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Yeah Mon’! Jamaican Bobsled Team!

Working as a Social Hostess on my cruise ship means I get to go along on excursions in most ports. There is no certainty to which excursion you will be sent on and while we are often sent on the…less exciting ones… there are times when we get a chance to experience some heart stopping adrenalin rushing intense moments of terror mixed with sheer joy… Bobsledding in Jamaica was one of these for me.

The Jamaican Bobsled Team
We only get our schedules the night before around 10pm, so it is always a surprise as to if and which excursion we might go on. We are allowed to request/suggest ones we would enjoy but 9 times out of 10 it is something out of left field.

When I saw Jamaican Bobsled Adventure I was dumbstruck (a rare occurrence). I am not a fan of speed, I have never been on a roller coaster (unless you count the pirate ship and even that turns me to jello) and the only thing I could think of was the movie Cool Runnings. 

But, I try to do what I am told and figured may as well give it a go, and what a go it was. It takes about an hour drive north from the Falmouth Cruise Ship terminal to reach Mystic Mountian, Ocho Rios. Along the drive you are never sure what you may see.

Such as the "Future" walmart...

Such as the “Future” walmart…

Once there we had a short wait in line before taking a leisurely cable car ride through the lush jungle up to the top of the bobsled ride.
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view of Montego bay and the cruise ships anchored there

view of Montego bay and the cruise ships anchored there

We Be BOBSLEDDING!!!

Just to give you an idea of how this works, these are 1 person sleds set on rails through the jungle. Usually the driver goes alone, but in cases of kids or those struck with terror, you can hook 2 sleds together. The entire ride is gravity fed, but there are levers to control your speed. However, if you control your speed too much then you will get stuck on the rails, causing the staff to come fetch you and you looking embarrassed once fetched. We waited in line for over an hour as 2 people, from a different cruise line, breaked too much and got stuck. As the manager went to go get yet another victim of fear, he mumbled something along the lines of “If anyone else breaks… I swear….”. I feared that I may become the next victim of his wrath. One of my amazing guests, a 22 yr old French Canadian lad offered to let me hook up to his bobsled and he would do the driving. We decided this was best….
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As we turned the first corner I started to pray…
As I mentioned the ride is completely gravity fed, so there is no steering, you just have to hope the sled stays on the rails. You whip down the hill and round the corners, over and under. As you whipe round the corners it felt as if my sled was going to keep going while my perfectly calm and capable drivers’ would continue on the rails. To truly understand the adrenalin rush here is a little video to give you a taste (’cause, yes, my cohort was not only a capable driver who refused to use any breaks, but apparently he could video it at the same time)…

BOBSLED VIDEO

Needless to say the mandatory photo that is taken shows my cohort screaming with glee, arms in the air. As for me all you see if the hunched over back of someone screaming in terror.

Even though I was terrified and I am fairly certain my life flashed before my eyes on more than one turn…

IT WAS ONE OF THE BEST EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE

…the gentle cable car ride down was most likely my favorite

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Uncategorized

 

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Journey to Jerusalem

A little late in publishing but finally got it done. From my time on MSC Lirica during the summer of 2013, Haifa, Israel was one of our stops.

I have never been particularly religious in the typical sense. From my travels I have encountered faiths from all around the world from Catholic, to Buddhism to Muslim, to almost everything in between. Don’t get me wrong, I went through a period when I was a Sunday school teacher in High School and part of the local youth group. But after numerous adventures and cultures I prefer keeping my faith as something for myself. I love discussing religion and discovering the nuances of all the different beliefs, in fact at youth group I would always end up being that one in the middle of the table questioning. I grew up hearing the tales of the old and new testament, and well we were told they were true, for the most part they always felt like just that.. tales.

Entering Jerusalem

That is why it was no surprise that I chose to float in the Dead Sea, a long time dream of mine, before visiting one of the most sacred cities in the world for many cultures. Luckily working on a cruise ship allows you these sorts of choices and eventually I got round to getting the chance to exploring this ancient place. The early morning started at 5am for us with a 2 hour drive from the ship and I woke from my nap just as the bus entered the outskirts. Even before my driver began explaining things I just had this overwhelming, bordering on emotional, sense of awe wash over me. It seemed so obvious, when before it was kind of sketchy, that the stories I had grown up with were, in fact, based in truth and most likely completely true, in some form or another.

