Hey Jude

December 6, 2010 -

John Heald

I was going to get a taxi but then I saw the car rental desk in the lobby of the hotel and thought that I would treat myself and rent a car for my Friday afternoon shopping trip to Aventura Mall in Miami. Yep, with my list of gift items that Heidi had insisted I get because they were “cheaper in the States” I approached the car rental desk. The chap said “buenos turdes” or something like this because we are in Miami and therefore the perception was that I spoke Spanish. My reply of “Hello, mate” brought on a disappointed look as he pressed 2 in his brain and reverted to English.

He asked if I’d like to see the “car menu.” What? There’s a car menu? Excellent. Of course I’d like to see the car menu………..bloody brilliant.

A leather-bound steakhouse type menu duly appeared and inside a choice of cars was exquisitely laid out. At the top, as if it were an Emeril Lagasse automotive signature dish, was a Mercedes for about $3,000 a minute. At the bottom, like it was a budget breakfast at a Waffle House, was a Chrysler Shitling or something that you could hire for just under $40……… a year.

Hmmmmm. What to choose? Well as it was a beautiful day and I hadn’t smoked a cigar in days I finally settled on a Ford Mustang GT, the car menu equivalent of a good old American steak.

It was actually the first time I had ever driven a Mustang and it was excellent although I still don’t understand why American cars have steering wheels as there are no sodding corners anywhere. But I enjoyed my cigar, roof down listening to 105.9 classic rock station as I drove to the mall to buy Kye some Christmas gifts.

Everything was fine until I tried to fill it up with petrol……sorry…….gas. You see, I had to bring the car back full of gas otherwise I would have been charged an outrageous amount. I had driven to the mall and back plus popped in to collect something from the Miami office and yet the big 5 litre engine had sucked down some serious gas and the fuel gauge had dropped below the second marker thingy and so I pulled into the gas station on Biscayne Boulevard and that’s where my problems began because I tried to use my credit card……..my British credit card.

Now some of you may remember that a few months ago I had tried to use it to buy some toys for Kye when she and Heidi had come to sail on the Carnival Splendor. However, El Walmarto told me to buggero offo because my card had been declined because I had not told Mr Barclay that I was in Mexico and that my card wasn’t being used by Jose or JoseB to buy Playdoo.

So I had no fears of using it at the gas station because my card had already taken a beating at the Aventura Mall………….but I was wrong.

To use your credit card at the pump you must enter your zip code, and not having a zip code, I waddled inside to ask them to switch the pump on. They couldn’t at first because they didn’t understand what I said and when the girl finally understood my request she said “no.”

I understand that in America you must pay before you put the petrol in. Trouble is, this involves knowing exactly how much petrol you want to put in, and as I’m in a Hertz rent a car that must be returned full, I have no sodding idea how much it might take to fill it. I explain this to the lady. She just stares at me. I don’t speak Spanish and I stick out like a turd in a punchbowl.

I smiled my best cruise director smile and tried again.

JOHN “Please can you turn on the petrol pump?”
SENJORITA TEXACO “You pay first,” she repeated. “How much gas you pay?”
JOHN “I don’t know how much I’m putting in until I’ve put it in.” I explained. “I need to fill it up.”
SENJORITA TEXACO “Yous just pay to fill up”
JOHN “I don’t know what I need to fill it up, it’s a hire car from Hertz. Can’t I just fill it up and then pay?”
SENJORITA TEXACO “No.”

She then said a word that I am familiar with having spent time in Miami before. I have no idea what it means or how to spell it but my new best friend said “no” followed by a “corn yo”………. I don’t think she was wishing me a nice day.

This is a stupid system. It’s like going for lunch and being asked to pay the bill before you know what you are going to order. I was going to mention this but I might as well have recited the Gettysburg Address because Senjorita Texaco either didn’t understand my problem or didn’t want to……….or probably both.

I stood my ground in front of her bullet proof cage despite two other people standing behind me as I stood at. I think she realised I wasn’t going anywhere because suddenly her English got a whole lot better.

SENJORITA TEXACO “How empty is it?”
JOHN “Not much, from the first marker”
SENJORITA TEXACO “You give me $20.”
JOHN “Okay, but if I pay $20 but then it only takes $10 to fill it up, can I come back in here and get a refund of the $10?”
SENJORITA TEXACO “No.”

