“This is your Captain speaking with an important update.”
So here I am again, riding the crest of the waves, almost 5 weeks into my 7 month contract and I feel like I have been on board 3 months already. Surprisingly, I have found it relatively easy to slip back into ship life and must say I feel very ‘at home’ on board the Zaandam. I think that having had the experience of being on a much bigger ship previously (4000 guests and 1500 crew) compared to this one which is a lot smaller (1500 guests and 600 crew) has helped me to settle in quicker than I did on Disney Fantasy (DF). Finding my away around the ship is like water off a ‘whale’s humpback’ (well, I am in Alaska J). I remember spending my first month on DF getting totally lost and confused trying to find my way around the ship (I know some of you will think being ‘lost and confused’ is a pretty normal state for me). The second factor that has helped immensely is the friendliness of the crew who have so far, been warm and welcoming. Apparently, Zaandam ship is one of the best ships to work on in the Holland American Line (HAL) fleet because of the high morale of the crew and the sense of camaraderie. That’s not to say that I didn’t experience this on DF, I just feel that being on a much smaller ship makes it more ‘intimate’. I can’t say I know everyone yet, however, I think that everyone knows who the acupuncturist is, even if they don’t know me personally. That white lab coat is a dead giveaway. Actually, today (Monday 5 August) had an embarrassing funny moment at lunch. There were a mixed group of about 8 of us sitting round a table eating lunch when this complete ‘newbie’ came and sat down beside me and asked if he could join us. I had absolutely no clue who he was or what he did and was merrily chatting away to one of the girls and he picked up on our conversation and joined in. Then one of the girls asked him how long he was here for and he replied, “one week only”, so I piped up and laughingly remarked “so it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday for you then”. The whole table and the newbie burst out laughing. It was at this point I leant over a bit closer to inspect his name badge to see what his position was only to see the title ‘Captain’ on it! You would have thought that the four stripes on his epaulettes would have been a big clue! I couldn’t help exclaiming “oh my God, I didn’t know we had a new Captain on board, I thought you sounded a bit different on the PA system this morning!” (The ‘old’ Captain was Dutch, Captain Wouter van Hoogdam, and had apparently, unbeknown to me, gone on a week’s training somewhere). More laughter. At this point, very red faced, I decided to leave the table after formally ‘introducing’ myself to the Captain. Later on that afternoon, I bumped into Natalie one of the jewellery girls who had been sat at the lunch table and I said to her, “God, how embarrassing was that at lunch time”, and she was like, “it was so funny, you gave us such a laugh and I think you definitely made an impression on the Captain!” Not sure if the impression I made was good, bad or indifferent but at least he knows who I am! Just as well he is only on board for 1 week.
The vast majority of the crew appear to be either Indonesian or Philippino. Most of the officer’s are either Dutch or British (new Scottish staff captain just joined us this week). There are two British pianists on board and the Spa manager is Irish and so is the future cruise consultant, Joanne even though she sounds Australian and has the most annoying droning voice which really grates on you. Talking of voices, one of the Philippino spa girls remarked to me and the girls,
“I love listening to Emma talking”,
so when I asked her why, she commented
“Because it makes me feel like I am watching a Harry Potter movie and I just love Harry Potter!”
This tickled me pink! So I told her I would help her learn to speak the ‘Queen’s English’ J for me, it is just the simple banter like this that get’s you through the ship day and puts a smile on your face.
I was actually asked the other day by the crew office if I would like to give English lessons to the crew, apparently they have a budget for it so I would get paid for it so I thought why not. Just wish I had done a TEFL course (Teaching English as a foreign language).
The Greenhouse Spa
This is where I obviously spend the vast majority of my time (52 hours to be exact). The Spa and salon is a lot smaller than the spa on DF. For a start, we are a much smaller team of 13 compared to 35 on DF. The spa manager is an Irish lass called Tara, however, she is leaving this week and is being replaced by Cedric from France, formerly a hairdresser and typically ‘camp’. Good job I like the French and speak some of the lingo! There is only 1 other English girl in the spa and the rest are all ‘foreigners’. The age range varies however most of the staff are in their late 20’s or mid 30’s, apart from the two fitness instructors who are early 20’s.
