A Finnished Blog

September 7, 2008 -

John Heald

Good morning from a cloudy and rather cold Finland……….58 degrees actually.

So, I saw my friend Captain Rude this morning as I walked off the ship here in Helsinki. I was going to say goodbye and, thanks to the tour operator, that’s when I saw the little chap. Anyway, I won’t bore you with the conversation, but the bottom line is that my mistakes of not seating him at the captain’s table for his anniversary and naming Eisenhower instead of Truman as the president who met with the cigar-puffing Churchill and the miserable sod Stalin are going to get me fired ……………..yep……….according to the man with a whole bag of chips on his shoulder………I will soon be working as pot washer on the Staten Island Ferry. He will be penning a letter to Mr. Cahill that will highlight these mistakes.

This was done very publicly and other guests who were disembarking had front row seats. I just stood there……..listening………nodding and my head while wondering if dwarf tossing was legal in Finland. ………the bollocking was over………..and he walked off to look for his six friends and to make sure Snow White had not eaten a poisonous apple.

We all make mistakes………….I make them each and every day. I made one many years ago when I invited my mate Alan to go to a costume party with me. I ordered two costumes from the shop – they were supposed to be Batman and Robin with me as the caped Crusader and Alan as the Boy Blunder.

However, I gave the shop assistant the wrong catalogue number and this meant we went to Lorraine Bridges’ party with me dressed as Batman but with Alan dressed as Wonder Woman……….still, he didn’t seem to mind and I think he still has the costume which he wears every Tuesday morning.

But mistakes happen in every walk of life. We hear stories from New York and London about some trader wearing a pink and blue jacket who presses the wrong button or does the wrong sign in the trading pit and wipes out 20% of the stock market. He gets a good bollocking and goes home to his 10-bedroom house in the Hamptons.

So, it was with sadness that I read in the news yesterday that an air traffic controller at Gatwick Airport in London who was found guilty of nearly landing a British Airways 747 on top of a Lufthansa Airbus was fired and is now waving table tennis bats around on a runway in Belgium.

You see, we all make mistakes but the outcome varies drastically depending on the environment we make them. And, my mistake it seems will have me washing dishes on a ferry………………….bugger.

I wanted to share this beautiful e-mail I received via Stephanie’s office. I post this only because I am feeling selfish and after being threatened with my job I needed to tell myself that yes………..it is worth it.

Hi John,
I want to start by apologizing for this ‘thank you’ e-mail being so ‘late’.

I intended to write you as soon as we returned home from our last cruise, but unfortunately, some bad news was ‘waiting’ for us, which took me out of state for a while.

Just to refresh your memory, I’m one of your (many) ‘blog friends’ and was one of ‘Big Ed’s crew’ on the first bloggers cruise. I had e-mailed and asked if you might be able to ‘help’ my husband & I get a table for two on a future cruise, on Carnival Liberty, which would allow us the opportunity to actually have a ‘conversation’ at dinner, something we are rarely able to do at home, with our seven children (who stayed home for this trip, lol).Anyway, you did honor my request, and I want to truly ‘thank you’ for that. It was so nice to enjoy a leisurely dinner with my husband, and actually be able to finish a sentence uninterrupted, lol ……so ‘thank you’ very much 🙂

I know you’re a very busy man, but I would like to ‘share’ something with you if I may (& I’ll try to keep it short). I just want you (& Heidi) to know just how important your ‘jobs’ are to some of us ‘cruisers’ out here.

As I mentioned, I am mother to seven wonderful kids. One of our sons is disabled (he has autism). I am friends with many other ‘Moms’ of autistic kids (as well as other disabilities) and for many of us, cruising is not just a wonderful and relaxing vacation, but it’s also a short ‘break’ from the day to day struggles we face. As much as we love our kids, our days can be long and difficult at times, and I know for me, if I didn’t get an occasional ‘break’, I don’t think I would be ‘as’ good of a mother. The job can be physically exhausting, but even more so, its ‘mentally’ (& emotionally) exhausting, and cruising allows many of us to ‘get away’ for a while, and get the kind of ‘pampering’ that (so far) I have only experienced on a cruise. If you add to that, a kind & WONDERFUL ‘and’ truly ‘funny’ cruise director…well, it just makes for a vacation that is ‘so’ much ‘more’ than just your typical vacation, and I would like to say ‘thanks’ for that as well.

