Cuba and Cigars

February 2, 2011 -

John Heald

Being mostly incognito this cruise I have been able to enjoy a cigar in the Robusto Bar. Sitting there, listening to the great band Music Motion and not having to worry about comments like “Sorry to bother you” or “It’s that large white-arsed cruise director smoking a cigar, that’s disgusting” I can sit there and enjoy some long ashes and relaxation.

Last night I did though by the end of the evening have a group of fellow cigar smokers gathered round me. You see cigar smokers attract other cigar smokers and we talk about Monte Cristos, Cohibas and Megan Fox’s bottom. I mentioned this to one of the beards during my call with the office this morning and he said that wanting to sit with other cigar smokers was his idea of hell.

Thinking about it, smokers are the 21st century’s version of a leper and I can understand why many, But it’s not the cigarettes I’m drawn to — it’s the people who smoke them. A disproportionate number of my friends are many people feel this way and why many people don’t like the fact that we have cigar bars onboard. But I have to explain that sometimes I find cigar smokers really interesting………more generous of spirit, more up for a laugh and good conversation than maybe people who get excited about garbage separation. You can’t imagine a smoker placing their hand over their wine glass and saying: “No more for me, thanks. I have to be up early for my Pilates class.” And we are unlikely to be vain since we obviously smoke cigars therefore smell of smoke and have a mouth like a yak’s bottom.

But while I do love a good cigar I don’t love a good treatment in Spa Carnival. Yes, I know they are superb and for many their chance to indulge in some brilliant treatments and to treat themselves to some well deserved pampering. It’s just not for me. The spa manager here asked me to come up and try some new facial treatment which she said I would find “totally relaxing” ……….except I wouldn’t. I tried these things when I was a young cruise director who gave a toss about how I looked and had the hope that a visit to the spa would make every lady onboard want to have rumpy pumpy with me. Obviously it didn’t. But even back then I never felt totally relaxed when lying back suffering the indignities of a facial or massage. I feel intimidated, sweaty and nervous with self consciousness which as past blogs will have told you brings on a severe bought of gas to rocket out of my arse.

It’s just not normal to have another person’s face so close to yours when you’re not actually kissing them. Which brings me to the other problem….. bad breath. I talk a lot, smoke cigars and am on a no carb diet so I doubt the poor spa girl is going to enjoy being close to me at all.

Pampering? ………………I’d rather have Stevie Wonder give me a vasectomy.

Time for some Q and A…………off we go.

Carnival Platinum Cruiser Asked:

I am a regular contributor on Cruise Critic and a Carnival platinum cruiser. Both of these aspects should be enough for you to do something about all the cut backs that Carnival is making. One area they could cut to save money is to get rid of the Cruise Directors. The vast majority of people never interact or see the CD other than introducing the shows or at the Captains party. The same old corny jokes are annoying bingo, inch of gold etc. announcements by all CDs.

Some cheerleaders here as well as CCL themselves say the entertainment is the result of the work from the CD. That is a bunch of crap. For the most part the entertainment on all CCL ships is practically identical (Comedian shows, production shows, trivia, hairy chest, survivor, newlywed game etc).

CDs are way overrated IMO and add nothing extra above what any entertain staff member could do on my 30+ cruises.

John Says:
Hello Carnival Platinum Cruiser,

First of all and most importantly thank you for your loyalty to Carnival and I hope you continue to enjoy your Platinum benefits. It is true that some of the stock jokes are shared between many of the cruise directors who beg, borrow and steal each other’s material, etc. However, each CD has their own personality and I think that the CD can and should be an important part of the cruise experience. I am not sure what cutbacks you are referring to so please can you be a little more specific so I can discuss this with you. I hope we get the chance to sail together very soon.

Best wishes

Kathy M. Asked:
Hi John, Please reply

I don’t know if you realize bur you did not ask who our favorite PVP’s are nor did you ask who our favorite Captains were. Maybe next year you could include these particular people.

Please give my love to Heidi and Kye.

Your Friend always,
Kathy M.

John Says:
Hello Kathy M,

You are absolutely right and I will certainly add this next year when we do the awards. Thanks as always for the very kind words.