I have 2 treatment rooms, one has a sea view and the 2nd room is an inside room. I don’t think I will ever better the view and position of my treatment room on DF. Anyone who was lucky enough to see my room will understand why – I had the best view of the entire ship looking out to sea directly above the ‘Bridge’/Captain’s office. This time, although I have a sea view, instead of a forward facing view, I have a starboard (right side) view so it is not nearly so spectacular. However, I do get to see some amazing scenery and even spotted a whale from my room which was the highlight of the day. One of the positives of being in Alaska is the amount of daylight – in July, the average daylight is 16 hours 20 mins and during August, 14 hours 31 mins so it doesn’t ever seem to get dark in the evenings. I wouldn’t want to be here in November or December though when the average daylight is 7-8 hours.
There is also a gym attached to the spa which is located in the prime spot at the front of the ship looking out to sea (where my treatment room on DF was). I have been frequenting the gym during my time off to practise my yoga as my cabin is too small to even swing a cat, let alone do the cat posture. When I did attempt to try some yoga in my cabin, I couldn’t stretch upwards properly for hitting the ceiling or sideways for hitting the walls. So despite the fact I would prefer to do my yoga in privacy, I have become a ‘regular’ in the gym. The 2 fitness instructors who offer yoga classes were well impressed by my asanas!
Ahoy there my hearties from the high seas of Alaska!
First stop – Vancouver
The flight from Gatwick to Vancouver was better than I had anticipated. I had been anticipating the worst, never having travelled on Air Transat before, however, my expectations were ‘exceedingly good’ (not that they gave us any Mr Kipling’s cakes). Ok, I admit, the flight attendants weren’t a patch on myself, Joanne ‘BJ’ Lakin or Louise ‘Coco’ Cooper in our ‘trolley dolly, hay days of Bahrain and I am sure we could show them a thing or two (like how to climb into one of the overhead lockers and pose like page 3 models), but that’s another story …. right girls!!
So I had the luxury of 3 full days to embrace Vancouver and ‘brace’ myself for the next 7 months on board the Holland America cruise line ship, The Zaandam. I have to say, I took to Vancouver like a duck to water or maybe it was the other way around, Vancouver took to me J
After getting over the jetlag thanks to a combination of Arnica and melatonin, ((Vancouver are 8 hours behind UK), I had 2 full days to enjoy the city. And enjoy I did. There is so much to see and do and I wasn’t able to do it all, however, I did make it to Stanley Park which has been voted the 2nd most beautiful park in the world and is on the same size scale as Central park in New York (thanks for your Vancouverite recommendation Rob Thompson). I also took a city bus tour and hopped on and off the bus, here there and everywhere, including Chinatown where I managed to stock up on my royal jelly and ginseng liquid vials.
The weather was fabulous in Vancouver and it was so nice to be back in my Caribbean clothing again (no I didn’t parade round in my bikini, just shorts and t-shirt). I found it incredibly easy to navigate my way round the city (who says women can’t read maps) and felt very safe here. I did get a proposition from the taxi driver who drove me from the airport to my hotel, however, I decided I wasn’t into turbans so I let that one go …
Embarkation Day, Sunday 7 July 2013
The day of reckoning arrives. The fear of the ‘unknown’ lying ahead. Part of me was dreading it. I remember how totally overwhelming it was when I joined the Disney Fantasy (DF). However, this time it was slightly different as I was responsible for finding my way to the port and boarding the ship. (On Disney, we were picked up from our hotel and escorted on a crew bus and dropped off and guided through everything). Hey but it’s not rocket science is it, I mean how hard can it be. For some reason, I am reminded of the time I offered to drive to Burley (in the New Forest) for a tango milonga and ended up practically in Portsmouth (I obviously didn’t have a sat nav). Remember that night Wynne and Ester!? It was Halloween and we never stopped laughing all the way there J Luckily, I made it to the ship before it set sail and it was all relatively straightforward.
