Monthly Archives: February 2017

Next stop please driver.

Tuesday 28th February 2017

August 2016 – So I’d just quit my job, in what was basically a fit of pique. And my job was also my home. Most people thought I was joking. Or crazy. Or both. “But you can’t refuse a transfer!” they said. “You just have to go.” “Probably it will be ok when you get there.” “Maybe you’ll get a different ship next contract.”.

“You know what?” always came my response, “They’re going to keep pushing crew members around against their will, because everybody is too afraid to stand up to them. Well I’m not. I don’t need the job that badly. I’m making this stand for all of us.”

Admittedly I knew that my one person protest was unlikely to cut much mustard, and yes I was also being stubborn as a mule mostly because I hate being told what to do, but I still had to do what I was doing because I couldn’t waiver on my principles. They were pretty much the only possession that I had and I would never respect myself if I let myself get bullied around, in what my opinion was unfairly.

When my manager emailed to shore side to inform them of my letter of resignation, he did actually say that he thought that they’d be making a mistake by letting me go. The head honchos then deliberated my case, but didn’t like the fact that, in their view, I was giving them an ultimatum and felt that it would set a precedent if I was allowed to say.

I certainly wasn’t bluffing. I fully meant my resignation. In fact I’d already emailed another cruise ship casino company to enquire about vacancies. There were plenty more ships in the sea, and any one of them would be lucky to have me.

Goodbye Alaska!

I know that sounds enormously big headed, but it was simply circumstances. Firstly cruise ship jobs are not that hard to come by. And I was lucky enough to speak English as a first language and also fairly fluent French. I had previous cruise ship experience, so was unlikely to baulk and bolt home after finding out I had to work seven days a week. I also had all the relevant saftey certificates, visas and had recently passed an extensive medical. Plus I dealt all the casino games and every one my evaluations to date had been very good. I was going. And it was going to be NCL’s loss.

In fairness, as an employer, I would have done exactly the same thing. Sacrifice one entirely replaceable pawn, because otherwise a whole revolution could start. If they could get away with moving people about to suit their own will, then why not. Good on them. When running a huge corporation there have to be rules and they might not always be popular, but business is business.

So I was not bitter about leaving and amicably worked my two weeks notice, even offering to do it on the Nautica in Europe if it helped them out. I was still very sad to go though. I’d really enjoyed my time on the Jewel. Alaska was every bit as good as is imagined and Seattle and Victoria were two gems also.

Next stop please driver!

So long Seattle…

Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner!

Monday 27th February 2017

August 2016 – Half way through a sea day, a couple of months into my contact, I was happily dealing away on the dice table, when another dealer came to replace me, and informed me that I was to go straight to the office.

On the short walk to the manager’s hideout, I started contemplating what I had done now. Had I upset a guest? Had I over or underpaid somebody? Maybe it was even for something good like being a comment card top earner?

Before I had too much time to fantasise about pay rises and promotions, I was asked to take a seat opposite the second in command of the casino. “Right Amy,” she said. “You’re being transferred the day after tomorrow.”

WHAT? I thought. Me? How come? Where am I going? Alaska was my ideal itinerary, so it better be somewhere good. “You’re going to the err…” she paused to check her email. “Err, the Nautica.” She finished, looking up from her computer.

“THE NAUTICA??? We don’t even have a ship called the Nautica!” I knew this because part of my job involved being grilled everyday about various company related questions, from the names of all the onboard Officers, to the locations, opening times and cover charges of all the bars and restaurants, along with the home port and itinerary of all 14 of the ships in the fleet and many other facts in between.

“Yes,” the deputy manager replied, “I think it must be one of the other companies, either Regent or Oceania.” “Well could you find out which please!” I snorted. “And I’d like to know where the ship is, what the itinerary is, how big the casino is and which games they have, what are the conditions like i.e. how many to a cabin, and will this affect my salary. Please.” “Ok,” she replied. “Go back to work now please and I’ll try and find out.”

I was shocked and could barely concentrate back at the dice table. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania were two companies with which NCL had merged a year or so before. They were much smaller high end vessels, with completely different ambiences onboard. Not like the busy vibrant workplace that I was used to.

Soon I was called off the table once more and sent to the personnel office to compete some paperwork. There I struggled to find out any more information other than it was an Oceania ship and I’d be flying to Copenhagen to join it. In 48 hours time.

Again I persisted that they answer at least some of my many questions, but was told to Google information like an itinerary, as they had no access to the details on the shipboard Internet as it was a different company. I’m not using my own bloody expensive Internet package to find out information that you should be able to provide thank you very much!

Back to the casino, I went straight to the office to ask if it was possible to refuse a transfer. “No.” I was told. On your contract it states only that you’ll work for NCL Holdings and they can move you around at their will.

I protested that I had just been told that the information that I’d requested couldn’t be found as it was a different company but now you’re telling me I have to go because it is the same company. Make your minds up please!!

By now I was getting really frustrated. This was my home. I no longer had an apartment on land, so for me this was it. I’d settled in, made friends and just learnt all the new procedures and nuances of this particular ship. I always knew that a transfer was possible, but I assumed that it would only be to another NCL ship, not to an entirely different company. This meant new rules, heaps more training and a whole other way of life than the one I’d been used to.

A little later I was sent back downstairs, this time to see the saftey officer about collecting some certificates ready for my imminent departure. Here I finally found out the destination of the Nautica. “I think it does World cruises.” He said helpfully. “Super!” I retorted, “At least I know I won’t be going to the moon then! The world’s actually a pretty big place though. Do you think you could narrow it down for me please?”

