When I'm Back On My Feet Again

September 15, 2008 -

John Heald

I remember my one and only visit to Texas very well. It was back in 2000 when Heidi and I went to visit some friends in Houston. John and his wife Carly were Houston born and bred, although they spent much of the year in Cozumel, which is how we met them.

They were owners of the Habana Cigar Bar and my love of cigars had made us firm friends and so when we were invited to visit them ……..we jumped at the chance. It would be our first visit to the land of the brave and the home of the free.

As the plane began its descent into Houston airport, I remember seeing flat, unrelenting land as far as the eye could see — and this was from 10,000 feet. Then, spectacularly and without warning, the skyline built with huge dollops of oil money sprung up, and I could not help myself………..and as the plane landed and even though we weren’t in Dallas …….. there I was singing “da da…da da……dadadadadardar.”

Houston, as you know, is America’s fourth biggest city, home of NASA and, as my friends from Houston told me, the epicenter of the world’s breast-implant industry.

I loved Houston. We went to a bar where a real cowboy was playing the geetar and where you could throw pistachio shells on the floor. I also remember all of Houston’s shops and restaurants seemed to be underground, which I guess is to combat the heat…………..I don’t do well in heat and I remember the huge sweat patches on my shirt — and I got those just walking from the hotel to the car………….and I remember a man called Hank. I met Hank while having an after-dinner cigar with John and Carly in a big Texas steakhouse.

Hank was a large man who made me look stick thin. Now Hank had, obviously, bought a pair of jeans when he was a bit smaller. However, as he got bigger, rather than throw them away, he had simply done them up under his bottom letting his shirt cover his modesty. This was OK until he dropped his lighter and bent over to pick them up …………. I laughed…………Heidi tried not to vomit……………and we crossed seeing the Grand Canyon of our bucket list.

I miss John, who passed away a few years ago, and I loved Houston. The people were so friendly and it is surely the only place in the world where if someone calls you a “son of a bitch”……….it’s a compliment.

So, it has been hard to watch the news these last 24 hours. The devastation and mayhem caused by that complete and utter bastard, Hurricane Ike, is just dreadful. I hear that there has been some loss of life and, obviously, it’s going to take some time before the people are back on their feet again.

This also applies to other parts of Texas including Galveston, the homeport of the Carnival Ecstasy and the Carnival Conquest.

We have cancelled the next two voyages of the Carnival Conquest and Carnival Ecstasy and the ships are being deployed to New Orleans where guests have the option of using the ship as a hotel.

Some of them may not want to go home yet. The airport has just re-opened but amenities, such as power and water, are limited at best. As I write I have no idea how many took this option but of course I will let you know as soon as possible.

Here is a copy of the letter sent to the guests as well as the latest weather update

Last night, I was in constant contact with the cruise director of the Carnival Conquest ….Jen Baxter. She and her team have been wonderful keeping everyone informed and having fun. As busy as she is, Jen still took the time to send us this report.

Bear in mind, though, that this post was written as of yesterday so, obviously, we have made a few decision since then but I wanted to give readers a feel of how things are going aboard the Conquest.

1. Hello Jen: Can you tell us where you are at the moment and what’s happening? When were you supposed to be in Galveston and what are the plans for the ship as of now?

Hi everyone, we are currently in the Gulf of Mexico. As the port of Galveston is still closed, we have just found out that we will be docking tomorrow morning in New Orleans. (Monday, 15 September) There has only been one angry guest who was yelling at me that she wanted to home and saying that this is ridiculous. Everyone else has been lovely and I have had a lot of people giving me hugs! Aahhhh. After tomorrow, I am not exactly sure what the plan for the Conquest will be. We are planning to stay overnight Monday, so that the guests can use the ship as a hotel and not have to rush off. Also, as there are 3,500 people to transport, it will stagger the debarkation process.

2. So, how is the mood of the guests?

So far, the guests seem to be OK, I was really nervous at the debark talk but everyone understands that there is nothing we can do and are just getting along with enjoying the cruise. There are a lot of guests concerned about their cars parked in Galveston. Many also live there and it is very difficult for myself and staff, as honestly we have no idea at all how bad the damage in Galveston is right now. We have CNN on the TV, so basically the guests have the same information as we do. Overall, though, most people seem in good spirits and are just waiting on any extra information that I can give them. We did have an overnight stay in Cozumel, so a lot of people were pleased with that as they could go out and have a night out. By 5 pm, I was able to give them an update on exactly what was going on. It has put everyone’s mind at rest knowing that we will be docking tomorrow, even though it is not in Galveston.

