Off the Ship

July 27, 2011 -

John Heald

I have had a lot of comments on Facebook and here on the blog as well as from my wife that I never ever get off the ship in the ports of call. And you are all right. I don’t. Most of the time it’s because I am too busy answering those same comments on Facebook and the blog and on the phone to Heidi……..oh, plus I have a ship to run, as well. However, last night I did. For some reason I was in the middle of Facebooking about trolls and trying to referee a match between a few Facebookers who just don’t like each other when for some weird reason I stood up……..and without thinking much, I grabbed my ship’s ID, a cigar and some money……walked down to the gangway in Civitavecchia and buggered off. The look on the security team’s face at the gangway was priceless.

“Goodness gracious me,” said one Indian security chap. “Mr. John is getting off the ship, I am standing beside myself.”

Well I only had an hour and a half and jumped on the virtually empty shuttle bus that takes you on a five-minute ride to the gates of the port and the town of Civitavecchia and I walked into the first pizzeria I found. The greeting wasn’t exactly Carnival standard and when I asked for a table for one, a mix of worry, panic and a little pity rolled across the waiters face and I was placed next to the toilets. My fellow diners looked at me as though I must have some terrible disease, bad breath or no friends. They were right on two counts I guess. There were some other crew from the casino but these days they and most of the crew think of me as someone “from the office” or “someone who’s important” and so they don’t talk to me……..just in case. They are this time wrong on both counts. I have nothing but massive amounts of respect for the single cruiser. I see them all the time and I guess it’s easy to think that they must be looking for love, or getting over lost love. Yet I suppose some are single cruisers because they love travelling alone.

Anyway, this was a very strange pizzeria. I ordered pizza, I know I shouldn’t as I am off carbs but for some reason I was feeling really blue and with no friends to join me and my girls many hundreds of miles away I thought bugger it and asked my waiter whose name tag said his name was Sergio to bring me a spicy Pizza Diablo – spicy tomato sauce and salami. I then noticed that mine and many other of the red leather/plastic seats we were sitting on were slashed. Had this been the sight of a Mafia war?

My pizza arrived 10 minutes later and it was bloody awful. I had been depressed and wanted some comfort food, the first I would have eaten in many weeks. There was some very sad looking slices of curled up salami on what I suppose, you could describe as pizza bread. But only if you were mad. Let me put it this way: if I threw it at you in a food fight, it would take your head clean off. Think of that Japanese chap that could behead people with his hat in the James Bond movie………..that was my pizza.

And so I nibbled around the edges and sipped on my Diet Coke — or Cola Light as they call it in Italy — and then it was time to go back to the Carnival Magic. But not before a quick number one. And so I went into the toilet which from my table took five steps……..yes, I counted. I was expecting a hole in the ground but in fact it was a proper toilet. But maybe a hole-in-the-ground-style Italian toilet would have been better. The seat was covered in urine. Now I put the occasional splash mark on the lid at home and in my cabin as Heidi and Ketut will tell you. But bloody hell. How do they all miss the bowl by such an enormous margin?

So, that was my trip off the ship. I know a lot of blog readers who eat out on their own and cruise on their own and do so with confidence and I admire you all for that. Yes, the pizza was awful and yes I realised that I had no real friends on board who were my age and who understood what it is I do and who I am. Yes, my table was near the bathroom and yes my seat was slashed and yes the toilet seat looked like it had been bombed by the French air force and had missed. But I relaised as I sat there that I had achieved my goal. Because the whole point of eating alone……. is not to talk to people. And for just one hour……..that was absolute heaven.

Time to talk now though to those who have asked questions……….away we go.

Diane Pyne asked:
Hey John,

When will they change the Las Vegas show on the Freedom. I have sailed this ship before and want to sail again in January 2012

John says:
Hello Diane Pyne,

The usual shelf life of a show on our ships is about five years. Changing them is a huge event and, of course, a big expense. The ship has probably our best show, the Beatles review called Ticket to Ride. However, while the shows featuring the dancers will be the same the variety shows and the performers in the Punchliner comedy club will be different I am sure. If you write to me a few weeks before you sail I will be able to tell you who will be performing.

