Why the last six months were the best six months of my life

I can't help it. I am extremely happy right now. Actually, I can help it. In fact, I worked really hard to be where I am today.

Over the last six months, my life has taken a dramatic turn in a positive direction. I was recently hired to work for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines on the Independence of the Seas as a member of the Youth Staff. I cannot thank my friend, Kimberly M., enough for staying on top of me and recommending that I pursue this wonderful line of work. I’m sure you’re wondering how ship-life has been and what I’ve been up to. Let me tell you…

I’ve Traveled The World

Okay, I didn’t quite travel the whole world, but my world has certainly gotten a lot bigger. Previously I had only been all over the United States and to Hainan, China. Now, I’ve been to England, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Norway, Belgium, Ireland, The Canary Islands (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, & Lanzarote), and other lovely islands such as Ibiza, Majorca, Corscia, Madeira, as well as the Caribbean: Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Saint Kitts, Haiti, and Grand Cayman.

I’ve been to amazing locales such as Gibraltar, Florence, Rome, Lisbon, Barcelona, Toulon, Olden, Flåm, Oslo, Bruges, Le HavreLivorno, Civitavecchia, ValenciaVigo, Cádiz, and La Coruña… and seen fantastic sites such as the Sagrada Família, Parc de la Ciutadella, Arc de Triomf, 25 de Abril BridgeCastle of São JorgeEstrela Basilica, Saint Michael’s CaveColosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Piazza del Duomo, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Palazzo VecchioFort Belvedere, Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Tower of HerculesBriksdalsbreen, and Preikestolen, among others.

I could have easily gotten “stuck” working on a ship that only travels in the Caribbean (or even worse, the Enchantment of the Seas which only goes to the Bahamas), but I got SO extremely lucky as to get assigned to the Indy at just the right time to be able to travel all over Europe. Which takes me to my next point.

Best Ship, Best Boss

I have never worked on another ship besides the Indy. I haven’t worked for any other Adventure Ocean (what we call the youth program) departments besides the one on my ship. So, I really don’t know first hand exactly how things compare. But, from what I hear from my colleagues I am extremely lucky to have had the Indy as my first ship.

For starters, the Independence of the Seas is the third largest cruise ship in the world. There is so much to do on the ship that you really have to be a boring person to get bored there. I already mentioned how stellar the itinerary is. But the culture and the people on the ship are really what makes it stand out. The culture is so upbeat, there are so many good people, and the management staff is top notch.

Speaking of management staff, I feel so blessed to have such an awesome Adventure Ocean manager as Matt Ducharme and assistant manager as Laura Davidson. These guys make such a stellar team. Matt is so easy to get along with, he’s incredible with the kids (such a great example), he knows how to balance being an authority and leader with being a fun colleague, and he is so intelligent and resourceful that out department is really thriving under his leadership. Laura, who by all rights could/should be an Adventure Ocean manager herself is also super smart, fun, creative, and a wonderful example of a leader.

I’ve had good bosses and I’ve had bad bosses, but I am so lucky to have had two great bosses with these guys. And they look out for and take such good care of their staff. Even my boss’s boss, Joff Eaton is amazing. He is such a charismatic leader, it is easy to see why Matt & Laura are able to do such a good job working along side him. I am truly one fortunate dude.

Best Job Ever (So Far)

Okay, so here is basically what I do: I make sure the kids on our ship have an amazing vacation. Its that simple. On some cruises we may have over 1,200 kids under 18. On other cruises we may have only 50 kids under 18. The job stays the same, though. Run activities, get to know the kids, keep them safe, and make sure they have fun. That’s all there is to it. I get to hang out with bright, fun, optimistic, and genuine kids all day. How cool is that? When I’m at work, I barely feel like I’m working. And when I’m not at work, I’m literally on a vacation. This is why I have coined the term paycation to describe what I do. I’m getting paid to be on vacation.

Granted, the job can be stressful at times. There are dozens of ways to get fired – which are all avoidable for the most part if you follow procedures and practice common sense safety. Kids can be little snots sometimes: running wild, not listening, playing dangerously, getting into fights, and making giant messes. But I remember being that age. I was just like that. They’re just being kids. Nothing they do is going to really “upset” me or stress me out. You just keep reminding yourself: “They’re here to have fun. I’m here to have fun. My job is to make sure everyone has fun.”

After a long, stressful day I like to go to the teen center to help my colleagues in there pour sodas and chat with some slightly more mature kids. They always have loads of interesting things to talk about and share, and that makes it all better.

Throughout my first contract, the ages I was working with got progressively younger. I started out with the 9-11 age group (Voyagers), then started doing more the 6-8 age range (Explorers), then moved into the youngest age group in Adventure Ocean, 3-5 year-olds. Around half-way through my contract I was privileged enough to be allowed to take over our Fisher-Price program for the “Royal Babies & Tots” (6-36 months) where I ran play sessions, music sessions, art sessions, and in general hung out with babies, toddlers, and their parents in a family play room decked out entirely with different Fisher-Price toys every day (which I got to pick out).

