Two Years of Thingies

March 5, 2009 -

John Heald

Let’s start by wishing each other a very happy second blog anniversary. Two years ago I wrote my first thingy and look where we are now……….3.8 million readers and a community of fun and caring people who love life and love cruising. I thank you all for taking your valuable time to read it each day and a huge thank you to Stephanie and Vance and all the people behind the scenes who have made the blog’s continuing success possible…………..long may it continue.

It’s that time of year when cruises become a popular destination for a lot of people, including students, taking spring vacations.

And it’s not surprising that so many people gravitate to a cruise based on some of the reports out there in the news about tourists having terrible things happen while trekking through some fleapit on the wrong side of the equator.

Happily, it will be years before my Thingy will have the chance to backpack around the world, and even more happily, by the time the Thingy is old enough he/she will have been on so many exotic school trips that the world’s wildernesses are unlikely to hold much appeal. “Oh, not Venice again. I did that in the 7th grade.”

The trips run by my school, back in the 1970s, weren’t remotely exotic. Once we were taken to a local museum where the main attraction was a Roman ……. ummmm ……… rock…….that looked like a ………..ummmm………..rock……. but this was an exception. Mostly, they’d load us onto the school minibus, which would then be driven by a certifiable lunatic to the woods where we’d be made to walk five miles through a peat bog to look at the local quarry.

“In geology,” the psychopath would bark, “this is a series of sandstones, grits and conglomerates, resting directly on the carboniferous limestone . . .”

“Hmm,” we’d all think, “but is it big enough to hide behind while we have a cigarette and I try and touch Sally Pool’s breasts?”

Then you had the Young Soldiers club, which was the school code for genocide. Large numbers of boys were bussed in eighth-hand army lorries to the Yorkshire Dales where we were told to leap to our deaths from cliffs, or walk around with 20 pounds of crap on our backs until we collapsed from heat exhaustion. Anyone who did actually die was also given detention.

Today, things seem rather different. I listen to kids here on the ship who when I remark that they are “lucky to be on a cruise,” look at me as though I am nuts they’re and say that they have already been to look bears in Alaska and now have to decide which school trip to take next……….skiing in Iceland or White Water rafting in Montana? “Oh please, Dad. Porsche and Mercedes are going on both so why can’t I?” ……………”Shut up Cadillac or you won’t get that new laptop computer and cell phone for your sixth birthday.”

Well, one of the reasons is that parents budget for the school fees without realizing that, in fact, we’ll need half as much again for Icelandic windcheaters, horse rental in Argentina and an all-terrain vehicle for the South Pole. Seriously, by the time my Thingy goes to college or she is likely to have more air miles than Hillary Clinton.

I mentioned the other day that I had a copy of my school magazine. When I was at school — i.e. the 1980s — it used to show photographs of well-scrubbed boys and girls at their desks learning Latin. Now, school magazines look like brochures for a travel agency.

They’re full of boys and girls building box girder bridges in South Africa and sensitive radio telescopes in the jungles of Costa Rica. I’m not sure this is a good idea because if a child has tackled the Zambezi, rescued 14 Colombian tribes from McDonald’s and colonized Mars by the time they’re 18, what’s left?

Mostly, when I was young, we went camping where my father taught me the lost art of pooing in a bucket.
So when I reached adulthood I went berserk and off I went traveling. The stamps in my passport became so prolific that I needed another, and because that was always away having my work visas stapled in place, I had to get a third. In the space of 10 years, I visited more than 20 countries and when I got off the ship I would spend that vacation still traveling.

Eventually, though, the ants in my pants settled down and I realized that while the world can offer many beautiful and wondrous experiences, home is where your friends are. And no experience is ever quite as rewarding as being in the gooey, fire-lit bosom of your family.

As a result I now sigh and mooch around with shoulders like a bent coat hanger if I even have to go to more than 10 miles from home, but that’s fine. I’m 44 and that’s a sensible age to pack away the passport.

I have a horrible feeling that my Thingy is going to leave school not prepared for the world but sick of it.

