A friend of mine, one of the ship’s doctors, once told me a story that he assured me was true, which had unfolded in a hospital in Australia where he was working. A patient, a sheep farmer, was having his bottom examined by a specialist who, after a long look, stood up and said, “You really need to see a vet.” The farmer was outraged by this apparent attempt to introduce levity into what, for him, was an episode of some discomfort and huge embarrassment, and grabbed my friend by the neck and was about to beat the crap out of him…….when the doctor stated that the specialist had, in fact, been referring him to the bottom specialist doctor………..Yvette.

There’s no doctor story as funny as a really funny vet story, a truth that James Herriot mined so successfully. I loved his books as a kid and I am sure many of you may have seen the All Creatures Great and Small TV series on PBS. In fact, at one point I considered becoming a vet right up to the point when I failed biology, chemistry and physics and I realized I was as thick as a piece of 2 by 4…………bugger.

The waiting room at a doctor’s surgery might be comedians’ meat and potatoes, but it offers only a fraction of a veterinary surgery’s potential for comedy. Here is another tale I have related before, because it is a great personal favorite: owners taking pets to be seen by the vet are rarely certain, on being asked by the receptionist for a name, whether to deliver their own name or the pet’s name. Which is how my mate Alan, carrying the family cat, had to make his way self-consciously through a crowded reception area after being summoned as “Mrs. Tickle.”

Anyway, all this went through my mind this morning as I sat in the waiting room at our local vet’s surgery with a cardboard box on my knee containing a cat which I discovered in our back yard last night. She (I think) was just a young kitten and was shivering from the cold. She also had a large cut on the side of her body which was still bleeding ….. she looked awful.

There was no tag round her neck and therefore we had no idea if she was lost or had just been discarded by her bastard owner. So, as Heidi made it a bed for the night in the garage and we fed it a huge bowl of milk and some chicken…..we went to bed wondering if she would be alive in the morning. She was………but the cut needed to be taken care of. So, that was me…………..off to see the vet.

I was careful to place myself at the other end of the room from a really alarming-looking creature, panting profusely, frothing slightly at the mouth, emitting an occasional low growl, and holding a leash, at the end of which was a big dog. The big dog, too, looked decidedly ferocious, and seemed to be eyeing the box I put the cat in with murderous intent. Mercifully for me and the cat, and a young couple with a tiny grey rabbit that would scarcely have amounted to more than a hors d’ouerve, the rabid beast then left, taking the dog with her.

Another receptionist joined the woman already there, and I listened in to what they were talking about. “Rex has had to cancel his appointment,” one said to the other, and I realised that, presumably for the sake of convenience, they don’t bother with the names of the owners.

On the other hand, I slightly regretted not having a name to offer the vet, when finally I was ushered through. Anyway the vet couldn’t have been nicer with her, calling her “darling” and “sweetheart.” Alas, the diagnosis was not good. The vet thought that her cut had become infectious and she needed further treatment. I explained that it wasn’t my cat and the vet thanked me for being so kind and considerate before charging me £68 ……….. that’s nearly $100.

I could have taken the dam thing to the local Korean restaurant and sold it for £88 ……….. kidding. I’ve often argued that the best way to kick-start a dying species is to start eating it. No, really. If someone could convince “ladies who lunch” that the best way to put a sheen back in their hair was a daily bowl of giant panda chunks, someone, somewhere, would figure out a way to get the lazy sods breeding again.

Anyway, I paid for the cat to live and the vet said that they would arrange for it to be taken to a home for cats where it would be looked after while trying to find it a home. Shockingly, the vet told me that this was a cat of only approximately two years of age. It had been used to being around humans as she responded to being stroked, etc. So right now there is someone looking frantically for their cat or someone who just didn’t want here anymore and dumped her in the countryside.

The vet asked if we wanted to keep it but obviously with me traveling and Heidi having a Thingy soon that was not an option. Anyway, as I paid my £68, the vet said I had to give the cat a name……and so I left Pussy Galore in the safe hands of the vet and hoped one day I could meet the chap who dumped this poor little thing in the freezing winter night and after collecting the £68 pounds he owes me I would chain him to the ground in the spread eagle position…..tie a piece of fresh salmon round his thingy……….and let Pussy Galore get some payback.

So, let’s continue with some more Caribbean highlights. remember, these are some of the places and attractions that I have been to and as always I will give you my honest opinion about them……..9,000 of you have read them during the last 48 hours so as they seem quite popular………..here are a few more.