Zaandam – First impressions
I had mentally prepared myself that this ship was going to be as opulent as the regal DF knowing that it is 13 years older (which is still young for a ship or so I am told). However, I knew I would find it difficult not to make comparisons between the 2 ships. In a way, I had to ‘pretend’ to myself that this was like starting my first contract and ‘erase’ the magic memories of Disney behind. Upon embarking, I was assigned a buddy from the spa, the assistant spa manager called Hilda from Malta. Her job was to look after me and show me round the ship and help me settle in. Hilda, at 39, is the oldest spa girl, not like all these flighty something 20 year old spa girls so I am in good company! As long as she doesn’t turn out to be another ‘little Hitler’ like Julia on the DF and is more like Bara ‘Czeckmate’ Cizkova, I will be fine.
Not the Penthouse
Upon being shown to my cabin by Hilda, I now realise how utterly ‘spoilt’ I was on the DF in my ‘penthouse’. Suffice to say, I was seriously underwhelmed by my tiny cabin (Andy, Bara and Rob, about the same size, if not smaller, than your cabins on DF). Instead of my ‘penthouse’ double bed, I have a pair of single bunk beds with just a blanket and sheet to cover me. How I miss my John Lewis goose and duck down duvet. There are no duvets in the spa so I won’t be able to sneak one down to my room like I did on DF. I did ask my Indonesian housekeeper if he could get me one but he wasn’t able to, however he has given me a couple of extra blankets so at least I am a bit toastier.
Needless to say I don’t have the luxury of a sofa in my room either (don’t think I am going to be having ‘penthouse’ cheese/wine soirees somehow in my room this contract). I was also ‘shocked’ to discover that I don’t have a fridge as this was standard in every room on Disney. So, if I want a fridge, I have to buy one! Apparently some crew members do have them in their rooms and sell them when they leave so maybe I will get one if I get desperate. Ironically, on Disney, we weren’t allowed to bring on diary products yet we had fridges and on Holland America, you are allowed to bring on diary yet we don’t have fridges to keep it fresh.
Again, like Disney, standard operating practice is that you can’t have a kettle in your room, however, I have it on good authority that I can buy one in the local Safeway’s (yes they have a Safeway’s here) and sneak it on in either Vancouver or Seward ports where the port security, rather than the ship security isn’t as strict. At least I won’t be smuggling any cheese on board in my bra, eh Bara, and after all that, getting it confiscated during cabin inspection! Cabin inspection seems to be a lot more relaxed on this ship and I believe it only happens about once a month (so better make sure I hide the kettle).
My cabin is located on deck 1, forward, not quite the same as Disney, being in room 10309 on deck 10 in my own private corridor with laundry facilities, just a stones throw from the Captain’s and Staff Captain’s office. I don’t feel nearly so self-important!!
One of the ‘perks’ on this ship is that both the spa girls and myself get to eat with the guests in ‘The Lido’ which is the casual dining restaurant (similar to Cabanas on DF). Although it is considered a privilege to be able to eat with the guests and eat the same food, I actually don’t like having to queue up with guests and eat in the same space as them. I much preferred going to eat in the Officer’s mess on DF simply because you are not ‘on show’ and can talk freely without guests overhearing your conversation. Although there is also a crew ‘living room’ and petty officer’s mess, this is mainly for the Indonesian and Philipino crew who don’t have the privilege to eat with the guests. Obviously the food isn’t as good either. On the whole, the food selection has been quite good with a variety of dishes to choose from, Asian, Italian and European food – always some beef/lamb/chicken and fish. Last night, I had pumpkin soup for starter, lamb chops, sautéed potatoes, carrots and kale cabbage followed by black forest cheesecake washed down with some jasmine tea, oh and I almost forgot the white chocolate cookies. I better be careful as I may put on an ounce! I am sure by the end of the 7 months I will be sick of the food and chomping on the bit for something more palatable. There are several other restaurants on board however I have to have permission to go to them. Apparently there is a restaurant called the ‘Pinnacle grill’ and once a month as a staff perk, I get the opportunity to eat here for free (normally there is a $20 crew charge like in Palo’s on DF).
So this is all my ‘Zaandam news’ for now. In my next instalment, I will update you on
Working in the spa
Dancing with the stars!
And much more!
