Wednesday, December 24, 2014

where are you christmas?

Although my life at sea has ended, the memories are alive and well. With the holiday season in full force, I am reminded of the great opportunities I have been given, and the amazing journey that has brought me to where I am today. ( I know what you are thinking; cheesy opener Melissa. Blame the rum cake, and get some yourself, because the next paragraph is a little mushy gushy too!)

The holidays are a time of year filled with long-standing traditions. Families gather around the table in November to give thanks for the blessings in their lives and break bread with each other (or in my case, see how much green bean casserole can fit in one human stomach.) The Advent season begins as families again join one another in decorating the Christmas tree, setting up the nativity, baking cookies, hanging lights outside the house, and exchanging gifts. These traditions bring us closer to each other as we reflect on the birth of Jesus. It is the part of the year when the time spent with family allows you to grow together and build the relationships that are sometimes lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With work, school, and extra-curricular activities, this time of year forces us to step away from it all and come back to our roots. But what happens when life throws a curveball, and you end up alone, in a foreign country, 2000 miles away from every tradition you have ever known?

Last year I experienced just that. As November began, the craziness of the photography dreams I was pursuing and the tropical weather distracted me from recognizing the holidays were rapidly approaching. At the same time, I was trying to keep myself as busy as possible to avoid the inevitable loneliness I was fearful of experiencing. I dreaded being 2000 miles away from all of the traditions of the season and people that I loved. On Thanksgiving day, my friend, Jonathan, called and invited me to go to dinner with a few other Americans to celebrate the holiday. We went to a great little french bistro for dinner. Maybe it was the traditional place settings, or the duck entree (which was as close to a turkey as we were going to get,) or maybe it was just the three hours of stories and laughter shared around the table that made me forget the distance and feel like I was right at home. By the end of dinner we truly were a family. We may have been a small, dysfunctional, no blood relation family, but we were a family. We even went as far as going to the studio to have family photographs taken. Given the circumstances, we created a collection of photographs that were equally as awkward as our makeshift family tree, but they were a perfect way to begin the holidays.

A week later my mom (yes, my real, biological mom) came to visit for a week. I showed her around, spent every waking moment with her, and was heartbroken when she left. This was the first time I had seen my mom in 4 months, and seeing her again reminded me just how much I missed the traditions of home and love of family. It was especially difficult to say good bye to her just two weeks before Christmas.

I kept myself busy while the next two weeks passed. Boxes of gifts came in as the countdown to Christmas grew shorter, but there is something uneasy about knowing you are going to open your gifts alone in your room while your entire family is somewhere else altogether. You could argue that I was living my dream, seeing the world, pursuing my passions, and with all of that comes sacrifices. I would agree with you on that, but it doesn't make the sacrifices any easier. As I put on my pajamas and climbed into bed on Christmas eve, I heard a knock at my door. I opened the door to find Nick and Adam with huge grins bearing gifts of wine. "Merry Christmas!" They exclaimed and quickly pushed past me where they plopped on the couch and began pouring the wine into glasses. We put on a Christmas movie, then another, and two more after that. We shared stories of family traditions and memories of Christmas past. We played games, sang songs, danced, and laughed more than some people laugh in a whole year. Before we knew it, the sun was rising through my window. We opened presents, took a short nap, watched more movies, sang more songs, and made up more ridiculous dances. We went to the only restaurant open on Christmas, and shared a Christmas meal around a bucket of KFC. Then, that evening, to top it all off, we went outside and did a little star gazing. To say it was a perfect Christmas would be an understatement. In fact, it was the most stress free Christmas ever. There was no coordinating of schedules, fighting the holiday traffic, worrying about who was going to bring what dish to dinner, or anxiously wondering if the crazy aunt (everyone has one) was going to say something innappropriate. It was just some people coming together, celebrating the birth of Christ, and loving each other when they had thought for weeks it was going to be a very unlovely Christmas.

