Friday Thoughts

May 16, 2014 -

John Heald

So here I am on my second week as a cruise director again and enjoying immensely being in Alaska. I am finding it a bit more challenging, though, to remember how to be a cruise director again, not the stage stuff but rather the management of 60 people in the entertainment department. And most of them were either in their strollers when I first started with Carnival and, in the case of a few of the dancers, were not even bloody well born yet – FFS!

 And for the most part, I have to be far more serious than ever before. Gone are the days when I could make an amusing farting noise over the PA system and instead I have to ask guests not to feed the birds in Alaska and to wash their hands 27 times a day. I also have to mention that when they leave their cabin to please turn the lights out. Bugger me….…I can’t even call it a cabin anymore………’s a stateroom, of course.

 Yep, the rules are there and the men and women who even wear high visibility jackets when they have rumpy pumpy are in charge and, as I sit here in my underpants, it’s May 2014 and the safety beards are in charge and here in Alaska they are joined by people who love sandals and lots and lots of rules. Between them my day is filled with announcements just for them:

 “No smoking.” ”Watch your step.” Mind your head.” “No jumping.” “Swim at your own risk.” “Wash your hands.” “Separate your garbage.” “Don’t feed the birds.” “No announcements outside should it upset a whale.”

 But yesterday I have to tell you of a new extreme that I have had to deal with. One of our entertainment staff members, a musician, sprained his wrist playing foosball in the crew lounge. It wasn’t a bad sprain but an entire Brazilian rain forest has had to be chopped down to allow for the paper work that I, as his department head, have to fill out asking about what shoes he was wearing, the condition of the floor, how many hours he had worked and if what he had eaten for breakfast and if wore boxers or briefs and had he been drinking and if so what and how many.

 FFS, he was playing foosball.

 I then have to return the rain forest to the security and medical department who then send it to the beards at HQ. This isn’t just Carnival, it isn’t just the cruise industry — it’s the whole bloody world. Ten years ago there would have been no paper work and the crew member would have said “ouch” taken an aspirin and carried on playing his saxophone.

 Yep, it’s been eight months since I was last a CD and while I was at home taking care of Mum, a coup has taken over. As a result our ships are like a scene from The Hunt For Red October where everyone of us is now under the direct control of a political commissar whose sole job is to make sure that nobody falls over, trips up or hurts themselves while having fun.

 Yes, it’s not the captain who’s in charge any more…… nope…’s the man…..or woman …….standing in a corner of Lido Deck…….with a clipboard …….. wearing sensible shoes and a high visibility jacket.

 Time for some Q&A – off we go…

 Doc Bill from Galveston asks:

Dear John, I am not sure who to thank but I wanted to share my story with you. I sailed to Cozumel 4/2 on the Carnival Triumph for a long weekend. I chose the 12m yacht races for my excursion (and had a brilliant time) so I left two $100 bills in my stateroom safe, not usually my habit. Well I forgot them until the ship had already sailed twice more. I thought that perhaps since they were flat in the safe no one had come across them so I phoned guest service who said they would notify the ship. I did not have much hope but guess what? On Saturday I got a check in the mail from Carnival for $200! So guess who is going to get a new pair of ostrich boots when I sail again on 5/29? Thanks to you and your team, my friend. Doc Bill

 John says:

 Hello Doc Bill From Galveston

First of all, I have this image of you dressed all in black, have a 10-gallon hat on with two pearl- handled revolvers on your waist and you are riding into town called Pine Bluff on your horse Lucinda. Now that that’s out of the way let me say a huge thank you for taking the time to write. It is not often we get to see what happens after guests leave something on board so to see the happy ending here is superb. Thanks so much and enjoy your next cruise Doc. Best wishes.


 June Stuttser asks:

 The first two nights of my Carnival Fascination cruise were hell because the boat was in big storms, every passenger on the boat was seasick. Why did Carnival put us out in a storm were every passenger was puking their guts out? Carnival should give the passengers a choice not to go on the cruise if there is a storm and get a refund. Why do you not do this?

 John says:

 Hello June Stuttser

I am so sorry the ship went through some rough seas. Obviously, if there is a hurricane or a severe storm that could put the ship in harm’s way we will deviate the ship’s course or cruise to different ports away from the storm. I hope your next cruise is one full of calm seas and sun.

Best wishes.


