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Dubrovnik, Croatia Seaside
My first full cruise in the Mediterranean was very exciting. With three of us working with the kids, that means one works a full port day while two of us can get off at port. We all work every night, but that means we get most of the daytime off to go explore. Our first stop was Livorno, near Florence and Pisa in Italy. I went on a tour north to see the Cinque Terre. A friend had recommended it to me and I definitely want to return! It was still cold and overcast, but beautiful! There was flooding in the fall of 2011 and there seemed to be a decent recovery where we were. We only saw two of the five villages. I will come back here on my own to visit all of the villages.

Our next stop was Civitavecchia, near Rome. I worked all day so I didn’t see anything. However, I know I will be returning to Rome for a few days during my independent travels so I wasn’t worried about missing it. In Naples I took a tour to see Pompeii. The guide was really interesting and we even saw the old red light district there (evidenced by the sculpted penis on the wall). I would definitely recommend seeing it. They also haven’t excavated the entire site so that future generations can do that.

The ship next docked in Catania, (Sicily), Italy. I went to see a cute little town called Siracusa. It was a lovely coastal village with a nice central square. I got sick on the cruise and had to be isolated in my room for 24 hours so I missed Nafplion, Greece. Luckily I was cleared so I could visit Katakolon, Greece. I went to see ancient Olympia. The original field and stadium entrance is still intact. The finish line was made out of stone that is still in place. I also went into the museum and saw lots of artifacts.

Dubrovnik, Croatia was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t know what to expect, but it has a nice walled old town filled with churches, market vendors, and restaurants/cafes. I also had a delicious lunch in the hillside and had beautiful views of the clear water and old town from above.

Finally we arrived to Venice and didn’t have a chance to explore until I officially left the ship at the end of my contract. 

It has been another long time since my last blog. Life on the ship is so busy and tiring that it is quite hard to keep up with a blog! If I don’t make blogging a priority, it doesn’t get done! Anyway, I had a great 3 and a half month contract. I saw ten new countries and crossed the Atlantic Ocean! I had always wanted to cross the Atlantic Ocean, to feel kind of like an old explorer. It was actually fairly calm and I didn’t get seasick! I was very excited to step on land again when we reached the Azores off Portugal.

Unfortunately crew was not allowed shore leave on our first port since it was a tender port and we had an early departure. The next port we stopped at I was able to get out thankfully! I really enjoyed Ponta Delgada, Portugal. It was quite foggy and a little cool, but it was a wonderful change from the hot and similar looking Caribbean islands. I really adore working in the Mediterranean. There is so much history and buildings and towns are so interesting to just wander through.  

I was able to experience a few tours in Spain: a bunch of palaces in Seville, Mijas, a small charming hillside village near Malaga, and an overview tour of Barcelona with a trip to Sagrada Familia.

At the end of an 18 day cruise I was ready for the new set of passengers to come on and experience more of the Mediterranean!

Have you ever done a trans-Atlantic cruise?

I have not updated this blog in a very long time. The 2nd half of 2011 flew by so quickly, it's unbelievable. Let me recap:
  • Graduated with a master's degree in May
  • Sold all my major furniture, my car and my apartment
  • Bought a one way ticket to San Francisco to train for my summer job
  • Met awesome people at job training
  • Led 15 teenagers to go surfing, river rafting, scuba diving and sailing in Costa Rica and Belize
  • Returned to California for a 3 week road trip from San Francisco down to San Diego
  • Spent a few days in Las Vegas and Washington DC before returning to my home base in North Carolina
  • Spent a week and a half unpacking, then repacking to go work on a cruise ship
  • Joined the cruise ship in Vancouver for 3 weeks in Alaska in September
  • Re-positioning cruise to the Caribbean through the west coast of the US and Central America, through the Panama Canal up to Florida
  • Worked 10 and 11 day cruises to the Panama Canal from Florida until the end of December
All in all, I've seen 8 new countries this year and parts of the United States that I had never seen before. I've made really good friends and had a lot of fun! It has been an awesome year and I am even more excited for 2012!

Youth Staff as Christmas Elves

The first cruise I started working on happened to be the Christmas Cruise. We had to dress up as elves to welcome everyone to the ship, on Christmas Eve to sing Christmas carols and Christmas morning to hand out gifts to the kids on board. There were decorations all over the ship and in the kids’ activity rooms.

We stopped in Key West, Belize City, Mahogany Bay (Roatan, Honduras), and Cozumel, Mexico. I had port duty when the ship was docked at Mahogany Bay. I started out with a few kids, but by the end of the port day when most people were coming back on board I had about 15 kids from ages 3-12 that all wanted to do different things. It got a little hectic. Good thing the rooms are completely dark so you can nap at any time of day!

