RUSSIAN VISAS, STUNNING PALACES AND SAYING NO!

February 4, 2013 -

John Heald

This past weekend, I agreed to help a friend write his best man’s speech for the wedding of a someone we both know. I do not want to write his speech in any way, shape or form. I have not been invited to the wedding and I know I will get no credit for writing the speech. I do not have time to write this speech and I would rather deep fry my gentleman’s sausage and weld it on to the bow of the Norwegian Epic.

But instead of saying, “No, bugger off and write it yourself,” the words that actually came out of my mouth were, “Great, of course mate, I will be happy to help you…..no worries.”

Why? Why, FFS, do I keep saying, “Yes” to things that make my skin crawl after I have said it? I have bugger all time to write a blog and keep up with Facebook, let alone write a best man’s speech full of jokes with lashings of sentiment and love about a couple who didn’t feel I should be invited to their big day, the bastards. Yet because I wanted to avoid that one tiny little word “no” moment, I’ll spend the next few days trying to find time to write something which will have a room full of half-drunk people laughing out loud to.

I have never been able to say “No” because I guess it’s not in my character. Of course, I have always thought that if I do say “No,” then not only will “they” not ask me again, but I will be in the deep and smelly brown stuff when I need some help. One good turn and all that bollocks.
Of course, some people and indeed some nationalities are much better at saying no than others. In France, hotel and restaurant staff say “No” before you have even finished the sodding sentence!

So, I have decided to say, “No” much more often, starting now, in fact.

“Can I have a trophy, please?” “No, go to trivia and win one, FFS!”

“Can you get me a table for two?” “No………no, no, no. Your husband finds you boring and doesn’t want to be romantic. Secretly, he is hoping he gets seated with a group of single ladies who will have breasts like the Alps. So, no, you cannot. I am going to seat you with a bunch of cougars so your husband can consider being a cheetah.”

Wow, that felt really good……………….as of today, I am officially the “no” man………….brilliant.

Time for today’s Q and A…..here we go:

Chuck Wendles asks:
I want to thank you so much for such fun on BC6. It was our first bloggers cruise and we have already booked the Sunshine for BC7 and will be doing the cruise before which is our first B2B adventure and we are psyched. I will write you a full review of the cruise which was beyond excellent but I needed to tell you a special and immediate thank you for the Cigars Under the Stars event. As a cigar smoker for 20 years or so, it was so great to see that rather than being ostracized and punished for enjoying cigar smoking, you gave us the Serenity area, a bar, a place to sit or stand and meet fellow bloggers and cigar smokers including you, John, plus the three spicy food bites you gave us were fantastic, especially those Caribbean meat patties. Many of the bloggers told me it was one of their favorite events and my hope and reason for writing is that this will become a regular event on all cruises with Carnival and, selfishly, on our next cruise on the Carnival Freedom in May. Thanks, John, for being a wonderful host and someone my wife Carol Ann and I consider a friend.

John says:
Hello Chuck Wendles,
I want to thank you for those kind words and, obviously, as you will see, I have brought your question forward to be posted here because the subject is one that I will be discussing with the beards today, in fact, during my call with them. I had so many compliments from bloggers about the Cigars Under The Stars event and many agreed that it was so nice to have a place and a time to smoke in some comfort and to enjoy what cigar smokers enjoy the most……meeting other lovers of the long ash. So I think we proved that we can use our Serenity areas at night to do these events. It doesn’t bother nonsmokers and yet it provides a wonderful atmosphere to enjoy a cigar in. It is my hope therefore that following my call today, I can once and for all get this event to be produced on many other ships as quickly as possible. I am so glad you had fun and thanks so much for booking the Carnival Sunshine for BC7. I will keep you informed and thanks again for the kind words.
Best wishes.
John

Tom Prowis asks:
Why do you guys make it so difficult for seniors to book your cruise line? I read that your ships have hundreds of kids on them and no consideration is made for seniors like me who hate having to spend time with them on our vacation. How about a boat just for adults and I bet many rug rat haters like me and my wife would book in an instant and I know I have many friends who live in my retirement community that feel the same.
Tom Prowis