Best wishes.

John

Peter Mohr asked:
Dear John,

THANK YOU! Yes it was a shout; I hope that’s alright. A while ago I sent an email asking if The Chef’s Table was offered on the Carnival Elation, as my wife and I would be celebrating our tenth anniversary with our first cruise. I realize that you are incredibly busy (actually, after being on board I am amazed that, as a cruise director you have time for the blog) so didn’t know if you would have time to read it. Words fall short of how special and truly appreciated you made my wife and I feel when we received a call from the maitre d’ on the first night of the cruise asking if we would like to take part in The Chef’s Table! In point of fact, the entire cruise was simply BRILLIANT! The crew was amazing! Not just the attention to detail which was meticulous, but also in the fact that each and every one seemed genuinely pleased to be able to offer assistance.

If I could share a story – it was embarkation day, quite busy. We had gone through VIP check in (again – BRILLIANT!) and made our way to Tiffany’s and found a table. I went to the bar and asked for a soda for my wife and an O’Douls and tomato juice for myself. The bartender explained that the tomato juice wasn’t cold but that she could check around other bars if I liked. I knew how incredibly busy it was and that the cruise hadn’t even started yet, so I thanked her and said that I would be happy to come back later. We parted smiling. Imagine my delight when, about 10 minutes later the same bartender found our table in that crowded room and brought me a glass of cold tomato juice, an O’Douls, and a glass of ice!! I was so delighted and surprised that I just fawned over how wonderful she was; she was quite gracious. I am so delighted to say that this was the NORM, not an exception! And when the chef came to our table in the dining room to introduce himself and talk to us for a bit, we felt on top of the world! The chef, by the way could not have been a nicer, more gracious man and the entire Chef’s Table experience was so incredible that words fall short. I was able to attend only the first part of the event, having become indisposed for some reason (can one get seasick on a calm day? Apparently so) however my wife stayed at my request and was simply blown away!

The next day I was feeling well and as we walked the ship we stopped to ask a crew member where something was located (Sushi bar). Her name was Elena and she asked if I was feeling better, even knowing my name! I told her that I was and that I was amazed she knew that I had been ill. She replied that she was friends with the maitre d’ and that both he and the chef were worried that I would be well. You know, the Carnival Elation is simply a beautiful vessel. The physical beauty however falls far short of the genuine concern and true beauty of the people you have crewing her. I am most pleased to say that you have made two more Carnival cruisers for life!

Thank you so much again!

John says:
Hello Peter Mohr,

I could read reviews like this all day long, Peter, and thank you so very much for taking the time to write it. I will pass on all you have said to the ship. I was sorry to read you were seasick but that things definitely got better and that The Chef’s Table was a huge highlight of the cruise. And Elena will love seeing her name here. Thanks again and I hope that if there is anything you need before you sail again that you will let me know. This was a brilliant review and I am thrilled that we have “two more Carnival cruisers for life!”

Best wishes.

John

Cassie Shriver asked:
John,

I took your advice and went to see the ruins of Chitunintza on a ship excursion. The ruins themselves are spectacular as you said but you did not mention when you answered my question that every building would be roped off. Not being able to get anywhere near the structures would have been a big enough let down but add in a constant barrage of “only one dollar” from locals lining every walkway selling tatty tourist crap made this a very bad day out. I spoke to Nenad the shore excursion officer for a full refund but they rudely refused and now I have written to Carnival expecting that refund immediately. You should have warned me when I booked that the main pyramid was roped off and you could not climb it and as you did not provide what was offered then I should get my money back. Once that happens I shall not be reading your blog or asking for your advice ever again.

John says:
Hello Cassie Shriver,

I am trying desperately to remember what I said about the ruins that you visited. I am sure I did give it high praise because as you said yourself, they are “spectacular.” I obviously had no way of knowing that the pyramid would be roped off and that you not climb it so I am checking now with our shore excursion department to see if this was mentioned in the description on board. I am sorry that this happened and someone will be in touch soon from our Miami office to inquire further. I feel really sad that you won’t be reading the blog again and hope that you had a brilliant cruise despite this concern. Once again, my sincere apologies.