Eventually he did manage to come up with some real information. He wasn’t wrong about it being a World cruise. From Copenhagen it went around the Baltic and down to the Med, onwards through the Suez canal to South Africa, Doha, Goa, around Malaysia and Thailand and then to the Far East, including China, Korea and Japan. Along the way it also stopped at islands such as Madagascar, the Maldives and Mauritius.

Well, I definitely won’t be getting bored with the ports then. And as we pass through Somalian waters, there’s always the possibility of being kidnapped as a hostage to spice things up. So the destinations looked exotic, but I was still to find out about my new working conditions and living quarters.

After my long break, I went to see the actual casino manager, as his shift had now started. He’d heard about my impending move, and request to have my questions answered, and did his best to placate me.

It’s a nice quiet ship, he explained, only blackjack, roulette and poker. Not much action, an easy gig in a small casino. Had he met me? I was the life and soul of the party in the casino, good with guests, lively and always flew through my customer service evaluations. Did a sleepy retirement type establishment seem at all like me? I love to deal and cannot stand to be at an empty table.

He agreed that it might not be exactly a match made in heaven. And when I pointed out that I’d made such a gargantuan effort to learn the complicated game of craps the previous contract, which they didn’t even have on the new ship, then he conceded that it might be something of a waste to send me to such a place, so agreed to email head office on my behalf.

Their swift response came back that I had been selected to go because of my Nationality. Being British it meant that I wasn’t visa restricted. And I was currently the only candidate that was suitable to go.

Honestly that did nothing to improve my mood. I felt like I’d signed up for job in a busy supermarket, done a good job swiping everybody’s goods through the checkout, but was now being sent to serve behind the counter in some poky little corner shop, where the same sole customer came in every day at noon for his newspaper and packet of cigarettes.

You see on NCL we did one week cruises. The Nautica offered 49 and even 63 day cruises. 9 weeks with the same guests??? I’d be bored out of my mind on such a sedate ship. Plus most of my salary was made up of tips and from the information that I could get my hands on, my new destination would offer me a significantly smaller sum owning to the reduced traffic in the casino. I went to bed very unhappy indeed, when I finally finished my shift.

I tossed and turned all night, but could come up with no good things to think about this transfer, save the interesting route that it took. I felt like I was being backed into a corner. Forced to do something against my will. Being sent to another NCL ship was one thing, but getting exiled to an entirely different chain was a step too far for me.

I felt like they’d completely changed the goal posts to what I’d signed up for. And I also wasn’t happy about the fact that I was being sent away because of my passport origin, or the fact that I’d been told that I had no option but to go. There’s always an option in every senario, believe me.

By the next morning my mind was made up. I couldn’t see that I was left with any alternative choice, other than submitting to their will. I’d seen them push plenty of other crew members around, split up couples, tear up friendships and transfer them against their will. Unfortunately the majority of people didn’t have a lot of say and needed the money badly enough to put up with such circumstances. Well not me. Nobody puts Baby in the corner!

So at the start of work, I marched into the office and said just that, whilst handing over my letter of resignation. Everybody was shocked. Not least the manager upon whom my infamous Dirty Dancing quote was quite lost.

Patrick Swayze you were so right.

Adamant that I was doing the right thing. I calmly explained my reasons. Thanked them for the offer and the opportunity to work for them. I’d really enjoyed my time here. I was very reluctant and sad to leave, but I was never one to knowingly pass up on an opportunity to cut off my nose to spite my face where my principles and beliefs were concerned.
So yes, I’d just made myself voluntarily jobless and homeless. Well I’d jolly well have to rely on my principles to keep me warm and dry until something else came along then, because I believed what they were asking me to do was unfair. And I was making a one woman stand against their policies. “You’ll miss me when I’m gone!” was my parting comment as I left the office in a haze of self triumph and fortitude.

Salmon, Crabs, Trams, Trains & Nudity

Friday 24th February 2017

August 2016 – Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. These were the three Alaskan ports of call, on the summer leg of our itinerary on the Norwegian Jewel, along with an afternoon spent spinning around in Glacier Bay, marvelling at sea creatures and massive chunks of ice, ice and more ice.

Our first stop each week was Ketchikan, which is known as the Salmon Capital of the World! If you want to eat, see, buy or catch salmon, then this is the place for you. For crew members, there’s a free shuttle bus to Wallmart. What more could we wish for?!

Sweet home Alaska.

Juneau is a different kettle of fish (pun intended). It has a very steep cable car to take you to the top of the mountain, known as the Mount Roberts Tramway, which will whisk you up the side of the near vertical slope, whilst offering spectacular views over the valley and the chance to lose your mobile phone forever if you drop it over the edge into the millions and millions of pine trees below. 

I’m glad there’s a tram otherwise I’d need a helicopter to get up there.

Once at the top, there is a delightful little visitors center, shop and restaurant, along with a sanctuary for bald eagles. There’s also a route to the bottom of valley, that can be taken on foot, if you decided to ignore the warning about it being both treacherous and four miles long. For those not wishing to dice with death by descending that path, there are some fantastic trails that take you further up and around the stunning peak. The air is crisp and sharp and the views are unforgettable.

I think I can see my house from here!

After all that walking, you’ll surely be hungry. Yesterday I spoke about the best burgers in the world, so today’s recommend dish is sumptuous crab claws from Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau, back down at the bottom of the valley.

