Manny Rivas Never Learned to Swim

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A half-century ago, a 23-year-old Spaniard was flailing a bit, as many young adults do, trying to figure out what to do with his life. He’d been a waiter, then managed the restaurant and thought he might like to be a hotel director.

But he was restless and wrote to a friend saying he was thinking he’d go to England to practice speaking the language, then stay. His friend, it turned out, was working on a cruise ship at a time when the industry was fairly new. Join me, the friend wrote back, and he did.

That’s how Manny Rivas went to work as an assistant purser October 18, 1968, on a 300-passenger ship belonging to one of the companies involved in the labyrinthine business deals that eventually led to the formal start of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines on January 31, 1969.

All of which means that Rivas, now celebrating his 50th anniversary with the company, has been with Royal Caribbean since before it was Royal Caribbean.

Now its longtime public health manager, overseeing everything from shipboard hygiene to global regulatory issues, Rivas is thinking he might retire. Or not.

“I’ve been talking about this for the past four or five years,” he says. “I’m still here. To be honest, retirement is kind of scary for me. I love to work with the ships. There’s a lot of people there I love to support, and I really enjoy what I do. This is the truth.”

Over the years, Rivas has served in a variety of positions including chief purser, hotel operations manager, environmental officer and more, and while there were ups and downs, through it all he enjoyed a feeling of belonging.

He’s known many of today’s senior managers since they were coming up. Regulatory officials around the world call him by his first name. Departments throughout the company, including Newbuild, consult him.

“And this may be one of the reasons I love this because everything is new,” he says. “When you think you have done everything, there’s something new coming all the time. And this is great.”

Looking back – which is not his habit – Rivas says “the old days were very special,” and most years he still gathers with other company veterans to swap stories and enjoy most memories. He also remembers that, even as a three-stripe officer early on, he had no bathroom in his cabin. Creature comforts count too.

“If somebody asks me, ‘Manny, would you like to go back to 1970?’ or something like that, the answer is ‘Maybe not.’”

Pushing himself to get through challenges – including dreadful seasickness in the first couple of weeks – is a key to his longevity, and “I still enjoy this,” Rivas says. “If I take two weeks vacation, which doesn’t happen that often, I miss this.”

Did he ever think 50 years ago that he’d spend his life working with and on cruise ships?

“Not in a million years, no,” he says. “Actually, I don’t even know how to swim.”