Dome of the Rock

Our first stop was a view of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was truly breathtaking.
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The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is considered “the most contested piece of real estate on earth.” (Wikipedia)

Temple Mount with Dome of the Rock in background and cemetery in foreground.

Temple Mount with Dome of the Rock in background and cemetery in foreground.

Western Wall

Known to many as the Wailing Wall because of the thousands who come to pray and leave messages, the Western Wall is something to see and experience.

The sign before going through security at the entrance to the wall

The sign before going through security at the entrance to the wall

We arrived on the first day of Rosh Hashanah*, the Jewish New Year. This meant that there was no traffic anywhere and thousands of pilgrims at the wall. It also meant that no photos were allowed, which was a bummer as the people who came to pray that day were amazingly beautiful. Not in the typical “magazine cover” sense of the word, but in the cultural aspect, and the looks of absolute love and religious fervor that the wall seemed to instill in people. I had a very itchy finger wanting to take pics.

3 generations heading to pray

3 generations heading to pray

But I opted to obey the rules…and show respect. I wish I could paint you a picture of how amazing this was. I wish I could have sat and just watched the flow of humanity, often seeing it in it’s rawest and truest form.

The wall has a male and female side. On the male side it looked like a full party rave going on. Men were chanting and dancing and singing, the intensity increasing with every word uttered. They were lifting chairs above their heads and you could see the religious fire burning in their eyes.

On the women’s side it was the complete opposite. The women were silent except for some whispered prayers, there was a quiet dignity about them. All ages, all races and most likely many religions. Some were just sitting and reading the bible, sharing their beliefs with younger generations.

I walked down found a scrap of paper and wrote down my prayer, my hopes, my dreams…found a space between the rocks and, resting my head on the ancient stones, placed it well pouring all my positive energy into what I had written.

Via Dolorosa

Heading further into the Old City of Jerusalem, we left the Western Wall behind us and continued towards Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Sorrows”.
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This is the route Jesus was made to walk while carrying the cross to his crucifixion. The winding cobbled street passes from the Antonio Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, around 600m/2000ft. Today it passes by bakeries, fruit sellers and souvenir shops. I wonder if the people living here today pause to think about the significance of this path or if it lost to them as so many other world marvels are lost to the people ho see them everyday.
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The route has changed over the years, but this one has been established since the 18th century, along the way tehre are nine Stations of the Cross. Places where it is believed Jesus stopped, or fell or met certain figures, such as Mary.
At the fifth station, known as the Chapel of Simon of Cyrene, it is believed Simon carried the cross for a ways. Jesus is said to have lent on the wall and left a bloody hand print, this spot is now much revered and has worn down over centuries of being touched by followers and tourists alike.
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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

As we meandered along this sacred route, I was struck by the people, the scents, the sounds. Life seemed so real, so alive, you never knew what you might find around the next corner.

such a table with a wide array of multi-colored candies

such a table with a wide array of multi-colored candies

Soon, we neared what is considered the most sacred site of pilgrimage for Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It lies on what is believed to be the hallowed site of Golgotha (The Hill of Calvary), where Jesus was crucified and is also said to contain where he was buried and later resurrected. The church now plays host to the headquarters of most Christian sects, ironically enough, due to much…disagreement… between these sects, it is a Muslim family who holds the key to the ancient door. They have been responsible for it for over 1,300yrs.
(Article in the SFGate telling the tale).

Out in the courtyard you see pilgrims from all walks of life, all sects of Christian religions, all nationalities.

Greek Orthodox Ladies taking a break

Greek Orthodox Ladies taking a break


Young African man playing his drum

Young African man playing his drum


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I was in awe of this place, and you could feel the love and hope virtually emanating from the hundreds of people, most of whom had probably planned and dreamed of this day.
Just inside is the Stone of Anointing, a large slab (added in the 18th) century on the spot where Joseph of Aramathea was said to have prepared the body of Jesus for burial. Pilgrims take an item of clothing or jewelry and rub it on the stone as they pray, hoping to bring blessings to the item.
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Our group purchased candles from the Church store and lit them saying a prayer. Some get over enthusiastic and think the bigger the bundle the more likely their prayer will be heard, this is when a priest comes in and has to douse them so that a fire doesn’t break out.
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We spent some time exploring the church and I think photos are the best way for you to get a feel for it:

Light streams in the the arches creating an ethereal beauty

Light streams in the the arches creating an ethereal beauty


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The lamps that hang over the stone are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

