A Bumpy Return to the States! BLOG #9
Cheers from Queen Victoria! After kicking off the New Year in style, the QV returned to Southampton to begin its long journey around South America, otherwise known as the “Exotic Voyage.” As someone who has never been below the equator before, I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures I can find on an entirely new continent! After a bumpy ride across the Atlantic (yes, I got seasick), I finally returned to the states after a two-month departure.
The "Exotic Voyage" itinerary!
Our stop in Southampton brought not only new passengers (lots of elders again for the world voyage), but a huuuuge turnaround for the crew as well. It honestly felt as though more than half of the crew disembarked! I had some trouble sleeping that night, I could feel the energy of the entire ship change. As far as the musicians go, the Queen’s Room Orchestra (ballroom eight-piece band) rotated to the Queen Elizabeth, the string quartet left for home in the Ukraine, and three new solo artists came aboard as well (guitar, piano and harp). We had a bit of a turnaround in the Theatre too, which brought us a new alto saxophonist, trumpeter, and pianist. I’ve been surprised to see so many changes in the theater band, seeing that Cunard prefers to keep the members the same, however, from what I’ve gathered, most of the guys in the band now have contracts through November, consequently things should calm down and remain the same in the group from here on out.
Since this was our last stop in Southampton for about three months, most of the guys (myself included) were stocking up for the long voyage on stuff like shampoo, mouthwash, laundry detergent, snacks, or anything that would be difficult or expensive to find on a different continent. For me, sauces and salad dressings are always a necessity to help with the food, and I also bought a couple pizzas for the “road,” as it’s always nice to have some back-up meals. This was about the 10th time or so that we’ve stopped in Southampton, but this time around I was able to find a Five Guys at the mall! A sight for sore eyes, and yes, I caved, though it was more pricey than the ones in the states, it sure was nice to get a taste of home!
With rough weather warnings on a transatlantic crossing, we were looking at about 8-9 days at sea as we headed to the states (a few ports cancelled cause we were unable to dock). We sailed into the Atlantic right next to the Queen Elizabeth (going on a different world voyage) into the rough weather, and things got rocky! Take a look at these pictures a crew member of the QE got of us, it gives you a good idea of how much we were moving around! Imagine being inside the boat when it goes up and down that much! And for the first time, I got seasick ☹, but not just me- you could see a little green in everyone’s faces for a number of days while walking around the ship. The medical center supplies all crew and passengers with free motion-sickness tablets if needed, and for once, I needed it.
Since New Year’s, I’ve been keeping a journal on the different albums I listen to, usually a couple jazz albums, a couple pop albums and most important, an album I already know I love. For the album I love, I make notes of timings of the various recordings that I enjoy the most (licks, horn lines, solos, chords, melody, etc.) and then in my practice time, I go down the checklist and just figure stuff out! A lot of the tunes are ones I’d like to play in a live setting back home with a band or even on board if they let me, so I’ll need to write out lead sheets as I go along as well. For the licks, I try to put into all 12 keys (great exercise for improvising), and for the solos, I’ll attempt to get them recorded and put on my social media once I have them down. I've been trying to waste even less time on these sea days (when I wasn’t feeling sick) and practice more, with a solid routine of 3-4 hours of practice, workout, plus the rehearsal/performance in the evening!
Maybe I’m just a homer, but I was very excited to return to the states! I think I was mostly looking forward to being on comfortable and familiar ground again after being in the various foreign countries, a lot of which had different languages and currencies. At the stop in Fort Lauderdale, the very first thing I did was find an American style diner and order a 4-egg omelet with bottomless coffee! I’ve always loved the diner type settings, and this one had great Wi-Fi (one of the best so far), so I ended up staying a while catching up on the news, app updates and most importantly, the NBA on my laptop in the Florida hospitality! The other food I’ve been craving a lot since I started my contract is burritos, I used to eat 2-3 a week when I was back home 😊. I made sure to find a Chipotle and order myself good-ol’ fashioned chicken burrito, the burritos in England are alright, but not quite the same 😉.