3. How are you keeping them informed about what is happening?

I had the debarkation talk at 5 pm and I am making announcements as often as possible. However, it is very hard, as I have no information to give anyone right now and we are waiting on assessment of the damage at the port. Every time I go on stage I tell everyone that as soon as I know anything, I will pass along the message. CNN is playing on the TVs all over the ship and as soon as we have additional details, we will put up posters with this updated information. I also have one of the entertainment team members walking the line at the purser’s desk to try to answer any questions. It’s was very frustrating this morning, as I truly had no idea what we are going to do and where we will be going. I had to go for the 11 am debarkation talk with no updates on the situation but once I rescheduled the talk for 5 pm, it went pretty well as I had some information to pass along. The captain was also available to answer any questions, which was lovely

4. What extra activities and shows have you added?

Since we missed our call in Grand Cayman and have had an extra day already, I think we have done every single activity ever done in the 36 years that Carnival has been around, ha ha. The entertainment staff has been fantastic. We are having activities in the lobby, Promenade Deck, and Lido Deck. Luckily, since we overnighted in Cozumel we were able to get an extra fly-on comedian who performed in the show last night, along with myself doing the Bear Story (which the guests really love)

5. How is the weather?

The weather today has been beautiful, the sun is out and the sky is blue and there is hardly a cloud in the sky……..go figure!

6. And, how are you? This is your first real experience of something like this in the “big chair.” How are you holding up?

AAAGGHHHH…..I just really, really wish I could give everyone some concrete information. For the last two days, we have had limited information, and I think that some of guests feel that I may be holding out on providing updates. I have been out on the Lido and Promenade Decks as much as I can. I am really tired, as the whole week has been endless, with missing Grand Cayman and having to make new Capers, and trying to reschedule everything. On the overnight in Cozumel, I did go out after the midnight comedy show (at 1 am). I think I lasted about 20 minutes in Carlos and Charlie’s, then sneaked out and came back on board and went to bed! (Getting too old to party with the kids). The guests are lovely and very understanding, but every time I go on stage, I just feel really bad that I can’t give them the answers that they want. There is a ray of light though……there is a lovely couple onboard and the lady is blind and has a Seeing Eye dog. He is a black Labrador called Marcus. They are so nice that they let me play with him (I love dogs), so I am always looking for him to have a big doggie kiss…. I’ve not had a drink in two years and right now would love a big Grey Goose on the rocks! Oh well, I’ll have to settle from a hot chocolate from the coffee shop…

Jen, we are all very proud of you and the entire Carnival Conquest team……………well done to you all.

I want you now to meet a man called Giora who is the vice president of strategic planning for Carnival Corporation & plc. Giora is the man who has helped many of the Caribbean ports improve and develop their infrastructures. And when the hurricanes come and play havoc………..he picks up the pieces and puts them back together again. So, I thought this may be the time to ask Giora not just about the damage these days of thunder have brought but also about the bright and shiny future. Here is his interview.


1. With the current spate of hurricanes that have caused a lot of damage across the Caribbean, I wondered if you could give us an update on the ports that may have been damaged, specifically Grand Turk.

Today, more then ever before, we hear of so many hurricanes in the region, it does seem that we have more now then we ever had. Well, science says statistically, that is not the case. We have, on average today, as many hurricanes as we had 25 and 50 years ago, so what is going on?

The answer is that today more than 10 years ago — and much more than 20 years ago — we have so much instantaneous information about the hurricanes via satellites imagery blasted at us 24/7 on television screens our emails, smart phones and Blackberries, so we are so much more informed and aware of them than in the past.

In addition, as the region and the cruise industry we have grown, we have many more ships then we had five, 10, or 20 years a go going to more destinations from more homeports. And, in general, we have more resorts and cities in the Caribbean, so the odds that one storm or the other could affect on itinerary or the other, is higher. If you look at specific islands the frequency with which they are affected by a storm is still very rare. For instance, Cozumel was hit directly by a hurricane (not just a bad storm or a hurricane passing close by) only once in 20 years since being mildly impacted by Gilbert on 1988. It was not until Wilma in 2005, that that island was affected in a serious manner. Until Ike, Grand Turk did not sustain a hit by a hurricane since the 1940s!