John says:
Hello Tom Prowis,
Thanks so much for taking the time to write and I think I should point out that while we are a proud family cruise line, that we also carry more seniors than any other cruise line. There are certain times of the year when the count of children on board goes dramatically down, usually during school time. I am sure if you were to cruise during this time that you would enjoy the brilliant service and fun that our crew would provide. Please let me know if you have any other questions or if I can help further and I do hope we see you on board very soon.
Best wishes.
John

Amber Hayes asks:
Hi John,
I just booked our sixth family cruise, and first on the Carnival Magic over Thanksgiving. While we are all looking forward to it, no one is more excited than our soon to be 10-year-old son. The kid loves cruising and Carnival. He researches the ships, creates documents/spreadsheets outlining ports, etc. He’s a little obsessed. BTW, he wants to either be a cruise director, astronaut, or computer engineer. He really wants to take a tour of the “behind the scenes” action of the ship, but I can’t seem to find anything to book in advance. Does this sort of thing exist? He is also very excited to finally sail on a ship built in Italy…….we are Italian, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to tell a difference.
Thanks in advance.
Amber

John says:
Hello Amber Hayes,
Well, that’s a tough one and I do encourage him to ignore the thrill of being an astronaut, say no to a life sat in front of a key board and say yes to being a cruise director. We don’t pre-book the Behind the Fun Tour, I am afraid, but if you go straight to the shore excursion desk when you get on board, you should be able to get it with no problem and your son can see what is going on behind the crew only door. If there is anything else you can think of that I can do for him, please let me know and I will do my best for him. I wish you all a wonderful cruise.
Best wishes.
John

Simone Konen asks:
I will be cruising with you on the Carnival Legend and having recently discovered your page, I am deeply worried about you being the entertainment director. It appears that your humor is based on being edgy and politically incorrect and that you use your comments to shock. We are not prudes but am concerned that we should avoid your performances and events based on your writing style here. I can only hope that you are not the same in person as you appear in writing and that you adjust to more homely, politically correct remarks which are just as worthy. I suspect you just try and be funny and arrive at what you think they can get away with, without recourse to sociology and those you offend. Please give my comments serious consideration before we cruise on September 13, 2013.

John says:
Hello Simone Konen,
I am thrilled that you will be joining us for this wonderful voyage on the Carnival Legend and I promise, I will do all I can as your cruise director to bring you fun and entertainment and information on the brilliant ports of call. I know there is a line and that some may feel that I cross it and, certainly, I may do this on occasion on stage as well. However, having done this for 25 years, I am pretty confident in my abilities to judge an audience and never ever go on stage intending to offend. I do hope you come to the shows and events I host and I will in turn do my best to make you laugh. If you have any questions about your cruise, please let me know.
Best wishes and see you soon.
John

Todd LeFurgey asks:
I realize that you probably receive hundreds of these emails a week (a day?), but I still felt as though I should forward a suggestion that you probably have heard before. Create Facebook pages for both your beautiful ships AND for the Carnival cruise directors! Listen…why each ship doesn’t already have its own page at this point is kinda crazy. A business like Carnival’s really benefits from both word of mouth and visuals, which are both exactly what Facebook is best utilized for. Each ship’s page wouldn’t have to be updated regularly, just place the basics on there with information and links and the occasional update and then watch the “likes” come in. People would post pics and share experiences of their favorite ship. It just makes sense! And then the cruise directors should each get their own Facebook fan page. Because let’s face it…they’re basically celebrities within the Carnival world, right? Again, they wouldn’t need to update the pages themselves. Heck…they wouldn’t need to do much after the initial set-up. I’m not suggesting that they do what YOU do.

What I’m suggesting is to let those of us who have sailed with Carnival previously “connect” more with the cruise directors who helped make our vacations so memorable. I would LOVE to be able to write a quick “thank you” to both Kirk and Jaime for helping me have the time of my life back in March of this year when I proposed to my fiancé in the lobby of the Carnival Legend on the first formal night. They wouldn’t have to respond, but it’d be great to share a picture on their page for when they DID log-in. Anyway…I’m not wanting to take up too much more of your time. You’re a busy man. This idea just seemed like a natural fit for Carnival, especially with the current Facebook presence.
Thanks for reading and have a great 2013!