 Sharon Nelson asks:

Hi John: My question or comment is about prepaid gratuities. I like to pre-pay but, in order to do so, I have to call Carnival or wait until I get on the ship. Is it possible to have gratuities listed on the Manage My Booking page as an option to pay if one wants? P.S. I sailed with you last July in the Baltic. Loved it and you. Thanks for your time

 John says:

 Hello Sharon Nelson

Thanks, firstly, for your kind comments about the Baltic cruise which was one of my most favourite itineraries. I will certainly ask the beards if this can be an option but I have a feeling that for operational reasons and based on past experiences they won’t be adding this option anytime soon. Thank you though for taking care of the crew and I hope we will see each other again soon and please let me know if there is anything I can do for you. Best wishes.


 Sue asks:

Good Day John!
NYE 2014 we have a large group of friends and family sailing on the Breeze. My husband and I traveled on the Breeze twice before. We have seen private parties hosted. How do I make those arrangements?

 John says:

 Hello Sue

We do indeed have the ability to provide different kinds of cocktail parties for groups and we have a dedicated group in Miami to help you with this. Please send the request and details of when and what you require to and I will make sure the right people see it. Have a brilliant cruise. Best wishes.


 Anna Roe asks:

 I was given your e mail address ______ by someone called “Disconnections” on the Cruise Critic web boards for Carnival but either the email address was wrong or you have not seen fit to bother to reply to me. If it’s that and you have not replied then I question your customer service standards for sure. My husband does not know but a group of his best friends will be coming as well for a surprise retirement cruise We want to make sure we have a table by the window for just for us eight for cabins **** **** **** **** all ocean balcony cabins on Carnival Conquest cruise from Miami on May 25. I will plan for them to come to the table when we are sitting there so I need to know that we all have the same table and that you will not let me down which is why I am nervous and disappointed in your lack or response to date.

 Johns says:

 Hello Anna Roe

I am not sure who Disconnections may be but he or she really had no right to publish my email address. I have this page and Facebook from which I answer hundreds of questions and requests each month. Sometimes emails from unrecognised parties go to Carnival’s spam folder so I may never see them. Anyway, let’s move on and I will be happy to speak to the maître d and I am sure he will do his very best for you all. What a brilliant surprise this will be for your husband and I wish you all a great time together and I hope this has restored your faith in our customer service. Best wishes.


 Nick Llewellyn asks:

 We had no ice buckets in our cabin on the Carnival Victory. Why won’t the stewards tell you where the ice machines are so we can get our own? If ice is not put ion the cabins anymore then you should have ice machines. Just off the Carnival Dream and we followed the cabin steward to the ice machine one morning so we know where it is but then went back that night and its locked. Crazy and not good service, IMHO

 John says:

 Hello Nick Llewellyn

I hope you had a great cruise and please remember that any time you need a bucket of ice, just ask your stateroom steward and he or she will provide it. Our ice machines are not open to the public because ice is taken from a big trough using strict guidelines and rules as set by the ship and that adhere to United States Public Health rules. While our crew is trained in how to get the ice out guests may not be due to health regulations. So please ask your stateroom steward for ice and they shall deliver. Best wishes.


 Wilma Sukman asks:

When I saw Ken Byrne on the Carnival Sunshine, he said he would be on the Carnival Miracle in May. Can you verify this for me as we’ll be on the Carnival Miracle for the May 27 sailing and hope that he will be on board? Thanks

 John says:

 Hello Wilma Sukman

Yes, the great man arrives on the 27th here on Carnival Miracle so he will be your singing maître d. See you soon and have a brilliant cruise. Best wishes.


 Robert asks:

 Dear John: Reading your response regarding religious songs at the talent show caused my partner and I to revisit our first Carnival cruise. You were the cruise director aboard the Carnival Triumph. Not sure about the year, but the month was December. The ship’s beautiful Christmas decorations put us in the spirit. A lady from somewhere in the south sang “Silent Night.” Nearing the completion of the second verse, you appeared from the curtains making your way towards the sweet lady singing only to freeze as she began the third verse. You theatrically tip-toed back off stage. The audience erupted in laughter. She went on to complete all four or five verses. I doubt you remember this; so many funny experiences on our debut Carnival cruise. Twenty cruises later, you remain our favorite cruise director.