It was on that day that I was reminded the spirit of Christmas can be found anywhere in the world. Sometimes it even stretches far behind the walls of your home, to a little island, or in the Atlantic ocean, with a couple friends, that are now like family. I am so very grateful for these incredible friends that stepped in and stepped up during the holidays, and taught me this important lesson. I am thankful for my family that I get to be with this year, and my hope is that this same Christmas spirit finds you, no matter where you are.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

dobra igra

Well this crazy trip has continued to keep me on the go and off the blog, but I found a moment to sit down and get this thing up to date. The adventures never stop and I never complain about that. As I said in my last blog post, the ship sailed through the Panama canal. I didn't, but the ship did. How you may ask? Stay tuned to find out!
I have said time and time again that working for Norwegian gives me opportunities I would never have otherwise, and the canal day was definitely one of them. As the photo manager, I was given the opportunity to climb down a rope ladder off the side of the ship and stand on the actual locks of the canal as the ship was passing through to capture the whole day!
The first lock was the Mira Flores lock. I strapped on my hard hat and headed out on the lock. I think the local Panamanians were impressed by how fearless I was about climbing out on the locks. All good photographers know it is worth risking your life to get the best shot right?!?
For the second locks we captured the process from the top of the mountain. I got bored waiting for the ship to pass through so I began climbing on things while we waited. 
After the third and last set of locks we sped on the pilot boat back to the ship to climb back on before the sun set. What a day it was and a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience such a phenomenon.
My last blog was written from the heart of the old city in Cartagena, Columbia. If you ask me, it looks an awful lot like New Orleans. Alex and I found a stage in the center of town. We climbed on and did a little jig, and attracted a lot of attention from passerby in the process! It was a great day out and about and our last stop on the 14 day canal cruise. That day the officers hosted a lobster and shrimp boil for the crew to thank them for a successful cruise. I was in charge of desserts, and with that sweet ending,  let the Caribbean season begin!
The Pearl is Norwegian's primary charter ship hosting bands and music festivals. Upon arriving in Miami, we were joined by Lynyrd Skynyrd and 2500 of their biggest fans. During that cruise, and several following we went to Nassau, Bahamas where Che gave me a lesson in good food and good shopping.
The next cruise hosted Alabama, followed by KISS, and a music festival called Rombello. During the Alabama cruise, Che and I did a mini photo shoot with their instruments!
As the charter season came to an end, so did Sameer and Che's contracts. To commemorate it all, we did a little photo shoot in the studio one night that resulted in several laughs and memories.
These handsome gentlemen and I spent a day at Blue hole in Jamaica. Our day was filled with waterfall hiking, jumping off of cliffs, rope swinging and swimming through caves. I think one of my favorite moments was when Nick went to dive off one of the jumps and didn't quite commit, resulting in a belly flop. That may tie with Shane slipping and falling and yelling "TIMBER" as he went down! All in all, it was a wonderful day. When you are busy enjoying adventures like this, the holidays sneak up on you. Thanksgiving was a few short days later. I think the five of us represent the only Americans on the ship so we gathered for a lovely Thanksgiving meal.
In true Thanksgiving fashion, we finished our holiday off with an awkward family photo shoot. Photo shoots became quite a trend amongst our little group of friends, and we found they are always a great way to turn around a boring evening!
With Thanksgiving over and Christmas on the way, what better way to fill the lull between the holidays than a visit from Mom?!? Mom joined the Pearl for a fun-filled girls week. We had a blast hiking through Dunn's River Falls, bobsledding through the Jamaican rainforest, and relaxing at the spa. After the trip, I am pretty sure Mom wants to adopt Jelena and give her the new "favorite child" crown. We had so much fun, and Mom was treated like a queen by everyone on board. I don't think she has ever received so many chocolate strawberries in her life, but I didn't hear any complaining!
The holidays were approaching and the Christmas spirit was all around us. I sent out a Christmas card to let everyone know they didn't need to worry about me, I figured out how to keep my team under control during the holidays!
One evening I called my team in for a mandatory meeting... a mandatory balloon blowing meeting. The team helped blow up over 300 balloons to fill Niksa's room for his birthday! He was in for quite the surprise when he came home, and he was a very good sport about it. He did call us the next morning to help pop balloons so he could get to his bathroom!
Christmas was finally here! Nick, Adam, and I unintentionally pulled an all-nighter playing games, watching Christmas movies, and listening to the greatest Christmas albums of all time! As you can see in the first picture, Jelena slept through the whole thing, but we managed to get her in the group photo! At 5:00am Niksa got off work and came to join us and open presents. Jelena woke up when she heard it was present time, and we all tore into the gifts like a true family Christmas. The rest of the day was filled with a movie marathon, more games, and tons of laughs. I think we managed to stay in our pajamas until dinner time!
After dinner we went out for a nice breezy walk around the deck, dancing by the pool, and stargazing on the bow to end our practically perfect Christmas day. I am so grateful for the substitute family I had here on board that made the holidays so special!
Riddle me this: How do you fill your time on a rainy day in Cozumel, Mexico? Answer: Go swimming of course. You are going to be wet anyway. It helps to find three friends who are crazy enough to join you. Note: Underwater camera is not included but highly recommended.
Just because 2013 was ending, the end of fun was no where in sight. We rang in 2014 pool side, then moved into Spinnaker lounge where we decided we needed to compile twelve images just in case we ever needed to put together one of those sexy calendars. These are some of my favorites.
If January 1st is any indication of how 2014 is going to be, I cannot wait! With the underwater camera in hand, we went back to blue hole and conquered the caves, waterfalls and rope swings again. If you look at the picture that I am doing the shimmy down into a little hole, you can then see where I swam out under the waterfall in the photo below. It is such a beautiful place and has not been overrun by the masses yet, so it makes for a great getaway too!
The next day we went to this incredible acrobat show. They probably should have prefaced the show with "Don't try this at home," but they didn't. Even if they would have, I doubt we would have listened. Feeling rather inspired after the show, we decided to put our abilities to the test, but not before stopping by the gift shop to purchase matching t-shirts for the event!
With the holidays under our belts, Jelena and I found that a friendly game of bowling with the Croatians was the key to keeping ourselves entertained. I wore my business socks, obviously because I meant business.
It was time for Nick to leave the ship, and all of us, including Nick were wishing this was not the case. Little did we know Nick would sign off the next morning only to find out his replacement was stuck in a snow storm and would not be able to join the ship. Nick turned his cab right back around and rejoined the ship for another week of fun and games. Words cannot describe our excitement about the prospect of another week of adventures. These photos above however, can be described by four phrases.
1. We are snorkeling.
2. We saw a shark.
3. We saw a whale.
4. We got stung by a jellyfish.