Now if The Pink Bicycle cafe in Victoria seemed inauspicious when I described it, than in comparison to Tracy’s King Crab Shack, that place was a palace. Juneau’s best fast food joint, is entirely outside, has no cutlery and serves solely crab. You do get a choice of which bit of the shelly creature that you wish to devour, and exactly how much crustacean that you would like to consume, but basically in this establishment you better be a seafood lover, as the only non crab items are the accompaniments of a couple of bread rolls and a pot of hot garlic butter.

I defy anyone not to enjoy this experience though. The meat is piping hot, freshly boiled in front of you and plentiful. When whole these creatures must be monsters, for the king crab claws were about the same size as my own puny arms. The Crab comes either on a plain piece of paper or in a bucket, each adorned with witty phrases such as “I’ve got the best legs in town” or “Tracy gave me crabs”!

If you choose to sit in the front row, right next to the counter, like I did, then expect to get struck by bits of flying shell and innards. There is a warning sign up to prepare you for the dangers, but for me it was all part of the fun. And when I could no longer suck or tear the flesh from the very end of the pincers, I tried to crack the claw with my teeth, which is apparently uncouth even for this place, so the very kind lady behind the counter got her industrial strength scissors out and helped me reach every last bit of hot white flesh.

The taste was just exquisite. Fresh, local food at its best. And the fact that you are sitting outside on lumps of logs and tree stumps, with sublime views over the water and an unlimited supply of paper towels to mop up all the garlicky buttery juicy mess, makes this the ultimate wild and delectable place to dine.

Another five star eatery. ☆☆☆☆☆

Skagway is home to The White Pass railway. This narrow gauge railroad was built way back in 1898, during the Klondike Gold Rush, and the line is even classified as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, an honour shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

Considering the topography, climate, total lack of daylight during six months of the year, and the tools and methods at their disposal at the time of construction, then the creation of such a train line is really quite astounding.

Having closed for commercial use back in 1982, the track was reopened in 1988 as the scenic White Pass Railway, taking tourists up the steep climbs, along the mountain pass in parts running parallel with the old Chilkoot Trail, and up into Yukon territory in Canada.

The White Pass locomotive snaking its way up the valley.

The ride inside the old fashioned carriages is lovely, as they’re both heated and staffed with friendly and knowledgeable guides. The view from the windows, or even out on the small platforms between each carriage, is breathtaking. There was no way that my camera skills could do the backdrop justice. And then there are the most astonishing/scary/amazing bridges to cross, that look like something out of an old Western, along with pitch black tunnels.

The ravines below look terrifying when you see these old wooden structures start to take the weight of the train. Thankfully however, we made it over the border into Canada and back again safely. So while this railway doesn’t connect with any other train route, it’s well worth taking the trip up between the rocks, ridges and boulders, and back, just to get the t-shirt. Or even White Pass bobble hat!

Don’t look down!

The other “must do” thing in Skagway is to hike up through the forest trails to the lakes, rivers and waterfalls that exist amongst the millions of fir trees. Admittedly the walk is pretty step but the views alone are worth it and the water from the streams is the best tasting liquid anywhere in the world. Cold, fresh and 100% natural, this free resource is definitely a motivation to keep climbing and the perfect way to cool off after the arduous climb.

But why stop at just drinking the water, when you could hop in the lake for a quick dip? Of course this is still Alaska, so the water is bloody freezing, but don’t let that stop you. I certainly didn’t let it dissuade me.

My walking companions thought that I was joking when I first suggested going for a swim. You see I love a good splash about, but it’s the one thing missing from ship life whilst touring the North West Coast of America.

I was very hot after our jaunt up the hill, so was deadly serious about jumping in to cool off. My friends then cited the lack of swimsuit or towel to try and deter the crazy British girl, once it became evident that I was dead set on getting in.

“It’s OK,” I reassured them, “I’m sure the fish won’t mind.” I said as I started to remove my many layers of clothing. “But you’ll freeze afterwards!” They protested. “And your underwear will be all wet.” They claimed.

Good point, I thought, so I duly took my smalls off, and hoped in absolutely, completely naked.

The water was beyond cold, I gasped and gulped for air as my body struggled and fought to adjust to the bitter temperature. After two small laps, my teeth wouldn’t stop chattering, my skin felt like it was burning and my heart pounded my ribs like it wanted to escape. Enough was enough, so on the next round, I made my way back to the shore and staggered to the edge.

It’s just like a hot cozy bubble bath in winter. Only not!

Still stood in the ankle deep water, I shook my body vigourously, trying to shake the freezing drops from my skin before getting dressed. I also demanded that my friends throw me my shoes and socks first, so that I wouldn’t get gravel and pine needles in between my toes, before putting the rest of my garments on, once back on dry land.

I had only managed to get one sock on though, when one of my friends yelled at me to hurry up, as a family of hikers were coming around the corner. Hopping madly on one leg (my balance is really not the best, as anyone who has seen me ride or fall off a racehorse can attest to), and still in the shallows, another friend thought that it would be a good idea to chuck my hoodie to me, in an attempt to hide my modesty.

With the badly thrown jersey wrapped around my head like blindfolded horse about to enter the stalls, it did nothing to cover my private parts, so the poor unfortunate day trippers got an unexpected eyeful of some full frontal nudity, to which they very politely tried to ignore, as we all fell about in peels of laughter. That was until I realised that in the kerfuffle, I’d dropped my second sock in the water, and now risked losing my left limb to frostbite on the trek back home wearing a soggy sock.

