Feeling at home on a cruise: World-class Filipino hospitality shines at sea
There’s really something unique about the care and the attention to details that Filipinos offer when it comes to hospitality. Our kababayans tend to go out of their way just for others to feel comfortable wherever we may be — on distant lands, up in the air mid-flight, and even on a cruise in the seas.
Royal Caribbean’s ship Voyager of the Seas recently finished its 5-day Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand cruise and with all its entertainment and activities features (Ice skating rink? Rock wall climbing? A legit theater? Casino and arcade? All in a ship?), as well as its comfortable amenities, it was really the crew that will fill you up with memories after this once-in-a-lifetime escapade.
Food for the soul
Rene Ereño, sous chef of the main galley, has been working in several cruises for the past 15 years. The main galley was the heart of the food production of the Voyager; its crew was responsible for feeding more than 3,600 passengers three times a day. And their food selections were superb — with such diverse guests on board from all around the world, the menu had to appeal to international taste buds.
The ship’s main kitchen is run by 156 staff members, and 70% of them are Filipinos, Ereño said. As he trotted his way to the portion of the galley where the aroma of fresh bread filled the air, he gestured and beamed, “All the bakery chefs are Filipinos.” No wonder the pieces of bread and pastries were always so delicious, a quip from a fellow participant in the galley tour could be heard, eliciting smiles from the Filipino bakers.
Because 70% of the galley crew were Filipinos, “it doesn’t get too sad and lonely,” Ereño said. It seemed our kababayans were taking over the kitchen, so much so that some crew members of other nationalities can be heard saying Filipino phrases and greetings whenever they served passengers from the Philippines, much to their delight. They can even whip up a Filipino dish if you request it in advance; thus, a scrumptious, hearty serving of adobo was served to us during our last dinner on board.
Of course, being homesick is something that can’t be avoided when you’re working on a ship away from your family with no days-off, “just hours-off,” Larry Legarde, restaurant crew for 10 years, said ruefully.
However, he said would rather have it this way: being employed and able to send money back home rather than being home but jobless. His two co-workers, Joffrey Patingan and Rodney Pancho, 5 and 10 years in the industry respectively, chimed in and said they have become used to life onboard through it all by staying positive. “Idaan na lang sa tawa,” Pancho said with a smile.
It was no surprise that most, if not all, the musicians on board were Filipinos. Guitarist Lorenzo Diño would play for a total of two hours a day, sitting solo on the stage at the main promenade of the ship as guests milled around and hummed along to his music. A man with a ready smile and deft, musical fingers, he happily shared how he was discovered playing at the Manila Hotel lobby 20 years ago and never looked back.
“I’m thankful I was given this opportunity,” Diño said. He had been able to travel the world as he played on different cruise ships throughout the years while providing for his family back in the Philippines.
The rock band that would play every night was a Filipino 4-man act called Kronos and it goes without saying that these guys know how to get an audience going. There was always a crowd around when the band was on stage. “They were absolutely one of the best parts of our onboard experience,” a guest from Florida shared.
With thousands of passengers onboard in the middle of the sea, finding entertainment is necessary. Of course, the swimming pools and the arcade are great, but it’s the group activities that stand out. Dancing classes, trivia games, late night parties, and even group workouts are hits with the guests, all because of the crew that hosts them. James Decena, who has been part of the cruise staff for entertainment for 4 years, was our host at every karaoke night — what can be more Filipino than that?
Some travelers may think joining a cruise could be something too luxurious amidst all the airfare sales and attractive tour packages nowadays, but give it a chance and you can find that taking the scenic route in the seas to your destination is an extraordinary and unparalleled experience, especially when the familiar hospitality of the Filipinos can be felt all throughout.
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