Best wishes

Ken Wilson Asked:
Hi John (please reply)

Non-time sensitive message. I have been meaning to write to Carnival (and still may) but hoping you have enough ‘pull’ to put this under the right people’s noses. I would like to see more benefits for Platinum Cruisers. I know getting new cruisers is a priority, but looking after your loyal guests should be as well.

Priority boarding is nice, but I get that anyway because I usually book a balcony or suite. This is not exclusive to Platinum Cruisers. Free laundry is nice, but I rarely use it on a 4-5 day cruise.

Priority disembarkation in ports of call where tenders are required is awesome, but it falls short since it is not offered on the return trip.

Also, in EVERY port of call Platinum Cruisers should be able to skip the line to re-embark. It would sure be easy enough to accommodate because there is always a separate ramp for crew…this should be crew and Platinum.

On board, there are many opportunities to reward your most faithful cruisers. Daily drink specials exclusive to Platinum Cruisers, priority entrance for buffet, poolside robes, special seating for shows etc. There are TONS of ways to acknowledge those that have made Carnival the destination for their vacation dollars time and time and time (10 actually) again.

A couple pillow candies and a pin is hardly worthy of your most loyal fans who have sailed with you at least 10 times. Please find a way to let us know you really appreciate us bringing our business to Carnival, when there are so many other places that are trying very hard to get it.

Ken Wilson
San Diego-CA

John Says:
Hello Ken Wilson,

Thanks for taking the time to post and I know that I have been promising some changes in the Platinum rewards for a long time and that they have yet to be announced. This has been frustrating and for now let me apologise for this and tell you that a dedicated team at Carnival is continuing to work on this. Overall I get lots of positive feedback here on the blog, on Facebook and in person on the ships about our loyalty program. It is therefore good to know that our already excellent loyalty program is only going to get better. Thanks for your input and along with the 400 comments I received on Facebook a few days ago, I will send your concerns to the right people. I thank you for your loyalty, it means so much.

Best wishes

Nancy McQuarrie Asked:

It seems CCL can find no records of the 2 cruises I did in the 1980′s (both Caribbean 1982 – 1987), and I don’t think I have proof any longer. I first requested my past guest # when reserving the Dec. Splendor cruise – no news yet. Now that I want to get to Platinum, it’s become more important to me. Now embarking 2/20. Can you possibly help?

Also, do you know if you will be on the Magic for the Oct. 16 sailing? Love that itinerary, but also would love to sail with you. Think I read that you were taking some time off in May – do you know which voyages that will affect?

Once again, my sincere thanks for all that you do. Your wonderful blog thingy gives me several laughs every day!

John Says:
Hello Nancy McQuarrie,

I will certainly pass your request on to someone to see what can be done about your cruises from 1982-1987. Do you have any photos, anything to show you were there? I will be the CD for the October sailing you mentioned and it would be an honour (spelt correctly) to have you with me on your Carnival Magic. I am so glad you enjoy the blog and let me see what I can do about your old cruises

Best wishes

Sicruise Asked:
Please reply – Urgent You Read This
Say goodbye to lots of customers when these things happen.


John Says:
Hello Sicruise,

I want to start by stating yet again that I have many many friends on Cruise Critic and I think the site is invaluable to the industry. But bloody hell, there are one or two who are either just plain rude or who talk out of their scrotums. None of the things mentioned in this link are happening. Turndown service continues there is no charge for the elegant night lobster and the flat iron steak is on the menu every night and at no extra charge. We are not getting rid of lots of crew. I am though sitting here naked writing this…….that is true. It is also true that if you were to put the brains of the people who start these rumors inside a peanut shell…….it would rattle when you shook it. Knowing these rumors are not correct means I hope that we will continue to see you Simon on our brilliantly affordable and fun cruises.

Best wishes,


I will have to say this week I experienced a 1st with Carnival, let me explain. On the afternoon of 12/7/1 I received a call on my “strawberry”. The caller stated that this is Lisa Rainey and I am your NEW PVP. I am looking forward to handling your cruising needs. I then asked what happened to Amanda (Amanda Herro my excellent PVP up until this point). Lisa said “she is no longer with the company”. I was floored with that news. I felt like I had lost a friend. Amanda had always gone above and beyond the call of duty with me and anyone I recommend her to. Lisa said she would email me her contact information and confirmed my mailing address and email address.