On Christmas Eve some of the deck officers dressed up as elves to read “The Night Before Christmas.” All the Youth Staff also dressed up as elves to sing Christmas Carols along with the entertainers. We passed out fake snow for people to throw over the balcony at the center of the ship where we had a huge Christmas tree up.

On Christmas morning we watched a video of Santa and Mrs. Claus hanging out all around the ship. I really loved the video. Then we had Santa hand out presents to all of the kids that showed up. It was really fun! Christmas night a bunch of the staff from all sections of the ship formed a huge singing chorus in the showroom. I was able to watch the end of it since I had after hours babysitting duty. I missed being with my family but I had already made friends on board and we had a big staff Christmas party. We took advantage of the free drinks that were offered to the staff in a private room!

Lunch in Key West

I had a steep learning curve on the first day of work on the cruise ship. In addition to learning the activities and information for the kids and parents, there were required safety, environmental, and health training sessions that I had to fit in. The kids and tweens (all kids ages 3-12) had open hours from 8-12pm, 1pm-4pm, and 7-10pm on sea days. Luckily on my second day of work (first full day of the cruise), the ship docked in Key West. I was able to get off the ship and have lunch with my coworkers. One person had to stay on the ship for port duty, which is basically a free babysitting service for parents that want to drop off their kids while they go into port. Since there were extra staff members to handle so many kids, I got to see all of the ports that we stopped at for at least an hour or two.

I was also glad that I didn’t get seasick at all on the first cruise. I felt a little bit queasy on my first night on the ship, but I went to sleep and felt fine after that. The second full day on board was a sea day so a lot of the kids came to the youth area for various activities. On the third full day the ship stopped in Belize City. We had to tender, which means the cruise ship docks off shore and smaller boats come to pick up passengers and bring them to shore. It was fun to take the smaller boat to shore and I took some pictures of the ship in the ocean.

I had heard Belize City was not very nice and was advised not to go out of the cruise terminal into the city itself. I found another youth staff that wanted to explore a little bit. We wandered outside of the cruise terminal and there were a bunch of people with stands selling various souvenirs. We walked the other direction into the city and stopped in some supermarkets to pick up sunscreen and shampoo. I didn’t feel threatened, but it may have been different if I was alone.

Tendering to Belize City looking back at the cruise ships

After meeting the ship, I only had time to drop off my bags in my room. Then my boss took the two of us that had just joined to get “elf costumes” since it was the Christmas cruise. We also received regular uniform pieces: one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, two polo shirts, a short sleeve sweater and a windbreaker jacket. I was hired as Youth Staff, so I also got a quick introduction to the young kids room for ages 3-7, the “tween” room for ages 8-12, and teen room for ages 13-17.

We had to put on our elf costumes and greet the passengers that were joining the cruise on the gangway. Even though it was Florida, it was still pretty cold in December and we were freezing in our costumes in the wind! We told any kids we saw to check out the kids rooms and sign up for our various activities. We had an orientation for parents and kids in the showroom and introduced ourselves. We also had an “open house” to tell everyone about our programs. Keep in mind, this was my first day and I didn’t know very many details about the programs or all the rules. I also didn’t know my way around the ship yet, but since I had a name tag on people did ask me for directions.

We had a Caribbean- themed welcome party the night the ship left Florida from 7-10pm for the kids and tweens. For this job, the training is all as you go. At the end of the activities at 10pm we had to sanitize the entire room, clean up any snacks we had, and put away any materials we used. I was exhausted at the end of the first day and went to bed as soon as I was finished with work. At least the rocking motion made it easy to fall asleep!

As I said in my last post, I accepted a job on a cruise ship and had to leave in 5 days after my phone interview. I was panicking since I didn’t get my flight information until 6pm the night before I was scheduled to leave. I had also assumed that I would be flying out of the small, local airport. Good thing I looked closely at the flight information, as they actually had me flying out of a larger airport that was a two hour drive away! Luckily the flight was on a Saturday so I was able to find someone that could drive me to the airport.

The contract was just a short 3 week holiday contract, so I didn’t pack a whole lot and only had carry-on bags. It was an easy, 2 hour direct flight to Tampa. The hotel that was reserved for me had complimentary airport shuttles, so I was picked up at the airport. I knew I was going to have a roommate in the hotel room, but didn’t know when she was supposed to arrive. I took the time to relax and nap in the hotel. I was watching the Titanic when she came in the room around 11:30pm. Luckily she had done some other short contracts on cruise ships so I asked her a bunch of questions.

The next morning we were picked up at 6:30am along with about 15 other people that were joining the ship. We went to the cruise ship terminal and had to talk to HR and fill out some paperwork. We went through a security scanner and were given temporary room cards. When we arrived on the ship, we all had to wait for our respective bosses to pick us up and show us our rooms. I had a roommate that was sleeping, so I dropped off my bags and then started my first official day working on the ship.