John says:
Hello Todd LeFurgey,
Thanks for this excellent post and certainly you bring up some great ideas. I should explain that while having 24 separate Facebook pages, one for each ship, sounds like a great idea, it would be very difficult to manage. You see, not only does it take time and a certain ability to keep the pages updated and interesting, it would also be very difficult to monitor what is being said on 24 separate pages. That’s why we have a dedicated Carnival Facebook page and my one as well and for now, there are no plans to change this. I should also mention that at the recent cruise directors’ conference, many of the CDs did not feel they had the time to commit to hosting a page. Certainly CDs like Jaime and Kirk are more than capable of doing so but as I said, for now, there are no plans to add to the social medial presence we have at the moment. I will though send your best wishes to Jaime and Kirk and thank you again for this excellent post.
Best wishes.
John

Frank Dally asks:
We are sailing on the Carnival Breeze Jan 5, 2013. We currently are a red VIFP member with 21 cruise days. Since we will have 29 days at the end of this cruise, will we be invited to the VIFP party on this cruise?

John says:
Hello Frank Dally,
Please allow me to apologise for the late reply and I do hope you had a great cruise. I am sure that you saw your invitation to the VIFP and I hope you did indeed have fun. I hope we see you again very soon and, once again, my apologies for not replying until now.
Best wishes.
John

Kim Bolt asks:
I was wondering if FTTF would be on the Carnival Conquest before the 2/17/13 sailing. It is something I would be really interested in purchasing.
Thanks for your help.

John says:
Hello Kim Bolt,
I am sorry but we do not start this until March. I am sure you will have a great time though and please let me know if you have any other questions. I have posted a full FTTF update on my Facebook page today.
Best wishes and have a brilliant cruise.
John

Jessica Tring asks:
I think it is very bad business that you do not provide snacks at the piano bar. Having chips, nuts, pretzels and other snacks available while we pay your outrageous drink prices is not going to break Carnival’s bank!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Having no food from the end of dinner is not acceptable. I love the piano bar but having no snacks could be a deal breaker to my returning again once my February cruise on the Fascination is over!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

John says:
Hello Jessica Tring,
Thank you for being a supporter of the piano bar and I know that for many guests, the wonderful men and women who entertain there means that for them it is the place to go. We really do not offer snacks due to public health concerns and the fact that with 24 hour pizza and room service along with the late night food served on Lido and on some ships on Promenade, we really do not need to include these. I will though send this to the beards and let them know how strongly you feel about this. I hope you have a wonderful cruise and enjoy the piano bar.
Best wishes.
John

Rochell Handley asks:
Can you bring walkie talkies on the ship?

John says:
Hello Rochell Handley,
If you are talking about the ones you can buy from places like Radio Shack etc. then, yes, of course, you may. Let me know if you have any other questions and I wish you a wonderful cruise
Best wishes.
John

Elizabeth Barnes asks:
As a Platinum VIP passenger, I would like to express my disgust at the limit of laundry available to people like me. Limiting my husband and me like this is a slap around the face for passengers who are VIPs and having this perk was one of the main reasons me and my husband keep cruising. On a seven day cruise, it should be unlimited and we should not be forced into doing our own laundry again after 18 cruises. We sailed with you on the Freedom to Greece and Turkey and had a good time so please get this policy changed.

John says:
Hello Elizabeth Barnes,
I do want to start by thanking you for your amazing loyalty and I hope that we will see you again. I do have to say that I am a bit surprised by your post because even though we do have a limit on a seven day cruise of three bags of laundry per Platinum guest, that would mean that if both you and your husband are Platinum card holders, this would total six bags of laundry which unless I am missing something is in my humble opinion, enough free laundry for a seven-day cruise. We also increase this to six bags per person on longer cruises such as trans-Atlantic voyages. I hope this clears this up and that you will be happy with this and if you have any other questions, please let me know and again thanks so much for your loyalty. Best wishes.
John

And that’s all for today.

As I mentioned, I will be changing the blogs around a bit from here on in. Some days, the blogs will be shorter. Some days, there will be blogs with no questions answered and sometimes there will be blogs featuring only a Q&A. It is my intention to post a blog each week day and sometimes more than one. I do this because I know not everyone has Facebook and also because it drives traffic to the blog where, by the way, we are now at a brilliant 16 million page views. So I hope you enjoy the blogs and I will make sure anytime I post something here that a link is placed on Facebook as well.