Best wishes.

John

BakerFamilyInCanada asked:
John,

I heard and saw something that Carnival may take away past guest parties and iniatives (spelt correctly) unless you have traveled a minimum amount of cruises. My family lives in Alberta, Canada and airfare is a factor so cruising 2-3 times a year is not an option nor is every year, but we do so every second year; but if an amazing deal came up we would probably take advantage of it. I love showing up and my last cruise in January on the Valor our 2nd and getting that “Gold Card” and also receiving the invitation to the past guest party made my family feel special as well as the other 2,000 guests. Tell me this is not true as we are booking for the Liberty in Jan. 2013. Also could you let me know when Carnival Airlines will be up and running because that would make the start of my vacation even better. 🙂 Just wishing. Truly appreciate who and what you are….. A great voice for Carnival and a real human being.

John says:
Hello The BakerFamilyInCanada,

Let me say straight away that there are no plans to stop the past guest parties. I did discuss on my blog and my Facebook page the subject of maybe increasing attendance to three cruises rather than two and to see if we could and should provide a separate gathering for Platinum and Milestone guests, but so far there are no definite plans for this. I know that it’s easier for some people to cruise than others and while we spread the ships around as many home ports as we can I know that Canadians will, for the most part, always have to fly. So please don’t worry, we will always respect those that have cruised before and I am excited to see that you have booked Carnival Liberty which when you cruise……will have some very exciting things on board indeed.

Thanks for the kind words. Best wishes to all the family.

John

Chris A asked:
Hi John,

Do you think that the ships of Carnival will one day get rid of the planned seatings and go only with anytime dining? I read an article today on Cruise Critic that says that Royal Caribbean will announce this soon. I love having the same waiter every night and hope that Carnival does not go this way. What can you tell me?

John says:
Hello Chris A,

I had not heard that about RCI but I can tell you that Your Time Dining here at Carnival is getting more and more popular and we are looking at giving more space over to those who want that. Say thing this I know that many still prefer assigned dining and one of the main reasons for this is that they have the same waiter and therefore I have not heard of any plans to stop the assigned sitting.

Best wishes.

John


Kendra Coughlin asked:

Hi John,

The Fantasy cruise ship cruises from Charleston and cruises full of Southerners so why is there no country band and why no country breakfast. I couldn’t get any biscuits and gravy, fried potaties and the grits did not have enough butter in them and they never had cheese grits. Most of your passengers were very displeased about this. Our waiter was Silbia and she was good but on two nights the service was very slow and we were in the dining room for two hours on the formal night which is way too long. We had to wait for our dessert because of the stupid dancing they do which is something most passengers don’t care about. I suggest Carnival looks at who is cruising on their ships and what it is they want and expect.

John says:
Hello Kendra Coughlin,

Thanks for taking the time to write. I have to say that I was surprised when I read your comment because I have always thought that with various styles of eggs cooked to order, scrambled, fried and omelets along with eggs Benedict, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, cold cuts, cheeses, a variety of fruit, cereal, grits, breads, bagels, croissants, yogurts and various breakfast specials that we actually have a good variety of choice for the first meal of the day. I also respectfully have always enjoyed trying new things when I am on vacation rather than what I am used to at home. But that’s me and I do understand that we have a lot of people from the South sailing on Carnival Fantasy and I will put your suggestions forward. I have to disagree when you say that “most passengers don’t care about the dancing in the dining rooms” as from what I have seen over the years most do love the atmosphere this creates. However, I do realise that this slows down service and I apologise that this happened. I do hope you had a great cruise and thanks again for the suggestions which as I said I will push forward. Ummmmmm……….what are “fried potaties?” Is that like French Fries?

Best wishes.

John


Allie Zarley asked:

Hello John,

Last year for my 50th birthday, my brother took me on the Halifax, St. Johns cruise, out of New York. Oh My… What a wonderful time we had. Stateroom… Perfect! Late seating dinner … Perfect! Shows on board…Perfect! Staff…Perfect! I have recently been to visit my brother in Maryland. At night he would be sitting in front of his computer (not in his underwear) I asked him what he was doing? He said reading your blog. I said, oh really, please read it to me. Thus began are nightly routine. I know you have been under the gun this past week for all the changes the beards have made. Well, may I say I AM A DIE HARD SMOKER!! Seems to me smokers should be saying….At least there are a few spots where we can still smoke on board, and they didn’t go totally smoke free.