I re-dressed into my lovely dry lingerie and remaining clothes, and was soon fully warmed up, left leg excepted. We continued to walk the entire way round the huge sprawling lake and were ready for bed, not a night’s hard labour in the casino, by the time we finally made it back to the ship.

I could have spent weeks exploring the wonderful wooded paths, high up above the small town, and my impromptu swim had left me refreshed and invigorated, after weeks living in the artificially lit and air conditioned world below deck.

I’m not sure if skinny dipping is on the top ten list  of things to do in Skagway according to Trip Advisor, but if it isn’t, then it should be. Release your body and mind, and leave your clothes behind folks. Coming on in, the water is bloody freezing, but that’s what makes it all the more fun! Oh and don’t forget to stop and buy some delicious freshly made popcorn at one of the scrumptious emporiums on your way back through town.

From bonkers vagabonds to brilliant burgers…

Wednesday 22nd February 2017

July 2017 – Owing to the fact that this was my second stint working on a ship, and I was now an “experienced crew member”, I settled into the routine on the Jewel very quickly. In all honesty my first few weeks on the ship were very uneventful indeed. I wasn’t even able to get lost at all, as my new home had all the exact same corridors and secret passages as my former floating domicile.

The itinerary of the Jewel took us North from our home port in Seattle, up to the wilds of Alaska. Alaska was simply breathtaking. And not just because it was bloody freezing, despite the fact it was actually “summer”. We sailed passed glaciers, sea lions, icebergs and frozen waterfalls. It was the destination of my dreams, especially having spent the previous nine months sweltering in shorts and t-shirts, whilst cruising around Central America and the Caribbean.

The Sawyer Glacier – Ice Ice Baby!

If ever you get the chance to take a trip to the frozen North of the USA, I sincerely urge you to go. I’m not sure what it’s like in the winter, with its near total daytime darkness, but in the perpetually lit summertime, it’s simply stunning. And it’s actually not as cold as you might think.

Wow! Just wow.

Sadly I didn’t see any bears, which it turns out is probably a good thing, because I’m not really the fastest of runners, but I did see plenty of bald eagles, salmon and other intresting wildlife.

One day, whilst sitting eating dinner on the open deck at the back of the ship, there was a pod of whales cheerfully surfacing and splashing about nearby. Amazing! What a life.

Our home port of Seattle was a fascinating destination. I loved getting off the ship early every Saturday morning to wander through the bustling Pike Place Market, longingly looking at all the brightly coloured fruits and vegetables on display, that were all frustratingly forbidden to bring back on the ship. And you could actually smell the flower seller’s stalls, long before you could hear them calling out their wares.

Then there was the never ending long line, that was constantly being replenished by eager new customers, all waiting patiently outside, wanting to taste a morning coffee, from the tiny, but very famous, first ever Starbucks store in the world.

The rest of the city was quite contrasting. Big buildings, huge skyscrapers, the iconic Space Needle and energetic crowds of shoppers, all interspersed with the most crazy and deluded vagrants that I have ever seen.

Downtown Seattle.

Now I’m sure you won’t read about these legions of unhinged erratic street dwellers in any official metropolitan guide books, but the place was teeming with barmy, batty, crazeballs. And each unbalanced wacky cuckoo was more strange than the next. Every single time you entered or exited a store, there would be at least one beserk lunatic waiting outside, randomly pacing around in circles, or crying out prophetically about some kind of Armageddon or another.

Seattle is known to be one of the rainiest cities on the planet, so why every cracked fuitcake, deranged kook, and nutty maniac decided to reside here was a mystery. But from the mental to the downright mad, Seattle had them all. You had cut a winding path on your route between stores to avoid getting accosted or high by proxy, as they smoked whatever substance was their poison of choice.

Each trip, I’d be shocked how I managed to find a more insane idiot than the week before. Please don’t let this put you off visiting Seattle though, it really is a very nice place. And at least the people are interesting…

Our final stop each week was Victoria, Canada. This has to be one of the nicest places that I have ever visited. And I’ve been to a lot of locations! I’ve seen some of the finest crystal watered beaches, the remotest deserts and the most dazzlingly lit cities, but this place had something that struck a chord deep inside me.

On one had it seemed quiet and understated, while on the other it had absolutely every store, convenience, and enterprise that you could wish for. It was picturesque, safe, welcoming and practical. Walking from the harbour to downtown, through the peaceful neighbourhood residences, was probably one of the best parts of my week. If I ever manage to curb the rampant wanderlust that rages through my veins and live on land again, then this place is going to be near the very top of the list of choice destinations to plant my flag.

Some weeks, to save time, I used to borrow one of the ship’s bikes to expedite my journey into town. The trip was a fairly short one, but it meant extra minutes spent surfing the web, whilst eating THE BEST EVER salmon burgers in the world.

It was quite by accident that we first stumbled across The Pink Bicycle. It was a small, ordinary cafe, with a few plain wooden tables in the modest sized room, and a handful of metal ones placed outside on the sidewalk. Searching for internet, we ventured inside, lured by the temptation of free wifi.

The menu was pretty much exclusively burgers, so our expectations were not so high. Especially as I’m not really a huge burger fan. Even when the steaming plates came out, we were so engrossed by our surfing, that none of us even really bothered to look up.

One bite into the heavenly food though and we were head over heels in love with the place. My God, I’ve never tasted food so good. Everything, from the delicious toasted sesame seed bun, to the sumptuous side serving of fries, to the tantalising ingredients inside, made these hot sandwiches the most mouth watering meals on the planet. I’m getting ravanous just thinking about them.