Obviously they will be far too tired for any further education. That means there will be no college and the Thingy won’t be assaulted in the Sudan like I’ve been reading in the papers as of late.

Instead, they’ll come home from their exams having done much too much, much too young. This will mean they’ll spend the next 10 years of their lives eating Taco Bell and drinking beer while shooting aliens on the PlayStation.

With this in mind I want to say that we have many spring breakers on this week and apart from leaving the dance club with someone so ugly that they will surely regret it in the morning……there have been no reports of any problems or concerns at all ……. and that’s great to hear.

Good afternoon. So here we are in the port of Belize………well actually we are about five miles of the coast that is protected by a huge barrier reef, which means we are once again tendering guests ashore. I am sorry to say that that the previous system the ship was using to do this was a little antiquated and involved the cruise director making as many as 20 announcements between 8 am and noon……….that’s not good. So I changed things around and started a tendering ticket system where rather than listen for announcements when a tender is alongside we guide guests from the lounges all proudly wearing their tender stickers.

Guests on tour (that’s 1,400 today) meet in the main lounge while between 8 am and 11 am guests going ashore who are not on a tour meet in our aft lounge. It seems to have worked very smoothly and I am glad of this not just for the guests’ sake but to prove the grumpy sods within the ship’s management who said the system didn’t need to be changed …………well it did……….it was……and it worked……………… bugger off.

Belize is the port I will be flying out of on March 19. The last time I flew out of there was one of the worst days of my like as I held Heidi’s hand as we headed home following the sudden and oh-so-sad passing of her beloved father.

However, for many this port will be the highlight and if you haven’t had it as part of your cruise itinerary yet……….as Jean Luc Picard would say “Make It So.”

Belize City is smallish, battered by history and well off the beaten track. It’s built around the mouth of the Belize River, with ramshackle wooden buildings that lurch out over the water, some of which are old colonial, whose grandeur is somewhat faded now, which adds to their charm.

There’s a very lively population made up of Creoles, Maya Indians and some British expats. It’s not the city that the cruise ship passengers head to but instead I urge them to visit the jungles, the Mayan ruins and to explore the River Wallace. The snorkeling is amazing especially at Coffs Cay and we also send guests on canopy adventures where you fly across the top of the rain forest and jungles that the British Special Forces (The SAS) use to train in. It’s therefore understandable why this is such a popular destination and so why many guests tell me they keep coming back to because of the huge variety of things to see and do.

OK, I am off to make a welcome video for all of you who signed up for the Carnival Sunday Funday event…………..back soon.

Here I am…………well, that went well except its 3,000 degrees outside and like an idiot I was wearing my woolen blazer which was as stupid an idea as inviting a Supermodel to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Anyway, here’s a photo of me on deck 12 and over my shoulder you can see the Carnival Legend.


Congratulations to the brilliant Carnival marketing department on winning this special distinction from Cruise Critic readers.

Informal On-Line Poll Ranks Carnival’s New ‘Fun For All. All For Fun’ Marketing Campaign as Best in The Cruise Industry

Cruise Critic members have spoken. Carnival’s “Fun For All. All For Fun” marketing campaign is unofficially the best in the cruise industry, according to members of the leading on-line cruise-oriented community.

In a poll conducted March 2 and 3, asking Cruise Critic members to rate their favorite cruise industry marketing campaign, Carnival got the nod by a wide margin with more than one-third of respondents indicating their preference for the line’s new campaign.

“Cruise Critic members are among the world’s most experienced cruisers and it seems Carnival is capturing their attention with this fun and quirky campaign,” said Cruise Critic Editor Carolyn Brown, whose site attracts more than five million visitors annually.

Well done to everyone involved and I am sure we are all excited to see what they have in store for us next.

So, while the guests are ashore, please allow me a few minutes to answer more questions marked for my reply……….here we go.

Amy Asked:

Thank you for replying. And any help with our table would be greatly appreciated! My booking is under then name of Amy Hopmann, Jon Hopmann, Lauren Hopmann and Taylor Hopmann. There are two rooms booked, so I believe it is under Amy Hopmann for room ### and Taylor Hopmann for room #### on the Carnival Freedom sailing June 6, 2009. Thanks so much!!!

