Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Work Day To Remember!

     Thursday, November 12th, 2009, the northeast was rocked by a nor'easter.  The following day, I received a phone call from my staff administrator.  My brother and I were busy in the garage re-stringing lights on our Christmas wreath.  I was asked if I could travel with the Bayonne staff to Baltimore.  I was told briefly what ship I was going to be working with.  She asked if I could report to the Bayonne shopping area by 10:30 A.M.  I said, “Will be there!”. 

    Saturday morning the 14th, my family headed down the shore to Point Pleasant, and I left for Bayonne.  I drove to Bayonne in uniform, ready for another exciting work day.  I arrived at the shopping center about half an hour prior to everyone else.  I went to Dunkin Donuts to get a bagel and coffee, and continued to wait for everyone. When I saw a motor coach pull up near the movie theater, I knew something was up.  More and more of us started to show up outside the theater, including two of the pier coordinators.  At that moment, I began thinking to myself, “This is no Boston run!”.
    We left Bayonne shortly before 11 A.M.  We were on the New Jersey Turnpike en route to Baltimore.  While on board the bus, we were given a synopsis of the situation.  We were told that Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of The Seas, was due to arrive that morning at 7 A.M.  The nor'easter caused the ship to slow down on its way to Baltimore.  The port of Baltimore was also forced to close due to the severe weather conditions.  We arrived at the Cruise Maryland terminal just before 2 P.M.  We were met by one of the Baltimore supervisors.  She stepped onto the bus and addressed us about the situation.  She made it known to us that many of the motor coaches, taxis, and limousines were turned away.  She also made it known to us that we were going to be handling many guests who will be unhappy, because they were going to lose a full day from their cruise. 

    Inside the terminal, we were advised that letters were going to be distributed to the guests as they arrived.  I called my parents up down the shore and said, “We’re going to have a long day here, and possibly a long night too.”  My dad asked me, “What’s the deal down there, moose?”.   My dad calls me the moose.  That’s my family nickname.  I have no clue why.  I explained the situation to him.  I told him that I would not be home for a good while, possibly after midnight.  My dad told me to work hard, and keep in touch throughout the day. That I did, once or twice.  The long wait for the ship had begun.

    While inside the terminal building, we were shown the staff room, the check-in area, the customs area, the whole nine yards.  A short time later, the pizza arrived.  There was plenty of it to keep up us alive and kicking for the remainder of the day.  In addition, they had plenty of diet soda on hand to keep us laced.  After eating, I went to the vending machine and bought a few chocolate bars.  Any caffeine I could get my hands on, I made sure I had plenty of it. We sat around watching TV, crocheting, and playing cards.  I was listening to my iPod.  We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited.  It looked like a scene from "Waiting for Godot".

    Never have I ever been so anxious in one day. I finally decided to call my dear old college roommate, Mario, and see what was going on with him.  He picked up after the first ring, and I got the usual response from him, “Mr. Kriso, what’s going on champ?”.  I said, “Greetings from Baltimore!”.  He then asked, “What the hell are you doing down in good old Baltimore, buddy? Making music with the crabs?”.  I plainly responded, “The whole Bayonne staff and I are here waiting for one of Royal Caribbean’s ships to show up.  The nor'easter delayed it an entire day. We’re going to be here all night, it seems.”.  We spoke about other things; college, my work in Boston, my job search, substitute teaching, the girls from our class; just plain old college classmate jazz.  After I hung up with him, I went back to listening to my iPod.  I even chugged down another diet soda to keep myself awake.

  Shortly later, I walked back outside to the pier.  I looked out to the horizon, towards the Francis Scott Key Bridge.  At that very moment, I saw a bunch of lights and some flash bulbs going off.  It was the Grandeur of The Seas.  The wait was over!

    It was 6 P.M.  The Grandeur of The Seas was finally approaching the Baltimore channel.  I bolted into the terminal. When I raced inside, I said to everyone, “I see her!”.  A dozen of my colleagues started celebrating.  One of the ladies asked, “Where is she? Show me!”.  I said, “Come out here.  I saw her on the horizon approaching the Francis Scott Key Bridge.”.  We all walked out to the edge of the pier, and there was nothing out there.  I said, “I know she was out there.  She’s probably in the channel entering the harbor right about now.”.  We walked back inside the terminal and started cleaning up the staff room.  Half an hour later, the pier supervisor took us on a walk-through disembarkation.  She showed us where the guests were going to be directed.  She pointed out where guests were to go if they had taxis to catch, and where the guests’ parking lot was.  Two agents were needed to assist passengers in the customs area.  I volunteered, and I was directed to that spot, right outside the customs hall door.  I was going to be directing the guests to the customs area once they exited the gangway. The fun part of the day was finally about to begin.