No way, I thought, is she going to win this. I will crush her. I will take her down. I hand over $10, go outside and pump gas. After $10 it’s not full. I go back inside and queue up. Again.

“Ola. It’s me.”

“Yes?”

“$5 dollars worth, please.”

I go outside and put in my $5. It’s still not full. But I won’t be beaten. I go inside again and stand in the queue.

The other customers now think I’m genuinely loco. “Er . . . $2 worth, please.”

Amazingly she took my money and I put in my $2 worth of gas. The Mustang’s thirst had been quenched and I had won. I drove away feeling victorious. Senjorita Texaco had pushed my buttons but I had beaten her system. I had taken her down and crushed her bloody stupid system. I had done what Americans do best in times like this and opened my very own huge can…… of whoop arse.

Time for today’s questions…….away we go.

SDG Asked:
John Reply

I was stunned to read your comments about Christmas and how you think it’s correct that your workers use Christmas greetings and not wishes for a happy holiday. We live in a multi-cultural world but I guess you and are a dinosaur. I won’t be celebrating holidays with your company.

John Says:
Hello SDG

Opinions are so important and that’s why I always encourage people to express them here on the blog thingy. I do want to say that I suggested that our crew wish guests both a Happy Christmas and Happy Holidays and that working alongside crew from 50 different countries makes me very much aware of the importance of respecting all religions.

Best wishes
John

William Molby Asked:
John, please would you reply

I am new to your blog and I think it is a wonderful thing that Carnival allows you to have a free hand to write as you do. I am about to book our second cruise with Carnival and would like your opinion on anytime dining. I have seen good and bad comments here about it and for our cruise on the Triumph I am seriously considering it for my DW and I instead of late sitting. What do you say?

Thanks and keep up the great work

John Says:
Hello William Molby

Thanks so much for the kind words and let me say that without fear or trepidation that I can highly recommend Your Time Dining. It truly does give you the flexibility of eating when you want during the opening times of 6pm and 9 pm. Most of the time there is no wait for a table but if there is we will provide you with a beeper so that you can go and have a cocktail and when your table is ready we will contact you. The only other fact that is worth considering though is that you will either be eating on your own, just he two of you or with different people every night. Some prefer to eat with the same new friends every night which is why we continue to offer assigned seating as well.

I hope you have a fantastic time and if you have any other questions please let me know

Best wishes to you both
John

Motson Asked:
John (Please Reply)

Here is my Cruise Critic review from our cruise on Victory.

I had read many reviews about the San Juan local children running wild on the ship. We figured we wouldn’t encounter that since the kids would be in school. However, some of the adults behave probably as bad as the children. Where should I start? Strollers, strollers, strollers everywhere. Forget about an apology when your feet are ran over or the stroller rams you in the buffet line. The cabins on either side of our cabin were both party central, which always started around 3 am and went on until the sun came up; no help from guest services with the problem.

The food was very disappointing. Carnival has drastically cut the quality of food as well as the variety. The Lido deck pretty much served the same thing day after day. The food in the dining room was okay, but not the quality we’re use to.

Most of us do not drink and the ship’s crew is more than ever aggressive in pushing alcohol beverages.

The ship is small, the pools are no bigger than backyard pools. I was glad there was no day at sea because that ship could in no way accommodate all passengers.

To sum it up, we will never book a Carnival cruise leaving San Juan again! We travel with a group of about 55 people and everyone had pretty much indicated that our next cruise should be with Royal Caribbean who are the best. I am also not reading this stupid biased blog anymore and if any other Cruise Critic member asks I shall tell them not to as well.

John Says:
Hello Motson

I really am very disappointed to read your views on your cruise on the Carnival Victory. I can tell that there were lots of families sailing and certainly while cruising with children is not for everyone, Carnival is proud to be the most popular cruise line for families to enjoy a vacation in together. I can only hope that there were some positive experiences you can draw on such as the friendliness of the crew and the exceptional value for money.

I was going to write more but realised that from your last sentence you probably are not reading this anyway are you? If you are then please let me apologise again but also say that of course this blog is biased as……….ummm……….I work for Carnival.

Best wishes
John

Keencruiser Asked:
John Please reply

Can you tell me who the Cruise Director will be on the Miracle in May?