I never would have pictured myself working on a cruise ship after my first cruise experience back in 2005. I went with some family members and family friends that weren’t my age. I wasn’t 21 yet, but was over 18. That is probably the worst age group to be in if you aren’t with your own friends. The ship left from Miami and went to Key West and Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I really enjoyed visiting Key West and Playa del Carmen, so I told my mom that we should have just flown to Mexico and stayed there for 4 days instead of taking the cruise. I certainly wasn’t sold on the cruise experience for vacation.

Fast forward 5 years and I was applying to work on a cruise ship. Why? I had never really considered it until I read about working on cruise ships on Wandering Earl’s travel blog. I had a four week winter break in between school semesters so I figured, why not? I really want to travel and I might as well try to find a traveling job during my break.

In the early fall I applied to a bunch of cruise lines as youth staff. I hadn’t heard anything back and forgot all about it. That is, until I received an email in December during my finals week asking if I would still be available and interested in a position for 3 weeks during my break. I said I was still interested and set up a phone interview. The interview was pretty easy and I was told I had the job on the spot and would be flown to Miami in 5 days. I had to pack and get everything together, which wasn’t a whole lot. I emailed asking when I should receive flight information and didn’t get a response. I didn’t get my travel information until 6pm the day before I was scheduled to leave.

Stay tuned to hear about the travels and first day on the job…

My roommate and I are both dedicated to our schoolwork. We prefer to stay in and watch a movie and relax than go out drinking and partying. One night we talked about walking to a nearby bar for margaritas. First we said, “Yeah! Let’s do it.” Then a few minutes later we were saying “I’m not so sure. Maybe we should just stay in.” The weather was getting bad and there was even a tornado watch. We decided to be spontaneous for a change and forced ourselves to get ready for our night out. It started downpouring as we were getting ready, but around the time we finished preparing, it stopped raining.

We walked down the street and sat at a little table near the bar. It was still early and it wasn’t too crowded in the bar/restaurant yet. We ordered food and drinks and soon enough some people came over to talk to us. A group of guys started telling us about their “pig picking” party the next day. It was clear they had been drinking for a while and their story didn’t make a whole lot of sense. They said they went to a petting zoo and killed two pigs by shooting them in the head. First off, I don’t think there’s a petting zoo around here. Secondly, I didn’t believe they shot the pigs in the head, but as it turns out, they had video proof of that on their phone! My roommate watched the video in horror, but I just said I don’t eat meat and I don’t want to see the video. After my roommate screamed in shock at the end of the video, the guys invited us to the pig picking. We politely, err not so politely, declined.

We tried telling them stories to make them think we were crazy, but it didn’t really get them to leave. Eventually they realized nothing was going to happen with us and they left. But if we hadn’t decided to go outside of our comfort zone a little, we wouldn’t have this bizarre story to tell. I felt pretty good after that and can’t wait to finish up school so I can let loose a little bit more often in the near future!

Have you ever experienced any strange stories from people you just met at a bar? I’d love to hear it!

I have a bumper sticker on my car that says “Life’s Better Outdoors.” One of the main reasons I decided to pursue marine biology/environmental science was my love of things outside. Fresh air, animals, sunshine, there was no way I ever pictured myself working 40 hours a week inside. Growing up, my family frequently took camping vacations. My brother and I became pros at setting up a tent while our parents unpacked or bought food. Since I’ve been living on my own for the past 7 years, I haven’t taken a single camping trip. I don’t have a tent, so that could be an issue.

I have missed camping and one day I made s’mores using a camping stove on my porch. For Christmas, I received a sheltered hammock system with rain tarp and bugnet. I asked for a hammock thinking it would be a lot lighter than carrying around a full tent and I read it was very comfortable. For my summer job as a trip leader I’ll be camping for almost a full month in California. I decided to test out the hammock in the backyard.

Setup took a little longer than expected, about 35-40 minutes. I waited until I was really tired and practically falling asleep on the couch when I went outside. I got in the hammock and zipped up the bug net so I wouldn’t get eaten alive by mosquitoes. I laid in the hammock for about 2 hours without being able to fall asleep. My feet were elevated and my whole body was curved. When I started losing feeling in my feet, I gave up and went in the house to sleep. In the morning I researched “how to sleep in a hammock.” I found out you are supposed to lay diagonally across the hammock so you can be more flat. I tried lying in the hammock that way and it was a lot more comfortable. I will have to try it out another time, and hopefully be able to stay the whole night. Otherwise I need an alternate sleeping arrangement for my month in California.

Do you have a hammock sleeper system? Ever tried sleeping a full night in a hammock? Was it comfortable?