1. This amazing view from my treatment ‘office’.
2. The tips!
3. The weather and golden beaches.
4. Breakfast club in the Officer’s mess.
5. My ‘Penthouse’ Suite.
6. The Spa girls, not forgetting the boys, of course.
7. My Disney ‘family’ and the sense of camaraderie.
8. The ‘Rainforest’ (Turkish hammam, steam, sauna, Jacuzzis and heated ceramic
9. Listening to live musicians.
10. Getting free spa treatments.
11. Crew parties.
Homeward Bound – Some of the things I can’t wait to do when I get back, in no particular order
1. Lying in and sleeping in my own bed on land.
2. Not having to change my clock 1 hour forward and back every week.
3. Driving my car.
4. Taking a bath.
5. Drying my washing in fresh air.
6. Dancing with all my favourite men.
7. Getting my hair done.
8. Detoxing from all the ‘junk’.
9. Tango milongas and tea dances.
10. Listening to Steve Wright’s Sunday love songs on Radio 2.
11 Going food shopping and cooking for myself.
12. Doors opening and closing the right way (not having to pull doors open instead of pushing them, losing my fingers in the process).
13. Chill’in rather than do-ing – although I suspect I will literally be ‘chilling’ from the freezing cold, not looking forward to the British climate.
14. The freedom.
15. By the way, did I mention DANCING, DANCING, and more DANCING!
Well, where do I start? Let’s start with my itinerary for this week. This week, (week commencing Sat 4 August 2012), I am doing the Eastern Caribbean cruise setting sail from Port Canaveral, the homeport of the Disney Fantasy. My itinerary for the week looks something like this.
I actually did this cruise last week. We were meant to be doing the Western Caribbean cruise this week, however due to a tropical storm and the fact that it is the hurricane season, the Captain decided that it would not be safe to sail to the Western Caribbean. Normally the itinerary changes each week, one week is the Eastern Caribbean, the following week it is the Western Caribbean, however due to the adverse weather conditions, it means that I will be repeating the same cruise for three weeks running. It is more than a little ironic that having endured three months solid rain and appalling weather in the UK before I left, I arrive in the Caribbean only to find it’s raining and it’s the hurricane season! There was me with visions of lying bikini clad on some exotic Caribbean beach drinking coconut water (instead of my usual chlorophyll), only to find myself in St Maarteen with my raincoat on sipping tea in one of the beach cafes. It was just like being in Swanage on a rainy grey day in England, except for the designer shops and warmer temperature. To add insult to injury, one of the locals even tried to sell me an umbrella. I wouldn’t mind but I left two perfectly good umbrella’s behind in the UK and I really don’t need or even want a third! Enough about the weather, I am being far too British suffice to say I do hope you are enjoying a dry spell in UK for the Olympics.
So, I have now completed two whole weeks on board the Disney Fantasy and am now into my third week cruising. I have to say that the first week on board was quite a ‘rude awakening’ and not just because of the early starts in the mornings. The day I embarked, Saturday 21 July, I had to be up at 4 am to be on the crew bus for a 5 am departure to get to Port Canaveral (PC). I arrived at PC around 7.30 am and boarded the ship after going through lots of security checks, including sniffer dogs. Once on board, I spent most of the day in training, being shown around the ship and going over safety procedures. I was with a class of new recruits of various different nationalities – Russian, Serbian, Croatian, Indian, Philippino, American, Venezuelan, South African, Honduran, not to mention one other Brit, Geoffrey, a photographer. We were to spend the next week all together being ‘Disneyfied’ and I don’t mean dressing up as Mickey and Minnie Mouse! The Disney training covered everything from cultural awareness, passenger ship safety training, an engineering tour (the Chief Engineer is called Gareth from Wales), life raft training, environmentality, child protection awareness, delivering exceptional guest service, elementary first aid, a medicine check and security awareness. We even had a personal address from the Captain himself. In between all this training, I was also working in the Spa undertaking my first acupuncture appointments and getting to grips with the computerised appointment system, not to mention the spa accounting system and all the end of the day paperwork (yet more paperwork/admin, thought I had left this all behind, no such luck). To say the first week on board was overwhelming would be an understatement. I ‘endured’ rather than ‘enjoyed’ it. I was exceedingly tired and not ashamed to confess that I was more than a little bit tearful during that first uncertain week. The only saving grace was all the leaving cards I received before I left and had saved opening. I opened one card every evening upon arriving in the US and I was still opening cards up until last week. I can’t tell you how much they boosted my morale and I now have them proudly displayed on my ‘mantelpiece’. Thank you to all those of you for your cards and well wishes, it really did mean such a lot in those first few weeks. It didn’t really help my frame of mind in training seeing some of the safety videos of previous disasters at sea. Suddenly the very real fear of a fire on board or the threat of a sinking ship became very apparent and I found myself questioning myself “what am I doing here”. On reflection, I realise that this was the intention as it makes you take your safety responsibilities as a crew member more seriously and safety on board is the number one priority.