amazing such friendly and attentive people. The guests on the other hand…… Spit, push and pee everywhere.

Bare in mind that on a ship you are constantly within a 1 minute walk of the nearest bathroom, guests (especially the grandparents) would encourage toddlers to pee wherever they are. Inside, outside anywhere they’d just whip the kids pants down to pee. Some kids (admittedly in China as I never saw it on the ship) have trousers with no back so they are walking around bare-ass just in case they need to do their business.

Lining up during Chinese season was a madness. Trying to get off the ship often ended in guests swinging at each other, again, especially the older generation. I witnessed two different occasions where old ladies hit other guests whilst lining up. I avoided the buffet at all costs so didn’t have to witness guests eating with their mouths wide open, hacking up flehm and allowing kids to pee in bottles.

But my overall impression of the Chinese was saved by my team who as I mentioned before were amazing. Lana Banana and myself survived- as the only non Mandarin speaking staff for quite a while (even though our rock n roll night with 25 kids who couldn’t understand a word we said was unbelievable) – thanks to their help.


Working every day for 5 months, as I’m sure you can imagine, takes its toll but I was less tired after my contract on the Ovation than I have been after other contracts. I don’t think I will strike that lucky on a contract again but as Share-bear would say….. Put good vibes out into the universe and you will get them back.

Sailing from sunny Southampton – Independence of the Seas

I’m often asked which ship/ which port is my favourite but each different ship and place have their own individual beauty. Their own unique attributes and things that make them great in their own way. My second ship working for Royal Caribbean was the Independence of the Seas. A party ship. On the Indy you work hard and play harder.


Working on ships as a youth staff you are generally offered a contract that lasts on average 5 months followed by a two month break. The duration of your contract is usually spent on the same ship (but occasionally people might get transferred to another ship halfway through for a variety of reasons). At some point within the last month of your contract you are offered your next assignment  and when I was on the Mariner of the Seas and told I would be joining the Independence next, I couldn’t find a single crew member who had a bad word to say about it. Quite the opposite in fact, everyone said it was an awesome ship and after almost 6 months there I would have to agree!

The itinerary on the Indy sailed from the home port of Southampton and visited Gibraltar, Spain (Canary Isles included), France, Italy, Portugal and Belgium. That was the European season for the ship and covered my whole 5 month contract but I extended a few weeks and did the crossing to the Caribbean which was 8 days at sea across the Atlantic ocean followed by stops in St Martin, St Thomas, St Kitts, Puerto Rico  and Haiti.

My final cruise was a Reggae charter cruise. Sean Paul, Beenie Man and the Marley brothers were just a few of the names on board the ship hired out by Jamrock for a 3 night cruise around Jamaica.

It was a very easy transition jumping from the Mariner to the Indy as the ships have a very similar layout with just one extra fire zone that provided the space for an extra 500 to 1,000 guests and 300 more crew members. The Indy had a baby splash zone (unfortunately manned by youth staff during the day) and a flow rider (fake wave machine) that the Mariner didn’t but ice rink, theatre, dining options, rock wall and sports court were all pretty much the same.

I enjoyed sailing out of England and being just an hour and a half away from my home city of Oxford so the opportunity for family and friends being able to come down and visit on turnaround days was amazing. Having familiar shops like Prim-arni H&M and Zara just a 10 minute walk from where we docked was great and a crew full of crazy Brits like myself who live to party was even better.

All crew parties were few and far between on the Mariner where a lot of the Asian crew members don’t party like in the West. The Indy however would have an all crew party usually one per cruise as well as themed nights at the back deck. My lovely Latinas (at 1am after finally finishing their hair and make up) would insist that I came to every Latin night to attempt to keep up with their salsa dancing.

Apart from the awesome parties the Indy stopped at some amazing ports that I will go into more detail about in later posts. I was able to catch up with my cousin in Barcelona, had over night stops in Palma De Mallorca and saw monkeys dolphins and whales around Gibraltar as just a few highlights.

Adventure Ocean, where I work,  was great and we had such an amazing team. A team that would work like a captain and play like a pirate. An experienced team where you were happy to work with pretty much everyone which most people who work on ships, or in fact any job where you work in a team, can tell you is a rare thing.

After my brothers Sean,  Keith, Tony and Sasha,  who I have the pleasure of working with now on Adventure of the Seas, ditched me I was left for a month being the only male on the team. Not easy! But I was always looked after. Particularly by my friend Annie who followed me from the Mariner to make sure I stayed out of trouble and Gemma and Esta who were great drinking buddies.

The team was held together by Kangaroo Karina and Quetzali who were both legends and worked so well together as manager and assistant. The people you meet on all ships can make or break a contract for a lot of people and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the cool people I met.

The shows on the independence were top quality. I was lucky enough to be on the ship as Grease was introduced to the theatre with a cast of fun and friendly people who worked tirelessly for close to a year away from home including rehearsals. The ice cast preformed two exciting shows that I watched on multiple occasions so the nights where I wasn’t partying, working or trying to recover from partying and working I had plenty of entertainment on hand.

It’s said time flies while you are having fun and that cliché is definitely true of my time on the Indy. Five months went by in the blink of an eye and signing off late December ensured that I was able to spend Christmas at home.