I had such a great time on this cruise, I will adjust my smoking to fit your ship!!! I have been on other cruise lines, and enjoyed there cruises very much, but I will truly have to say, if I can get there on Carnival then Carnival is the line I will take. I’m thinking about booking a cruise for my son and I when he gets back from Afghanistan (my husband will not be attending, as he is one of those hard headed smokers, his loss). Carnival is doing a great job, and smokers need to be more “flexible for the fun” they will have on one of your cruise’s. I will now be reading your blog, as my brother has gotten me hooked on them. You are doing a great job, keep it up. Draw strength from your family as people continue to complain, be strong.

Thank you for your time.

Allie Zarley (A happy Carnival smoker)

John says:
Hello Allie Zarley,

I realise that smoking has been a big issue and some of the changes have been hard to take, not just for the guests but for me, as well. Change is never easy to accept but change is something we have to live with even if we don’t agree with it. It is therefore refreshing to see a note from a smoker who appreciates the fact that on the Carnival ships we still have places where smokers can enjoy what they love and although we (I) lament the passing of the beloved cigar bars at least there are still places where smokers can unite. It was a joy to read your posting and I hope we do indeed see you again on one of our ships and please thank your son for his service and I wish him a safe return home. I am so thrilled you had fun on the ship and if there is anything I can do for you please let me know and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog thingy.

Best wishes to all the family.

John

Linkman 111 asked:
John,

Have you noticed how your blog has attracted all the fat people. Maybe the obese have found their poster child which makes me laugh out loud. Here is my question King Fatty. Check out cabin 7399 on the Conquest. I just got off the ship and the corners of the bathroom were full of dirt. I told the cabin steward but nothing changed and the drawers were not clean as were the closets. The only positive from this trip was the food quality which has improved since we last cruised Carnival.

John says:
Hello Linkman 111,

Thanks for the information and I am glad that you enjoyed the food and saw an improvement since you last sailed with us. I apologise for the concerns you found in the cabin and I have sent this note to the hotel director on the Carnival Conquest so he can make sure the corners are cleaned. I will also ask him to look inside your dirty drawers.

Best wishes.

John


Tim D asked:

John,

As always, thank you for doing your blog, certainly one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. I’ve heard you discuss the “new” guest loyalty program rolling out next year and am curious how this will change my status with CCL. I’ve taken 9 cruises and my next one will be as a platinum guest under the current program. Will I still qualify for platinum under the new program?

Thanks!

Tim

John says:
Hello Tim D,

Thanks for the kind words and I am glad you enjoy the blog thingy so much. It seems I have been talking about the “new loyalty program” for a long, long time now and yet we still have not announced the new policies. It will be announced at the start of next year and there are some new benefits that I know everyone will appreciate. I wish I could go into details but I can’t yet but I promise as a loyal Carnival customer it will be a program you enjoy a lot. The new Platinum gift starts December 1 and is a beautiful key chain and luggage tag set. As soon as I can I will let you know more and until then thanks for your continued loyalty.

Best wishes.

John

Becky Durkin asked:
John,

I was wondering who will be the cruise director for the Magic in January? We are sailing the 15th. I can only see through December on the CD schedule you have posted. Thank you so much for the information.

John says:

Hello Becky Durkin,

I will have the new CD schedule posted in September but I can tell you that I will be returning here to your Carnival Magic on January 29 until early April. Before that the ship will have James Charlton as the cruise director. I hope we get to sail together soon.

Best wishes.

John

That’s all for today and thanks for the comments and opinions.