ATLANTIS HOTEL AND RESORT – NASSAU
As the ships pull into Nassau, Bahamas there is one structure that dominates the skyline ……and that’s the Atlantis Hotel and Resort………the 2,300-room, 35-restaurant mega-resort-cum-casino perched on Paradise Island. It’s meant to look like the eponymous lost city, although there’s little to suggest an ancient mythical civilization in the two 20-story tower blocks that are the visual centerpiece of the resort. Some say it’s beautiful……….to me it like a huge pink-and-green wedding cake crash-landed in the middle of paradise.

Elsewhere, the ocean-city motif works better — and nowhere more so than the aquariums. The biggest holds 2.5 million gallons of salt water and 13,000 sea creatures, ranging from shoals of fabulous multicolored fish to hammerhead sharks and a mesmerizing graceful manta ray. Big viewing windows allow you to look in from all sides, while you’re eating dinner or just walking through the public areas of the hotel. It’s a genuinely stunning attraction. Center stage is a mock-Mayan temple, which contains five water slides, including a stomach-in-mouth, water-up-your-nose, 60-foot drop known as the Leap of Faith.

Check with your shore excursion manager and cruise director who will tell you about the tours that allow you use of some of the hotel’s attractions……….the aquarium is amazing.

THE ISLAND OF ST. MARTIN
Visit this island on your cruise and you will buy one………..get one free. St Martin happens to be the smallest island on the planet that’s shared by two countries. Two-thirds is called Saint Martin and is in the French Caribbean — all sophistication, fine dining, fashion boutiques and rudeness; and one-third is called Sint Maarten, in the Dutch Antilles — with faster food, noisier nightlife and hair braiding. Folklore has the bickering Euros divvying up the island with a walking race. A Frenchman and a Dutchman left from the same spot at the same time, one clockwise, the other counter-clockwise — the border would be the straight line from where they started to where they met up on the other side. But one spiked the other’s drink, and the resulting handover by hangover saw France score the lion’s share.

There are no hard feelings, though, nor any border guards or formalities at all, for that matter — this is cohabitation Caribbean-style. One moment you’re buying a baguette for breakfast, the next having a Dutch pancake for lunch. The beaches are all wonderful. The ship’s dock on the Dutch side and there are public beaches close by. To get to down town and the public beaches you can take a stuffy taxi van or hop on the water taxis that for approximately $6 per person will provide an all day transit from the ships to the beaches and shopping and back again. Carnival offers beach packages which include lunch and drinks so you may want to check those out. It should be noted that on the French side many of the beaches are clothing optional. Unfortunately there are no signs telling you this but if you walk on to the beach and see strange “drag marks” in the sand you will know that naked men are just around the corner……..not me though ………… bugger ……. if you need me I will be at my favorite beach…..it’s in Virgin Gorda and it’s called ……….Little Dix Bay.

St. Martin has always been many people’s favorite island………and if you have not been………you really should.

ST. KITTS
I have only been here twice………….but my memories are as clear as any. I remember going ashore with Heidi and having lunch at restaurant. The pictures above the bar told the story. Catherine Zeta-Jones snuggled up to Michael Douglas. Sarah Jessica Parker looked bleary-eyed. Britney Spears flashed her well ……..everything. Yep, St. Kitts and its neighbors Nevis really are islands which the A List celebrities throng to.

Most of the cruise ship guests congregate around the beach shacks on the narrow neck of land above Frigate Bay, where you can soak up the true Caribbean flavor. Many of the guests though will choose to escape and explore the rain forest, the coral reefs and some lovely, lonely beaches. St. Kitts’s best beaches spool out along the skinny southern panhandle. South Friar’s Bay is regarded as the best, but for seclusion, drive on along the switchback road and turn left at a broken-down sign beside the Great Salt Pond Lake. The track leads to Sand Bank Bay: not a beach shack or sun lounger in sight, just a golden arc tickled by Atlantic breakers. Remember the Carnival Victory features St. Kitts on her new itinerary out of San Juan, Puerto Rico and is an island I really want to return to someday soon.