When we ended our call I immediately placed a call to Amanda to find out what had happened. I left a message and then a few minutes later she returned my call AS USUAL!! ! I explained what had transpired and to use my reply no hers She was no longer with Carnival MY ARSE!! ! ! ! Amanda assured me she was still working. I was extremely upset and felt I had been intentional lied to but also had the wool pulled over my eyes. I am counting on you to make sure the right bearded one hears of this very unethical practice.

Mike from Virginia

John Says:
Hello Mike,

I was surprised to read this and sincerely apologise. I am hoping that there is an explanation for why this happened and I promise we will find out and someone will contact you very soon. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Best wishes

Larry Roberts Asked:

We will be on the Magic for her first voyage, May 1 and are thrilled that you will be there. Any chance of the famous “Bedtime Story” happening on our cruise?

John Says:
Hello Larry Roberts,

I am honoured that you will be joining me and yes………the Bedtime Story will make be there as well. Looking forward to showing you your Carnival Magic and the beautiful ports of call.

See you soon.

Best wishes

Jeri Green Asked:
John, Please reply if time allows

We just returned from a marvelous cruise on the Carnival Miracle (Nov. 19 -27). We have not received a comment card yet so I assume we will not ever get one. Would you please forward the following comments to the appropriate persons?

Room steward: Thararat Wongcheri was the best we’ve ever had and we’re Landmark cruisers. She even made towel animals we’d never seen and kept the room spotless, the ice bucket filled and always called us by name. Fantastic job!

We had Your Time Dining and after the first night always asked for Team Head Waiter, Aleksandar

Team Waiter,Joaquim and Asst. Waiter, I Nyoman. They were a great team and gave marvelous service. Karen, the hostess, greeted us by name and made sure we got the table we liked. Good job.

Our CD was Malcolm Burn. What a great guy! He was so helpful and would take time to talk with us about “dumb” things like how to turn off my new cell phone, when to turn it back on and how to do so. He was both humorous and informative. We hope to sail with him again someday.

Our next cruise will be on the Carnival Dream on May 14rh. Years ago, when you still used email, you told us to let you know when we cruised. I did so regarding the November cruise since we were celebrating my birthday and our upcoming 54th anniversary on Dec. 28th. (We’re old!) Of course, with all the replies you get and the Carnival Splendor situation, we knew you couldn’t get around to our comments before the cruise.

Have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy the holidays with the family.

Jeri and Larry

John Says:
Hello Jeri Green,

Thanks for that great review. Did you ever receive a review card? I will meanwhile send your comments to the hotel director on the ship who will pass them onto the people you mentioned who of course will be thrilled. Please drop me a line here on the blog on March 15 and let me know your next cruise details. It is always a pleasure to hear from you and thanks so much for your continuing loyalty.

Best wishes

Bindy Asked:
john reply ASAP

Going on the Freedom Feb 12 and want a table for 4 for my husband and friends in the middle not on the top floor! Cabin 6341 6353. Server needs to be quick. Last one on Fascination was terrible and we took tips away.

John Says:
Hello Bindy,

I have asked the maitre d to do his best to assist you with your request. I am proud to say that all the staff in the Posh and Chic dining rooms are fantastic so you will have a great time in the dining room

Best wishes

Ian B Asked:
John- Please Respond

Just had to tell you that The Chef’s Table on the Pride was the best thing I have ever done on my 12 Carnival cruises. Thank you for arranging this and is it going to be on Magic as well.

John Says:
Hello Ian B,

I am glad to hear you enjoyed this experience and it is rapidly becoming the must do event on our ships. Yes, it will be a feature on your Carnival Magic and I will start taking reservations for this in April. Looking forward to seeing you soon.

Best wishes

That’s all for today. Thanks to you all for the great comments and words of support. And sorry if I came across as rude myself during one of the answers……just got a little frustrated that’s all.

I spoke to my friend Duncan yesterday. He is the hotel director of the Carnival Splendor who was with me during the fire and has been there ever since. He is with the ship in San Francisco at the moment and told me that everything is going well and………..that the crew……..will be joining the ship on February 12 before it resumes service February 20. I wish I could be there with them.