    When we were finally shown the gangway area, we saw the ship coming into port.  The ship looked absolutely beautiful, with her lights on, and all of the guests camera flashes going off.  We started applauding as the ship pulled alongside the pier.  I yelled up to the guests on deck saying, “We’ve been waiting all day for you!”.  Once the ship started lowering her lines, it was time to go to work.  Half an hour later, disembarkation started. The express walk-off guests were the first ones off.  They were allowed to leave the ship with all of their luggage with no assistance.  I was walking back and forth along the long line of guests, telling them to have their customs forms and passports ready. They came off the ship and through customs they went.  Immediately afterward came the general disembarkation.  Many of the guests onboard the ship that evening all had one situation in common.  They were twelve hours late, and were worried that they had missed their flights home.  Some even missed their trains home, or were cutting it close to their flights and trains. I was able to help the guests with their train situations.  I gave them Amtrak’s phone number, and advised them to tell the agent on the phone their situation, and hopefully they would be rescheduled.  More than one hundred guests had trains to catch home, to New Jersey, to Connecticut, and even Rhode Island.  Disembarkation continued until 9 P.M.  I was getting exhausted, but the night wasn’t over yet.  My favorite part was finally coming up.

    At 9:30 P.M., guest check-in officially started.  It was my time to shine.  I went to my computer station, and raised my station paddle.  The first party came up to my computer.  I greeted them, saying “Welcome to the Grandeur! Do you have your health forms all completed?”.  I then said, “I apologize for the long wait today.”  This party was absolutely cool with the delay.  They weren’t upset at all.  They appeared to be a little tired from a long day of doing practically nothing, but they weren’t upset.  I asked for their passports, their cruise tickets, and the credit card that they had registered.  I gave them their stateroom key cards, and wished them a safe trip and a pleasant evening.  Once I was done with them, I showed them to the waiting area.  I raised my paddle again, and the next party came to my station.  This party wasn’t upset either.  Same as before, I asked for their health forms, cruise tickets, passports, and their credit card.  I issued their stateroom keys, and off to the ship they went.  The night wore on. I was looking at my watch every half hour.  I was hoping for a break in the flow of guest traffic, so I could step away for a diet soda.  I was getting weary, and yawning my butt off like no tomorrow.  Finally, I heard the words I hoped to hear, “David, you’re free to have dinner if you haven’t done so.”.  I stepped away and went into the break room to have a cup of coffee and a diet soda.  The night wasn’t over yet.  There was still plenty of guests walking in.  It was the longest day my colleagues and I had ever worked.  We were going on seventeen hours.  We were surely on the verge of setting a record.
    It was 1:30 A.M.  Our longest work day in history was nearly complete.  Once the incoming guest traffic started to subside, we were just begging to call it a night, or I should say, morning.  I never saw my colleagues yawning so much after a long night.  We were talking about every last guest we checked in.  It wasn’t all that bad of a night.  Some weren’t so happy about losing a day from their trip.  What can you do? You do your job and be happy that you did it properly, right?  That’s what matters.  Before heading out to the bus, we were all thanked by the pier management for giving up a whole day to assist them on short notice.  If it weren’t for us going down there, the Baltimore staff would have been up a creek without a paddle.  The Carnival Pride was due in at 7 A.M. later that morning.  At 2 A.M., we finally boarded the bus.  We set a huge record.  We worked the longest shift ever; nineteen and a half hours.  Once we were all on board, we hit the highway north back to Bayonne.  I took out my iPod, put on Bruce Springsteen, and I fell asleep minutes later.  I didn’t wake up until 5 A.M., when we were arriving in the Bayonne area.  When we pulled in front of the movie theater, it took a short while for many of us to rise and shine.  We got off the bus and went back to our cars.  As I was on the New Jersey Turnpike approaching Giants Stadium, the sun was starting to creep up over New York City.  I said to myself, “Man, is this awkward!”.  I was returning home from work while everyone else was just waking up.  How strange!
    At quarter of six, I finally pulled into my driveway.  I went inside, turned off the alarm, changed out of my uniform and put on my my Aerosmith pajamas.  Minutes later, I went to bed.  At 11 A.M., I woke up.  I quickly took a shower, got dressed, and went to church.  At church, I fell asleep during the readings, then during the Eucharist, and finally during Communion.  When I finally arrived back home, I turned on the Jets game.  Once again, I fell asleep.  I slept through the entire game.  A short time later, my family returned home from Point Pleasant.  They saw me passed out on the couch.  My dad said, “Moose, you want to have pizza for dinner?”.  I was so out of it.  I think I said, “Let’s go for it! As long as diet soda’s not on the menu.”.  A long and hard day sure has its rewards, doesn’t it?

