All Right Folks I finally completed the first ship board entry…sorry about the wait!
The Start of It….
Almost exactly 1 year ago I stepped on a plane to visit someone… ultimately it would lead me to this moment, sitting in my little cabin onboard the MSC Lirica cruise ship. Since then I have experienced every emotion from heart ache, to anger, to finding an inner strength that surprised me. Now, I start my new adventure as the English Social Hostess on a ship that carries 2199 guests and 701 crew when at capacity… who knew life would lead me here!
Making it All Worthwhile
Presently I am sitting in my little cabin, listening to music and waiting to go check on my laundry (it is a highlight of my week when I find time to do it). Spent the morning with a friend walking around Civitevecchia, the port city of Rome, having a fabulous cappucino and an enormous panini with roasted zucchini, ham and mozzarella. I can’t believe that I am living the ship life… after all the craziness and effort to get here… I find moments like these making it all worth it!
With less than a week before departure I finally received my flight details. Leaving Eugene, Oregon around 1pm I would fly to San fran, then on to Munich and finally arriving in Genoa, Italy at 11.20pm. A total travel time of 23hrs…. After collecting luggage and finding a taxi I made it to the MSC Lirica around midnight for check in.
She seemed enormous, looming in the moonlight and I was faced with a rather daunting set of metal stairs offered as a gangway. Not a problem under normal circumstances but with a bag that is exactly the Lufthansa weight limit, this proved a difficult task, especially in my lack of sleep state.
Making it up the ramp I was faced with security. All security onboard MSC ships are Israeli, and it’s hard to get them to smile. Luckily there was another girl waiting behind me and we soon got to talking. Biljana, Macedonia, has had a few contracts and works in the Casino. She helped me settle in. Security is very thorough when checking your bags, you are not allowed to bring liquids or such and they discovered my tiny bottle of Marmite (all English and South Africans will understand this). I made big sad eyes and begged him not to part me from it… He acted like he would remove it and then at the last moment, slid it across to me conspiratorially. Maybe I will make friends with security after all. We were both introduced to Francesco the T&D (training and development) manager. I swear he is the Italian double of Mr. Bean, especially when he smiles. It will be very hard not to call him that by mistake.
Biljana and I helped each other with our bags down to deck 4 and went in to the Chief Purser and sign a few things (apparently it was my contract, but I was so exhausted I didn’t realise until a few days later). Mr. Bean…. I mean Francesco had a special surprise for us, we were allowed onto the bridge to collect our keys and cards. It was quite impressive but in that state at 1am I don’t recall much I am afraid. Biljana and I went to her cabin first, which was clean…ish, definately needed a vacuum. Apparently when people leave they are meant to clean their rooms… meant to being the key phrase. Then it was onto my room. On first inspection it seemed there were still people living there. We found clothes and suitcases and piles of trash everywhere. Biljana called the Night Steward and he took one look and called 2 cleaners. It took them over an hour to make the cabin livable… 2 boys, entertainers, from the Dominican Republic had been the previous tenants. I flipped the mattress just in case!!!
I woke up about 7 hrs later in a bit of a dwaal, as we would say in Afrikaans, a little lost and confused. Apparently breakfast had ended already, I had no idea where to go, who to ask, what to do until I saw … Mr. Bean! He managed to rustle up some croissants and a form of coffee and gave me a short run down of some things. Then he took me to meet my boss, the Cruise Director. He left me in the office and after about 2 hrs I asked if I should return later as no one had had time to even ask me how my flight was. I spent the rest of the day unpacking, trying to find my way around and meeting the whole Casino staff, thanks to Biljana. I didn’t meet any of my team until much later that afternoon.
The one good thing about arriving at that time was being able to choose the bottom bunk. Unfortunately, a roommate did appear in the form of Monique, the French Hostess from Canada. She is around 60 and had given up a good job to follow her dream of travel. I take my hat off to her! But I think it may be interesting living with someone almost twice my age. I did make the tentative suggestion, ok more like a query, if she wanted the bottom bunk. She assured me she was fine and I decided, perhaps selfishly, not to insist. I did have to survive 7mths at sea and being able to flop into the bottom bunk is much easier than climbing the ladder, especially in rolling seas.
The Social Host/ess team is 5 strong. Martina from Italy, Paula from Spain, Peter from Austria, all have numerous contracts under their belt, and Monique and I. Peter only arrived the day of the first cruise, giving everyone quite a scare that he wouldn’t make it in time due to strikes by Lufthansa (apparently I missed them by a day).