The lamps that hang over the stone are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

The Immovable Ladder

Another interesting anecdote about the Church is what has been named the Immovable Ladder. This is a cedar ladder (the wood is believed to originally have been from Lebanon) that was placed below a window on the outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during some construction. However, during a disagreement between the Christian sects, an understanding was made that no cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of all six orders. Since getting consent of ALL the orders is near impossible, the ladder was not allowed to be removed and has therefore become Immovable and a symbol. It was first mentioned in 1757 and is replaced when the present ladder disintegrates over time.
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After a truly fascinating and emotional trip for the entire group our bugle toting guide, blew a few notes (not enough to bring the walls crashing down)
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and we headed out of the Old City with many other pilgrims in search of new inspiration and understanding of the world around us.
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Personal Note – it truly saddens me that a place that has more history in one stone than most places in the world and that should bring the world together due to it’s significance and meaning seems to be constantly at war. The people I met in Israel were inspiring and welcoming and I hope everyone visits and learns to put old prejudice aside.

*Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: ראש השנה‎, literally “head [of] the year”), is the Jewish New Year although the real name for this Feast of the Lord is called Yom Teruah (Hebrew: יום תרועה‎, literally “day [of] shouting/raising a noise”) or the Feast of Trumpets according to the correct biblical calendar of the 1st and 2nd temple period, not Rosh Hashanah. It is the first of the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”) which usually occur in the early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere. Rosh Hashanah is a two-day celebration, which begins on the first day of Tishrei. The day is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of mankind’s role in God’s world. Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar (a hollowed-out ram’s horn) and eating symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey to evoke a “sweet new year”.
(From Wikipedia)

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Cruise, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Jam and Holy Shi…….p

Charters

Quite often the MSC Divina plays host to large groups and partial charters (where a group is large enough to take over half but not all of the ship). Let’s see, recently we have had the Irish Music group, the Polka group, the French-Canadian Country Music group, there was even a much feared VEGAN charter (I had a non vegan guest whisper fearfully in my ear “will they make us eat vegan food??”).

and of course the Drag Queen partial charter….we will let the pics speak for themselves…
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Drag partial charter (4)
Drag partial charter (5)
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Drag partial charter (18)

Now these partial charters are fun, but mixing the often, eccentric, with the everyday passenger does lead to problems or an uncomfortable situation…

Such as this event during the Drag Queen Charter. One of our artists, a big strong guy from Poland, and I were at the crew gym. He was lifting weights and I was stretching, all of a sudden we both look up and here is this 7ft Amazon wearing….glitter! Yup a touch of glitter on all the vital areas. Needless to say both of us were speechless as “she” (recently), said “excuse me but where’s the bar?”…. My brain couldn’t even comprehend this comical nature of this event, so all I could do was guide her to the elevator, through the crew area (with numerous guys passing out from lack of blood to the brain). At the elevator I did mention “ummm you are beautiful but we ummm have kids and well husbands onboard..”. My mate was still holding the weight in the same position when I returned to the gym!

Then there are the occasions where we also have FULL charters, this is when a group takes over the entire ship. They usually take over the program, the entertainment, sometimes even the menu… These usually mean a lot of the crew get downtime.

This particular week included the legendary JAM CRUISE followed hotly by the infamous HOLY SHIP!

Now you might be asking me… Holy whatsamacallit???? Yup these are two insane, crazy, wonderful party cruises.

Everybodies Jammin’

JAM CRUISE is the… how do I say this in a politically correct way… the HIPPIE cruise, there is an older crowd and a lot of “medicinal” smoking, all over the ship (our cabin stewards were exceptionally relaxed working in the corridors). The crowds were super kind and friendly.
jam
At the beginning of the cruise I walked passed one of the public bathrooms and discovered a large, happy group circling the door. I asked if this was the bathroom greeting committee and next thing I knew I was bedecked with numerous items such as a flashing turtle pin and a flashing necklace, then repeatedly hugged before the group seemingly floated off. A very surreal experience.

The guests were fantastic and the crew was hugged repeatedly. The pool was transformed into a stage:
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With great bands from all over including Bob Marley’s band…
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And a variety of fun hip bands such as this group, who had a sort of 70’s funk thing happening.

The guests were so laid back that no one even cared when weather prevented us from reaching our final destination of Half Moon Cay, which was a pity as it is the crew’s favorite island.