John Says:

Hello Amy
Thanks for this information and I will do my best to help you with your reservation. Please would you kindly remind me on May 25 so I can remind the vessel?
My best to you and your family

Debbie Asked:

Please reply: We are booked on the Freedom in April. We also booked our flights and transfers with Carnival. We have an 8 pm flight out of Miami on the day we come back into port. My question is this: We paid for the airport transfer with the flight. Now with the late flight back, we would like to take one of the debarkation excursions which also include transfers. Is there a way to get a discount on the excursion since we already have paid for the airport transfer? Also, on our last cruise they had a system where you could check your luggage before leaving the ship and didn’t have to worry about it until you we done with the flight. Does the Freedom have this option? We would like to stay in Miami and do some things before going to the airport. We don’t want to deal with luggage. Thanks for the information.

John Says:

Hello Debbie
I am sure you must be excited to be taking a cruise on the Carnival Freedom in April. The answer to your question is yes of course we can do this. Please go to see the shore excursion staff at their desk in the deck 3 lobby and they will assist you. You can book the tour and just pay the difference and then you and your luggage will stay together for the tour’s duration before they return you to the airport. I hope you have a brilliant time and please let me know if I can help further

jerry calvert Asked:

John, I have to get this off my chest – since you have the new S&S card thing today.
Just finished my second of three CCL cruises this spring. Both of them had bogus charges on my card. In this case (Miracle) $52 spa charge – purser sent me to spa, but I got it reversed. Bogus $10 charge on last morning bill – too lazy to fight the purser desk crowd, so let it stand. This time (Imagination) bogus $11.50 showroom charge. Went to purser desk –they filled out inquiry – I went away happy, but no credit on final bill. Am I being picky, is this just poor # reading on manual entries or is there a flaw in the card system??

John Says:

Hello Jerry
I was sorry to read this mate and I will look into it. Please send me a note with a scanned copy of your final bill and I will pass this up the line. Thanks for telling me and I will do all I can to help.
Best regards

Barb Asked:

Please Reply when get a chance
John, my husband and I met you on the Liberty in 2001. It was our fifth cruise and fifth anniversary. We got a picture of you and of the ship with the captain’s signature. We are going on our 10th cruise in April. First one was in May 2005 and have been hooked every since. I was wondering if I could get an updated Picture of you and of ship for my photo album. Thanks a lot and keep Blogging it makes my weekends when I can catch up.
Tell Heidi and Thingy hello.
Barb and Ken

John Says:

Hello Barb and Ken
How wonderful to hear from you and congratulations on your Fun Ship addiction. I wish I could be with you on your next voyage. I will be happy to send you a photo so please write via the blog thingy a few days before you cruise with your cabin number and I will have one delivered.
Best wishes to you all

David Allen Asked:

When you have the chance, would you post a photo of the beautiful “Rosie the Riveter” mosaic that is on the “Carnival Valor” for everyone to enjoy?
Thank you.

Hello David
Your wish is my command





Larry Asked:

No thank you on the new cards. Too cartoonist. I much prefer the old ones. I hope the rollout of the new ones is loong if it has to happen at all.
On a related note, there is a mention on the Cruise Critic boards of having to surrender the cards at the conclusion of a recent cruise on the Splendor. Is this a new policy? Please say it ain’t so.