Since I was able to understand and read everything again, I made sure to make some last-minute preparations and purchases before leaving for South America. I came way too close to purchasing a box of Cheez-Its (haven’t seen those since November!), which is dangerous- back in college I was able knock out a box of those in two days. Instead, be proud, I bought some carrots and some fruit for snacks! And to complete my desk space in my cabin, I found some decent-sized (and priced) speakers that has helped transform my room into a room similar to one I’d have back at home. Anything to help me get more and more comfortable is important to me to help keep enjoying my time working (and living) on a cruise ship.
Thus began the exotic voyage! (Unless you count the sea days?) We picked up quite a few Americans in Fort Lauderdale, a lot of them flew out just for the part around South America, cutting out the sea days entirely to and from England. The first stop? The Caribbean again! Round two for me now, and I was pretty excited to have beach weather again. To be honest, we’ve had some pretty crummy weather for most of December, since we were hanging out in winter temperatures in northern Europe, I always feel a little bad for the passengers when that happens, they're the ones that pay to be here! Just a lot of cold wind and rain, I mostly focused on my practicing on the ship and finding warm places to eat food in the port cities (not great picture weather however). It’s kind of funny how often I’ve had to turn my wardrobe around, bouncing between shorts and jackets, overall a very short winter for me this year, not that I’m complaining 😉.
We had three stops in the Caribbean, the first one being a brand new one for me called Grand Turk! It’s a beautiful stop that is pretty much entirely a beach and not too much else. The ship docks so close all it takes is a short boardwalk and you arrive at the center of it all! The boat looks as if it's right on the shallow waters.
Fun fact, a lot of the areas close to the cruise terminals give crew discounts to the workers, usually nothing too big, but everything helps. That, plus the bonus of duty-free shopping motivated me to purchase a new watch, as I had gone two months without one. *FNG TIP: Fitbits don’t work on cruise ships! The app doesn’t allow you to manually set your clock, you have to have Wi-Fi and location services, which on the boat the location is always Palermo, Italy for some reason.* The sea days put me ahead of my budget, and it was a necessary purchase (just a little self-validation 😊).
In Martinique, I ended up inviting some of the new musicians to check out the beach I found last time with my roommate, and in Barbados, the theater guitarist invited me to go out biking around the city and to the beach.
The ship has a number of bikes in storage that they let the crew borrow, which is another nice little bonus. I haven’t biked in the city in a long time, I was getting pretty nervous being so close to the cars! Not only that, but they drive on the other side of the road there too, however I survived! Makes me want to go back and bike around Amsterdam now if I ever get the chance again. Overall, it was a great day that consisted of lobster spring rolls, local fried chicken and of course, another beach. I think I’m slowly turning into a beach bum, can’t remember the last time I was sunbathing this much (yes, mom, I use my sun screen).
It’s crazy to think I’ve now been to the Caribbean twice now since starting work on the cruise ship! I’ve always enjoyed the sunny weather and warm water, it’s a perfect cruise destination in my opinion. If we stop here again I’ll try to branch out a bit and see what the excursions offer, maybe snorkeling with turtles or underwater caves or something adventurous like that, lately I kind of have just been enjoying the sun in the Caribbean stops! The only downside to being an employee of the ship too is that I tend to be a little more reserved out in port, meaning I don’t have much time to go explore the location. I feel like I’m constantly thinking of what time I should be back on the boat (I always try to be on an hour before the guests), and there’s always something in the back of my head reminding me that I still need to perform shows that evening! I guess all it means is I can’t drink, party or be irresponsible too much, which is probably good for my habits as well as my wallet.
Onward to South America!
That’ll be all for this blog, after some not-so-smooth sailing it has felt amazing to return to some warm, calm, summer weather again! I’ll be talking about my tours I’ll be doing in South America as well as my midway contract thoughts in the next. Thanks to you who are reading! Please give it a thumbs up, or share with anyone you’d think would find it interesting! If you’d like to ask me anything feel free to do so in the “Contact Me” box that should be in the bottom right of the screen.