Bob and Marc

 John says:

 Hello Bob and Marc

Goodness me, while I don’t remember that it sounds like something I would do, oops! Thanks for the trip down memory lane and I hope that we see each other again very soon and, until then, I am here should you need anything. Best wishes to you both.


 Peter Kupin asks:

 John! After having participated in many cruise ship trivia sessions over the years, I have written the first of several books containing many interesting trivia facts. I feel that the book could be used as a reference on cruise ships and easily marketed through the souvenir shops on board. Which position in Cruise Ship management hierarchy could this be discussed with in your opinion! Thanks for your trouble.

 John says:

 Peter Kupin

Hello Peter Kupin

That sounds fascinating indeed and I have forwarded this and your e-mail to a colleague in the entertainment department. Thanks so much for telling me and for the hard work it must have taken to put this together and I wish you the best of luck with this project. Best wishes.


 James Dunn asks:

 John, I do not know why I cannot get an answer on why they shut down the sports bar on the Carnival Spirit for the last nine days of our cruise. The boat refused to answer and you refuse to reply, but you continue to say that it’s your cruise and all amenities sill be open the whole cruise. I am so disappointed that Carnival will not answer my question. I just knew you would answer but I guess I was wrong.

 John says:

 Hello James Dunn

I am sorry that I have not answered this yet but I did ask the ship and here is their response. It was closed for the Aussification of the ship to have electronics, a new bar area and other work before the ship arrived in Australia. We realise how this inconvenienced our guests and we apologize to them again as we did in 2012. I am sorry it has taken so long for me to reply and I will try and answer much quicker should you have any other questions. Best wishes.


 Barry Diefendorf asks:

 Cutback of the Seas is what Carnival should call their next new ship. I was on the Carnival Glory and was shocked then to discover that there was a fee for a birthday cake for my wife who was on the ship so she could celebrate her 40th birthday. I asked the waiter for a cake but he said we had to pay and then I asked for the chocolate melting cake with a candle in it and to get the waiters to all gather to sing happy birthday to my wife but guess what. NO CANDLES. A simple gesture like a birthday cake for your passengers but not on Carnival cruises.

 John says:

 Hello Barry Diefendorf

You’re correct, we do indeed charge a small fee for the birthday cakes but they are delicious and we do have the waiters sing for the person whose birthday it is. I am sorry that you feel so frustrated by this and, hopefully, you were still able to enjoy the cruise. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Best wishes.


 Jim Wirth asks:

 Hi John

Not sure if this is how to contact you but I got back from a cruise on April 20, 2014 the Carnival Breeze and was a little disappointed. I know Carnival is a family friendly company which is no problem. But on this cruise, it seemed to me as if the kids on board ran the ship. Kids were taking the elevators, riding them up and down and not getting off. I spoke with the bartender on the third floor about this and she replied she couldn’t do anything because of company polices and to notify security. When I went to find security they were walking away from the issues till I caught them. Later that evening my girlfriend and I decided to take in an outside movie, but this was ruined by a bunch of young 11-14 year old boys sitting in the RedFrog Pub stool area making so much noise that other guest around me was getting upset and left. I went to the bartender and talked to him about it he stated they had the right to be there and again could do nothing. This went on for about another half hour and so I again went to the bartender and asked him to contact someone that could handle the matter. After another 20 minutes and no security showing up we left the movies. I know that these cruises are for kids also but I feel that the parents should maintain some control of their kids and not turn them loose on your other guest. My girlfriend and I was ran into by these young kids several times almost causing us to drop what we was carrying and the worst thing was the parents were within eyesight of it but said nothing. It may have been bad timing for this trip in April (Easter week) but still there needs to be some restrictions. Plus while trying to sleep kids were running up and down the hallways banging on the cabin doors and waking up other guest. Please, see if there is anything that can be done about control of the kids. It ruined my girlfriends early birthday present and seemed to take away from an excellent cruise. We have sailed several times with Carnival and enjoy the cruise line.

 John says:

 Hello Jim Wirth

I want to thank you very much for bringing this to my attention. Carnival is very proud to be the most popular cruise line for families and, most of the many thousands of children we carry each year, are well behaved and more importantly are well supervised by their parents. It seems that there were some children on the ship while you were there that did not behave well and were not supervised by their parents and for that I do sincerely apologise. Obviously, we would like to say our security can be everywhere all the time to keep an eye on everyone’s kids but, unfortunately, they cannot be. That’s why we rely on the parents to be the first line of supervision. But we must try harder ion situations like you have described and I will be sending your comments to the senior officers on board for their discussion and investigation. So thank you for writing and I do hope that you will join us again for another cruise soon. Best wishes.