I am in the process of arranging a trip to St. Petersburg Russia to check out the excursions. I have, of course, been there before on the Carnival Legend in 2002 and on the Carnival Splendor in ummmm……………bugger, can’t remember the year. Now while my knowledge of all the other ports like Tallinn, Estonia, Helsinki, Finland, Warnemunde/Berlin, Germany, is extensive and certainly more than adequate to give guests advice during my travel talks, my knowledge of the rules and of the excursions in Russia needs polishing more than most of the old Russian and East German grey dirty cars from the Communist area do. So in early March, I shall fly to St. Petersburg and meet with the agents and operators and refresh my knowledge. I know some of the readers here will be joining me on these Baltic adventures and recently we sent you this letter that I thought I would share with everyone.

We know you must be very excited about your Northern Europe cruise. So, we’d like to provide
you with some important information regarding your travel documents when visiting St.
Petersburg, Russia, and other information you will need.

  • All guests must carry a passport valid for six months beyond the date of their visit to St.
    Petersburg.
  • U.S. Resident Aliens must carry a valid passport valid for six months beyond the date of
    their visit to St. Petersburg from their country of citizenship and a valid Alien Resident card.
  • U.S. Citizens, U.S. Resident Aliens, Canadians, and Non-U.S. Citizens, (except citizens
    of some former Soviet Republics) are required to obtain a Russian Visa.
  • However, guests participating in a Carnival sponsored tour are not required to
    obtain a Russian Visa.
  • Guests intending to sightsee independently (including before or after participating in
    a shore excursion), must obtain a Russian Visa prior to leaving your home country
    in order to go ashore.
  • Guests who have made independent arrangements through another company,
    please confirm with your provider if a visa is included.
  • Russian Visas cannot be purchased on board the ship.

Please remember that proper travel documentation is required at embarkation and throughout the cruise. We strongly suggest you visit <http://travel.state.gov/travel/> for additional information on obtaining a Russian Visa and check with the appropriate embassy or consulate for your specific requirements.

As much as we’d like to help you, it is your sole responsibility to have the required travel
documents available at all times. We are sorry to say, if you do not have the proper documents,
you will not be allowed on board. This also means we won’t be providing a refund of your cruise.

So there you go, important information for sure and I think the most important sentence is this one. “Guests participating in a Carnival sponsored tour are not required to obtain a Russian Visa.”

If there is one port of call where you have to take a tour, it is St. Petersburg. I have been there on multiple occasions and have seen firsthand what happens if guests try and get off the ship without the proper documents, visas and who are not touring with a recognised tour operator. Remember, every single guest must pass through Russian Immigration and if you do not have the required visas and proof that you are touring with a recognised operator, the man with the AK47 and a frying pan sized hat on his head will tell you to “buggerov back to the ship ” and there is nothing we as a cruise line can do to change that. Guests cannot just “get off the ship and take a cab downtown” as this is not allowed. So please take a tour.

Now I am sure that there are some people reading this in their mother’s attic and who will choose one of their multiple screen names to write and say that the fat bloke is trying to make money by getting guests to spend their money on excursions. In my opinion, you should take a tour here for the following reasons.

1. Guests on tour will leave the ship first in this port. That may upset some but it is a fact that we will give priority to our guests who have purchased tours.
2. You will get priority entrance to all the major sites and the best, yes, the best, tour guides.
3. You don’t need a visa. The end.

From past experience, I know that most guests will take an excursion from the ship and most of our tours are available online. They are brilliant, for sure, and here are two of the most popular.