It can be hard to explain my love of cruising to many. They understand that its a wonderful vacation, but they don’t always understand what a cruise ‘does’ for us, ……the whole brief ‘escape from reality’ that allows us to come back refreshed and ready to tackle things all over again, with a ‘renewed spirit’, ……and I just thought it was important for you to know that…..and to say ‘thank you’ so much for ALL you (& Heidi) do.

My husband and I are ‘hoping’ to take a cruise in April on Holland Americas ‘Westerdam’ and the only thing that would make the planning more exciting is if you were the cruise director on that ship…..but I guess I need to share you with the rest of the cruising world, lol

Well, I’ve kept you long enough. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this, and for ‘ALL’ that you and Heidi do. You are both very special people, and I look forward to cruising with you again,…..hopefully soon 🙂

Your Loyal Blog Friend,
Lisa Alte 🙂

Thank you for those beautiful words and the timing of them could not have been better. I can only imagine how needed your cruise vacation was and we all are so happy that you were able to recharge your batteries onboard. The words “renewed spirit” are ones that I want to share with all the top brass at Carnival who I hope will read today’s blog ……… they are exactly what we try and achieve each and every day on each and every ship.

I know you will also have a great time on the Westerdam and we all send our warmest regards to you and your beautiful family. I am sure people like Linda (mom of DJ) and others will be writing to you.

Please keep reading the blog thingy and I am here should you ever need anything at all.

On another subject completely I see that Coach Pat Riley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yesterday. His career……….oops…………I just realized what I wrote …………. obviously, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and not the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame even though he was the lead singer of ‘80s band, The Hublots, whose song “I’m too sexy for my hair” went to number 234 in the charts.

Seriously, as a young cruise director way back when I got to meet the great man and introduce him on stage and, even though as I have previously documented, I introduced him as Mr. Pat O’Riley who is a builder from Dublin and not the best basketball coach in the world ever………….I will never forget that moment and it’s one that fueled my love of basketball and the Miami Heat…………………congratulations Coach O’Riley.

We are nearly at the end of our series of cruise director interviews and we have just a few to go. Here is a young man from Down Under whose real name does not matter as he is known far and wide simply as Skippy, and like a kangaroo who has drunk 200 cans of Red Bull, Skippy is full of energy and life. Here he is.

1. Can you tell us which ship you currently are on and when you are due to leave?

I am currently on the Carnival Paradise, cruising from Long Beach California on three- and four-day cruises. I’ll be saying sad goodbyes in December of this year. Next lucky ship is the Carnival Inspiration on January 17. This will be a fond reunion as it has been two years since being on that ship.

2. Carnival Cruise Directors come from very diverse backgrounds. Some have entertainment experience, some, like me have none. Can you tell us about your background and how you ended up with the best job in the world?

I spent a lot of my school years studying stupidity and idioticy. Theatre and stage was something I did on the side, outside of school hours. A good friend of mine was working on radio while I was a teenager, and I loved what he did so much that I took a course in radio hosting and programming. This was a huge short-lived career. I was given a job as a casino dealer in my home state casino. After working as a casino dealer in Australia for five years, I decided I wanted to travel. Carnival seemed like a good little escape at the time. Travel, see the world, and get paid at the same time. Every young man’s dream. Within the first month of working in the casino department on the Carnival Sensation, the casino manager decided I was a little loud and a tad boisterous, and she promoted me to the position of casino host. This extraverted little Aussie was now creating the excitement and being the spokesman for the casino. The cruise director at the time was dealing one of my blackjack tournaments, and I guess things were going well because he suggested I leave the casino department and join the entertainment department. Honestly, I laughed at the thought. I never considered working in entertainment. I started watching the cruise director, his show, and the social hosts at the time. My thoughts were, “You know what… I could do that.” The idea of me being an entertainer was now there. I love being on stage. I love making people laugh and more importantly I love to laugh myself… so damn it, lets do it! This took some time because no one in Carnival history had ever made the change from the casino department to the entertainment department. With the paperwork finally organized, I found myself working on the Celebration as a social host. As time went by, I went from social host to assistant cruise director and eventually cruise director.

