Expat tales: When home is a cruise ship

Byron Blane with his most recent floating home - the 223,081-tonne Symphony of the Seas.
BYRON BLANEByron Blane with his most recent floating home – the 223,081-tonne Symphony of the Seas.

One day Byron Blane was helping defend the nation in the New Zealand Army; the next he was hosting on-board tournaments and parties and instructing passengers on everything from trapeze and zip-lining to indoor skydiving and riding a surfboard simulator.

Well, not quite the next day. He trained as a fitness professional and worked as a fitness director for Carnival Cruise Line for a year before landing the sports co-ordinator gig with Royal Caribbean International. But it was still a big adjustment.

“I recall my first voyage being a nervously excited experience,” Blane – who hails from the East Coast’s Tokomaru Bay – says.

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Byron teaches a young passenger to "fly" in the skydiving simulator.
BYRON BLANEByron teaches a young passenger to “fly” in the skydiving simulator.

“I had done a five-day cruise four years earlier, which helped. But I had just come from an eight-year career in the army so the change of environment came as a bit of a shock.”

Working seven-day weeks, continually changing time zones, living and working alongside people who spoke multiple languages, and getting used to providing customer service, were among his biggest challenges, but Blane soon found his sea legs.

Now working as an iFLY instructor for Royal Caribbean, teaching passengers to “fly” in an on-board skydiving simulator, Blane spends three to six months at sea at any one time, after which the company flies him back to New Zealand for a break.

His most recent floating home – the world’s largest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas – took him on a tour of the Mediterranean, taking in Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Marseille, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, and Naples.

Getting paid to travel the world with like-minded people is pretty hard to beat, Byron says.
BYRON BLANEGetting paid to travel the world with like-minded people is pretty hard to beat, Byron says.

The best thing about the job, naturally, is being able “to see different parts of the world while being fed and accommodated,” Blane says.

“You experience a lot of different things and work with people from different cultures every day.”

The worst thing is “being away from family and friends for long periods of time”.

The limited space on a cruise ship also takes some adjusting to, he says, as does having to eat the same food every day for months on end, particularly when you’re a fitness professional concerned about the nutritional content of your meals.  

Hours are long for crew many crew members, but they do get time off to explore.
BYRON BLANEHours are long for crew many crew members, but they do get time off to explore.

“It’s not good but it’s not bad either,” he says. “But it is free so you can’t really complain.”

And crew do get discounts at the on-board restaurants, but many prefer to hold out for port days when they can seek out whatever they’ve been craving.

Blane says life on board is very social, with HR teams organising games, competitions, parties, themed food nights and tours in ports of call.

“But at the same time, a lot of crew members work very long hours. You have so many different nationalities living together in a confined space getting to know each other.”

Visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa: All in a day's work for Byron.
BYRON BLANEVisiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa: All in a day’s work for Byron.

Blane spends much of his free time on board at the gym, using the 12-metre-long FlowRider surf simulator (being an East Coast boy, surfing is in his blood), practising “flying”, studying, playing pool and table tennis, and socialising.

The long hours, time zones, and expensive call rates and wi-fi make it difficult to keep in regular contact with people back home, he says.

“But you find ways to get around it. Most crew will get off the ship on a port day, find a restaurant with wi-fi, eat a meal, and chat to friends or family.”

Getting flown to New Zealand regularly is a bonus, he says, but “most of the time it’s not in sync with holiday periods.”

Blane would recommend a career in cruising to anyone “young, single, and ready to mingle” who likes the idea of being able to travel for a living.

“I’m really grateful to be able to travel the world, do a job that I love, and get paid to do it. I hope more Kiwis follow suit, because I’ve never had any regrets.”

If you know an expat who wants to share inside knowledge of their home away from home, email travel@stuff.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

 

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