If I ever move to this delightful suburb of British Colombia, you’re all invited to come and visit. And I’m taking you all for Maple Salmon Burgers at the hidden gem that is the best gourmet burger joint on the planet. Oh and by some curious twist one of the only two items on the dessert menu at The Pink Bicycle is deep fried Mars Bars. Mmmm…

I definitely give this place 5 stars. ☆☆☆☆☆

Well, now that you know the go to places in Seattle and Victoria, I’ll leave you to get on with your day. But don’t forget to check in next time to find out more about Alaska, including an amazing railway, some killer crab and an outdoor swimming spot. You can even sign up of email alerts here on WordPress so you won’t ever miss a update. The possibilities are endless my friends!

Bollockings, Pirates & Cardboard Boxes

Monday 20th February 2017

Last time, I told you about my very eventful and very lengthy journey to join the ship. In fact the story was nearly as long as the journey itself. It definitely took me more hours to write about it than it did to actually complete the voyage! Still I hope that you liked it, even if reading it took up your whole weekend. Now on with the story (And this is a short one I promise.)…

Saturday 2nd July 2016 – Finally I’d arrived at the Norwegian Jewel. The designated ship for my second contact working at sea. Owing to the fact that I was ridiculously late arriving at the port, I only just made the boarding curfew before the vessel set sail. I scrambled up the gangway with all my belongings in tow, and headed straight for the personnel office, after getting my passport and bags checked by security.

Having received my name badge, cabin key and sign on instructions, along with a second bollocking for being late (as I had explained to security “Not my fault people!”), I set off in search of my new residence.

Now the Norwegian Jewel is a sister ship to my previous boat, the Norwegian Dawn. And when I say sister ship, I mean it was identical. Literally everything was in the same place. It was like I’d sold my house, let somebody else live in it, redecorate the place, and then changed my mind and moved back in. The layout was still the same, but there were subtle little design differences that kept freaking me out. Imagine somebody reorganising all you kitchen draws and cupboards one day without you knowing. It would drive you crazy as you searched fruitlessly for the flour or the spoons.

Anyway, I finally found my way to my new cabin, greeted the three girls who already lived in there, and who’s names I instantly forgot, dumped my stuff, and then rushed off to collect my uniform, before going straight to the mandatory saftey briefing.

As soon as the saftey lecture was over (more pirates, how to kill sharks from life rafts and man overboard procedures), and having received my new saftey card along with a third and final scolding of the day for arriving unpunctually at the ship (“There was a storm, airport closed, flight cancelled etc. etc.”), I grabbed a quick snack and luckily, had just enough time to iron my new uniform before I was expected at work.

Normally my shift would start exactly 30 minutes before we left port, but due to the fact that the next stop on this ship’s itinerary was also in America, it meant that we had to be further than 12 nautical miles from land, in International waters, before the casino could open. Unlike when we are sailing to a different country, when we can open almost immediately upon casting off.

Those extra few minutes that it would take us to sail the requisite 12 miles were a godsend, crucially allowing me the time to press my attire. Avid readers of this blog might recall the humiliating first day on my last ship when I made all kinds of fashion faux pas in trying to impress my new employers. (For those of you that missed it, check out https://downtokokomo.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/day-2-saturday-17th-october/ which basically details how I didn’t have time to iron my shirt and slacks, so ended up getting mostly naked in front of my new boss on my very first day. I’m all class!).

You’re not going to catch me flashing in the crew laundrette this time around folks!

Some time around midnight, the tiredness finally caught up with me. I could no longer keep my eyes open and my body craved to lay down and sleep. I couldn’t fight it any longer. My battery was beyond low. The power was shutting off. My breathing slowed, my eyelids sunk to my cheeks, and I began to drift off. Finally I could get some rest.

Except that I couldn’t. You see unfortunately, I was still seated at the blackjack table, incompetently trying to deal cards and add up. My speech was slurred, I could barely hold my head up, my hand eye coordination was non existent. In fact I’m surprised that the players didn’t think that I was having some kind of stroke or something.

I fought and fought to stay awake, trying to jiggle my legs up and down to stop myself from falling asleep, shaking myself to stay alert, stabbing myself in the foot with the sharp heel of my shoe to rouse me from my slumber. Even biting my own tongue failed to bring me back to life. Nothing seemed to work, my head kept jolting as yet another wave of sleep washed over me. Eventually even a supervisor noticed my inert state and sharply reprimanded me. “You’re not on vacation anymore!” being his choice of words.

On my next break, I apologised to him and explained that I’d had a rather arduous journey to join the ship and not achieved any sleep for far longer than is healthy. He promised to try and get me finished asap and true to his word, I got sent home at 1.40am. Finally a chance to go to bed!

When I got to my bed however, I found it empty. Completely empty that is. No sheets, no pillows, no duvet cover. Not even a damn duvet. It turned out that unfortunately, I’d missed the lunchtime appointment with the linen keeper to aquire such items, due my tardy arrival, and had been sent away from the laundry room when I’d tried to go and find some bedding on an earlier break from work. The reason being that the ship’s laundry was in its usual state of manic chaos, with all the linen changes and washing needing to be done on guest changeover day.

In the absence of finding any kindly room stewards in the corridor at that ungodly hour, it was off on another attempted treasure hunt to at least seek out a blanket or similar. Thankfully somebody must have been smiling down on me from above, as when I returned to the laundry room for the third time that day, I met a friend, who remembered me from the Dawn, working the late shift, and he managed to scrounge me enough items to get through the night.