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Very First Cruise Vacation

     Let me take you back to February 1994.  It was my high school mid-winter break.  That week, I went on my first cruise vacation.  I was sixteen years old..  For a four-day trip, it was a lot of fun.  My family and I are serious Disney travelers.  We tried Disney’s cruise.  We sailed on board Premier Cruise Line’s Starship Atlantic.  It was known as the Big Red Boat.  My mom asked my dad, my brother, and I to wear our blazers on the plane to Orlando.  I remember her saying, “You’re going to be wearing your blazers on the plane, so we don’t have to drag oh so much luggage with us. We’re gonna travel light.”. She also said, “Cruise passengers normally like to dress fancy.”  Oh really!! 

    We touched down in Orlando around eleven o’clock in the morning.  We headed downstairs to go to our rent-a-car bus.  Waiting for the bus felt like forever.  It was eighty-five degrees out.  The humidity was extremely unforgiving.  There were dozens of people standing near us who were also going to Port Canaveral.  They were all wearing shorts, tank tops, and sandals.  My dad, my brother, and I were wearing blazers.  Yikes! We were sweltering beyond belief.  I was so hot, I felt like I was a Domino’s Pizza heat wave bag for Halloween.     

    I was a fussy eater for a long time.  When we boarded the Starship Atlantic, I knew I had a challenge in front of me.  My dad was telling me that it was the perfect opportunity to start trying new things, especially cruise ship food.  Cruise ship food is nonstop.  At that time, the midnight buffet was still a hot event onboard.  They no longer exist nowadays.  Aside from the food, it was also an opportunity for me to not be so attached to my brother.  The second day of the cruise, I lost sight of him.  We finally met up around, oh, by two in the morning.  He was furious with me, accusing me of not telling him where I was.  We were both in unfamiliar territory, so I had no clue what he was griping about.  I was truly having a blast.

    There were plenty of activities going onboard the Starship Atlantic.  My brother and I joined the Teen Cruiser Club.  At least we had the chance to hang out with people close to our age.  We happened to be the two oldest in the club.  We did just about everything together.  We  had lunch together, went to the midnight buffet together, and hung out with Mickey and Minnie and the rest of the Disney character gang.  During our day at sea, the Teen Cruiser Club was given a tour of the ship’s bridge.  Seeing the ship’s bridge was quite nifty.  I had never seen a cruise ship’s bridge before.  Late in the evening, we went to a star gazing talk up on the top deck.  Each of us was given a star gazer’s guide with a little flash light attached.  The cruise staffer pointed out to us which constellations were which in the night sky.  If I can recall, the ocean was very calm that night.  There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.  It was never so peaceful out there at sea, out in the middle of nowhere.  The lights of Nassau could be barely seen out in the distance.  When the presentation was over, we were allowed to ask the cruise staffer questions.  We were also allowed to keep the constellation guides.  Originally, I didn’t want to go on this cruise at all.  I was wrong.  At that point, the cruise was going great.  I stood corrected.    

    On the third day, we docked in sunny Nassau, Bahamas.  I was excited to see what Nassau was all about.  Late in the morning, my family and I stepped off the ship to walk around town.  There wasn’t a whole lot to visit. There were plenty of duty-free shops to browse through.  We stopped for ice cream, looked through the shops, and then took a boat ride over to Paradise Island.  Speaking of Paradise Island, the Atlantis Resort and Casino was just under construction.  I remember seeing the monster cranes in the background.  We did return to Nassau on back-to- back Christmas cruises on Norwegian in 2007 and 2008.  We got to see the hotel, aquarium, and water park for real. If you have never been to the Atlantis Resort and Casino, you have to see it.  It is truly out of this world. 