John Says:

Hello Larry
It seems there is mixed emotion regarding the new Sail & Sign cards. Many like them and quite a few don’t. We shall see what happens in the future. They are certainly more fun than the last ones but I can understand that the cartoon image is not liked by all. Now, as far as the collection of these cards is concerned I am afraid this is one of those Cruise Critic rumors similar to the one a few weeks ago that said I was divorcing Heidi and marrying Judge Judy. I have checked with five different ships as well as the head office and I can say that this rumor is total and utter……..well ……….bollocks. So, please don’t worry as we at Carnival know that you all like to keep these as a souvenir of your Fun Ship voyage.
Thanks mate and hope you are well

Bobby Terneus Asked:

Hi John, I like the new sail and sign cards. I can’t wait until we get ours; we are going on the Carnival Valor at the end of May. I wanted to know if you’re going to be our cruise director for that ship then. Please reply back

John Says:

Hello Bobby
Oh how I wish I was going to be the CD but I shall be home hopefully nursing our healthy thingy that will be a few weeks old. Your cruise director will be Big Tex and I am confident that you will think he is amazing. If there is anything I can do for you please let me know and I wish you and your family a brilliant cruise

Karl Asked:

Hi John – please reply if possible -,
It’s has been very quite the last few months about the Dream inaugural. Since we missed the inaugural festivities onboard the (original) maiden voyage of the Carnival Splendor, I was wondering about any news about the festivities on the Dream.
Is there any news when the inauguration is planned? Are the passengers on the first voyage going to see anything of the party..? Is Catherine Zeta Jones coming…?
Hope you have some insight…

John Says:

Hello Karl
Well, I knew someone was going to ask this question and it was just a matter of who said it first………so congratulations, that’s you. I can tell you very little at the moment as plans are still in the very early stages. I can tell you that the naming ceremony will be very special but the exact date and who will be breaking the bottle are still shrouded in a huge cloak of secrecy. However, I promise the first people to know will be you all on the blog thingy and if I have my way……me and Catherine Zeta Jones will be on the podium together and one of us will be wearing a very short skirt.

Tracy Asked:

hi john now u said but will be the cd on the splendor nov 29th?and would u mind hand me downs for ur baby if its a boy. I have a boy and too many of his out grown clothes would u like some if it’s a boy? Tell Heidi hi and hope the thingy is good.

John Says:

Hello Tracy
Oh how wonderfully kind you are. Heidi and I would be honored to take them from you. We still have no idea if it’s a boy or a girl and won’t know until Dr. Ramitin tells us when the Thingy is born. I hope to see you soon and many thanks for your kindness ………..if your husband has any hand me down underpants I will take those as well.

meghan Asked:

Dear John,
Please reply.
First I want to thank you for the best cruise ever this past week on the Carnival Valor. This was my third cruise (all with Carnival) and I cannot wait to go back, in fact as part of my birthday gift my boyfriend signed us up for the future booking thing….I’m so excited. Anyways, I just wanted to say thank you and thank you to all of the wonderful staff of the valor who made this trip so amazing, but I promised one person I would tell you about her. Her name is Alma, and she was one of the bar servers in the piano bar, its a funny story actually, because on the last night (which was my bday) the bar ran out of Bud Light, well she knew how much I liked it and ran to the casino and to the lido deck to get me some as well as to Winston’s, she should have told me to, well bugger off as you would say, but she was just so sweet and all week when I was there was kind to me, even when I made a fool of myself (several times). anyways I just wanted to mention her by name here. Back to my actual question. Could you please give me the address for guest services? I would like to write a letter to carnival to compliment the lovely cruise that I just had and I prefer to send a snail mail letter. There is so much to explain that I was not going to write it in the comment card. Thank you. And also thank you for the lovely bottle of champagne, ship and photo you sent to my room for my birthday…I was the girlfriend whose boyfriend couldn’t write her name…haha….thanks again. Meghan!

John Says:

Hello Meghan
Thanks you so much for sailing with us and I am so happy you had a brilliant time. I loved the story about Alma and I will make sure both she and the hotel director read it and she gets the praise she deserves. Please send the letter to:
Guest Services Director
Carnival Cruise Lines
3775 NW 87th Ave
Florida 33178
Many thanks and I hope we all get to sail together again soon.

OK, just as a quick follow up to a question from last week where a blogger asked if the LEX program where guests can hand their luggage in onboard and collect it at their final destination is available in other ports? I have checked and unfortunately it is only available in Miami and Fort Lauderdale vessels and not in Texas, California or any other homeports. We are looking to expand this highly successful program and as and when we do I will let you all know.

