Mr. Zonis……Memories and Tributes

November 20, 2009 -

John Heald

Recently we lost a man whose hard work and endeavors were the backbone on which this company was built.

Here then are the tributes and memories of some of those whose lives were brightened by the incomparable Mr. Zonis.

I am sure each of us has many “stories” to remember about Mr. Zonis. A man of Great personality and spirit, great leader and mentor. In every of his “stories” and in every circumstances I experienced in the past 25 five year up to last month, when I last spoke with him, I felt the same “spirit”, the same “person”, the good spirit he was able to transmit to us with a joke or with a simple example, even when he was not well.

I cannot forget the time when we meet in Naples, in a bar, under the “Galleria Umberto Primo” for a coffee along with his wife Clara and Capt. Gallo. Probably this will sounds nothing special to you, but with his charisma, he made that day a day to remember for the life time.

The way his brain was able to retain memories was impressive, a computer of 100 gigabytes. I feel very privileged and honored to have known him and to have been guided by him, for so many years.

Best Regards,
Capt. Salvatore RASSELLO

I very much enjoyed reading your poignant blog entry regarding Mr. Zonis. I believe you hit the nail on the head.  However, there is one aspect he enjoyed more than music, photos. Especially photos of Carnival ships. And specifically aerial photos of Carnival ships I shot.

With every new ship introduction, as you know, I would shoot aerials and he would always be on my tail to get prints. Literally hundreds of them. What he did with all of them, I’ll never know.

But what I do know was during several travel agent/press cruises, when I would hear a ship wide page with my name on it, it was because Mr. Zonis wanted his prints.

I believe with Paradise I had shot the ship on its Miami arrival and the next day it did a two-day CTN. Mr. Zonis had not requested any prints, but when I boarded for the CTN, he summoned me. I went to the bridge and he inquired about getting prints of the aerials done.

I responded that I’d be happy to do it, but the negatives were back at the office.

You guessed it. I got off the ship and ran back to the office. Meanwhile, Paradise departed and headed to the turning basin. It actually stopped back at the pier to retrieve me with the negatives.

My father happened to be onboard and just happened to be watching out his window when we pulled back at the pier. He couldn’t believe that the ship had stopped just to pick me up. All so that Mr. Zonis could get his photos.

Andy Newman, Vice President – NewmanPR (Carnival’s outside PR agency)

What can I say…..If you joined Carnival in the ” good old days ” you certainly met Mr. Z and he, in one way or another, influenced your and everybody’s life on board and ashore; and not just in the CCL headquarters but everywhere in the Miami area cruising business. He was an icon and everyone knew him, feared him but at the same time, loved him…at least many of us did. Personally, I owe Mr. Zonis, well, basically, everything! It would be complicated to go into the details but let’s say that, if I’m still here with Carnival, is because on day of over 13 years ago, Mr. Zonis trusted me and gave me the chance to prove myself promoting me to Captain going against someone else point of view. Even after he “retired ” he always called me several times a year (and not just for Xmas or to recommend a friend in a cruise) but just to say hello and to ask about the family and kids….of course he remembered also their names!! I understand I wasn’t a “chosen one” and he called several others of my colleagues also.

You know as well as I and many others do that Mr. Z was Carnival…period! With him we have lost a big chunk of this glorious company’s history and I definitely will miss him.


My heart was saddened Monday morning with the news of Mr. Zonis sudden passing.   He was a wonderful father to Benny and Elon, always full of pride at their accomplishments from their earliest days.  He was a proud grandfather to Elon’s daughters.  He was a loving husband to Clara.  Although Mr. Zonis put in untold long hours during the week and many hours over many weekend days, it was clear that he loved his family.  He was always ready to share some photos or the latest news of Clara, Elon and Benny.

I remember the many jokes, especially before the days of “political correctness.”  I remember him playing the drums at a company Christmas party in the mid-70s.  I remember him calling my parent’s home in Michigan on Christmas mornings to wish my sister and me a Merry Christmas.  How he got the phone number, I have no idea!  Resourceful—what a great description of Mr. Zonis.  It was his resourcefulness in finding the most amazing employees–both shipboard and shoreside–who were willing to roll up their sleeves, work all hours and do whatever it took to get the job done and provide great fun times for our vacationing guests!

Meshulam, rest in peace.  Your family and your extended Carnival family will carry you in our hearts forever.

Cherie Weinstein

1987 – M/S Holiday – Port of Miami – Ron Ness

At the time, part of my job was one of the last defenses to walk the ship and ensure she was clear of passengers.