    We walked around Paradise Island, but never went to the beach.  My brother and I were on a bit of a time crunch.  There was one part of that trip I didn’t care for.  It wasn’t the ship or the cruise experience.  It was what we had to get done during the trip which kind of took the joy out of it in a heartbeat.  My brother and I both had the same history teacher that year.  He and I  had to read this history novel to be completed by the end of the mid-winter break.  There was a test on the book too, which left us in a rush to get it done.  In addition, I had an English literature term paper to draft out.  Yuck!! Who wants to do any homework on a cruise?  Don’t ask! 

    At five o’clock, we departed Nassau, en route for Port Lucaya.  That evening, we attended the Captain’s Cocktail Party, followed by the Captain’s Dinner.  The cocktail party was held in the ship’s main lounge.  There was a live band playing.  Can I let you out on a huge secret?  Back then, I was the shyest kid on the face of the planet.  My parents were dancing together, while my brother and I were busy living it up.  We were just drinking away, downing one iced tea and fruit punch after another. We weren’t of drinking age, so we were doing well.  My mom then pointed at me.  She asked me to join her on the dance floor. I was signaling, “No”.  She started giving me the prayer gesture...”Pleeeeease???”.  My brother and I kept on drinking, not paying any attention to her.  My mom then did the unthinkable.  She sent my dad off the dance floor to get me to dance with her.  While I’m chugging down my fruit punch, my dad approached me.  He said, “Will you please go dance with your mother?  If you don’t, I’m gonna toss you off this ship!”.  I said “No, I’m dog-tired from today.”  My dad said, “Ok, just stay there then. We’ll talk later.”  My brother stuck up for me asking, “Hey, you wanna get him back?”  I said, “Let the games begin!”  Right on our cocktail table, right in front of us, was dad’s stateroom card.  Since my dad and my brother have the same first name, my brother charged another dozen drinks to his cabin account.  HA-HA!  At the end of the cruise, my parents were absolutely clueless of why their cabin bill was over one thousand dollars. Sweet revenge indeed!  Sing with me!  “Over the sea, let’s go men.  We’re chargin’ it up, we’re chargin’ it up again!”  

    The following morning, we arrived at Port Lucaya.  Port Lucaya is located on Grand Bahama, about half an hour away from Freeport.  There was no pier, so we had to board a tender to shore.  The tender ride was about ten minutes.  We didn’t do all that much in Port Lucaya.  We browsed around, took pictures here and there, and we returned back to the ship.  Again, we didn’t go swimming in the ship’s pool.  That history novel was a huge albatross hanging over our shoulders.  We spend hours and hours in our cabin reading four chapters at a time.  Despite the mountain of homework I had to get done, my first cruise vacation was quite the experience.  I was surely looking forward to my next cruise, regardless of which line it was going to be.

    The next day, we arrived back in Port Canaveral.  It was an ugly morning.  We packed up our carry-on bags, including our homework.  I tried to track down the kids I met in the Teen Cruiser Club, but it was just too hectic of a morning.  We left the ship, cleared through customs, and headed for the car.  Next stop, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, the second part of the trip.  We did plenty that day.  Unfortunately, we had to cut our time short in the Magic Kingdom.  We had that dreadful history novel to make tracks on.  If there was any part of that trip we didn’t like, it was reading that book, “The Rise And Fall of The Third Reich”.  We stayed three nights in Disney World, and unfortunately the really hard part came up.  The hardest part of any Disney World vacation is LEAVING.  That Sunday evening we were flying home, we were delayed.  There were high winds at Newark Airport.  We had to stay on the ground for over an hour.  We arrived home two hours late.  We were returning to school the next morning.  It was a trip we couldn’t get into to any kind of a groove.  With a history novel to read and term papers on our plates, it was a trip with mixed feelings.  The next morning, we lucked out.  It was a snow day. It gave us an extra day to make progress on “the book”.  We were fortunate to pass the test.  Four years later, Disney took the cruising concept and plused it. Boy, did they!  Four ships and counting!  

    In the Fall of 1999, I became a World Disney World cast member as part of their college program.  Working with Disney was an experience like no other.  I even attempted to go full-time.  The spring of that year, the Disney Wonder was just launched.  This summer, I have been working with the Disney Magic in New York City.  The work experience is like stepping into the past.  It’s truly amazing what events during your very first cruise vacation can transpire into.  It’s even more amazing what having been a cast member can lead to.  The work experience most definitely feels like a blast from the past.  What's the best part of it? Pixie dust is the key ingredient to it all.