3. A cruise director is happiest when performing or being with guests. Can you tell us two activities or events that you would call your signature items………events that make you stand out from the crowd?

I think I may be saying the same as many cruise directors here, however The Love and Marriage Show would be my favorite show. While the show has been around forever, it doesn’t matter how many times you see this show, the answers are always different. Not a cruise goes by where I don’t almost pee my pants with some of the answers that are given by our guests. My second favorite show to run would be a show called the “Skip’s Man Show,” a show where the gentlemen are showcased and the women just don’t want to miss it. It is an event totally different to the normal events you would see on a cruise ship. For those gentlemen who participate in the show, well, they become instant celebrities for the remainder of the cruise.

4. What has been your most challenging moment as cruise director so far?

Every morning we wake up, life presents us with a new challenge, but this is what makes the job so rewarding. At the end of the day it’s making everything work seamlessly. I can honestly say there has never been a day that I felt like I would pull my hair out. You take a deep breath, think things over, and 100% of the time things always work out in the end. The big picture is that all challenging moments, when overcome, turn into a rewarding experience.

5. And, your most rewarding

One of my most rewarding moments… that’s an easy one. On the Carnival Sensation, four ago, we had a young couple cruising with 45 family members. They were due to get married in Grand Cayman. They had organized a beach wedding and then a huge reception on board. Well, that cruise the weather gods were not on their side. Due to bad swells around Cayman we were not able to stay in the port of call. It turned into a sea day. Their big wedding day was missed, and they cancelled the reception. On board they tried to organize the wedding to take place at the next port of call. Due to short notice, nothing was organized. Well, things were not going to good for them, and 45 people were rather disappointed, not to think how the couple must have felt. On the very last day of the cruise, after the debarkation talk, the father of the bride-to-be approached me. He told me the story in detail of how this cruise had just not come together, and he wanted to see what we could do. Well, I decided that today there WAS going to be a wedding. I gathered staff together, working with food and beverage to give them the full reception they had planned. We used one of the lounges, and we made it spectacular! We had the red carpet laid on the floor, a white archway for them to walk under, decorations and flowers from the ships stores. We organized for the classical musical Trio to come in and play as they entered the room. Things were coming together, and all we needed now was a priest. We made an announcement on board, but this was going to be the hardest of all steps. Unfortunately no one could marry them, so we did the next best thing. I dressed up in a full captain’s uniform, borrowed stripes and all, and conducted the ceremony. Yes, I know it still doesn’t mean they are legally married, but it was all caught on camera and for them this was the most rewarding thing. It went beautifully. The ships video services and photographers all chipped in to help this couple make their dream wedding right here on board. The parents were in tears, the bride’s make-up running. You really couldn’t have asked for things to go any smoother. We did everything with in our power to make this something they would never forget, but we had one more surprise. The next morning when they went to disembark, as they made there way off the vessel and collected there luggage we had a real priest meet them at the exit of the terminal. By now, many of the guests had heard what we did for this couple. So right there, just outside of the terminal, with 1,000 witnesses, the priest announced them husband and wife and the papers were signed. Simply beautiful.

6. On your current ship can you tell us about your itinerary and can you recommend one must do excursion from each port of call?

We run three- and four-day cruises, leaving Long Beach on Friday, arriving Saturday in Ensenada Mexico and on Sunday a full day at sea. Ensenada has a couple of tours that I personally love, however, a “must do” would have to be the Blow Hole Tour at La Buffadora. There are only three blow holes in the world, so if you are even in Ensenada, take the chance and visit what is a natural wonder. The four-day cruise starts every Monday, leaving Long beach and making the epic journey to Catalina Island. From Catalina we are bound to Ensenada and finally a fun day at sea before arriving back to long beach on Friday.

7. Why, in your opinion is Carnival…………..the world’s most popular cruise

Carnival has its finger on the pulse when it comes to being able to entertain people of all ages. Plus, the cruises directors on Carnival are the best. Carnival has found the meaning of teamwork.

8. Is there a ship in the fleet you would love to be cruise director of that you have yet to be so and what port of call would you like to visit that you have not so far in your career?