That’s all for now and there will be more later this week……..but now………here’s Jaime

March 3, 2009

Dear John,

The city of Valparaiso happily welcomed the Carnival Splendor on this slightly cloudy yet still beautiful day. After debarkation was complete, I had the opportunity to go outside to explore the town. There were rumors of the capital city of Santiago being a one and a half hour bus ride away. Although this did sound quite appealing, the time restraints was not accommodating to this possibility. Visiting Valparaiso was certainly a nice experience but it is like going the port of Warnemunde and not taking the time to see Berlin… Still a great day but just wondering what was is in the distant town.

While leaving the ship, I was expecting a day of solo exploration. I understand this may not be the wisest decision when you are a girl in her mid twenties, who does not speak the language and who may appear somewhat touristy looking with a notebook and camera in hand. After exchanging twenty American dollars for 110,000 Chilean pesos, I was rich! To add to this good fortune, I ran into two of our guest services representatives from the ship – Carlene, and Alisa.

Heading around town with pursers is always a good idea, one because they already know a lot of information about the city, and also because they typically each of them speak between four and 12 languages, which is an extremely helpful resource. Spending time with these lovely ladies was quite enjoyable. We all took a taxi to Vino Del Mar, which is a 10-minute ride from the terminal building. We were in search of a Western Union so that Carlene could put US dollars in her bank account. This way, her bills being deducted all the way from South Africa would be paid without problem. Unfortunately, even the Money Gram and Western Union locations that we did find were not accommodating in allowing her to send US dollars, these locations were the opposite of helpful, they would not permit a person to deposit money straight to their bank account! This is one issue that as an American citizen, I have never had to struggle with. Thank goodness for direct deposit! Instead, I have other challenges, like… taxes.

The downtown area was quite nice, even though the weather was not on our side. During our taxi tour I did my best to take pictures to show you the interesting agricultural layout. However unfortunately having clean windows was not one of the prerequisites for our taxi selection. The town of Valparaiso had traditional Chilean staples such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Dominos. Once we reached the Vino Del Mar area we realized that every other building was a “banco” or a “farmacia.” The three of us made our contribution the Chilean economy with the purchase of some toiletries from one of these locations.

The highlight of our afternoon was finding the mall in Vino Del Mar. This mall was very crowded and absolutely massive. We found a nice quiet spot to enjoy a cup of coffee and the most delicious nutty cheesecake imaginable (John, do not make a joke about the nutty cheesecake in my mouth!) It is so wonderful to have the opportunity to have a nice relaxing day exploring the downtown area. Our taxi driver on the return trip spoke enough broken English to point out the Valparaiso naval museum and the house of President Ferrari (I think that is what he said at least)… maybe he was showing us a car dealership? Either way, Mr. Taximan showed a valiant attempt of welcoming us to his city!

Our next port of call is Arica, Chile. I have some very exciting news to share with you about this day! 47 guests and 25 crewmembers, myself included will be disembarking the on Friday March 6 from Arica, Chile and will be experiencing a tour to Machu Picchu. This tour will be 2.5 days long, as we will rejoin the ship in Lima, Peru. I am so grateful that Carnival is allowing a select few of us to take a work break for these days so that we have the amazing opportunity to further explore this part of the world.

This is a brief summary of the trip that we will be taking:

Overland Cusco & Machu Pichu
(2½ days – Approximately 52 hours)
Experience this once-in-a-lifetime trip to Cusco, “the archaeological capital of the Americas,” and then journey via train to discover the Incan sanctuary of Machu Pichu. This unforgettable opportunity will be a 2½ day experience full of memories and photos for you to cherish forever. On this amazing excursion you will:

Day One – Be transferred to the airport by motor coach to take a 45-minute chartered flight to Cusco. Arrive at Cusco and be transferred to your hotel to check-in and have some free time to relax before a light buffet lunch. Enjoy a sightseeing tour of this amazing colonial city. Conclude with dinner at your hotel and time to relax for your early start the next day.