It’s been a strange couple of days. Yesterday while the guests were ashore in Rome there was a bit of a concern here about the place from where I am writing from. I don’t mean my cabin, although there is definitely a concern in my bathroom right now for sure. No, the concern was this email we received yesterday morning:

From: MAGIC CAPTAIN
Sent: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 11:47 AM
To:(CCL)
Subject: FW: PROBLEMA CON ORMEGGIO CARNIVAL MAGIC LIVORNO 27/07/2011

Good Morning,

As per our conversation I have been advised by our agent in Livorno to get in contact with them.

Practically just today we get informed by Livorno PA that we don’t have Pier in Livorno?

I am already in touch with the agents in Livorno where they are both working to find a solution.

Thanks and Best Regards,

Captain Giovanni Cutugno

So why didn’t we have a pier? Well obviously our itineraries are set months and months in advance and pier space is booked. However this is Italy and Italy is a country where anything can happen. The reason we didn’t have a pier is that there was cargo ship in our place and Livorno is a huge cargo port and cargo ships get priority. The end. In fact, I was told that twice this year a RCI ship has been told it could not dock and has had to go to a place called La Spezia where she had to tender guests ashore in order for them to see Tuscany, Florence, etc. So yesterday, right up until late afternoon we were all making plans for a day at sea. We looked at other options like going to Naples first and then back to Livorno. This was not possible as there was no space available. We looked at La Spezia but tendering 4,500 guests ashore is not a good option. So we sat on board hoping that the senior beards at Carnival could exert enough pressure on the Livorno Port Authority to move the cargo ship so we could dock. And they did. I have no idea how they did it. Maybe they did it by good old fashioned negotiation or maybe they threatened the port with a pair of my underpants. I have no idea what happened but I was glad that when the guests returned from Rome they didn’t have to listen to me tell them tomorrow’s call to Livorno was buggered.

It was also a strange night as not only did I suddenly and without warning find myself getting off the ship but when I returned I had to face the wrath of an upset guest. She had been at the Trevi Fountain with her husband and two children and her mother and father-in-law. They were taking photos at this beautiful spot when a gentleman in a smart suit asked if they would like him to take a family shot. They did. She handed him the camera and as soon as she did he was off ….. sprinting into the crowd, down a side street and was gone — with their $400 Cannon camera. And it was my fault.

It’s easy in situations like this to take it personally and perhaps a few years ago I may have done. But those days are long since gone and I know now that whether it’s in person on board or in writing here on the blog, that when people vent they are doing so because I make myself available to them to do so. I stand on stage and tell the guests that if there is anything I can do to help them to write me a Dear John letter and so I have nobody else to blame. I know some cruise directors say that they are in charge of entertainment but bugger all else so that they don’t have to deal with situations like this, but I can’t do that. While this lady shouted at me on the phone, I sat there, in my underpants knowing she was upset about her own silliness and was using me as per my invitation as a punch bag to release her emotions.

This is also I think, and I say this with respect…..a North American thing. Let me explain. British people are for the most part very reserved and very rarely do we say what we mean and never do we complain. In restaurants British people are more frightened of being humiliated by a waiter than of the consequences of consuming bad food. It’s the same with opinions…..British people very rarely will give a stranger an opinion about how they look, how they act or on what they say unless they are members of their own family.

Americans and to some extent Canadians, well you are a different story. I love the freshness of the no holds barred “say what you mean” attitude. For example…. you have no idea how many guests have come up to me over the years and said “How much money has the casino taken in this week?” or “Hey, you need to lose weight you fat bastard.” This one is often followed up with “I can help you lose weight.” And then, as I am British and a cruise director, I can’t tell them to bugger off and mind their own business so instead I have to stand there and listen to advice from people who I have never met before. This has now manifested itself here on the blog as well as you have seen these past few months.

Anyway, back to Mrs. Cannon and there is little we can do for this lady. She told a police officer and was given a crime number for her insurance (which I hope she has) and I will add this warning to my travel talk from now on. It’s the first time I have heard of this although I expect it happens a lot. Pickpockets are everywhere in Europe. Rome is bad though and if you are coming here to your Carnival Magic or next year on the Carnival Breeze watch out for thieves around the Trevi Fountain or the Pantheon where pickpockets will nab your purse with a quick snip of scissors or clever handiwork with the zipper. Las Ramblas in Barcelona is the other bad place with the wide pedestrian walkway the perfect place to get your purse poached. I had my cell phone stolen from there a few years ago. It was sitting on table and while Heidi and I were munching on some tapas, two young women holding a baby came up and tried to pass the baby to us asking for money. This was the distraction as a few minutes later I noticed the phone had gone. These are beautiful cities and they should be on everyone’s bucket list but as in any big city a bit of street smarts is required.

