44 days ago
Ok, not all the Caribbeans, just a few Eastern islands: Puerto Rico, St. Thomas (U.S.V.I.), Dominican Republic and the Bahamas - Nassau actually. The Caribbean humid and salty air seemed to be really nice to my skin, after risking sun burning and having to hide for a while, now it's golden and soft as silk.
Most important, I did take a cruise on my former employer's latest ship: Carnival Splendor. A good friend of mine from university (and far cousin) still works there and I was able to cruise with her as crew family. I had a god time especially due to the fact that I was able to wander where and whenever I pleased, guest and crew area, in my own clothes. Somehow I missed being employed there, as I could meet people only for brief moments, this time I was just a pleasant outsider who was scheduled to get off after seven days.
First of all, it was great seeing Emi again and getting to spend time with her after more than 10 years. She joined the ships one year after me and I was not even aware. Besides, we never worked aboard the same vessel. Seeing an old friend in a foreign environment is still seeing an old friend, sharing memories and having the pleasure of noting that nothing has really changed between us, on the contrary, I think I became a more understading person and this facilitated our contact. She received me extremely well, with delicatessen and warmth from the heart, thus bringing out the best in me.
The layout of Splendor was very similar to my previous ships: Destiny, Victory and Triumph, only there was just one crew bar, on deck 0, big, but far from the crew open deck, I used to love grabbing a glass of wine and going outside. Another big change was the absence of the jazz trio, apparently they are disappearing from ships. During my three years with Carnival, musicians, especially the jazz trio in the Cigar Bar, were my best friends. So I could not renew some of my daily rituals, like listening to jazz every evening, while sipping some cognac, Cointreau or Grand Marnier.
I did go to the gym the morning of the sea days and to the sauna in the evening, and I hanged out on the deck 3 huge balcony, exposed to the waves spray, air and breeze, but not to the wild winds and pitiless sun light. I showed very few times my almost naked body to the Italian officers on the deck (who are also supervising female crew members taking sun right under their very noses on deck 4). Guests complain they cannot go there, but it is the smallest open area on the ship, meanwhile they have access to all the large ones. I only lied in the sun early in the morning or late in the afternoon. After lunch I used to lie in a sun chair on deck 3 correcting my master thesis. Being very busy at work and spending most of her time with people, Emi preferred to eat late and isolated on the Lido deck guest area, instead of the crowded and noisy staff mess. Her preferred food was the Indian corner called for some confusing reason "Grill", providing curry dishes, different chutneys, humus and yogurt salad, called dal. At night we would indulge in the buffet, that sported smoked salmon and great desserts every night, to my despair, as I was trying to hold my horses when it came to eating. I never set foot at the Gala Buffet though.
We had only one drink in an outside bar on the formal night and I only watched half of the Latin themed main show. The rest of the time we would get our drinks in the crew bar. I talked mostly to a Brasilian guy selling future cruises onboard, a Romanian motorman, the Romanian Shore Excursions Manager, the photographers (the ones from Romania and Macedonia especially) and the Latin trio that had as usual a boring generic name: Latin Fiesta, being three fun loving and nice Dominicans. I was lucky enough to meet one friend from my past contracts: Patricia from Peru, who works in the gift shop. There were other familiar faces around, but none I really knew well. With two exceptions: one Chilean bartender from the last muster station I supervised on Triumph, and one Colombian guy who remembered me because he was involved at some points with my Romanian roomie. Many of my friends are now having regular lives on land. I'd be much happier for Emi if I knew she has left the ships. But on the other hand it's hard to leave, even if people work long hours with little rewarding or none.
I found there were some new rules, like the crew wearing their name tag even in crew areas (I had a Crew Family badge), which I think it's good, this way you avoid guests roaming freely in private zones. It happened once on the Sensation for two fairly drunk couples to get in the crew bar.
To make a long story short, I led pretty much the same life I did when I was a crew member, sticking to open decks and running away from air conditioning as much as possible. I also preferred crew areas because they are quieter. It felt very natural to go back there, maybe because I knew this ship layout very well. I understood that an absence longer than four years did not mean much, after spending three intense years on ships. Somehow it got under my skin. To such point that I felt urged to give people directions or asking their questions while in line at the Pursers' Info desk. By the way, my former position: International Purser, is also about to disappear, they're trying to use more pursers with language skills. What a pity, I loved my job, only it was not well paid and it had no future.