By the time I finally fell into bed (or more accurately clambered into my new top bunk), it was after 2 in the morning. Sunday morning to be precise. I’d now been awake for the best part of two days, ever since my alarm had gone off at 4.45am on Friday, save a seven minute snooze on a stationary aeroplane and a total of twenty seconds shut-eye on the blackjack table. That’s over 45 hours. When you factor in the 9 hour time difference between Paris time and Pacific time, it turns out that I’d been up for more than 54 hours.

By this time, I didn’t care about my lack of pillows. I didn’t even care about the fact that whilst I was sleeping on a sheet, that I only had two bath towels covering me in lieu of a duvet. Indeed I would have quite happily slept under a bridge that night, cardboard box or no cardboard box. In fact I’m not sure if I actually slept at all, or if I just lost consciousness. Whatever it was, I didn’t move a muscle until I was woken from my coma by my alarm sounding at 8.15am, a little later that same morning. Training at 8:30am. Yay! Welcome back to ship’s life baby…

Next time I’m bringing my own box with me!

Queue jumping never pays…

Saturday 18th February 2017 

Friday 1st July 2016 – My vacation was over and I had an early morning flight to take me to my new floating home. I was up, showered and dressed before first light and soon eagerly awaiting depositing my large item of luggage at the check-in desk at Charles de Gaulle airport. Instead of being booked on a direct flight, work had put me on one changing in New York, with a 5 hour plus layover to clear immigration etc.

The flight went very smoothly and a couple of movies later, I was back on American soil once more. As I disembarked from the aeroplane, I was given a bright orange and black striped paper wallet with the tickets for the next flight inside and the words FAST TRACK emblazoned on the front.

As I reached the large serpentine snaking queue in the huge passport control hall, I was swiftly ushered to one side and shown to a line where I would be next to be seen. WOW! Now this was service. I felt rather guilty as I still had hours before my connecting flight, but as I glanced back at the length of the seemingly miles long queue, I decided that maybe they were right and I might miss my onward connection if I were to wait patiently at the back of the assembled masses.

Before being able to give it any more thought, I was called forward for my turn to try and enter the US. I was subjected to the usual battery of probing questions, but instead of being asked to place various digits on the luminous green finger scanning screen whilst the guy stamped my passport, I was asked to wait to the side, while my Border Officer called for back up.

Next thing, I was being swiftly led away to a small dingy immigration interrogation room out the back, by a couple of uniformed guards, where I was told to wait with an assortment of other suspicious looking individuals, until my name was called.

Before long I was asked to join a very serious looking gentleman at his desk where he typed stuff into his computer and printed out some official looking documents to put inside a paper jacket along with all my forms and certificate of employment etc. Now the first time I’d gone to join the ship, I’d just breezed through border control like every other time I’d been to the States, but despite having the correct visa stuck into my passport pages, this was definitely not going so smoothly.

Before I had time to worry too much about my impeding deportation, I was called forward again to see a different operative who began making phone calls to verify all of my documents and then grilled me on ship life, what I did onboard and why the hell I wanted to work on a floating boat seven days a week for a nine month stretch. Just as I was about to agree that yes it did seem kind of crazy and could he please send me back to where I’d come from, he produced his large official stamp, duly christened yet another page in my passport and gave me back my papers before sending me on my way. Relief! I was in!

After retrieving my luggage from the carousel, I was invited to bypass another huge line of people, these ones waiting to clear customs. Thankful that the sneaky sniffer beagles had avoided detecting the secret stash of chocolate inside my bag, I gave away my blue customs form at the head of my special fast track lane, before handing my baggage over again, ready to join me at my destination.

From there I went directly to security check in, where once again my magic orange piece of paper was like a golden ticket, whisking me past the repressed crowds waiting to remove their belts, shoes and cellphones, before going through the metal detectors. In my VIP aisle I waltzed straight through, and for the first time in my life wasn’t held up by a plethora of morons in front of me who’d failed to remove the laptop from their case, left sharp objects in their carry on, or omitted to put their liquids in a clear plastic sealed bag.

Suddenly I was plane-side once more and only minutes from my gate. But when I checked my watch, there was still nearly 5 hours to kill before my flight took off. Even allowing for getting detained at the border counter, my special voucher had sped me from one aeroplane to another in little over 25 minutes. Surely a record.

I found somewhere to plug in my phone (which is no longer mobile as it pretty much needs to be constantly hooked up to a wall mounted plug socket to work), grabbed a few snacks, and settled down to surf the Internet unadulteratedly for the final time before it was back to shitty yet expensive ship wifi.

Yummy!

Finally, some four and a half hours and five million web pages later, and it was time to board my flight. After such an early start and an eight hour transatlantic journey, I was feeling pretty tired and my eyes had gone square from so much internet surfing. Settled down into my seat at the rear of the aircraft, I was soon asleep, long before the air hostesses had begun their life jacket and oxygen mask demonstrations. As we’d be flying nearly entirely over land and as I also did life jacket putting on displays for a living, my body voted that sleep was definitely the priority and I could exempt myself from this little performance.

I awoke probably only a short time later, as the plane began to pull back from the gate. We made our way to the runway, where we joined the queue of other airlines all waiting excitedly in the dark, to surge off down the smooth concrete path and into the air, much in the same way that very early in the morning, bunches of exuberant young racehorses wait in turn to set off for a canter at the bottom of Warren Hill polytrack, back in Newmarket.