Thanks

John Says:
Hello Keencruiser

The new CD schedule is done and this week I will be posting it here on the blog thingy so please check back then if you can.

Best wishes
John

Tammi Flannery Asked:
John,
(Please Reply)

I love your story about the group of blind passengers with their guide dogs on board. I have two friends who raise and train puppies in preparation for this important work, and I have a great appreciation for how special both the dogs and their people are.

I am very curious about one thing, though. I am an avid boater and our dog spends the summer on the boat with us. I’m wondering what accommodations Carnival or other cruise lines make for the dogs to take care of their natural body functions. On our boat, we take our dog to shore in a dingy to do his business, and I can’t imagine that happening in the middle of the ocean!

John Says:
Hello Tammi Flannery

Thanks for those kind words. We certainly have been working very hard to assist our guests who wish to sail with service dogs by providing them and the animals with the best possible assistance. Our crew have received special training on what to do and as importantly what not to do in order to make this happen.

We do not though allow “pets” to sail as we just don’t have the facilities to do this. However, our friends at Cunard do and I thought you might like to read this blog from the Entertainment Director of the Queen Elizabeth who wrote about this very subject on a blog earlier this year. I hope you enjoy reading it and if you have any other questions please let me know.

Here is the link thingy

http://wearecunard.com/2010/02/it%E2%80%99s-a-dogs-life-on-the-north-atlantic/

Best Wishes
John

Kathy M. Asked:
Hi John,

Please Reply

When I read PHJ808 note to you, it made me wonder if he got his ships mixed up and was writing about RC L’s Mariner of whatever. His description was almost exactly how it was for me when I cruise with RCL. My experience with them really soured me from cruising until a friend asked me to join a group with her on the Beautiful and Fantastic Carnival Pride. When I boarded that ship, honestly my jaw dropped, there were crew there waiting to help anyone who needed help (like myself, I was in a wheelchair and a crew member from Croatia first showed me where my cabin was and then showed me how to get to the Lido Deck for Lunch. Every crew member on that ship always had a smile and if I said “Hi” to them, they would smile back and say “Hi” back to me. I only ate in the MDR one time because where they put the group of us, using a walker make it inconvenient for the waiters because I had to go through 3 of their stations while they were serving. But what did amaze me is the waiter that I only had one time remembered me when he saw me on the Lido Deck and would come over and help me with my tray. I tipped him on the last day because he really earned it.

I have such great memories of that ship and then to read this idiots remark about the Carnival Pride just makes me believe that he was never on that ship. I have never been to the RCL site of Cruise Critic, but maybe it is time I let them know what happened to me

John, even for my brother who used to swear about RCL being the best cruise line UNTIL he sailed on the Carnival Paradise last May, now says that Carnival makes RCL look like it is overpriced for what you receive and I agree with him. Like I have told you before, my brother came home and booked two more cruises, the first is a 15 day round trip to Hawaii ( for their 40th wedding anniversary) and I have forgotten where the second one was going to, but I know it was a long one.

Please John, don’t let those idiots make you feel bad, because you know different, you better then anyone knows that Carnival would never allow a new guest go into a dirty room, so please just delete those posts and ignore them.

Please give my love to Heidi and Kye,
From your #1 Bloggy Thingy FAN
Kathy M.

John Says:
Hello Kathy M

Yep, it appears that this poster got a little confused and slapped his review of his Royal Caribbean cruise on this blog. Very strange indeed although one has to wonder if he didn’t do it on purpose. I thank you for being such a loyal Carnival cruiser and a loyal blog reader. I hope to see you soon

Best wishes
John

JOEYG Asked:
JOHN PLEASE REPLY

Just don’t know how to thank you enough I requested a table for four by a window what you did was by far more than any one could expect. Needless to say the view was spectacular the wait staff the very best. The room steward never once missed calling me by name from the very first time he saw me. I must complement Carnival for the improvements they have made in the Port Of New York it took a total of five minutes to get my sail and sign cards and board. The 8 days we spent on the Miracle were the highlight of our year. Please keep up your good work keep the blog thingy going and never let the negative comments have any effect on you God Bless and thanks again.