When the guests headed out the housekeeping staff had a huge job of cleaning up, luckily another charter was following with a similar theme but a younger crowd.

Holy Sh…p!

Holy Ship is pretty much the opposite of Jam Cruise. Jam was chill, Holy was a rave, with DJ’s and famous names like Ferrel Williams and Srillex (or something like that). The guests preferred a variety of recreational aspects… shall we say, that most would enjoy at a rave.

This crowd was fun but insane! Randy youngsters running around all over the place, a few shower doors were broken (apparently 2 is the limit for the shower), lots of girls wearing… stickers (much to the delight of all of the male species), in general life being lived to the max.
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Our very own mermaid

Our last two days were on Great Stirrup Cay and Coco Cay. Two private islands right next to each other (which meant we didn’t have to move the ship that night), and two ultimate beach parties, with many famous names spinning the records!

Ok maybe not these guys, these are our versions of famous DJ's playing at the crew party

Ok maybe not these guys, these are our versions of famous DJ’s playing at the crew party

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These are our DJ sharks enjoying the beach party

Clean-Up

If we thought trying to get the relaxed Jammers out, try getting the hung over Holy’s out… poor housekeeping had their work cut out for them (imagine 3 days of spring break in a contained area after Holy Ship) and we braced for the return of regular demanding passengers. Apparently there were still hand prints and glow in the dark stars on a few cabin ceilings weeks after these 2 particular charters.

Ahhh the joys and tribulations that is a charter!!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Horse Riding in Puerto Rico

Excursions

I was supposed to have a ship visit and so was exempt from the crew drill planned for that day in San Juan, Puerto Rico. At the last moment the ship visit was cancelled, but I was still exempt. So after a quick scurry to chat to the tour manager I was lucky enough to be given the horseriding excursion. I was super excited as it has been years since I have been riding and it isn’t often we get to go on the excursions we hope for. A quick presto packo, to stick my jeans in my bag (technically we are not allowed to wear jeans when we are working, but horseriding in my excursion shorts was not going to happen) and I was off.

To get to Carabali Rainforest Park there is about an hour drive, so I sat back relaxed and snacked on the croissants I had grabbed in the mess (sshhh don’t tell anyone I took them).

Horse Dispersion

Once we got there I quickly changed and then headed over to the briefing. The guys from Carabali were fantastic, super professional and great fun. They sorted us into beginner and experienced (further separated into “been on horse at least 3 times” and “have a good idea of what we are doing”).
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I have done some lessons, back in the dark ages in University, and have some idea of what I am doing, so I was given “Tyson”. As I mounted him my guide told me “he is great but has an attitude, he doesn’t like to be in the back”. That was an understatement, it was me first all the way. But he was a super sweet horse and once I got used to his bouncy canter we were right as rain.
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Rainforest Trail

We rode through the edges of only true tropical rainforest in the territories of the USA.It was spectacular and reminded me a lot of where I grew up in South Africa. The main difference being, while we had vervet monkeys swinging through the trees, here giant iguanas sun themselves on the palms.
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Jungle Bananas

During the beginning of the trail our guide had us stop and he dismounted, then he started telling us all about jungle bananas. they are much smaller but taste like 5 bananas combined into one little mini banana. I had tasted them before in Ecuador when I worked in the Amazon (feel free to browse previous blogs from 2011 for those fantastic adventures), and remembered how good they were.
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Photo Stops and Face Painting

It was truly relaxing and beautful making our way through the jungle, chatting with the guests (usually as Tyson pushed past to get near the front) and the guides. We stopped in an open glade for a photo stop and then headed to the river.
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At the river we all dismounted and the guides corralled the horses. There were drinks available for purchase and we all relaxed next to the river for 30min.
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The guides told us more about the history of Puerto Rico and how the native people used different color rocks to make face paint. Of course we had to experiment with this.
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We also learnt what kind of leaves they used to transport water, they are completely waterproof.
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All in all a fantastic day and I loved every minute of it. I highly recommend anyone who is the general area of Puerto Rico to visit the Carabali Rainforest Park and go for a horse ride.
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Posted by on January 28, 2014 in Cruise, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Swimming with Dolphins

Dreams and Bucket Lists

For as long as I can remember the ocean, and it’s creatures have fascinated me, and I have had a love of Dolphins and Whales. A year ago I got to scuba dive with whale sharks, marking a tick on my bucket list. Just a few days ago, through a crazy coincidence, I was able to go swimming with dolphins, marking yet another tick off.