As I walked the ship from deck to deck at a quick pace I saw two gentlemen, one tall and one shorter, entering the elevator, I proceeded to the elevator and entered with them.

They were both dressed in suits, back in the 80’s some of the guests wore suits when embarking and disembarking, well times have changed, welcome to the age of Tommy Bahama.

As I entered the elevator both were talking in a foreign language, I had no clue but thought I might try and inform them they had to disembark the ship. So I pressed deck 5 (Main deck) even though they had pressed deck 4.

I proceeded to inform both of the gentlemen the reason I pressed deck 5 is that they would have to disembark the vessel, we had a standard saying back in the 80’s to motivate the guests to disembark the vessel.

“Within 15 minutes Customs will confiscate all left over luggage in the terminal, it is best to disembark immediately to ensure you collect you luggage.” Usually it works just fine and we show them the gangway, well this did not take place.

Mr. Zonis looked at me, asked me my name, at the same time reached out with his hand and tried to read my name tag. First thing he said, Seattle is a nice place, but can you take us to the Purser’s Office.

I informed them that they needed to disembark, but both were adamant on going to the Purser’s Office, so I followed, again explaining that I could help and disembark them now. As I walked with them from the elevator lobby to the Purser’s desk, Jeff Reid Chief Purser was coming out of the office. I thought there you go I’m in trouble as I did not clear the ship.

Low and behold Jeff greeted both of them, “welcome aboard Mr. Ted Arison and Mr. Zonis” Mr. Zonis reached over put his hand on my shoulder and told Jeff “This young man from Seattle, he tried to disembark us from the ship” Jeff stated to me do you know who they are, I said NO.

This is Ted Arison Founder of CCL and Mr. Zonis the right hand man, My Response, Jeff should I pack… I got a good laugh… Mr. Zonis thanked me for a job well done.

After that first introduction to Mr. Zonis he never forgot my name and or that I was from Seattle. Mr. Zonis knew everyone’s name working onboard; I have always been impressed with this trait.

He will be missed.
Ron Ness
Hotel Director
Carnival Inspiration

My first ship was the Mardi Gras with Carnival Cruise Lines in 1975.  It was Carnival’s first ship as well.  It all started when a retired song and dance vaudeville performer told me about the cruise ships.  I was performing in his weekend variety show at Sun City Retirement Center in Central Florida.  He told me that the cruise ships were looking for novelty acts and I’d be perfect.  I didn’t know if he just wanted me out of his show or was being helpful.  Never the less, I drove to Miami and went to all the cruise lines.  No one would see me!  I left my 8X10 photo and a concocted, embellished resume in hopes that someone needed a ventriloquist.  I finally got a call from Meshulam (Mike) Zonis, who was Vice President of Operations at Carnival Cruise Lines.  I auditioned in his office in front of two secretaries and his assistant.  It was a cold audition with me standing in a corner with my little dummy, “Rusty”, on my knee.  The two secretaries and the assistant were laughing and having a good time.  Mr. Zonis sat behind his big desk, didn’t laugh, smile or in any way indicate that he was enjoying the show.  I figured that I was not going to get this job if the ‘Big Boss’ isn’t laughing.  For some reason that to this day I cannot explain, “Rusty” said… ‘Why isn’t the fat guy behind the desk laughing?’  Mr. Zonis smiled, laughed and I got the job!  I was given a two week audition cruise cruising from Miami to Nassau, San Juan and St. Thomas.  I had never been out of the U.S.A. before, so for me this was an opportunity of a lifetime.  At the end of the two weeks, Mr. Zonis offered me a contract for four weeks that renewed itself every four weeks unless there was written notice from myself or him.  That contract renewed itself for 15 years!  And that is the beginning of my life at sea.  I owe it all to Meshulam Zonis.  He gave so many acts, including myself, the great opportunity to perform and perfect their acts to become the performers they are today.  I will always be grateful for his kindness and generosity to me.  It opened up a world that has allowed this simple farm boy to visit more than 150 countries performing for thousands of passengers in a career that has put me at sea for more than 30 years!

Thank you Mr. Zonis and god bless.
Ventriloquist/Cruise Director Gary Hunter

In Memory of Meshulam Zonis.