THE GRAND TOUR
Experience the best of St. Petersburg on an excursion created especially for you to see as much of St. Petersburg as you can in two days! On Day 1, your motor coach will take you from the pier on to a panoramic city tour, taking in many of the famous historical sites. Pass the Palace Square and the Baroque Winter Palace. View the Spit of Vasilievsky Island, flanked by two Rostral Columns on your way to the Peter and Paul Fortress, for a guided inside visit of its cathedral. Inside the rich interior of the cathedral, you will find a large collection of war trophies from conquered cities. It also serves as a burial place for the tsars. Continue on past the Artillery Museum and then stop for a photo opportunity at the Aurora cruiser, which signaled the start of the revolution in 1917 by firing a single blank shot from its bow gun. Certainly a highlight of your day will be a visit to the Church of Resurrection on the Spilled Blood in all of its colorful glory. Browse for souvenirs and gifts and bargain with local vendors at the various stops during your excursion. Move into Nevsky Prospect, Russia’s most famous street for its magnificent palaces and shops, later passing Decembrists Square with its majestic equestrian statue of Peter the Great. Enjoy a delicious Russian lunch at one of St. Petersburg’s finest restaurants. Finally, no visit to St Petersburg would be complete without a visit to the Hermitage Museum. Founded in 1764 as a private museum of Catherine the Great to which only she and her closest courtiers had access, today it is Russia’s largest art museum that owns an astounding collection of about three million pieces of art. The collection occupies four buildings: the Winter Palace, former official residence of the imperial family, the Small Hermitage, the only custom-built museum which served as Catherine’s retreat from the bustle of the court, the Old Hermitage and the New Hermitage opened to the public in 1852. Enjoy a guided visit here before you are taken back to the ship in plenty of time to get ready for any evening tour you may have chosen.
Day 2 will begin with an hour drive to Pushkin, the most brilliant of all the former summer residences of the Russian tsars. Enjoy your guided tour of the beautiful Catherine Palace which contains a series of magnificent rooms, including, of course, the Throne Room. Of special interest is the Amber Room of the palace that was once considered to be the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Preserved photographs and archives helped the Russian art experts to fashion thin amber pieces so that they exactly match the original in shape and color and to carve fine ornaments, after the looting by the Nazi army in the Second World War, thus recreating this legendary work of art once more. The eye is mesmerized and blinded by the wealth and warmth of the amber tones, from lemony yellow to deep red. After the guided tour of the palace, you will enjoy a short walk in the beautiful gardens, taking in the 1,400 acres of grounds that are dotted with charming pavilions set around the central lake. Next, enjoy a traditional Russian lunch at one of the best local restaurants before driving back to the city to board your canal boat. Your 60- minute cruise will have you pass under numerous picturesque bridges and have you admire the exteriors of many beautiful buildings in St Petersburg. Finally, visit the St. Isaac’s Cathedral, one of the world’s largest cathedrals and the focal points and landmarks of the city. You will be impressed by the vast and opulent interior which covers 43,000 sq ft and filled with hundreds of imposing 19th century works of art.

Notes: Headphones are provided. Tour order may vary to avoid overcrowding at venues, opening and closing times or other logistical issues. Please wear comfortable flat shoes. Your evening after the first day of touring is open allowing you to choose from any of the evening tours available for your cruise. Your tour on the first day will return to the ship at approximately 4.30-5.30 p.m. which allows you to participate on any of the evening tours. Canal routing may vary. Routing can be changed if tidal conditions do not permit entry into any of the canals. The boat piers are not equipped with ramps or rail and there are several steps to negotiate. The tour is of considerably activity involving a lot of walking. The tour is not wheelchair friendly.

IMPERIAL EVENING AT ST. CATHERINE’S PALACE
Relive the luxury and experience the dizzying whirl of court life in the 18th-century Imperial Russia during an evening visit to one of the most amazing royal palaces, the Catherine Palace.
Upon leaving the ship by motor coach, you will travel for approximately one hour to the Catherine Palace. Enjoy welcome canapés and a shot of Russian vodka followed by the Royal Guardsmen who will escort you through the main entrance on your visit to the White Vestibule, Grand Hall, the Amber Room, the Portrait Hall, the Crimson Pilaster Room and more. Enjoy a guided tour of the palace staterooms, accompanied by performing musicians in 18th-century costumes. This beautiful baroque palace is over 1,000 feet long and features an ornate blue façade. Gold onion domes crown the palace’s north end, at the site of the chapel. A gallery of Greek and Roman heroic busts decorates a covered walkway designed for Catherine the Great. Surrounding the palace are 1,400 acres of manicured gardens and parkland. Next, “Great Catherine,” Empress Catherine II, will greet you in the palace’s Great Hall, bedecked with chandeliers and mirrors, for a champagne reception. A string quartet performs selections of classical music as dancers in period costume demonstrate courtly dances while Imperial hussars herald the arrival of a noble couple with a fanfare of trumpets. Move onto the palace’s former stable that houses a collection of superb carriages which once belonged to the Imperial family and other Russian high nobles. A guided inspection of the 23 coaches will be done by well-known Russian and Western European masters of the 18th and 19th centuries that once carried Russia’s highest nobility.

