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The Charmed Life of a Polar Cruise Pour Master: Interview with Rolando Garcia

by Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

Nobody goes to the polar regions for the drinks alone, at least that wouldn’t be our first recommendation. Still, that doesn’t mean you want to skimp on the sauce while sailing Earth’s coldest waters – unless of course you’re the captain, in which case you stick to a strict diet of coffee and prune juice.
Antarctic Peninsula

Pints with a polar cruise pour master

Nobody goes to the polar regions for the drinks alone, at least that wouldn’t be our first recommendation. Still, that doesn’t mean you want to skimp on the sauce while sailing Earth’s coldest waters – unless of course you’re the captain, in which case you stick to a strict diet of coffee and prune juice. But adventurous though an Arctic or Antarctic cruise may be, it’s still meant to be a vacation. And on vacations, people like to indulge. To what extent these indulgences can be blamed on the booze, who can say? Well, maybe one person can: the very bartender whose delicious libations warm our bellies long after the polar sights have warmed our spirits. We sat for a chat (and a pint) with veteran barkeep Rolando Garcia to learn what makes his job so incredibly cool. As if that weren’t obvious already.

You have one of best jobs on Earth. So, first question: How did you land it? Second question: How do we land it?

How about I tell you after the interview?

That’s a lot of pressure.      

Handling pressure is bartending 101.

And here we thought we were interviewing you. Well played, sir.

I’ve been at this awhile.

In that case, back to question one: How did you start out?

I started out at the Westin Hotel in Manila. I was bartending part-time while earning my degree in business administration. After I graduated, the Westin trained me to be an executive floor butler and put me in charge of handling the hotel’s VIP clients. One night back in 1997, one of the guests offered me a job to work on his private yacht in Monaco. He’s the one who first introduced me to this business. Twenty years later, I’m still at it. Still making good drinks, still traveling the world for free.

Confirmed: One of the coolest jobs on the planet.

I’d disagree if I could.

How is bartending on smaller polar vessels different than pouring drink on the big Caribbean barges?

I worked with a lot of different cruise companies before starting with Oceanwide: Seven Seas, Celebrity, Cruise West, Tui Cruises, and Thompson Cruises, where I met my wife. Working on bigger cruise lines, the “floating cities” with thousands of people on board, is a lot different than what I do on Oceanwide’s smaller vessels. Many of those big ships are basically party cruises where guests sometimes miss ports because they’ve been spending too much time with me. There are a few guests on polar vessels who stay up late too, but it’s rarer. They’re all looking forward to the places they’re going the next day. Nobody wants to miss half their Arctic trip because they’re hungover.

You probably have some good stories about the passengers.

It’s hard to be away from my family for so many months, but talking to all the guests and getting to know them makes me feel great. It’s especially nice if at the end of their trip all my hard work was really appreciated and made their voyage more memorable. As for the stories, there are too many to tell. Also, I’m sworn to secrecy.

Ah, the Barkeeper Code of Confidentiality. I’m sure the guests appreciate that. Any stories that you tell them?

I do have a regular joke I use when we hit rough weather. “I'm the alternate doctor on board,” I say. “If your seasickness medication doesn’t work, try some of mine.” Then I point behind the bar. “The more you sip, the more you smile.” That always gets a laugh.

And probably a purchase.

More often than not. My medicine is a universal fail-safe.

Had you been to the polar regions before starting with Oceanwide Expeditions?

I’d been all over Alaska and some parts of Canada. The first time I was in the deep polar regions was amazing. Seeing polar bears and blue whales in the Arctic, walking on ice with emperor and king penguins in Antarctica… There’s no forgetting it.

Do you have a favorite part of the job?

I love it when there are a lot of cocktail drinkers at the bar, when I can show off my mixing knowledge a little. But the most important thing to me is doing what I can to make sure every guest is satisfied and happy at the end of their cruise. There’s nothing about the job I don’t like. Someday I hope to run my own bar and restaurant in the Philippines so I can be back with my wife and kids, but I consider this my career.

Any customers who are just impossible to satisfy?

I have a motto behind the bar: “Just go with the flow and dance with the waves.” You can’t please everyone even when you do your best. That’s just part of the job.

What’s your signature drink, your Rolando Garcia Special?

I love making the drinks I learned on the big ships. Martinis and margaritas are among my favorites. As long as I have the ingredients, I can make whatever the guest wants. But sometimes I like to surprise them with a new drink based on their taste preferences.

Well, that’s a wrap. How was our interview? Did we get the job?

Sorry, we’re all filled up.

Hm... Another round then?

That I can do.

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