I have now been with Carnival for 11 years. In that time, I have seen and visited so many places. To date, the ships I have worked on include: the Sensation, Imagination, Ecstasy, Fantasy, Inspiration, Holiday, Paradise, Elation, and Fascination. Also three ships that are no longer in service: Tropicale, Jubilee, and Celebration. I’ve been on the bigger ships like the Destiny, Triumph, Victory, Conquest and Spirit. Yeah just a few ships. There is only one run that I am dying to do… Alaska and Hawaii. This would honestly make my career complete. I have not had the opportunity to work this run, but my career is only beginning. So, fingers crossed there is still time.

9. Every CD has a story to tell from their time onboard. What’s your most recent funny, sad or inspirational story you can share with us?

We all have funny stories, sad stories, and inspiration stories. I thought I would share a story of inspiration, as this story affected so many people and has turned hundreds of thousands of lives upside down. While on the Carnival Inspiration, on the first night of a cruise during the Welcome Aboard Show, I had this young lady on stage. I asked her for her name and where she was from. She gave her name but responded “Well I don’t know where I come from any more.” I was a little baffled by this so I asked her where she lived. It was strange, and I was thinking, “Just give me a little something to work with, darling.” She responded, “I don’t know where I live any more.” Okay. So right now I am totally confused, I really didn’t know where to go next so I thought I would ask her what she did for a living. She looked at me and I could see a tear start to trickle down the side of her check. She just looked at me and said, “It’s gone, it’s all gone.” This was the first time on stage I had been lost for words. I still had no real idea what this young lady was talking about. After three questions I could see her eyes swelling up, and I was rather concerned about how and where to take this situation. She then looked at me again and started to talk. “We just got out of New Orleans. We had to leave because we just lost our house and all of our belonging. Now we don’t know what to do or where to go. We just got out, so we booked a cruise this morning and here we are trying to start fresh and think about starting our life once again.” Honestly, you could have heard a pin drop in the audience that night. It was a story that I don’t think anyone expected. Of course we all saw the tragic news stories and footage, but when some one is standing in front of you telling their first-hand experiences, it really is a whole new thing. Well as the cruise went on, we did everything we could to give them a good time. What’s more to the story, they were also regular cruisers. This was about there 30th cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines. Well, that cruise finished and about a month later I received an email from this couple thanking me for the time and the chats during that cruise. They also informed me they would be coming back on board in two weeks. That’s when I had the idea…On board Carnival, for repeat guests on five and seven-day cruises they should receive as special repeat guest pin and we hold a special party for all repeat cruisers. I emailed all the cruise directors in the fleet. I was going to need everyone’s help for this special surprise. I asked all the cruise directors to send me two of the specials pins. On the cruise when these guests returned, at the past guest reception, I brought this couple on stage and made a special presentation. I spoke about the first cruise where we meet and the Welcome Aboard Show where the story came out. I mentioned how they had lost everything in the hurricane. We then said while this is just a small way of showing we care, all of us around the fleet never want you to forget your times on ships, as we presented them with all the pins from the various ships. It was a touching moment for them, and obviously a touching moment for others. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.

10. Finally………….pick a cruise director table ……………..you are hosting a table at dinner onboard the Carnival Dream………what’s for dinner…and who do you invite?

Shrimp and avocado finger bites. Served with a splash of lemon and chive seasoning

Fillet Mignon, butterflied. Peppercorn sauce

Warm melting coco cakes.

Julie McCoy – cruise director from the Love Boat

Robin Williams

Natalie Portman

Will Smith

Pink Floyd

I have a dream.. Love to meet Martin Luther King Jr.

Thanks Skippy, I am sure the guests who have sailed with you will have enjoyed your humor and fun. Good Luck mate.

So, we say goodbye to Finland until next year. Let’s have a look at a few photos taken by Jaime and then we will have a chat.

The Waterfront of Porvoo

The Streets of Porvoo

The spot where we had lunch

The Rock Church!

Now, they were taken today, in September and just as a reminder, here are a few taken when Heidi and I visited during our FAM trip in April.

Finland is beautiful and, yet, not of this earth. You are apparently in the normal world with your mobile phone and your pretty daughters but you spend all winter being frozen to death and all summer being eaten alive by mosquitoes the size of Hummers. Travel outside of Helsinki and you will have no reminders of the civilization you left behind…..it is not surprising that Neil Armstrong was sent here to train for his lunar walk.