Day Two – Enjoy an early morning buffet breakfast. Meet your guide and transfer by motor coach (approximately 1½ hours) to the train station for your rail trip to Machu Pichu. Relax as you travel by train for approximately 1¼ hours through the scenic countryside while enjoying a breakfast snack. Arrive at the Machu Pichu train station then walk a short distance to the minibuses that will take you up the mountainside to the citadel of Machu Pichu, one of the most renowned examples of Inca architecture.

Enjoy dinner once more in your hotel in Cusco.

Day Three – Begin your day with an early buffet breakfast, check out and a transfer to the airport for your flight to Lima. Arrive in Lima where you’ll enjoy the 4-hour “Panoramic Lima” tour of this beautiful city before rejoining your ship, already docked in Callao, Lima.

I imagine this excursion will be extremely worthwhile and slightly strenuous and I will do my best to write you during these days, however I can not guarantee what the internet connection availability will be. I promise to give you an amazingly thorough description when I return.

I look forward to filling you in soon!

I am going to start drinking my tea so that the altitude doesn’t kill me!

The Carnival Splendor docked in Valparaiso

Chilean Money – I thought it was pretty!

Downtown in Vino Del Mar

The view of the city near the terminal building

Have a great day!
Jaime =)

The journey continues and I am sure by now the crew are looking forward to seeing California …….I am very proud of the job they are doing and thankful to Jaime for allowing us a look behind the crew only door.

Sent: Wednesday, March 04, 2009 5:55 PM
Subject: Would like to speak with CD

Hello John,

Mrs. ___________came to the desk today and asked if it would be possible to talk with cruise director. The guest was very much crying and I asked what she needed. She asked to write a note to you and for you to call her. She wrote the note on a bar napkin so I have typed it out for you so it can be read. Please call her as soon as you can and let me know so I can follow up if you need

Thank you very much.

Kind Regards,

Silvia Mardini- Guest Services Associate | Carnival Valor

Dear John
I had such a terrible experience on my tour today that I had to get off the bus and take a taxi back to the ship.
This woman seated next to me was so enormous that she was literally sitting on top of me. Her left leg was pressing down on my right leg and her arm was across my chest, pinning me down. To add insult to injury, about halfway into the tour, I discovered that her husband was sitting directly behind her. He clearly knew better than to sit next to his own wife.
I had to spend $30 to get back to the ship and my tour was ruined. I just wanted you to know that I think she should not have been allowed on the bus or be given two seats.
Thank You

Well this is a new one on me. I have heard of this on planes but never on a tour bus before. Of course we are refunding this lady’s excursion and her taxi fare and I called the guest to apologize. However, I explained that after investigation I had discovered that the bus was full and that there was no other place for the guest to sit. . The guest was understanding but still upset about the whole experience…….understandably.

However, I wonder how the other lady feels. I am sure she must have been embarrassed as well, especially when she discovered that the lady had left the tour early. I am sure that upset her greatly as well so I also feel for her. It’s a difficult one isn’t it? I actually feel like I should try and find out who this guest is and make sure she is OK as well……….it’s a difficult one this and I don’t have an answer to how to avoid this in the future……do you?

On a lighter note………….I lost my mind at the Morning Show yesterday. A young man called Jeff was singing a crap song……….sorry……..singing a rap song to win a prize for his wife……..and for some strange reason……..I felt the need to ……. well ……. watch this.

I am so sorry you had to see that so I think on that note I should say goodbye

Oh just before I do.

I have been reading my Pregnancy for Dummies book and today I came across something shocking. “Any woman with child will notice the difference in her pelvic floor muscles,” the book says. “Weakness here can lead to stress incontinence – some women find that they leak urine if they laugh, cough or sneeze.” ………….Oh joy…………….well, I don’t want Heidi to laugh so I shall make sure I don’t tell her any jokes or say anything that may make her laugh like “Can we have rumpy pumpy tonight?”…….. and the first time I hear her cough or sneeze she can bugger off and sleep in the spare bedroom …… there’s no way I am sleeping in a water bed.

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.