How it All Began…

Part of my duties as an English Social Hostess on board Divina, is to take visitors, usually dignitaries and officials, around the ship on a ship tour. I met all range of interesting people, but I must say, the group from Falmouth, Jamaica were by far the most animated, fun-loving group of officials I have yet met. In fact I got 2 marriage proposals (including one of them getting down to one knee). They insisted I join them for lunch in the ship restaurant after the tour, (after I got permission), and we had a great chat. One of the officials, William Tatham of the Port Authorities (if I remember correctly) gave me his card and said next time we were in port he would organize something for me.

Well, my mom always said I have no shame when it comes to taking people up on their offers, and so two weeks later when we were due to arrive I dropped him a message. Next minute, I get an email from Dolphin Cove inviting me to experience a VIP tour and dolphin swim at no charge!!!! I couldn’t believe it, wow!

Unfortunately, that port we had a crew drill and we got out too late to go, same for the next visit, I also had an excursion that time (the Jamaican Bobsled… where I feared for my life, but that’s another story).

It really looked as if we would never get a chance to take them up on their offer, until….

3rd Time Lucky

On our 3rd time back in Falmouth it was Jam Cruise. Not only did most of us have it free, there were also excursions. This was the perfect time. Dolphin Cove suggested I bring friends, the more the merrier, and so our merry group of 20 were all busting at the seams for the day to arrive.

….then, Murphy’s Law… I was scheduled to work, which meant, unless there was a miracle, I would miss the trip. But I decided not to complain, not to argue, after all it is my job. Instead, I think everyone else went to my defense, and with 30min before the bus was due to leave I was told I could go!!! Woohoo!!!

17 of us made it on the bus, and with our amazing driver, Derek, we set off on the hour long drive to Dolphin Cove. Derek, gave us historical and musical information the whole way down, and everything was, well, “Eiri Mon, just Eiri!”
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Swimming with Shakira

Our dolphin was named, Shakira, the other half of our group had Apollo. Shakira, was beautiful and I do not have words to express, how amazing it was to touch her and swim with her and even kiss her. In fact, I almost started crying the first time we got to stroke her as she swam past (oddly, she feels very much like the rubber toys they sell in stores…)
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After we got to meet and touch her it was time to swim with her. Here we had to tap the water and then she would pop up in front of us, lie on her back, we would grab her flippers and then she would swim us back to the pier. Very important was to let go when the trainer told us to, otherwise there was the threat of smashing into the pier as she swam under it….
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Finally it was the pièce de résistance, the kiss!!!
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It was a truly spectacular afternoon, and the staff at Dolphin Cove were phenomenal. All the Dolphins seemed happy and looked healthy. In fact, they have one rescue dolphin who was hit by a boat, during her recovery (to keep her entertained) they taught her the tricks and skills. Upon her return to health she was returned to the sea, less than a week later she found her way back to Dolphin Cove and “asked” to stay!

I will never forget this day, thanks so much to everyone who made it happen!

DOLPHIN SWIM VIDEO

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Cruise, Uncategorized

 

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A Shipboard Christmas

Christmas at Sea

And so this is Christmas…..

It is always hard for me to be away from family on Christmas. It is my favorite holiday and I have very fond memories of growing up in South Africa and visiting my grandparents for the Christmas dinner, which was always a large roast with potatoes and yorkshire pudding and gravy and all the trimmings. Now, noting South Africa has a summer Christmas, this was a fairly intense meal, but something that is a tradition in my house (of course now living in Oregon it means it’s cold outside and you feel like eating a lot more).

This would not be my first Christmas away from home, but that doesn’t make it any easier. In fact having Christmas while working on a cruise ship can make for a lack of Christmas cheer. So, you have to really focus on the good things, your friends, your friendly guests (hopefully we all had some) and if all else fails wear a pair of antlers and put smiles on everyone else’s faces.

Antlers
I chose the antlers,

With good friend, Marianna.

With good friend, Marianna.

In fact on evenings when I didn’t wear my antlers I had guests asking me where they were. I would wear them in my uniform when I was helping guests at reception, it’s amazing how hard it is for a guest to complain bitterly when the person you are talking to has antlers that jingle everytime she nods her head. Of course, if it became apparent that the antlers would not deter the guest from making a complaint, they were surreptitiously removed. But, for the most part, guests got a kick out of it. I would also wear them on excursion and got quite a few laughs when I went swimming with them in St. Maartin….