 That’s all for today and thanks to everyone who has posted a comment or asked a question.

This cruise has been a challenging one, of that there is no doubt. Yesterday in Sitka we had to use a tender service and I am afraid it was a challenge. We were organised and we kept every one informed but it was a 20-minute journey into the port and with only five tenders seating 85 people and one shore side tender for 100 people it was not how any of us, guests or staff would have wanted it. I made sure that I thanked everyone when they returned and apologised if they were inconvenienced. Thank goodness it’s the only time this season that we are forced to use a tender service.

 We did have a few frustrated guests who did not want to wait for their tender sticker number to be called. When that happens, it is the staff’s duty to listen, understand and gently explain the process and, of course, apologise for the delay. Well, it came to my attention that one of the staff did not handle a situation as I just described to well at all and indeed once it had been brought to my attention I had to reprimand this person who did get a little carried away in dealing with a disgruntled guest. Before I continue I have to remind myself and everyone else that our crew is absolutely brilliant. I have mentioned time and time again that, whereas in other areas of the service industry, standards are falling quicker than Donald Sterling’s credibility, Carnival’s service continues to shine.

 However, in every barrel of apples there is one that is going to be a bad one and it seems that we have a slightly bruised one here on the Carnival Miracle. Now, I don’t know why he got upset and spoke to the guest as he did (and as witnessed by other staff) but I dealt with him in a quick, no nonsense kind of way and I have no doubt that today he understands the gravity of what he did.

 Now when you sit behind a desk and play with computers and spreadsheets all day you can afford to have the so-called “bad day at work.” But not here, not on Carnival ships. The moment any crew member steps into a guest area he or she must forget whatever is on their mind and focus on you, the guest and provide that fun caring atmosphere that makes Carnival simply the best. And I include myself in that of course and yesterday was a prime example. I felt terribly sad, guilty and utterly pissed off at myself for not being at home for my daughter’s fifth birthday party. And when you feel like that it takes a lot of effort to walk out through the curtain and be the happy, chubby, easygoing cruise director full of fun and mirth. But that is what Carnival expects me to do and it is what I demand of myself and indeed it is what thousands of brilliant Carnival crew does each and every day. That is as I said……..why they are the absolute best.

 You may have noticed that since I started writing the blog again after a few months away following busy times, a long stay at home and the loss of my Dad that I have been posting and answering a fair number of complaints. I do so because I promised way back when I first started this blog and before H82SEAUGO reincarnated as Pine Bluff I post the good and the bad. Now having spent 27 years at sea, I think I am in a position to say that some of our guests will always find something to complain about and, when they do, we (I) listen and we learn and help.

But in the cruise industry, I think it’s fair to say that people tend to complain a bit more. Again, not just at Carnival, but industry wide. I know this because I see it live on the ships and yet that’s a small fraction, isn’t it, because now we have the Internet.

 The average guest may still be reluctant to talk about a complaint face-to-face with someone on the ship, but social networking, Facebook, Twitter and this blog have made complaining easy and sometimes I think the complaining is out of control. The fact is there are situations where complaining is pointless and inadvisable. For example, this cruise, I saw a guest having a finger waving session at a cabin steward about the fog horn keeping him awake. Yes, it was loud and I have sympathy for the guest but giving the cabin steward a hard time when he is obviously powerless to actually turn the sodding thing off is pointless. I stepped in, explained that it wasn’t actually I Wayan, the Indonesian cabin steward, that controlled the fog horn in the same way that the captain doesn’t come into his cabin and fold the end of the toilet paper into a triangle. OK, I didn’t say exactly that but I explained the need to use the fog horn to avoid crashing into other ships etc., etc. and arranged to have some ear plugs sent to his cabin should the fog return.

 In our new world of complaining, I think the most successful companies will continue to be those that respond to customer feedback in an expedient and efficient manner as we are now doing both on the ships with our current guest resolution program and from our excellent guest service department in Miami. I would just once like to be on the other side of the complaining fence. I would love to call the guest services desk, demand to speak to the cruise director and say that my cabin is right underneath the basketball court. I can’t get any sleep because Pine Bluff and Lucinda Lace are bouncing their balls on the deck.

 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.