Being “Fisher-Price Specialist” was certainly a highlight of the job for me because I absolutely loved balancing the playing with kids with talking with the parents. Things went so well that the Fisher-Price playgroup ratings and Royal Babies & Tots staff ratings scored perfect 300’s from our guests for several months after I took the program over.

If I could stay there was a “worst” part of the job, I would say that it is sometimes just putting up with colleagues. But we all have bad days and feel like being grumpy, lazy, bossy, or whatever – so that’s not really even a drawback of the job as much as it is a normal life challenge. Of course, working in the Fisher-Price room I was by myself so I didn’t have to even worry about that. Not that I ever did worry about going to work. My coworkers, for the most part, were pretty awesome individuals. After all, they chose this job, didn’t they? I met so many fun, creative, optimistic, inspiring people on my staff. You really do become like a little family working on a ship.

Fantastic Friends

Everything on cruise ships happens in turbo. A week is like a month. People are constantly coming and going from the ship, we live and work in a small cramped “fishbowl” environment, we’re in completely different places every other day, and there is just so much to do at work and at play. As a result, you find yourself making (and sometimes losing) friendships faster than you’ve ever done so in your life before. This actually works well for my personality and experiences. I’m the type of person who makes fast friends and my experience in the Air Force has somewhat numbed me to the fact that no one will really be around for long. So, you make the most of the time you have with people when they are around. And if they are super cool, you stay in touch afterwords.

I have been so blessed to meet and make so many awesome friends from all over the world and even though our time together has been short, it already feels like they are going to be lifelong friends for a long time to come. I am especially blessed to have met and had some good times with my dear friends Shawn J, Gary A, Christina C, Richie Z, Melise W, Sophie C, Arron T, Lenie S, Dave M, Kalani M, and Jackie, B… just to name a few people who immediately pop into the top of my head and whom I would consider a close, trusted friend.

Ship Life is the Good Life

People like to complain a lot on ships. For me, the only complaint I have is about the amount of complaining people do. Sure there are pro’s and con’s to living and working on a ship – just like any other job or place you can live – but for me personally, some of the con’s are pro’s and the rest are just nothing. Small cabins and tight living quarters? I actually prefer that. Not much variety in the food served in the crew mess? Hey. I’m eating a lot more food – and a lot tastier food – than I’ve eaten in years. Working 10 hours a day 7 days a week too much for you? I’m a workaholic and tend to waste my time when I have days off. Bring it!

One of the best things for me has been getting back into a routine. I work a lot and I work every day, so I pretty much can never sleep in. On days when I do have the morning off we’re in some amazing port so I have an excuse to get up and go outside and explore. I have been eating regularly, working out regularly, getting plenty of reading done, and still manage to keep up with my TV shows. When I feel like being a loner I can retreat to the solitude of my cabin or Deck 5 forward (secret’s out!) for some alone time. And when I feel like going out and “partying” hard, there’s always a good crowd and loads of people you know at the crew bar.

The hardest part about ship life is saying goodbye to so many close friends so often. However, this also has a silver lining: It forces you to never take anyone for granted and to maximize the quality time you spend with people. You just have to make each moment count. And guess what? For every person that leaves there’s a new person coming aboard to take their place. There are always new and interesting people to meet. And given enough time you will probably cross paths with some of your friends again – whether you get sent to a ship they are on, they get sent back to the ship you’re on or you happen to be docked in the same port on the same day.

Great Expectations

Speaking of getting sent back to the same ship, I am doubly blessed to be going back to the Independence of the Seas on January 18th for my second contract. So, everything I just told you about that I loved about my first contract? Well, I get to have all those benefits and do it all over again for the next one (knock on wood – I could always get transferred to another ship). We will spend the winter in the Caribbean and in May we will go back to Europe and do Norway, Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc. all over again. I’m even going to try to extend my contract by six weeks to stay on the ship through July so I can get a little more time in Europe and so that I can have my next vacation during the month of August (this isn’t set in stone yet, but that’s what I am going to try to do if they will let me).

No matter what happens, I’m just looking forward to life and the adventure that awaits. Whatever comes my way, I’m going to make the most of it and then move on to whatever is next. Who knows? Maybe the next six months will be even better than the last. If I have anything to do with it (and I have a LOT to do with it) they will be.

Life is good right now. And I plan on making it even better.

  • Daniel An

    Awesome, Zach. Thanks for sharing so many insights about life on board! You pretty much answered all of my questions, mostly about living on the ship and the workload and such. I was curious though if you’ve gotten a chance to talk to anyone from the Onboard Marketing team there?

    Best,
    Danny

  • Danny, when you say “Onboard Marketing” are you talking about being a Port Shopping Guide? I have a good friend who does that and she said it is an extremely rewarding career. I would suggest you look at Onboard Media (http://www.onboardmedia.com/) or Royal Media Partners (http://www.royalmp.com/) if you’re interested in that sort of thing.