Snorkeling in St. Maarten

Snorkeling in St. Maarten

After the excursion, I joined some of the guests for a walk around town and a couple of beers…
drunk antlers

Decorations
In the US Christmas decorations usually start popping up the middle of October, with the occasional random xmas song, just to get us warmed up. Then come middle of November the radio stations are solidly booked with jolly songs about santa and reindeer and white Christmas. However, on our ship, we only put decorations up the 2nd week of Christmas, so it felt really strange as I am used to having them up for months. One minute they were up the next they were down. We went for a nice sublte, not to over stated, green wreath with a few Christmas trees and red, silver and gold balls. Over all rather elegant, although many US guests were expecting more of an … how shall we say… intense decoration experience. Oh well, this is an Italian ship and elegance is their thing.

Next to one of the xmas trees

Next to one of the xmas trees

Magnificent Buffet

On very special occasions the Chef and his crew create what is called, the Magnificent Buffet, and it is truly magnificent.
Here are a few pics to truly appreciate their creativity:
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mag bu

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Absolutely everything is either carved, or molded, or assembled out of food or food by products… truly Magnificent.

Department Xmas Party

Our department decided to have our own little xmas party. We were in San Juan, Puerto Rico on the day and our International Cruise Director organised it at Signor Frogs. Now, anyone who has been to a signor frogs knows it is all about the booze. We had a buffet as well (am pretty certain refried beans should NOT be a soup like consistancy), but, let’s just say it’s the company that counts.
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xmas partyy

Even Santa showed up!
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Great fun was had by all… but still, it’s always better with family!!

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2014 in Cruise, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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The Evil that is.. dah dah dah…. Separate Tickets (insert scream here)

Background

Whenever I travel I have always bought tickets together and it all seemed to flow so nicely. If there was a screw up or a delay, no problem the airline gave you a hotel or meal voucher.

But during my attempt to fly to Venice to start my next contract on the cruise ship I experience the horror that comes when tickets are purchased separately and for airlines that are not partners.

And it Begins…

Checking in was a breeze, although some sweet talk was required as my bag was overweight but, hey, I am on a seaman’s ticket. They checked my bags all the way to Venice, even though the tickets were separate. However, they couldn’t give me my boarding passes but all I had to do was pick them up at the kiosk, no problem. She also casually informed me that, due to San Francisco’s infamous fog, flights were delayed but again, no problem, I should make my flight.

Waiting in the lounge the emails from United Air went something like this:
Your 10.30am flight is delayed to 11.30am
Now your 10.30am flight is delayed to 1.19pm
oh wait we mean 12.30pm

Ultimately we left at 1.30pm, but with the absolute assurance from all involved that making my 3.30pm flight would be a snap. When we landed I had just over an hour and all I had to do was jog over to Air France, grab my boarding passes and head to the gate. No Problem!!!

Marathons
Let’s rephrase shall we: I RAN down through the domestic terminal to the international terminal that was “right next door” and tried to find the Air France counter. I finally got directions and sprinted dragging my carry on behind me. Rounding the corner to the Air France counter I discovered nothing… no-one….nada…. the counter was closed, with still an hour till the flight. I tried the kiosk but kept getting a “Do not recognise flyer” message. By now panic was rising, the tears were forming, the sweat was poring, I HAD TO MAKE THIS FLIGHT!

I saw a young man and asked if he worked at the counter, he said yes listened to my desperation and went to find the supervisor. Both of these guys had been on their way to lunch…. not anymore. The supervisor told me gate closed, no go, have to rebook. As I was waiting for them to get me a phone number a French couple rounded the corner with the same look of desperation. Turns out they had the same problem flying in from a different airport. The Air France guys gave us the number, said sorry and disappeared as fast as their little feet could take them. Although the young guy did really want to help more.

Hello Operator???

The french couple asked me to help with the phone call so we dialed and hoped for the best. After a few transfers we were finally connected to United… I think… not sure why…
For both of us the answer was that we had booked on separate airlines so that means there was nothing they could do, they couldn’t rebook us, they couldn’t give us information… nada!!

Customer Service at its best!!

Then we headed off to United to see if there was anything the counter could do. Once again it was a dead end, they could proved us a note claiming we missed our next flight due to a delay and a coupon for a hotel discount, but nothing else. Also they weren’t sure where my bags were, but we relatively certain they were somewhere in the airport… fantastic!