Grand Turk was hit first by Hanna for several days in early September. The storm did a 360-degree dance around the island dumping torrential rains but damage was minimal. Then came Ike, it was a strong category 3 and, indeed, weak structures and some roofs and most utility polls came down.

Rebuilding of the island started immediately and help is coming from several sources. The Turks & Caicos are a British territory so the British government is helping, along with other Caribbean countries, relief organizations in the U.S. and, of course. Carnival is providing assistance. Part of that is to quickly re-open the Grand Turk Cruise Center which we will do on October 8 when we welcome the Carnival Destiny. The cruise center is the economic engine of the island, and as the largest private employer there. The cruise center staff, combined with shore excursion operators, comprises approximately 80 percent of non-government jobs in Grand Turk. The people of Grand Turk after 24 hours of initial recuperation from their ordeal are moving fast to restore their island — it is the smallest island in the world to boast a two-berth cruise ship facility!

The pier at our port has sustained no damage at all! We are very proud as it is the first time that a finger pier, not in a protected harbor, survived the direct impact of a hurricane. The pier was designed to do exactly that and passed the test with flying colors; the engineer who worked on the project with Carnival, Gary Schneider, was with me on the first flight to Grand Turk September 8. He inspected the pier and this mature engineer with 35-years experience was like a little kid — overjoyed and overwhelmed that his design withstood the test! Congratulations to him and Miner Marine who built the pier for us.

The rest of the facility sustained minimal damage, mainly in our lush landscaping. Most of our beach cabanas have “taken off” somewhere but otherwise, all structures have survived well, with some sustaining minor roof damage.

2. A few years ago, the pier and fabulous facilities of Puerto Maya were destroyed. Can you tell us what the current situation is, how long before we can dock Carnival Corporation ships there and what the new facilities will include?

It so happens that eight days after reopening Grand Turk, we will be reopening Puerta Maya in Cozumel on October 16. This is another Carnival Corporation port which was destroyed during Hurricane Wilma in October 2005, (just for the record, Carnival did not build that pier — we purchased it from its previous owner.) The landside development built by Carnival abut six years ago also suffered damage but is all restored and ready to open on October 16. It will include four great bars one of which is a new theme concept — the Three Amigos Beach Bar which we know our guests will love. Puerta Maya at Cozumel is the number one port for Carnival Corporation & plc in the world with almost 40 percent of our passengers going to this great destination, which keeps evolving.

3. Carnival has had a wonderful relationship with the port of Costa Maya. We were all deeply upset at the damage caused there. Can you tell us about this port’s rejuvenation?

This port was severely damaged during Hurricane Dean in 2007. Carnival has no ownership position in Costa Maya but the latest information we have from its owners and operators is that it will be opening in November, although no date is set yet.

4. Going back to Grand Turk, this is proven to be one of your most successful ports of call. Why do you think this is?

John, I’m not sure I am the most objective one to ask as I built the facility and am involved in every any aspect of it. But at Grand Turk, I just like the combination of the island location, the fact that it is a small island, with this sleepy Caribbean charm with great diving/snorkeling. The port also has a nice beach. There is not another port of call where you can just walk of the ship and be on great the beach like this one! Margaritaville is the happening hub of the complex; it boasts one of the largest bars in the region. All of it, together with our over-sized pool and some great shopping opportunities at the center, makes it a winner as a fabulous port of call for our guests.

5. The Flow Rider has become a huge hit with guests and presidents of cruise lines alike. Do you have any plans to put more of these great units anywhere in the Caribbean?

Indeed, successful it is. Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill tried it and a picture was featured in Miami Herald declaring him as “Easy Rider” (see his picture below). We do not plan another FlowRider currently. But the idea of introducing new attractions in the Caribbean region is something we are working on either by ourselves or with local partners. A fantastic attraction was just opened in Ocho Rios on July 21, featuring the first Sky Lift in the Caribbean and the famous Jamaica Bob Sled run! The attraction, called Mystic Mountain, is a must for anyone comes to the Jamaica; it is a true marquee attraction.

6. Talking of plans for the future. Is there anything you can tell us about Carnival Corporation’s plans to continue their support of existing destinations as well as any new Caribbean ports?

The next project already well underway is Mahogany Bay Cruise Center on the island of Roatan. That island is fast becoming a favorite for our passengers and we want a new first class port facility for them. Our new port there is expected to open on November 15, 2009, so I better run now and finish fixing Grand Turk, open Puerta Maya and build Mahogany Bay (and do a few more thing in between)!