Just following on from my comments about The Chef’s Table gratuities yesterday, I see some of you mentioned that the ships did not appear to know this and you are right. There was a lapse of communication here and this has been repaired and the ships are all now well aware of what’s happening. My apologies and please let me know if you have any difficulties. By the way, on Monday I sent 102 reservation requests to the ships so you should all get your confirmations soon.

OK, as promised a few weeks ago to blogger Henry R I am going to talk about the information systems on board. Actually that’s bollocks because I am as likely to get a job in information systems as LeBron James is to get a job as Cleveland’s Brand Ambassador… instead I have great pleasure in presenting an interview with another John…….John Harshaw.

John, please tell us about your career so far and what your current job title is.

My current job title is director of operations, information systems, Carnival Cruise Lines…….. I also sometimes go by boss, hey you, coach, Mr., son, dad, hubby….and many other titles, and will allow you to elaborate or contribute if you choose to. But let’s briefly start at the beginning (not birth, mate) of my IS career to understand how I got to Carnival and my current position.

Without going into too much detail and boring your readers, I started in IS (IT) as a 17 year old youngster assigned to the US Navy aircraft carrier, USS Independence….. I spent 44 months assigned to that ship and was involved in deployments such as Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, along with support for the multinational peacekeeping force in Beirut, Lebanon (circa 1983). This served as a foundation for both my love of IS and my appreciation of the sea, and all things to follow.

After I completed my enlistment, I spent 8 and a half years as a regional IS service manager for a major computer manufacturer which gave me a better appreciation of IS in the private sector, and completed my final step before approaching Carnival Cruise Lines…… After nearly 9 years removed from the Navy, I felt I needed a break from land, traffic, bills, cars, you know…. “ALL OF IT”…. and really sought a change of pace….. It was for these reasons I chose to go back to sea, but this time on a cruise ship, and as the ship’s IS purser.

I really enjoyed my time working on the ships especially the smaller vessels such as the Festivale, Tropicale, Jubilee, etc., due to the great camaraderie of the officers, staff and crew. This decision is one I value and appreciate almost daily, as it is how I came to know you John along with thousands of other great dedicated people, including my wife of over 10 years now………a former Carnival production show dancer and member of the inaugural cast for the Carnival Inspiration during the 1996 delivery. I have since shed my sailor cap and moved shore side but still have the fondest memories of my time as a Carnival IS manager.

So, what are your responsibilities?

To be there for my staff and team!………… Who, in turn, are responsible for ship and shore IS operations, with the focus of ensuring maximum uptime of all IS systems. This includes overseeing daily operations of our shore side data center, managing all aspects of IS data security, IS change management, IS customer service desk, maintenance and support of Carnival’s PCs, printers, laptops, and server support. In addition our team is responsible for all aspects of IS shipboard support, IS new shipbuilding programs, supporting our reservation call centers, and hundreds other mission critical servers…. Oh……. They also print and encode the Sail & Sign cards used on all Carnival ships, and create the necessary cruise documents prior to sailing which are emailed or mailed as requested………I believe they also take out the garbage, some cook, wash dishes, and occasionally do yard work…..of course… all this when not responding to their Blackberry’s.

The shipboard I/S manager is one of the unsung heroes aboard any cruise ship. What can you tell us about their daily routine and what exactly does a shipboard I/S manager do?

They are a jack of all trades and are the first responders for any and all ship board IS issues. They support IS hardware and software for all other ship board departments, and help to ensure minimal downtime of all critical systems. When they are unable to resolve an issue aboard, the IS managers work directly with Carnival’s shoreside professionals to restore service in the shortest possible time.

On a daily basis the IS managers will monitor the health of all systems, verify reports, computer logs, and backups, respond to service requests……and even assist IS managers on other vessels, as they have created a rather large knowledge network across all Carnival ships…… this includes an intranet site shoreside where all IS managers are encouraged to contribute and solicit information. As I previously mentioned, they are the primary IS contact for service and support for most major ship systems. This includes support of the following areas to name just a few; the shipboard Ethernet network, guest and crew I-Café’s, hotel, embarkation, dining, tour, casino and point of sale systems, gangway access control, electronic cabin locks, maintenance of the ships pc’s, printers, data center servers and email system.