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the sheer enormity of this ship – 14 decks high, the ship weighs a whopping 130,000 tons and is 340 meters long and 37 meters in breadth. The guest capacity is 4000 and the crew capacity is just under 1500. I spent most of my first week getting completely lost and asking for directions – I need a sat nav just to find my way around from aft to forward and port to starboard (just wanted to impress you with my nautical terminology really!). I am getting my bearings better now even though below the decks the crew area is like a huge underground rabbit warren. I am very fortunate that my cabin is on deck 10 (i.e. above sea level) and is at the front of the ship (forward) just along the corridor from the Captain’s office which is reassuring. My cabin is very comfortable and apparently, I am very privileged to be classed as an ‘Officer’ (with two and a half stripes – to put this into perspective the Captain has 5 stripes) so I have my own cabin as the majority of crew have to share. There are 808 crew cabins amongst 1500 crew. I have a comfortable double bed, television, sofa, desk, fridge, lots of cupboard and wardrobe space and my own bathroom with shower. The cabin itself is also relatively spacious. Also, as the ship was only launched on 31 March 2012, everything is brand new and I am only the second acupuncturist to use this cabin. It can be a little bit noisy at times with things going ‘bump in the night’ which I am getting used to, and the gentle undulation of the ship rocking is actually quite therapeutic when you are drifting off to sleep.
The overriding feeling on the ship is one of friendliness – I couldn’t have asked for a warmer reception and this is really all down to the Disney ‘family’ that I have now become a part of. At times, I have even felt like a bit of a celebrity as people stop me in my tracks, greet me by name (we all wear name tags) and say something along the lines of “welcome onboard, you must be the new acupuncturist.” Something tells me I must stick out like a sore thumb wearing my trendy white lab coat!
I know some of you have been asking me about a mailing address so if you do want the ship’s mailing address, please email me personally and I will let you know the address. That’s all from your ‘Officer’ for now so over and out!
For the curious amongst you, here is a snapshot of my itinery over the next few days and forthcoming week.
Wed 11 July
Depart London Heathrow 11.30 am, arrive Los Angeles (LAX) 14.50 local time. Flying Virgin Atlantic for the first time ever so will be making comparisons with my experiences of having been a Senior Flight Stewardess for Gulf Air, paying particular attention to the service, food and uniforms. Think the Virgin girls uniforms will win hands down.
Thursday 12 July
Day of rest to get over jetlag and an opportunity to explore the local vicinity. I’m staying at the Hacienda hotel, www.HaciendaHotel.com which will be my home for the next 7 nights. The hotel has a spa and offers dancing – West coast swing, Salsa, Bachata and Hustle lessons so I’ve landed on my feet here! (Thanks Martin)
Friday 13 July (hopefully not unlucky for me)
First day of training at the Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine
www.yosan.edu. This 3 day intensive training programme covers the following topics
Saturday 14 & Sunday 15 July
Day 2 & 3 of training as above
Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 July
Free days to explore LA, rest and wish my Mum “happy birthday” on the 16th
Wednesday 18 July
Leave LA and fly to Orlando with Delta Airlines (more comparisons). Arrive in LA 6pm local time (although lose 3 hours as LA is 8 hours behind and Orlando is 5 hours behind UK). Thank God for homeopathic Arnica for jet lag (take 30c potency every 3 hours in flight – used this when I went to China to great effect) followed by another homeopathic remedy Kali Phos taken every 3 (waking) hours for 3 days following arrival. The only difficulty is remembering to take them at the right intervals.
Attend Disney University for traditions training. Whatever this means? Your guess is as good as mine!
Embark the Disney Fantasy ship at Port Canaveral for a 7 month whistle stop tour of the Caribbean.
Let’s hope its all ‘plain sailing’ …………