DOMINICA – ANOTHER CARNIVAL VICTORY PORT OF CALL
Devil’s Mountain, Boiling Lake, Valley of Desolation… from a first glance at the guidebook, Dominica doesn’t sound too welcoming. But don’t be put off. The island’s steaming jungles and giddy peaks have made this port of call one of the most exciting in all of the Caribbean. It offers a thousand kinds of flowers, a dozen big waterfalls and a river (so they say) for every day of the year. Explore the beauty of this tropical paradise with a bike ride through the Layou River Valley, or a tour through the capital of Roseau. This is one island that is sure to take your breath away. Everywhere you look, trees groan under their loads of guava, passion fruit and pineapples. Just negotiating the 200 yards from ship to the beach involves walking on a solid carpet of fallen mangoes worth at least $300 at posh supermarkets in North America. Of course, one of Dominica’s most important claims to fame is that Jerry Bruckheimer chose to shoot Pirates of the Caribbean there……….enough said!

LEARN TO DIVE
Well, as I look back on my life at sea, I have just two regrets. One involves a nurse and a dancer…….and the other….I never learned to scuba dive. Obviously, the Caribbean has some of the best diving in the world and if it’s not too late, you should give it go. Remember, we also offer safe a beginners dive experience in many of our ports of call and it should be on everyone’s bucket list. I have often imagined what it must be like to swim with stingrays, frolic with turtles, follow shoals of multicolored fish through magical tunnels and pristine coral arches. It must feel like you are living in some perfect aquarium. The moment your body hits the water, credit crunch worries probably disappear: bills to pay, lives to lead, things to do. You just want to stay underwater forever, maybe evolve and grow gills.

There will be more Caribbean highlights next week.

Oh, by the way, on Monday I will be flying to Venice for the day. This will be to visit the Carnival Dream and the Costa Illuminosa. I will be taking my trusty Flip video camera with me so I can share the latest views and news about these two new exciting vessels.

I will be answering more of your questions on Tuesday so please let me know if there is anything you need.

Now, I wonder if I can use this blog for a personal favor……can I?……..OK, thanks, I will then.

My mate Alan. Well, you all know he has suffered terribly after being severely beaten with the ugly stick and being blessed with the personality of a hemorrhoid………….oh and yes………he had a cauliflower growing in his head which thanks to the skill of the doctors has buggered off. What I have never told you about Alan is that he has, for the last 10 years, been a commander of the local Coast Guard unit which in the UK is called The RNLI. This stands for The Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

This is a purely volunteer service and, unlike Coast Guard in North America, the men and women who serve do so on a purely volunteer basis. Their job is to rescue people at sea and they work closely with the Royal Navy and Helicopter Rescue Teams. Each coastal town will have a unit who patrol the surrounding waters. Here in the Southend area there are 35 men and women who work on a rotation system …….one of them is Alan. He is commander of the Hover Craft which is used when the tidal waters of the Thames Estuary are out. It skims across the shallow water and mud and is very useful in many rescue scenarios.

Alan also works on the lifeboats and during his convalescence has put together a new RNLI website ……it’s a work in progress but I wanted to say how proud I was of him and the crew who have saved many, many lives this past year. As a man of the sea myself I appreciate what these ladies and gents do so very much. It is remarkable that considering what Alan has been through that he is able to continue to give service to this great institution. You will see Alan listed as the web master and he has pix elated his face out as not to induce mass vomiting from those who see his face. Here is the link and be sure to click on the “drop everything” link for a fascinating look at Alan and his team

http://www.southendlifeboat.org/index.html

Thanks for stopping by…………I am very proud of the ugly sod.

Now, I am going to paste an extract from my blog regarding my visit to the stunning Ruby Princess back in early November…………….here it is.

If you watch today’s soap operas…..As the Bold Turns…….Guiding Hospital etc., you may consider throwing yourself under an express train …..But don’t. That’s because is not a foregone conclusion that your daughter will have to face a teenage pregnancy, or your husband may not turn out to be your long lost brother, or your wife may not decide to have rumpy pumpy with your father, or genetically altered foods might turn your dog into a zebra.

Of course things were different back in the 1970’s when we all sat down in our living rooms…….walked over to the TV…..remote control?…..gathered our family around us and boarded The Love Boat…………..which was the original Pacific Princess.

I am not even sure if you could call The Love Boat a soap opera but whatever it was, it allowed us to escape into a world that back then was only for the rich and tanned. We fell in love with Captain Stubing who set the tone for all real life captains who were not hired for their seagoing skills but were given a job only if the looked like Gavin McLeod. And that gives the perfect introduction to a chat I had with the most famous cruise ship captain ……….in the world.