There are many, many other systems that ships IS, AV and electronics engineering staff support including all broadcast and IATV equipment, satellite transmit/receive equipment, telephony, plasma screens, safety systems, navigation, engineering and control, and, countless back of house applications to support our guests, officers, staff and crew. It is a team effort and all technical teams ship board work closely to maximize uptime.

Critical issues are logged into our shoreside incident management system, which then can escalate to the appropriate support team as needed, while providing a detailed description of the reported incident and all resolution efforts. Some of our IS managers were even guests sailing on our ships and were simply intrigued about ship board IS while on vacation and decided to join our Carnival team…….When not taking care of problems our IS managers can be found updating critical windows and virus patches, studying and learning about new and existing technologies, relaxing in one of the crew facilities, and last but not least and time permitting……. time off in one of the many ports…………They usually work 6 month contracts with 6 weeks vacation before returning for another tour.

On a ship like the Carnival Freedom how many office computers are onboard?

Well as you can see there are many systems required to support a vessel of this size. In real basic terms a ship like the Carnival Freedom has over 150 Windows PC’s, 140+ point of sale systems, 50+ laptops, 100+ network printers, 200+ Wi-Fi access points, 300+ VoIP mobile telephones, 75+ Ethernet switches, 30+ servers and many, many miles of fiber and copper cabling, which occasionally needs a connector replaced. There are dozens and dozens more embedded systems throughout the vessel that are regularly maintained by manufacturers to ensure a safe, comfortable, and memorable vacation for our guests.

Your move to the office has been one huge success story……….however, do you miss the shipboard way of life and what do you remember of the old days onboard?

I’m not the first to come shore side from the ships and won’t be the last. Even our Chairman Mr. Arison spent some time onboard during the early days and I think it is a great experience to work both sides of the anchor… …. Yes I do miss ship board life and for many reasons… What I miss the most are the people….Sounds cliché but the people aboard a cruise ship are brilliant and share a common bond…. The cultural diversity is second to none with 50+ nations on a single vessel, there is something to learn each and every day… I have said a thousand times over that if the UN or NATO could successfully emulate the trust and friendships that occur on a cruise ship, the world would be a much safer, trusting, happier and less judgmental place. Cruise ship life is in some ways a Bohemian life style, where only cruise ship people know what it is like ……… you know……….. to live in a box at sea for months on end, no car or king size bed to escape to, no kitchen or backyard……… but is what makes all ship personnel share a common bond and mutual respect toward one another.

They are the hardest working individuals I have ever met and live solely to serve the needs of our guests…….. I miss the exotic ports of call and never underappreciated them, as my time in the Navy many years prior taught me to appreciate each and every day…… and I continue to live my life that way……. I used to love scuba diving as a crew member and will never forget comet Hale-Bopp passing in 1997, as we were in St. Croix with very little light pollution, a perfect full moon and two night dives in store…….. upon my return to the surface of the water I gazed to the stars and will never forget the bright flash of dust, ice and space particles as it crossed the sky (very slowly over months mind you). It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Lastly every month when our internal Carnival newsletter “Seaview” is published, I always look for the faces of colleagues I worked with during my shipboard years……. Not all memories are fond of course…….. But let’s leave on a positive note as no one likes a complainer!

Here are some photos of John past……….and present

Thanks John and congratulations on your continuing success.

I am sure it won’t be long before we have to call the I/S Managers something else. There are lots of new terminologies and names for things these days on the ships. The purser’s are now the guest services desk, the Capers is now the Fun Times, the bosuns are now called team leaders, the cruise staff are now entertainment staff, the chief steward is now the housekeeping manager and there are many more.

And I have gotten used to all of these but there is one that I just can’t get used to. This was brought to light by someone in our Miami office who read the blog yesterday and corrected me saying that my use of the word “crew members” was incorrect. That’s because it should now be, according to those tofu eating high visibility jacket wearing beards……….”team members.”

Why? When did we stop being crew members? There are guests…….and there are crew. But apparently “team member” is the politically correct version these days. Personally I think this is bollocks but from now on I will try and change and call my fellow crew ummm…….my fellow team. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks though.