Delta????

A good friend suggested we go see Delta, as they are partners with Air France…. it couldn’t hurt really, we had hit a wall at every possible attempt. The staff at the Delta Air counter in San Francisco were not only kind and friendly they were downright incredible, phenomenal and pretty damn awesome. We spent 5 hours at the counter but they would not give up. The first lady could not help me but she was able too sort out the couple’s tickets with just a small change fee. Then just as I was about to give up, after trying to call any number I had to reach someone in Italy… an amazing member of the Delta team put his foot down and was determined to discover a way to get my ticket sorted. He would not give up, and eventually against all odds, possibly with a little magic involved he handed me my tickets for the next flight and even had me do online check in and choose my seats. I wanted to kiss him, all the stress and strain dissipated.

Luggage in transit

During this miracle of reticketing, I went to United to find my luggage. They had no record of it other than when it was scanned to go onto the airplane in…wait for it…. Eugene, OR. So either my bag was still on the Eugene flight, or it had been transferred and was flying to venice or it was backstage somewhere in the airport. At that point it just didn’t seem like a big deal… am was sure I would find it the next day.

The Round Up

The 3 musketeers left the airport and headed for our hotel feeling utterly exhausted, bordering on starvation but not defeated now that Delta had saved the day. After a shower and rest we celebrated the insanity of the day over dinner and drinks and then planned to meet the next day at the airport.

In the end I made it to Venice, the Air France flight was great, I had a whole row, great movies and good food. But the stress to get there just proved the fact that buying tickets all within the same partnership can significantly diminish stress when delays occur.

As for making it to the ship…. I did, barely, but that’s a story for another time.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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French Charter Cruise!!!

It’s All French From Here

Over the next four days we have the sublime priviledge of hosting 1400 Frenchies on a charter for the car company Citroen. The good news is, most of them got it for free and seem to be in a great mood about it, even to the point of forgiving my lack of French and inability at pronouncing it.

Embarkation

It all started on a day in Genoa, I was at my trusty table with my pile of safety flyers. Most embarkation days I am stationed here, usually I have 5 different languages for the safety flyer and a 6th flyer with all the languages explaining the safety drill. Each time a guest enters I greet them in English and hope they respond in their language so I know which flyer to give them. Every now and then someone pulls a dirty trick and greets me in Italian, only to end up being French or German….

On French charter embarkation we only had the multi-language flyer and the French one. So in an attempt at being efficient I just combined them together so that I could hand them to guests at the same time. Of course the first 1000 arrived at the same time and it was mad chaos trying to hand them the papers fast enough. Luckily they were patient and not rude and pushy like a group of Italians we had the cruise before who nearly ran me over in their attempt to get to check-in first. Once the snaking line filled up it was pretty slow going, just handing them out every minute or so and smiling and nodding. However, you will not believe how many people put the multi-language paper down or handed it back to me thinking it was in another language, only to have me point out the French paragraph at the very top….

Just for exercise, just for exercise, just for exercise….

2pm we had our usual safety drill, luckily it lasted about 10min instead of 30min as we only had 1 language instead of the usual 5.

The group was great and very amused with my demonstration, you got to make it fun otherwise people get bored and forget. My muster station is S, inside the casino, Lifeboat 8, in the far corner. A bit nerve racking I fear if a problem did actually arise as every other group is either outside or has an exit door near at hand.

Circles, lots and lots of circles

Our evening involved remaining in uniform and circling round and round deck 5 and 6 in case any one needed help. Luckily I understand words like “recepcion” and “toilette”. At one stage I was listening to one of the singers playing some phenomenal Elvis music and a guest grabbed me and started waltzing… again, I think this is going to be a fun crowd. I finished circling at 11pm and went to peel off my uniform that I had had the supreme joy of wearing for 15hrs straight 2 days in a row.

Surprise! Excursion!

At our meeting this afternoon to explain where and when we were needed, our boss told us we were on excursion. At first we thought he meant that we were the runners to take the excursions to the bus… but then it was clear that we were actually ON the excursion. Since we only have a few hours this is great news, but at the same time, coffee with friends and a nap had sounded awfully good this afternoon.