So it’s been a strange few days what with all of the above and the gentleman of small stature who I upset with my midget golf reference. Things have changed so much these days you know. I just don’t remember there being all these complaints back in the 90s. I mean look, we did the beer-drinking contest, the wet T-shirt contest, the Male Nightgown contest and I told jokes that today I would never dare tell. Take this lady who I upset here on the blog.

Adriane S asked:
John,

Your comments about dress code really made me angry. I have seen a steady decline in the average Carnival customer and as a Platinum passenger the fact that you do not enforce dress codes and now allow jeans makes me think hard if I should go to Royal Caribbean or another line. People with class and style like to dress for dinner and should not have to accept people in jeans and T-shirts. Trust me John you do not speak for your average passenger. I am sailing on the Carnival Dream in July and I hope I see some improvement in the dress code enforcement than I did on the Carnival Freedom this past January.

John says:

Hello Adrianne S,

Thanks for taking the time to write and I do realise that my opinion is mine alone and I would never dare suggest that it is shared by the masses. My feelings on dress code have been well documented here but as I said before this is just my opinion and I agree that we need to do a better job on some ships enforcing the rules we have. I hope you do have a wonderful time on the Carnival Dream and most importantly we all appreciate your loyalty and hope that you will continue to sail with us.

Best wishes.

John

So there you go, my comments on dress code have upset a loyal guest and again, that’s my fault. I still don’t understand why it matters what someone else is wearing? Does the fact that he just has an open-necked shirt on during elegant night make your steak taste of baboon scrotum…… no, of course it doesn’t. Now, if that man was wearing no shirt at all and spent the entire dinner rubbing chocolate melting cake into his chest then yes………I can see that you would have every right to call the maitre d and complain.

These days you never know who you are going to upset. You could give me any subject matter: Helping people, midget golf, smoking or tables for two and I bet that after half an hour I would hear from someone who was prepared to be angry about it. The problem is simple. If you say, in public, that you would like to see that bastard who killed all those people in Norway be thrown into a pit of starving lions and eaten alive then someone in an attic with a website will jump on my case and say what a bastard I am for saying this.

Unfortunately in the current climate it is no longer possible to express an opinion or make light of the world we live in because you are bound to upset a pressure group that then runs around waving its arms in the air and calling for you to be fired.

When I first started paying attention to the Facebook page it was based on the advice of our super spy PA 007. That was a year ago when my only worry then was that someone might post a photo of me naked with a rose sticking out of my bottom. Or that an ex-girlfriend would tell the world that my thingy was the size of a baby carrot. But I have seen these past days that Facebook can be a cruel, public arena in which friends, family and colleagues can spread gossip and tell the world that you like to dress in women’s clothes and that you once did naughty things to a goat.

A bitchy remark that once might have been whispered behind backs suddenly carries an electronic legacy that could I guess hurt someone immensely. I have people on the page who don’t like each other and have no problems saying they don’t. I have to be careful at the moment as there have been a few trolls who have tried to start some arguments on the page. And while I will never ever suppress opinions, heated or not, comments that involve personal victimisation will be deleted and the author banned for all eternity.

Sorry then for this rambling blog. It’s been a strange few days as I have said. I have a lady who has basically said I should pop down to Best Buy and pay for a new camera. I sent her a fruit basket by the way and in it I placed a disposable camera. I hope she appreciates this.
And later today I have to meet the man of diminutive stature who is apparently upset about the time it took last night to get a table at dinner on YTD. He had a 20-minute wait and now I am his best mate he wants to tell me all about it. Rome night when everyone returns at the same time is always the busiest. However, he isn’t “happy” and that means another 20 minutes of him shouting at me and wagging his finger in my waist.

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.

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