Before we got to the front of the line, the clouds burst open, showering us in deluges of rain. It just kept coming. Gallons and gallons of liquid poured out of the sky and after about 30 minutes of torrential rain we were sent back to the gate. The heavens hadn’t just opened, they’d emptied every last pipe, reservoir and puddle onto us and the airport now resembled a swimming pool. With too many planes grounded on the tarmac, there were not enough spaces at the gates to allow everyone to disembark and it was a further 2 hours before we were able to return to a slot by the terminal.

Having been held captive for a considerable amount of time, we were invited to temporarily get off the plane to stretch our legs or similar inside the main building, but told not to stray too far as we’d hopefully be taking off later that night, as soon as the storm had subsided. I truly hoped so, as I had a boat to catch in the morning!

I remained in my seat, but it swiftly became clear however that we wouldn’t be going anywhere that evening. With a flying time of six and a half hours ahead of us, and already having been held up for getting close to four hours, the crew were going to be over their permited working restrictions and with no new crew available, the flight was cancelled.

It was now 10pm in the evening and I was thousands of miles from where I’d been due to arrive and check in at the airport hotel sometime around 11pm. The idea being to get some much needed sleep before a busy following day attending saftey briefings, orientations, uniform collecting and general new crew sign on duties. Onto Plan B then…

JFK airport was teeming with discontented, displaced people all yelling into cellphones trying to hastily rearrange travel plans, apologise to colleagues, friends and loved ones, or just rant to the speaking clock. With all flights temporarily suspended, there were people EVERYWHERE. Somehow amidst the chaos I managed to find the American Airlines help desk and joined the back of the queue some 12 miles away!!

I’m not kidding, the line was of epic proportions. Not only could I not see the help desk from the back of the queue, but I was in an entirely different suburb of New York to where it originated. Sadly the powers of my magical orange and black voucher had run dry and I would be forced to sit (or rather stand) this one out like everybody else. Oh and have I mentioned? This was the Friday night on the weekend of July 4th.

Now spending the Friday night before Independence Day in New York would normally be my idea of fun, but an extra long day (6 hours time difference included), shuffling forward barely millimeters at a time in a seemingly endless queue, in the early hours of the morning, in a busy airport full of irate fourth of July weekend passengers, was not the scene that your imagination would conjure up if somebody said to you “Weekend in NYC!”.

I had a telephone number for the travel assistance people provided by NCL, so called them from the queue, before being abruptly cut off before I could make any real headway, due to insufficient funds for making or receiving long distance roaming calls. I sent an email instead. And waited. As I waited I suddenly noticed another guy queuing on the opposite leg of the serpentine to me that also had the same NCL headed “What to do in case of travel problems” letter.

“Hello!” I ventured. “Do you work for Norwegian?” I enquired. “Oh YES!” came back the response. “I’m supposed to be joining a ship tomorrow, but my flight got cancelled and I can’t use my phone as it’s not set up to work in the USA.”

We quickly found out that by an amazing coincidence, not only were we both supposed to join the same ship in the morning, but that we both also worked as casino dealers. We’d even been on the same abandoned flight that never left New York. Supankar, as my new friend and colleague was named, had had a much more arduous journey than me though, as he’d already taken 3 flights to get this far from his home in India.

As the queue shuffled morbidly along we were temporarily parted before being reunited again as we made our separate ways further along the slow snaking line. After 5 soul destroying hours trudging minisculey ever closer to the desk, we’d met yet more stranded crew members, including two transferring from the Breakaway in New York to the Escape down in Florida, and even some from other cruise lines. I’d shared and eaten all the contraband chocolate in my bag well before 3am and some ingenious souls had even set up a tent by the side of desk to wait out their torment in comfort.

By now we’d been advised that there were no longer any hotels in the area with space, so the smartest and seemingly only option was to stay put. And wait…

We did our best to keep our spirits high, but both Supankar and I were starting to get increasingly worried that not only were we going to miss the scheduled departure of the ship, but that nobody onboard would know what had happened to us and that they would just assume that we’d gone AWOL.

Thankfully I knew a crew member already onboard the ship so sent them a message via social media, begging them to please go and inform the casino manager that both Supankar and I were together, still on route and would join the ship whenever and wherever we could. All I had to do now was pray that they logged on and received the message before the ship left port…

I topped up my phone once more and tried the travel assistance people again. They had received my email and were aware of the issues that we were having but they were struggling to come up with alternatives. There was one seat left on a flight out of JFK first thing in the morning that should get to the ship just before its scheduled departure, but as it was on a commercial flight not usually used by the company, they’d have to get special dispensation from head office to approve the cost. And it was now 4am on Saturday morning on the weekend of the Fourth of July…

By 5am I was only metres from the help desk. The weary staff that had being doing their best all night to reschedule people on alternative flights had gone home and been replaced by a fresh bunch of recruits who I’m sure were delighted to turn up for work on a Saturday morning to be greeted by hoards of disgruntled flyers. Just then my phone rang. I was informed that the only seat left out of JFK pretty much all day was now mine. The shoreside office had given them the OK to book it and I could now finally leave the line, head straight to my new check-in point to collect the tickets and I’d better hurry as the flight was leaving shortly.

After virtually 7 gruelling hours of queuing, and just before reaching the summit, I was released from the purgatory. For all the queuing I’d skipped earlier on in the day, I’d certainly made up for it in spades now. You can’t beat karma folks.