7. Giora, FlowRider is special, Mystic Mountain is great, Puerta Maya is first class port, Roatan is a favorite, which one is your best?

Well, the ports and attraction we develop are all my favorites. They are all like children — you have brought them into the world and watch them grow and develop but which one do you like better? These ports are like my children and love them all. (I do have two lovely daughters and I really love them most – even a little more than my port children!)

Thank you so very much, Giora, and congratulations for your true dedication. I am sure the reopening of Grand Turk and then the brilliant return of our pier in Cozumel will be brilliantly happy days for you, Carnival Corporation and the thousands of passengers who will enjoy these destinations. As for the people of Cozumel and Grand Turk who depend so much on the guests who walk of our ships……….these days will be ones that they will never forget. Thank you again and I want to ride the Sled Run with Gerry Cahill ………… can we ……………..please?

And so it was with the backdrop of the hurricane that this morning I met with Lui the Chief Purser and Roy and Anna Holtz………who are from and as I mentioned yesterday had requested to go home tomorrow from Lisbon, Portugal. They are from the Galveston area ……………..and have been told by their son that their house is completely destroyed.

It was their dream home Roy told me. Built on the shore over looking the sea, it had been four years in the making. Roy is in dry wall construction and told me today that although he knew there may be a small risk of something like this happening ….never in his wildest dreams did he think that the house he built with blood, sweat and tears, and where he raised his two daughters and son would be reduced to nothing…………and I mean nothing. He showed me a photo he had been sent to his mobile phone and it looked like a lumberyard………it was just a big pile of wood with no resemblance to a house at all.

Anna, who had been still for most of the meeting finally allowed the tears to come and, as Roy held her tight, it was all I could do not to cry, as well.

I then spoke to them both about going home. Was it the right thing to do? Where would they stay?……..The airport had only just opened and most of the city has no electricity or water……….would six more days onboard not allow them to come to terms with this heartbreaking situation somewhat more?

In the end………..they agreed ….and I truly believe that they were very thankful that this option had been put to them. And so they will stay and we will do everything we can to make these days special. We have moved their dinner table so they have just a table for two as socializing with others as you can imagine would not be an easy or enjoyable experience. Tomorrow night I am sending them to the supper club and that I hope will …………just for the odd moment………help them forget.

And so it was after a long, emotional meeting that started at 8 am this morning that I left the pursers’ office at 9 am to go to the Morning Show. I was emotionally tired and the shrieks of despair that I had heard from Anna were still fresh in my mind………..and as I thought about the thousands of others who had lost everything — and many across the Caribbean who had very little and lost that, as well – along with the hundreds who lost their lives, I saw a guest walking toward me……………….

“Good Morning,” I said…………he stopped looked at me and said………….”It’s ridiculous …… your TV channels suck…….no football and no Fox News”…….and with that, he put his hand a few feet from my face and said “I’m never cruising with this line again.” ……… And he walked off.

I sighed…..went to do the Morning Show silently wishing that he could have seen the hurt and total despair of Ann and Roy and maybe then he would realize that maybe TV shouldn’t be so important in his life……………..and if I have to be honest……………as he walked away I also wished he would get seasick and lockjaw at the same time.

You know, I have been sitting here humming the same song over and over again. At the beginning of the blog I used the words “back on their feet again.”……………….and so in dedication to all the people across the Caribbean and the United States, and specifically for Roy and Anna……………this song ……………….is for you.

Gonna break these chains around me
Gonna learn to fly again
May be hard, may be hard
But I’ll do it
When I’m back on my feet again

Soon these tears will all be dryin’
Soon these eyes will see the sun
Might take time, might take time
But I’ll see it
When I’m back on my feet again

CHORUS
When I’m back on my feet again
I’ll walk proud down this street again
And they’ll all look at me again
And they’ll see that I’m strong

Gonna hear the children laughing
Gonna hear the voices sing
Won’t be long, won’t be long
Till I hear them
When I’m back on my feet again

Gonna feel the sweet light of heaven
Shining down it’s light on me
One sweet day, one sweet day
I will feel it
When I’m back on my feet again

CHORUS

And I’m not gonna crawl again
I will learn to stand tall again
No I’m not gonna fall again
Cos I’ll learn to be strong

Soon these tears will all be dryin’
Soon these eyes will see the sun
Won’t be long, won’t be long
Till I see it
When I’m back on my feet again
When I’m back on my feet again
I’ll be back on my feet again

Goodnight
Your friends
John and Heidi

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.