So back to my cigar chat with some guests last night. After a while I told them who I was and what I did and realising that I was a crew member they ……..bugger……..realising I was a team member…………..they started asking questions about the ship, the job and the industry.

One of the questions was about Cuba and when Carnival will start sailing there. Now Carnival Corporation & plc has some very, very smart men and women with beards who I am sure are ready and waiting to go once cruise ship carrying American guests are allowed to go there. But the thing is as I sat there listening to the guests discuss this I realised that I must have had this conversation many times during my years at sea……..yet here we are………with the possibility of going to Cuba as remote as the possibility of my underpants passing a United States Public Health check.

Fidel Castro must be what…..189 years old and suffering from Parkinson’s disease yet outlasted two Bushes, a Clinton, a Reagan and others this Brit can’t think of. Anyway, it has me wondering once again……….will I ever get to be the cruise director on a ship that goes to Cuba……………….probably not.

We are in Antigua today and if time allows I may pop ashore to tell some ladies I don’t want my hair braided. Yesterday in St. Thomas I really, really wanted go ashore but as I mentioned yesterday, United States Immigration think I may be tempted to carry out a terrorist attack on the local jewelry stores so I was buggered. And so I ended up in the Carnival Freedom’s video game arcade thingy and decided that as I couldn’t take my frustration out on the people of the Virgin Islands ………I would kill some Zombies instead.

As I entered the arcade I saw it was pretty quiet and apart from a few kids playing air hockey it was just me. So, I started releasing my boredom by doing some driving. I was playing a driving game in which you drive around a city at high speed, killing people for no reason.

Heidi can never understand why I play these games and want to drive a pretend Aston Martin DBS at high speeds through Miami. Is it to shop? Why the hurry? Is it the sales? Is there a simply to die for Gucci purse that would match my new dress and Jimmy Poo shoes? I guess women would understand if that was the case and maybe if they made a women’s version of the game more ladies would play it.

Tell them the shop is about to close then they will happily drive down Lincoln Road the wrong way at 150 mph, blasting the local condo commandos on walkers out of the way with their rocket launcher. They will then pull up outside the shop….. Has that bitch Jodie with the fake tan got her eyes on the same bag? Then nuke her. Blam!

Of course, some of the different skills of women would need to be rewarded with a modified points system. Sure, you’ve mastered cornering at 90 mph to escape the cops……. but can you apply lipstick while doing it?

So there is pressure afoot for me to start a Twitter page. One of the 344 Stephanies supported by Eric and Everett the Beards started Carnival’s massively successful Twitter thingy which can be found at ( and now they want me to do this as well. I blog………I Facebook ……… why should I sodding Twitter. I don’t truly understand what this is anyway so I asked Eric the Beard who told me it was basically down to answering this question “What are you doing?” ………and you are supposed to tell people the answer to this as many times as you possible can each day…………bugger that.

Especially since the status updates are limited to 140 characters or less. Including spaces. I love that. Who types without spaces? Regular readers of the blog thingy already know it takes me 140 characters to say good morning. I couldn’t Twitter……I would be panicking thinking do I really need this space? Is this question mark important? I would have to discipline myself. Where’s the fun in that? Another thing – what if you’re in the midst of an update and you’ve used up all your characters? Do you erase what you’ve written and start over, or edit and see if you can make it work?

Anyway……as Eric the Beard explained……..the postings on Twitter are called “tweets” and the idea is that it’s a way to stay connected with friends, co workers and strangers by allowing brief status updates to be read by people who are following you. Maybe I have such a hard time with it because the idea that someone I don’t’ know and have never met would choose to follow me is hard to fathom. It presumes they are interested in what I am doing. I’m not interested in what I am doing. Why would they be? And isn’t this blog and my new 8,900 friends on Facebook a Twitter then…..what’s the difference apart from the extent of the content?

Eric the Beard told me everyone’s Twittering ………….even President Obama.

But I doubt he’s doing the updates himself. But it would be worth joining just to get a “tweet” form the president while he’s sitting at a G20 Summit. How great would it be if he answered the question, “What are you doing?” with: “Having a few beers…….and then going to bomb France.”

Twitter………………… my arse.

Your Friend

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.