It was the winter of 1978 and my first introduction to cruising as a newly hired entertainer- magician that I met Meshulam. I was the new act onboard the TSS Carnivale and had a lot to prove as I was average at best.  As the ship docked one morning at the Port of Miami we heard Mr. Zonis name being paged over the PA system. I was very nervous as I had never met the man. My first meeting took place in the cruise director’s office with Gary Hunter. He was larger than life always speaking in metaphors and full of stories. A man who had a memory for detail, the likes of which I have never encountered. He never saw my magic act, and thankfully so as I was nervous performing in front of hundreds of people when just weeks  earlier  I was doing kids parties and cub scout baquets. Mr. Zonis saw something in me, and believed in me enough to keep me onboard entertaining for 12 years and eventually being promoted to Cruise Director.  Every week the ship would dock in Miami Zonis would be there to offer advice, but more importantly another story. Some of the stories I understood, some made no sense. It didn’t matter because it was Mr. Zonis.

Over the years after Meshulam retired we maintained our friendship and last December 14, I organized the first Carnival Reunion with all the Cruise Directors and Entertainers from the past who had grown to love Meshulam. It was a magical evening with Zonis taking center stage. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to bring everyone together in honor of Mr. Zonis.

Mr. Zonis, I will miss you very much. God Bless You.

Bill Panoff, Cruise Director

I met Mr. Zonis in 1972 on board the Mardi Gras. Just after she went aground and becoming the “FUN SHIP “.

At that moment we had on board more Conversion Team Members (Contractors) than passengers (Guests), their boss was Giovanni Coco. Captain Chiarella was in command. Mr. Riglis was the partner of Mr. Arison. The business was not very good. At every call in Miami He was collecting money from the Casino, Bar, Photo, Beauty Salon to pay bills.

Not enough credit at that time but the crew was receiving the salary always on time. Never a delay. I recall that Mr. Zonis, as Mr. Ted Arison used to come on board at every call in Miami. Micky Arison was a teenager. Meshulam (Mike) Zonis knew my name as the names of all the other officers (Capt. Fabietti, Capt. Campodonico, Capt. Piovano, Capt. Loffredo, Capt. Casari, Capt. Lemmi, Capt. Pizzimenti, etc, etc.).

He used to go and check all the crew bathrooms first, to be sure that Mr. Drummond (Chief Steward) was doing a good job. After the inspection he was visiting Capt. Chiarella. The ship was old but he and Mr. Arison wished to have clean bathrooms for the crew. He knew the names of our crew members and he was always talking to them. It was easy for him as he was speaking 7 languages. He was always ready to listen; ready to help.

In some cases lending Carnival money to crew members to buy a house. Many Latin American crew members bought their house with his help. They were giving back the money deducting a small amount at every paycheck, without interests. He had a very strong memory. He was very intelligent and used to be on top of all the works. He was able to talk about new projects, jobs and materials without taking any note.

In the year 2000 the azipod system was new for many people and when the Elation had a problem with one azipod He flew from Miami to Los Angeles to go inside that azipod to learn how it was working. The same day, he came back to Miami. Carnival was his BABY. He worked hard to help Mr. Arison to make the Carnival Corporation.

I recall our lunch on board the Paradise when in the summer of the 2003, in Miami, he wanted to eat a good fish soup. His wife was with him. He was watching his sugar but he enjoyed the soup. The day he retired because his sight was not perfect anymore, WE LOST A RELATIVE, A GOOD FRIEND, A SINCERE BOSS. WE MISS HIM.

May he rest in peace.
Vito Garuccio

It saddens me deeply knowing that I will no longer get to speak to Mr. Zonis, he was truly a kind, sweet person.  Always asking me first how I was and my family.  Always wanting to do something nice for others and of course always telling me a joke, a story or about his travels with his wife, about his family and his grandchildren.  I already miss you very much Mr. Zonis and I will never forget you.  Thank you for all you did for me.

Your friend always,
Jeanette Dombroskie

Hello John!

This is as you used to call me “La Fauciiiiii”, just to have a bit of humor after the sad news of Mr. Zonis death which left all of us with a bitter mouth.

As per your request, please I would like to have few lines published in your blog as below and passed to Mrs. Zonis & family.

Mr. Zonis for us was a charismatic leader, a man full of respect toward others , a man who was very caring for us all and concerned about our families as well even thought he was already retired he never forgot to ask how our family were doing.

He had a great respect for our professionalism and leading CCL for many years has made CCL what it is today.

I am proud to say that I was among the Captains that he was still keeping in contact and one of is funny phrase when he was getting in touch with me on the ship was “Sono Zonis di Bassano del Grappa”, he loved to choose always this location in Northern Italy”.

He will be sadly missed!   Thanks Mr. Zonis for appointing me where I am today!

Captain F. La Fauci

I was very pleased to read your wonderful story in memory of Mr. Zonis, my heart still aching just  thinking about it. I have very good memories of him that I can’t write them right now. All I can say is that I had the privilege of talking to him the Friday before his passed and he said good bye to me and thanked me for all the attention that he got from me and how good I made him feel every time he talked to me. Even though I say to him that everything will be alright, I knew deep in my heart that that was our last good bye.