Nick's return called for a photo shoot celebration. That, and my team needed samples of how they should be posing families, couples, sisters, brothers, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, etc. So, we put our modeling skills that we had acquired over the last month or so to good use. I think we look like a pretty happy family!
The officers hosted a New Years party for the crew. Jelena and I were assigned to bartend the event, and Nick showed up to support us! Once again we put our acrobatic skills to the test, busted out some sweet dance moves, and jumped for joy when our favorite Thai stateroom steward joined in on the fun!
The week seemed to come and go at super speed, only confirming the age old saying "time flys when you are having fun." For their last day we went to Park Royal for all the food we could eat, all the sun we could take in, and a little water aerobics just for kicks!
The spring charter season has begun, and with that comes new itineraries and ports. This week Darko and I went out in St. Thomas, hoping to get closer to that clock tower that we saw from afar. Our little expedition also took us shopping, got us a bite to eat, and as you can see, we even found a wall that matched my outfit!
Today was my first and only trip to Tortola. It is obvious by looking at us that we had a great time grabbing lunch and exploring. I think we unintentionally walked the ENTIRE island. While we were at it, we found a little boutique that carries all nickel free jewelry! Jelena got me a necklace that I absolutely love! I cannot believe this contract is ending in only seven days. Mostly I cannot believe I survived the last six months, and I definitely cannot wait to tell you what I have in store for the future. The excitement is only beginning!