P.S. Can’t wait for next Octobers cruise hopefully with you as CD

Joe

John Says:
Hello Joey G

Thanks so much for taking the time to say thank you. I am so grateful to my friends on the ship for making this possible and I will make sure they get to see your words of praise.

Best wishes to all
John

Vicki Asked:
Reply please!

Where the hell is the sugar free chocolate melting cake you promised? You are full of crap and it’s no wonder why you are hated so much on Cruise Critic.

John Says:
Hello Vicki

As a diabetic I to am anxious for this to come quickly to our fleet. I know I mentioned this some time ago and I have not forgotten. I know our executive chef was working on this and I will indeed follow up on this today for you and get back to you as soon as possible. I had no idea I was “hated” on Cruise Critic and I truly hope that this is not indeed the case.

Best wishes
John

Jennifer Asked:
John…please reply

I wanted to thank you so much for taking time to acknowledge my request for a something special on our anniversary cruise on the Pride last week. Felipe the CD made delivered a bottle of champagne and ship on a stick on Friday…what a nice surprise because I thought maybe I had sent my request in too late to have you notice it! The Pride (contrary to the RCI lover) was fabulous! Felipe was hilarious, David’s was amazing…and our favorite spot was singing with Michael Lee Smith in the Ivory Piano Bar…he is such a talented and personable musician. Again, thank you for making our trip a little extra special, we really do appreciate it!

John Says:
Hello Jennifer

I am very thankful to Felipe for helping me honour (spelt correctly) your request and as I have said recently I truly believe he is one of our very best cruise directors. I will make sure he and Michael get to see your words of praise. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and if you need anything before you sail again please let me know

Best wishes
John

That’s all for today. I realise I am way behind and all I can do is promise that I will do my best to answer those questions that you have asked me to as best I can.

So here I am at home and what a difference 9 hours in a plane makes. When I left Miami it was 82 degrees and arriving in London I was welcomed by temperatures of minus 1 and as you may have heard on the news………thick snow. It was wonderful to see Heidi and Kye though and I know it’s only been a week but it felt so much longer and seeing Kye of course was especially emotional because just the day before I had been at one of the most amazing places I have ever been to…….St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Now, I can’t tell you just yet why we were there …………. but I will soon.

St. Jude is an extraordinary hospital, nothing like I have ever seen before. The day started with a tour of the facility and it was an hour and a half of my life that I will never ever forget and something that will stay in my memory forever. Given its role as a hospital that treats children with cancer and other catastrophic illnesses, St. Jude is surprisingly full of people laughing, not bravely or falsely, but just because children, even sick ones, are genuinely funny and love to laugh. I saw a young girl who was maybe 8 or 9 years old sitting in a waiting area with an IV drip in her arm, a mask over her young face playing a video game, her giggles although muffled by the mask still audible.

Where sick children are concerned, everyone wants a fairy tale with a happy ending, and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital is justifiably famous for producing more than its fair share of them. The immense achievement of this hospital is and the skill and compassion of staff is amazing and I can’t imagine the tough decisions they have to make or the sadness they must feel, as well as the joy.

Walking around I did my best to smile at the young children, their bald heads a sure sign of the cancer that had invaded their young bodies. Most parents were smiling and chatting to their kids or pulling them behind in a fun cart thing which I thought was brilliant……….I was then told that these carts had replaced wheelchairs at St Jude……….as I said……….brilliant.

The astonishing thing about St. Jude is of course that no child is ever turned away and that there is no billing department. Funding comes from small personal donations and from large companies like Carnival, whose goal is to raise $3 million over a three-year period, or Target who provide 98 free, fully equipped apartments for families and patients receiving long term treatment..

I have to tell you……having seen the hospital for myself and the children whose lives are in the balance I felt a total bastard. You see to be honest in the past I promoted the Groove for St Jude fundraising activity with not as much enthusiasm as I really should, promoting it much the same way I did other on-board activities and that has left me feeling quite angry and embarrassed. I realize that some people believe that charity and vacations don’t mix but my thinking has been radically changed having seen what I saw and knowing that this hospital is a refuge for children, a last place of hope and that without donations that hope cannot continue.

So I am now rejuvenated and while I am not going to get guests attention about this I am going to make sure that I do all I can to make a difference and I will need your help. I know we do this Grove for St Jude event which is pretty ordinary and one we really need to change. What to? I have no idea at this moment in time but I am working on it.