God Bless your kind and sweet heart Mr. Zonis.


As we pass through this life, each one has an opportunity to identify meaningful moments with our unique signature that will always be remembered.

It will be very difficult to express how much I appreciated Mr. Zonis high skill of professionalism & austerity to guide me through the proper streams of maturity in my profession as well as in my personal life.

Since I had the opportunity of meeting him, many years ago, (June1976), I have found it has always been a pleasure working with him.  It is not easy to esteem in one person kindness, warm feelings as well as austerity: in him I appreciated both.

On April 21, 1997, I was also honored at my wedding to have him as my best man as well as being the President of Carnival.

I always admired his confidence, firm principles, strength of mind in making decisions and ability to maneuver Carnival’s Operation into the direct route to success.

And…..who everyone enjoyed his sense of humor & talent when telling funny stories for any type of occasions!!!

Physically is no longer among us, but surely the legacy of his warmth, kindness & high talent will endure along with the special memories made, loved ones, for they live inside our heart forever.

Capt. Casula

There are no words to express our sadness since Mr. Zonis is in our hearts much more than a friend, mentor or leader which we all admire to the extreme. My wife Milagros and sons Tomas and Kristian will never forget you and especially him for the mark he made in our lives. Trust and pray you and your sons Elan and Benny and their families will find the peace in your hearts to continue with your lives knowing that he was a man everyone admired and a great human being he was.

Jose O. Busto and Family

Yes, the car story is true. I was there as they pulled Mr. Z ‘s (that is how I addressed him) car from underneath the props of the Carnival. My Name is Mark t. Hoffman and I was hired directly by Mr. Z in October, 1976 as a Jr. Purser. Over the years Mr. Z kept a close eye on me, maybe too close at times. His words of praise are some I will never forget. I would be with him somewhere on the ship and as he was talking to some big shots he would say, this is Mark and I hired him. When he said those words I felt 10 feet tall. On the flip side there were times when he kicked my ass when needed. Of course he would tell me of his many parables  when he finished he would say “You understand” and of course I would say yes, most time not having a clue what he was trying to tell me. He will always live on as I tell a Mr. Z story at least once a week.

Caroline Bourke

Mr. Zonis influenced all of our lives, and I will miss him.  He would call the office every once and a while, and if I got the chance to talk to him, he would always ask how I was doing, how my family was doing, and of course how the Miami Heat were doing.  One day Mr. Zonis asked me if I had a copy of the Celebration Inaugural book, and to turn to page 102.

Below is a copy.

Ralph Denis

When we are talking about Mr. Zonis, everything is coming from the heart, He was not only my Boss, but mostly he taught me two important things; first how to treat fair all crew on board and to respect culture, habits of each different nationality onboard, He was always ready to say something nice to a Team member in their native language. The second things He would repeat to me all the time the importance of the Family and how to take the life as a joke, find a way to live happy, even when we are in a difficult time.  Ciao Mr. Zonis

Captain Giovanni Cutugno

I have known Mr. Zonis since my first day with Carnival back in November 1978.  Those days I started with the company as 3rd Officer on the S/S FESTIVALE. I remember standing at the gangway on duty in Miami and Mr. Zonis approached me. He immediately asked me who I was, and where I had come from in Italy. Since then, he never forgot those details and the same was doing with every Single crewmember he came into contact with. His brain had more memory than the best computers available today, and I still ask myself how he was able to remember so much information.

I remember Mr. Zonis being a great comedian and story teller. He knew so many jokes off the top of his head and it was like he was reading them from a book or performing on stage in front of an audience.

To me, he was more than a boss… he was a working colleague and someone I am very proud to say was a true of friend of mine.  He was a great man, with a vast knowledge of everything especially the Cruising Industry. Whenever I needed something, he was always ready to help and give advice & assistance.

Mr. Zonis was unique and very well known all over the both Shipboard & Shoreside not only for Carnival Cruise Lines, but in the entire Cruise Industry. I strongly believe that Mr. Zonis was not only the man who assisted in building the cruising empire of Carnival Corporation that is we all know & love, but also can be considered an inspiration to the entire cruising industry. He set the foundations with Ted Arison and allowed the Corporation to grow from strength to strength. Mr. Zonis, you will be always remembered in our Hearts and hope you are looking down on us now wishing us all smooth sailing and calm seas.

Rest in Peace dear friend.

Your Sincere Friend,
Giovanni Cutugno

Goodbye Mr. Zonis……we miss you.


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.