The excursion of the day was to the tiny medieval town of Erice up on the top of the mountain in Trapani. The weather appeared decent, perhaps a little wind but I figured my sweatshirt and sunglasses would be enough, as usual. The movement of the bus lulled me to sleep for part of the drive, also the droning of our guide in French helped. When I opened my eyes all I saw was rain and grey and mist. When we arrived, after an exceptionally windy, twisty drive up roads barely wide enough to accept a mini coup, let alone a giant bus contorting itself around hair pin bends while trying to avoid oncoming traffic, it looked like it was winter in the highlands of Scotland. The mist was so thick you couldn’t see for than 10 feet ahead. But it certainly added a kind of ambience to the place and really lended to the feeling of an medieval town.
MSC - Erice Sicily

MSC - Erice Sicily (4)

After a mad caper of trying to convince guests off the bus and then find them as they all made a mad dash for cover, the tour guide and I eventually corralled enough of them to be convinced of a full group. One of the tour guides looked at me forlorn and said “53 refused to get off the bus, I only have 8” Really people it’s just a little mist and rain and cold and fog other than that it’s a glorious day in Sicily.
MSC - Erice Sicily (7)

Holy Cannoli???

As we meandered through the streets, heading uphill on particularly slippery cobblestones our guide gave us a brief run down of the history. To be honest I wasn’t really listening, instead I was in awe of the place and all the little shops. As we reached the top we came across a large number of French eating cannoli’s and drinking some sort of warm liquer. I wasn’t sure if someone had started a strange pastry craze, but the heavens smiled as it turned out the cannoli’s, these glorious crispy pastries that wrap themselves round a stuffing of ricotta cheese, were part of the tour!!!! We all got lined up to enter and as I put my foot in the entry the tour organizer gave me the lollipop (the sign we hold up to get our group to follow us) and told me to stand outside. I must have given her a very pathetic look as her next statement promised to bring me a cannoli when she went to get hers.
MSC - Erice Sicily (8)

Standing on a foggy street corner in a medieval town eating a cannoli with one hand while holding the tour lollipop with the other and powdered sugar raining down all over you with every bite…. Heaven!
MSC - Erice Sicily (9)

I really can’t tell you what the rest of the tour involved as I was in a cannoli induced fog, there was a church though and a promise to take me to a famous marzipan bakery for some speciality cookies. That is until the tour organizer decided I had to go with her to make sure all the guests went the right way, which they were (she had the tendency of treating them like 5yr olds). The problem was 2-fold, I spoke no French so couldn’t tell them where to go and I had never been here and so couldn’t tell them where to go. Luckily she figured it out and we headed back the way we had come and I found my marzipan guide.

In the end I got a giant box of marzipan cookies which were rapidly inhaled by the photo team upon my return, don’t worry I made sure I got a couple of them. The bakery gave me a free espresso so I could bounce my way back to the bus, where I found myself trying to sing Alouette in an attempt to keep the guests occupied as we waited for the last few to find their way out of Erice and back to the bus.

View on the drive back

View on the drive back

White Night

The final night was a white theme, and all guests were given white fedora hats, which created a fantastic atmosphere. Everyone had a good time with a concert on the pool deck and despite the cold, were in high spirits. A few days later I managed to find a contact in the housekeeping staff who acquired one of the left over hats for me and my roommate.

All French Things Come to An End

All to soon, this rather fabulous group of Frenchies, had to leave and our new route for the next 5mths began…. What the future holds we will have to see, but for now I am enjoying the ride… or the cruise.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Uncategorized

 

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Welcome to Ship Life

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!

Flights

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.
MSC - Lirica in Dry Dock (2)

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.
MSC - the crew gangway day 1

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!!!

First Mornings

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 Team

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).

First Cruise

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.

Second Cruise

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.

Cruise 3

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.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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A Cruising We Shall Go…

Today is March 19th, 2013 and I am waiting to leave for Italy to start a 7month contract on the cruise ship MSC Lirica. Don’t worry it is not the cruise line Costa or Carnival, however there is a good chance the captain will be Italian.

The route does 11 day cruises from Genoa, Italy via Rome to Athens, Greece, on to the Ukraine, Turkey and back to Genoa. It changes course in June and misses the Ukraine returning to Turkey and adding Cyprus and Israel.

I will try my best to blog when I can but internet is not very reliable on the ship and rather expensive. But I hope you will be patient and enjoy the posts when I can.

As some of you know I initially applied because of a boy, but he broke my heart and instead of giving up, I figured I would continue the adventure on my own!

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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