The countryside is beautiful yet weird, the people are mad, the weather defies belief and some of their laws and customs leave you scratching your head.

You pay $80 for a bottle of house wine to accompany your plate of moose, reindeer or elk, which will be served to you by a lady who has completely see-through skin. However, you will not be bothered by any of this because you will be too baffled that unlike the rest of the world…………..night does not follow day.

In the world we live in there are many uncertainties, but one thing we all relay on is that without fail the sun will set and day will become night. But here, from the end of April to the middle of September night is like turning your living room dimmer switch down a wee bit……………and in the month of June it doesn’t happen at all. It’s the most bizarre feeling to have it as bright at 4 am in the morning as it was at 4 pm that afternoon. Then, in the winter …….well………….blink and you will miss daylight which lasts just two hours.

Not surprisingly, living in these extreme and unusual conditions has had an effect on the people that live here. While many are very friendly many also behave more like …… well ……… fluffy animals. If Darwin had landed in Finland — and not the Galapothingy Islands – he may have deduced that on the evolutionary scale man followed on from the bear.

In the summer months people from Finland rarely sleep and on Friday and Saturday nights…………..they do bugger all. They Finnish (pardon the pun) work, go home, have a few drinks, get showered, have a few drinks, change, have a few drinks, and then around 10 pm they all go out…………….I mean …………..they ALL go out.

This can be quite a shock if you are not from Finland but from Earth. When I as there on the FAM trip and previously delivering the Carnival Legend I remember going out to dinner on a Friday night rather late…………it was 9 pm. I remember thinking “Bugger, I bet we are too late to get a table.”

But the streets and the restaurants were deserted and as I sat with my plate of freshly murdered reindeer and potatoes I noticed that as the night wore on the restaurant became busier and busier. By 11:30 pm there were lines outside the restaurant I was in and outside every other one as well. So, I asked for the bill, which without the tip, came to the same price as Carnival was paying for the Carnival Legend and left.

When I did, I entered a world like nothing else. It was a huge street party ………. they were celebrating something special…….Friday night. I had seen nothing like it. If the Pope, The Queen Mary II and a naked Cameron Diaz and George Clooney all arrived at the same time, it would be nothing like Friday night in Helsinki.

To put it mildly…………..everyone was totally and utterly smashed, soused, hammered, blotto, out-of-their-white-faces drunk. There motto seemed to be that it was no use drinking the odd glass of beer now and then, it was too expensive and a waste of time…………..So why not wait until the weekend and drink 30 beers and two bottles of vodka?…………and that is exactly what they do.

It was the same with the shipyard workers who built the beautiful Spirit class ships. There work was faultless and the men and women who built the hull and welded the decks were the nicest most professional people in the world and they built stunning vessels …………… but come the weekend they turned into binge drinking nutters who would fill Coke bottles up with nine parts vodka and one part coke…………and that was to drink on the bicycle ride home………….some were so pissed (that’s the British pissed) that they rode home on their bikes………….backwards.

The Friday night gathering in Helsinki lasts until late Sunday night where people go straight from the bar to work. It’s amazing…….the people of Finland seem to have developed the sleeping patterns of a turtle……….your awake for four months and then………………….you’re not.

If any country is thinking of invading Finland, I would suggest they do so between November and February because no bugger is awake…………….although you could also invade in June as well because everyone will be to drunk to care.

The one thing I can tell you though is that absolutely nobody………I mean nobody ……….. drinks and drives. They may ride their bikes after three bottles of vodka but they never drive a motorized vehicle drunk. This is because most people know each other, especially if they are from outside Helsinki, and that is a great thing indeed.

In fact last year Finland came second only to Iceland as the city with the least crime and the highest standard of living. The crime thing is easy to understand as it’s either too light to steal anything and in the winter its too cold……even now you can find men frozen to the spot with a stolen TV in their arms.

It’s beautiful, barren, cold and hot with days of no daylight and nights with no night. At the weekends the people will fall over mid-sentence because they are so drunk and they welcome visitors from around the world with open and loving arms. The place is absolutely crazy and in my opinion……………is one of God’s finest hours.


Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.