For my first full week, I was able to get off the ship at every port except St. Maarten, but I will have the chance another 7 times or so. Princess Cays is private "island" (a cay really) just for Princess cruise ship passengers. It is a cay that is part of the island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas. It is a mostly flat, coral and limestone island with mangroves. It's a pretty cool place to just relax and do some exploring since this cay is pretty small (maybe 10 square miles at the most). It also has pretty good snorkeling. When we were in St. Thomas I went to a beach called Emerald Beach near the airport. Last week I didn't get the chance to check out St. Maarten and I didn't get a chance to go either because the ship didn't even go there...
Due to Hurricane Omar, we changed our itenary. Instead of St. Maarten and St. Thomas, we instead went to Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Grand Cayman. Ocho Rios is not the "best" city in Jamaica and it's not much of a city at all. People warned me of crime and hustling etc. but it really wasn't that bad, but I was with at least one other crew member the whole time. But I don't think I would have been afraid to go out by myself. There was the typical shopping that they have in all the ports (except Princess Cays; there is no industry there). There are fancy shops, tourist shops, and souvenir shops. Then there were the local shops. When the tourist area ended and the regular town started, you could definitely tell. Since I'm not that interested in shopping and there wasn't really anything to do in town at Ocho Rios, we went to the "world-famous" waterfall called Dunn Waterfalls. (They say that if you don't go to it, it's like visiting France and not seeing the Eiffel Tower.) Anyway, Dunn Waterfalls are a series of smallish waterfalls that go down a total of 600 feet into the ocean. Tradition is to take the stairs from the top and then actually climb up the waterfall. You make a big long train of people and hold hands as guides help you up the waterfall. I didn't have enough time to climb up the actual waterfall, so after spending some time under the last falls, we climbed back up the stairs. It was beautiful, but seeing as they charge money and offer the climbing tours, it's kind of like a tourist trap. It's nice, but different than I was expecting. But it was worth the crew price of $5. I just wish I had more time...
That's the thing with most cruise ships; you normally have a half a day in port (at the most). And if you are working, then you have even less than that. My schedule works out perfectly. I teach two hours in the morning and then one hour in the late afternoon. So, that gives me a great majority of my day in port if I want to, but it's still not enough to really go out and explore and get a real feel of a place. I feel like I am just getting a small taste of these places, but that's ok. It's a very nice taste. Also, in a way you are limited to the geography of where the ship is docked. Of course, you can take a taxi or something, but that is time and money. So, for the most part, I've stayed pretty close to the ship. There are also tour excursions in port that I can go on. Apparently, I can even do some of them for free. These are the side trips that passengers pay extra for. Things like small boat rides, snorkel trips, hikes, etc. I haven't done these yet because one, my schedule and two, you have to sign up for them in advance and then it's based on availability after passengers have signed up. My schedule is great compared to probably at leats 95% of the crew on the ship, but a lot of the tours leave in the morning while I am teaching and then crew need to be back one hour before passengers for the most part. So, that does limit me, but I will try this week to get a tour or two. If I don't get what I want, well, I have about 7 more opportunities.
For the most part, there is not much to do in the ports we go to. That's why they offer these tours that you pay extra for. But, even so, the good thing is that when you are in port you are: on steady ground instead of a ship, you are in the beautiful Caribbean, and you can always do something cheap/free like go to the beach.
So, far I haven't really made too many friends. But it is difficult for someone in my position. A) I am a department of one; I have no colleagues. I have a supervisor, but he is kind of like Human Resources, so he does a lot with the whole ship. B) I am one of a handful of Americans. Crew members usually tend to hang out with people who are in their department (co-workers) and/or who are their nationality. C) I am physically isolated from much of the crew because I am one of only a handful of crew members who stay in a passenger cabin. Don't get me wrong--It's nice to be in one because it's bigger and I don't have to share a room etc. But then when I go out into the hallway I don't walk past a bunch of fellow crewmembers. Also, I don't go to the crew bar/recreation area very often. So, if I really wanted to socialize more I could try going there. But, then again, most people congregate in "their groups" so that can be kind of intimidating and what-not. And also, at night when that place gets going, I am usually preparing for my classes the next day or working out or winding down with TV or a book. (Right now I am reading The Kite Runner. Definitely check it out if you haven't read it yet. Big-seller across the world. And it's movie, too, but I'm going to wait to see it.)