Notes: Flash photography is not allowed in areas where paintings are displayed. Dress is smart, casual with low-heeled comfortable shoes that will not damage the palace floors. There is a lot of walking and steps and no elevator is available at the Catherine Palace. This excursion is not suitable for wheelchairs or those with walking difficulties.

These and all our Baltic excursions are being added online but the Grand Tour is something incomparable and, of course, we feed you as well. Here are the menus you will enjoy on the tour.

Day I – Salad with fresh vegetables, vegetable cream-soup, chicken fillet with rice and mushrooms, ice cream with special sauces, as well as one shot of Russian vodka, one glass of champagne, mineral water, tea or coffee

Day II – Vegetable mix salad, Russian pickles, mushroom soup with noodles, grilled fish or meat with vegetables and potatoes, cheese-cake, along with one shot of Russian vodka, one glass of champagne, mineral water, tea or coffee

I will be writing much more about St. Petersburg and indeed all the Baltic ports in the weeks ahead and if you have any questions, please let me know. And as they say in Russia, they are going to be ” блестящий круизы ”

So it’s time for me and my underpants to head over to Facebook which since the bloggers cruise, I have ignored in the same way that the BBC ignored the commercials you all got to enjoy during the Super Bowl last night. Having a Brit comment on American football is like asking my assistant, Calvyn, to commentate on cage fighting. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the game and, I must say, Beyonce was superb and superb……………live! Oh, and tomorrow, I will have photos and comment from how the ships celebrated this great sporting event.

Anyway, I digress. It is indeed back to work for me this week but in some ways, I am happy to do so, especially after my trip out with my nearly four-year-old daughter last Friday. “Take Kye somewhere fun for an hour,” said my wife Heidi who had been invited to some desperate housewives gathering. No worries there, then……………my arse. So there I was, at the foot of a giant, plastic slide, waiting for Kye to descend when I heard someone shout, “No photographs! No photographs allowed!” I looked up to see a security person wearing a facial expression of a bulldog chewing a mosquito.

“But this is my own child and there’s no one else around,” I stammered. It was no use. “Please turn off your camera phone — now,” he replied in a way I had last seen on an episode of “Cops.”
Ah, yes — a magical day in a children’s “entertainment” center– where every child is a possible liability case, every adult a potential pedophile. Can you imagine if we ran our ships this way, not allowing parents to photograph their children and their special time together? I ignored the impulse to use her arse to stable the My Little Pony my daughter was holding and buggered off to the toy shop.

Yes, yes, yes……….I spoil her and so because I spend months not being able to. Anyway, Kye chose a friend for her Pinky Pony and I stood in line holding my daughter’s hand and the box containing a purple pony unicorn thingy. Standing behind the registers were the grinning teens who had only a few months ago had stopped playing with the toy I was about to buy Kye.
And it looked like they’ve been trained perfectly because with a dazzling smile as cheesy as a big block of ummmm…………….cheese, the 17-year-old said, “Would you like me to put this in a gift box for only £1 today/ buy a re-useable carrier bag for only £1.50 today/ purchase this pointless cuddly toy at the special discounted price of only £15 today?” Upselling kids in a toy shop. Oh, FFS.

So, it’s great to be back and thanks for allowing me some time with the family. I am here through February with a TV show next week to film and trips to the shipyard in Italy to check out the transformation of the Carnival Destiny to the Carnival Sunshine and show you this transformation through video and photos.

Until then, if there is anything you need, such as a trophy or a table for two, please let me know and I will be happy to say “Yes.”…………………………………oops…………..oh, bugger…………that didn’t last long, did it?!

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.