Right now we have maybe 50 guests on each ship who take part and donate the $10 for the T Shirt and wrist band. That’s 50 out of 2,000 or 50 out of 3,000 or 50 out of 4,000 guests. Surely we can do better.

Help me out here bloggers. Am I wrong to want to go back to the ship and spend just two minutes on the PA system or live on stage talking about this? Am I wrong to think that an average of 50 guests a cruise who donate is not enough?

It was a very special day and the highlight was meeting 5 year old Emma whose Dad and Mum love Carnival. They had contacted me on my Facebook page and told me that they would be there and amazingly we found each other as the hospital complex is massive. Emma’s treatment has been ongoing but finishes in March and when it does……..they are going on another Carnival cruise to celebrate. Emma and I played with her little ball and as she threw it to me I pretend to drop it every time and this had her laughing out loud. What a smile and what a giggle she has and it is because of her and thousands of other children like her that I am going to do all I can to make sure that other children with cancer, just like Emma have the chance to laugh once again. I hope some of our guests will help me make this happen.

So what can we look forward to this week? Well I will post the new cruise director schedule and will tell you where I am going to be for the holidays and the first part of next year.

Let’s take a break and continue with a look at our fantastic Piano Bar entertainers. Today we go to the Carnival Paradise and meet a chap called Kyle Brondson.

Name: Kyle Bronsdon
Hometown: Chicago

Short Personal Bio – how long with company, style of entertaining and general info:
Back as a pianist following a 13 year hiatus after playing drums in the Holiday show band. I describe my performing style as “like breaking out of jail,” and think of myself as a chatty bartender who serves memories.

Most Requested Song: Typically Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” but, by the end of the cruise, often my original compositions

What’s the best part of being a Carnival Piano Bar entertainer: Making friends and fans of the wide variety of guests, from the enthusiastic singers who spontaneously break into fist-pumping group chants of my name to the more reflective people who want to hear the more introspective tunes I like to play and write. The best part of the best part: The frequent well-wishers who take me aside at the end of the last night and tell me that I was the highlight of their cruise.

Well it’s our wedding anniversary today………yep Heidi and I have been manacled together for 7 glorious years. Like the total idiot I am I asked her what she would like for a wedding anniversary gift. Yes, I know a real man would have bought her a surprise but with Christmas just round the corner and me already agonizing about what I should buy her there was no way I was going to wander the Aventura Mall in Miami last Saturday trying to come up with something to get her. So I asked her and I was horrified to hear that she wanted me to go to a shop that we don’t have in England even though the advertising states it’s a British store….. yep ………I’m talking about Victoria’s Secret which is about as British as NASCAR and grits.

Now whatever my wife wants she will get because I love her ……..except for one. Underwear.

It may embarrass Heidi to find me saying so here on our blog thingy, but nowhere near as sodding much as it embarrassed me to buy the stuff. And on Saturday I spent a squirmingly awkward few minutes in rummaging around in Victoria’s knickers.

For men, shopping alone for women’s underwear is enough to have beads of sweat running down the crack of their bottom. Every moment, you feel convinced that female shoppers, not to mention security guards, are peering at you in suspicion and disgust. So you look at the lingerie while at the same time trying to look as if you’re not looking.

There are so many types. Strings, thongs, and Bridget Jones belly busters. I had been told to get a particular type and colour but I sure as hell couldn’t find them and that made me even more self conscious. So much so that I found myself stroking my cheek with my left hand, in the hope that fellow shoppers would see my wedding ring and realise I was in fact buying the red thong for my wife……… and not for myself.

In the end I left with nothing and instead bought her some perfume……..and a receipt showing that I had given a few hundred dollars to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in her name.

So the last word in today’s blog has to go to the children whose only hope of continuing life is St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As I sit here and write this blog my daughter is playing with some wooden blocks, she does not have a care in the world. And as I watch her I cannot help but think back to just three days ago when I saw children her age, masked, their tiny heads bereft of hair, a look of puzzlement, pain and sadness on their young faces as they head for more chemo treatments. However I also saw parents wearing the sallow, stressed and exhausted but grateful expressions of parents who know what it is to see a dying child …………..saved.

Goodnight

Your friend
John

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.