Sir, you have had an amazing voyage. How does a young man born of a gas station owner in New York grow up to be a loved and respected TV and film star?

First of all, I had a dream. Mine was to be an actor. Everything else was in God’s hands.

Obviously we will talk about the Love Boat series shortly but your brilliant career has involved so much more. What have been some of the personal highlights that you look back on with the most pride?

Working with Cary Grant has to be the highlight of any actor’s career. It certainly was for me. And, working alongside director Robert Wise and comedic actor Blake Edwards also stand out as great moments in my career. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the best times ever because I was working with some of the best actors and the best people in the business.

On a personal note you starred in one of my all time favorite movies “Kelly’s Heroes.” It must have been an amazing experience working with Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas, etc. Was there a great camaraderie between you all and do you have any favourite memories from the movie?

In the movie, I was filming with Donald Sutherland and the tanks. We got to spend a lot of time together and I remember driving into Trieste every night for great Italian dinners!

And, the day I flew to Yugoslavia was the day Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon!

And so we move to the Love Boat. When you were offered the part of the ship’s captain what did you know about cruising? Had you ever been on one?

I knew nothing about cruising and the only ship I’d ever been was just a mock-up of a PT boat in McHale’s Navy!

How long did it take to film one episode?

The episodes took between 7-10 days to film.

The characters were portrayed as one big happy family. Was this the case off set as well…..are you all still friends.

Yes, it’s incredible that we’re all still friends today! In fact, I gave Jill Whelan away for her wedding aboard Caribbean Princess in 2004! Everyone is happy and well!

Do you have a favorite episode and if so why?
I actually have two favorite episodes. One was the “Love Boat Follies” where we got to sing and dance with some of the greats from musicals – Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Cab Calloway, Van Johnson and so many others. It was actor’s heaven – these were some the biggest stars in musical theatre.

But my very favorite episode was our last one where Captain Stubbing got married to Emily, played by Marion Ross. I’ve known her since 1958, and this experience was a celebration of our friendship, which still continues. I got to see her recently when she was one of the godmothers of Emerald Princess.

The Love Boat was and always will be a show that makes you feel good and, of course, did wonders for cruising. What do you think was the secret to its continuing success even now on DVD

People still come up to me today and tell me that “The Love Boat” gave them something to dream about. I find that very touching and it’s incredibly true. People are very nostalgic about the show, and recall with fond memories gathering on Saturday nights to watch it. The formula for the show was a happy ending to each of the three stories in an episode. It was a feel-good series and a real escape!

I recently saw you on-board the Ruby Princess for her naming ceremony and it was obvious the love and respect both passengers and crew have for you. Can you tell us about your ambassador role for Princess Cruises and having taken so many cruises yourself…….what makes cruising and Princess so great?

I’ve been the spokesperson for Princess for 22 years now. I think you could say it’s a marriage made in heaven! I’ve so enjoyed the incredible experiences I’ve been handed in this role and it’s been such a thrill to watch Princess and the industry grow throughout the years. From the many ship launches, to visiting with travel agents, to my latest role in Princess’ Department of Romance, I’m honored to have been touched by cruising myself and inspired young and old to be so passionate about it. Princess’ tag line is “Escape Completely” and that’s just what I love to do when I’m onboard. I love walking the decks with my wife Patti, star gazing and just being together without our everyday distractions. Princess gives people the perfect romantic getaway to rejuvenate, relax and reconnect on vacation – something we all need more of!

OK, time to host one last Captain’s table. Please could you fill in the blanks based on your ultimate Captain’s table:

From past to present, I think this table would be pretty cool:

My wife, Patti
Frank Sinatra and his first wife, Nancy
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
Captain Stubing’s wife — my dear friend Marion Ross
Dinah Shore
Pat and Shirley Boone
Alan Buckelew, the president of Princess Cruises, and his wife, Chris

gavin-macleod-with-pacific-princess

gavin-headshot

gavin-macleod-headshot2

Thank you, sir, for taking your valuable time to answer these questions and thank you for the many hours of happiness you provided and thanks to DVD and re-runs, continue to provide us. We wish you continued success and I think over the weekend we should all gather the family together and watch at least one episode of the Love Boat….I’m going to.

Goodnight
Your friends
John, Heidi and The Thingy

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.