I try to work out every day, and so far I'm doing pretty good at keeping that promise. I get to use the passenger gym, which is VERY nice, especially compared to the crew gym. Also, several times a week the "elite" crew members have a workout class in the passenger gym. One of the trainers leads us in different activites. It's brutal. We do things like lift dumbells, do push ups, and a combination of other things. One of the workouts is called the Spartan. Supposedly is the workout that the extras did for that movie 300. But, my favorite workout choice by far is the against-the-current pool. It is amazing to think that out of a potential 3,000 plus people that could be using this pool, it is usually empty (at least at night). Even the two spas next to it are usually empty. This is great news for me! (Since I'm supposed to yield to passengers in all things.) I'm actually surprised that if I swim at a fairly normal pace (maybe slightly quick) I actually go to fast for the current machine and I have to slow down so I don't hit it. But, it is still an awesome thing. I love it! This would be a good place to train for a triathlon! No excuses! Everthing is at your fingertips. Reclining bikes, spinning bikes, treadmills, "jogging" track, and, of course, my favorite, the against the current pool. The gym also has free weights, weight machines, and the ellipticals. I also enjoy the weight machine and the ellipticals. I am trying to work on my upper body strength, mostly for surfing cross-training.
Overall, my experience is pretty good. It just takes some getting used to. At first I felt very overwhelmed. But, now I'm used to it. And the teaching part was kind of scary, and it still is a little bit. It's my first ESL job and I didn't really have any training. My first time seeing the curriculum (textbooks, etc.) was on the ship. I'm not always very fond with everything in the curriculum and the material can be kind of dry sometimes, but I also have little experience, so to try to make it interesting and fun can be a challenge. If you had the time, energy, resources, creativity, and money, you could spend all day preparing for the next day and probably make a pretty good lesson. But sometimes I just have to stick with the textbook. My resources are limited on the ship. We do have additional ESL textbooks, workbooks, etc., but there is no real library, newspapers, magazines etc. Of course, I have internet access, and I can sometimes get it for free in the office, but other than that, it costs $20 for 200 minutes, which may sound like an OK deal, but your minutes get used up quickly, believe me! So, making for good, interesting, lessons isn't as easy as it may sound, unfortunately. We are supposed to stick to the curriculum and not venture too far from it (if at all). Also, if we have an idea for an activity, lesson, supplement, etc. then we are supposed to get it OK'd at the shoreside corporate offices ahead of time. I've done some small supplemental things, but because of the constraints that's about all I've been able to do. The corporate office is getting ready to create next year's curriculum, so they are asking the various ESL teachers for input for additions to the textbooks etc. At this point (with my inexperience and unfamiliarity with the textbook), I don't really have any input available, unfortunately. However, if I choose to do another contract and if they want me back I will have a few months in the winter to familiarize myself with the curriculum and work on coming up with new ideas. And in March I will also get the full training that I should have had already. So, hopefully that should help. Overall, the curriculum is pretty good. But there are some things that I kind of dislike about it. Also, the variety of students can make it difficult. In my beginning class, I have a student who speaks just a tiny amount of English (which makes me wonder how he got hired), and in the same class I have students who are very much advanced in comparison. My lowest student really should be in a foundation class, which is even lower than the beginning class, but we don't offer that right now on this ship. So, in the mean time, I know he is feeling very lost. I do have to commend him though on his bravery. I'm not sure that I would want to be in a foreign language class where I was miles behind everybody else.
And, actually, most crewmembers on this ship are very brave. I would not feel comfortable trying to do a job at a place where a foreign language is used, expected, and "mandatory" (at least in the presence of passengers) when I have only limited knowledge in that language. Yes, they often speak in their native languages to their national comrades, or in a shared/similar language to people with a related language. For example, Italians might be able to speak a little bit to Spanish-speakers. Spanish-speakers to the Portugese-speeakers. etc. And people from the former Soviet satellites might be able to speak a Russian-like language to each other. So, if i had to guess, I would say at least 80% of the crew are non-native English speakers. (It can even be difficult to communicate to the native English speakers...The accents from England, Australia, and South Africa, etc. can be difficult to understand in it's own right.) And there are people who are nearly native speakers, like Indians, that may have perfect or near-perfect English, but they may have a strong accent. So, for these crewmembers to go on an American, English-speaking ship where a customer may ask you a question at any time, I think is a commendable thing. They work long, hard hours, 7 days a week--most of them doing jobs that would be considered pretty bad by our standards. Cleaning cabins, cutting fruit, washing dishes, carrying luggage, cooking mass amounts of food. And some of the people doing these laborious tasks are educated members of their society in their home country. I guess they do it for the money and for the lack of room/board expenses. But a lot of the people here have wives, children, family back home that they send money to. They also get paid American dollars, so they may not have to pay taxes and in the past the exchange rates may have been really good for them.
Well, that's all I have time for right now. Got to go work out!