However my euphoria was short lived as I realised that I would have to leave my new friend Supankar. I felt awful. He had no phone and would now be stranded alone in New York. The travel people had said that they were still working on his plight and asked me to ask him to switch his phone on so that they could contact him once they’d made the necessary arrangements. I told them that his phone didn’t work and that email would be best, but there was little more I could do with the battery about to die on my own phone and my new flight leaving so soon.

We said our goodbyes and I wished him luck for his journey. At least he hopefully get a chance to sleep in a hotel later that day as with a sea day following embarkation day, he wouldn’t be able to catch up to the ship until at least Monday now. But I still felt hugely guilty as I left the queue and turned and walked away. We might have only just met but we’d bonded in our shared suffering.

With a twenty minute delay to my new flight it was really going to be down to the wire whether I would make the ship before it left port. I knew from Google that it would be over 25 minutes in a cab from airport and didn’t really have any energy left to come up with an alternative plan if the ship wasn’t still there when I eventually arrived.

I was shattered. I’d now been awake and travelling for over 30 hours but I was too overwrought and too over tired to actually sleep. Finally, after what seemed like the longest of fights, the plane touched down. The journey was nearly over. With the aircraft packed to the rafters, there was no quick way to get off and I had another tense wait at the baggage reclaim belt to collect my luggage. Weighed down by my bags, I hurried out of the automatic glass doors as quickly as I could and tried to find the correct location for the taxi rank outside the terminal.

I found the queue, joined the back of yet another line and soon had a cheerful cabby helping cram my belongings into his trunk. I gave him the address of the port location and asked him to step on it!

It was a beautiful sunny day and my driver pointed out all the local highlights, including the home of the Seahawks, the very first ever Starbucks and of course the iconic Space Needle. Yes ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I’d finally made it to Seattle, right on the West Coast of America in the state of Washington, but the only sight I was really interested in seeing was one of the Norwegian Jewel, still docked and still with gangway down.

The Space Needle

As we reached the water’s edge, there she was. Stationary. The Jewel. Beautifully straining against the ropes tethering her to the long pier. Glittering in the sunshine against the shimmering water. I’d made it!! My new home for the next nine months. Or so I thought…

The gorgeous sparkling Jewel.

A Brush With The Law

Thursday 16th February 2017.

Sunday 12th June 2016 – So to pick up the story where I left off, I’d just had the most fantastic 10 days ranching vacation in Kara Creek with my best pal Sally Ann. To get back to Denver airport in time for our flight to Dublin, we had a very early 4am start and a long drive through the rolling plains of first Wyoming and then Colorado.

With Sally Ann laid out fast asleep on the back seat of our Chevy, I was making good progress at the wheel, watching the miles fly past on the empty roads. That was until I heard the ominous Whoop Whoop of a police patrol car and got dazzled by the red and blue blinking lights in my rear view mirror.

Yes, that’s the actual police car. Sally Ann decided to take photo momentos of the whole thing.

Oh cripes! This is it I thought. We’d just passed through a “town” that consisted of a disused gas station and two tumbleweeds and I’ve seen enough late night movies to know that this was the scene in which we were about to get brutally raped and/or murdered.

Despite having watched nearly every episode of Law and Order ever made, I couldn’t for the life of me think of the protocol. Was I supposed to get out of the car? Was I supposed to lay down on the roadside with my hands on my head? Or would keeping my hands behind my back as I sprawled face first on the bonnet be a better pose? I vaguely recalled “perps” placing their hands out of the window onto the roof in an attempt not to get shot by the cops, but in the end plumped for staying statue like in the front seat with both hands gripped to the wheel.

As the officer was making his way suspiciously towards our hastily paused vehicle, Sally Ann awoke from her slumber. “Oh good! We’ve stopped.” She mumbled. “I really need to pee.” She said, before attempting to open the car door and pull her jeans down by the side of the road. “STOP! STOP!” I yelled, “We have a situation…” I continued, just about managing to lure her back into the back seat in time, before urinating in public and public indecency were added to our list of impending charges.

Officer Williams of the Torrington Police Department, was actually very nice and cordial, once we’d established that neither one of us was about to shoot and I’d keep my hands where he could see them. Having taken down all my vital statistics, he eventually let me away with just a warning and a small lecture on the dangers of driving too fast, as it turned out I’d been doing over double the permited speed, being that we were still within the “town’s” limits and therfore still in the significantly reduced speed zone.

After escaping a fine in excess of $200, this warning slip became like my lotto ticket!

What he was doing up and about, and patrolling for crime in this deserted district at 7.30am on a Sunday morning goodness only knows. In all honesty, I’d been going that fast, I hadn’t even noticed that we’d passed through a “town”. Still, I thanked the member of Torrington’s finest profusely, invited him to tea if he was ever in England, and drove off very cautiously until he was far out of sight, before pulling over once more to let Sally Ann relieve herself on the lush green verge.

After that it was a pretty uneventful rest of the drive back to the airport and I was glad to board the plane and escape the country without a felony rap sheet to my name.

The remainder of my vacation time passed by all to fast, and I was soon back on a plane to France, ready to catch another flight back across the Atlantic. Before that Sally Ann and I spent one final fun day together messing about at the Parc Asterisk theme park on the outskirts of Paris. I avoided the most scary of rides, but we still had a lot fun and got drenched on the water rides. We said our goodbyes, I shoved the remainder of my next 9 months worth of belongings into my bag, and it was goodbye real life, hello Ship life once more.

*P.S. I was having trouble uploading the photos onto yesterday’s piece (darn slow ship interweb), but they’re there now if you want to take a look.