We are already almost finished with cruise 3 and will start number four tomorrow. But a run down of the first cruise goes a little like this:
Started with embarkation and 5 hrs of standing, I was very excited to wear the new uniform and my new “clarks” 2inch heels…. I lost feeling in my big toe for 2 weeks, I am not kidding!
About 300 English speakers from all over the world including 5 South Africans…woohoo…scored biltong, bigger Woohoo!!!
This meant my first travel talk was in the theater, which is always intimidating. Arrived early to prepare and wait for the masses, 20 arrived!
Worked constantly with only a few hours each day to pass out. gave up the rare shore time for sleep. No excursions allowed due to training and translations.
Had great fun minglinig with guests and getting to know everyone. Was sad to see a number of them go.
Truly it was all a blur and then the second cruise started.
Started with another round of embarkation lasting 5 hrs with no break and all standing. But this time I chose my “clarks” flat shoes that my mom insisted on buying me, thank God Mom’s are always right!!!!!
Only about 250 English speakers from around the world, didn’t make as many contacts as the first one. But met a great family from Scotland, when Agnes (a middle aged lady with a slight mental handicap) was in my group for the safety drill, as we walked back she said “that was fun can we do it again”. I met her whole family and enjoyed their company. Paul and his wife, Marion, were with Paul’s brother James (also with a mental handicap) and Agnes was James’ friend. Paul blew us all away with a spectacular rendition of a classical number originating in Naples at the MSC talent show. It was so good that a man from Naples came up to him, with tears in his eyes, and thanked him profusely. He got a standing ovation. Marion will return in July with her sons, I can’t wait to see her again.
Also a couple from England guests who had their 70th birthday on the same day. Super sweet couple and I was able to do a number of small things to make their day special. Excursions and I made a sign giving them priority seating on the tour bus, then I had invited them to a quiz and actually had the Animation team call them up and all of sing happy birthday and give them a bag of goodies. They invited me to have birthday cake with them at dinner, which was delicious but which I had to wolf down at great speed in order to get to the Captain’s cocktail party. I suffered a little trying to look demure and professional with a stomach ache…
The at sea day before Piraeus (Port of Athens) we had a crew party in the guest disco. Much fun was had and much stress released… I believe it was the exhaustion and nothing to do with the alcohol that made me tired the next day
We had a guest needing helicopter transfer to land due to illness which was quite a thing apparently. It all went very smoothly, but is never something a cruise ship wants to deal with.
Couldn’t believe it when cruise 3 started… another 5 hrs, this time I spoke to the boss after and he was horrified to realise we weren’t being given a break. So here’s hoping for cruise 4 embarkation to be easier. Our first day is Genoa, Italy and the next we are in the port of Rome, Civitevecchia. On this cruise we were barely and hour and a half out of the port when we had to return for a medical emergency. Apparently a guest had attempted to go out on the top deck but the wind had pushed the door and knocked her over, breaking a hip. This time we were close enough to return to port and no need to call a helicopter. Luckily the Captain employed both the horse and the hamster and we soon caught up time before Istanbul.
Istanbul was the first port I got to go on an excursion and it was fabulous, truly amazing. I went to the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and finally the Haggia Sophia which is simply mind blowing. You look at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican city and my first thought is “wow”, simultaneously I think “all this wealth could really help some folks”. In the Haggia Sophia, everything is ancient and it is all mosaics and paintings and so ancient it boggles the mind. There is truly a presence felt there. I hope to go back and just sit and take it all in. But next Istanbul it’s going to be all free time exploring the depths of the Grand Bazaar!!!!
Odessa, Ukraine, I got another excursion opportunity and enjoyed a relaxing day exploring the city. It was clear and sunny and met some fantastic guests. There were also amazing dogs all over and well taken care of. Photos will follow.
We had a crew show last night, with the poor dances (after having 2 shows for guests) doing another show for crew late in the evening. But it is great to be able to all come together and enjoy what the ship has to offer.
And now I am in Sorrento in the South of Italy and hometown of MSC. I just had a meeting with our big boss who said she had only heard great reports and that she could tell I was smart and a quick learner. I asked her to send a message in that regard to my dad… just in case he had doubts!!
So here I am sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tender boats bring guests in and out. The Lirica moors in the bay and then uses it’s lifeboats to bring guests back and forth. I have had my espresso machiatto, and a piece of focaccia and enjoyed a relaxing hour. But soon it is back to the grindstone and preparing for another round of guests and activities and exploration.
I promise to try write more often, but life on board is certainly a new way of living.