Song of America

July 8, 2014 -

John Heald

It was an awful start to our day in Seattle for me and far more awful for the person that at 7 am this morning, just like it happens on land-side jobs each and every day, I had to tell was no longer employed by Carnival Cruise Lines. This is really the part of my job that I absolutely detest.  Now, obviously, I cannot go into detail but I can tell you that this person has had plenty of chances, probably more than he deserved, and I was determined to change this person……but I failed. When you relieve a person from a job on land, they pack a box, call a cab and go home. On a ship, it’s very different. You have to pack, not a box, but one or two suitcases and you don’t hop in a cab….. you have to fly home… sometimes and in this case……a flight which will last this person many hours. That’s a sodding long time to reflect on what’s transpired.

We did this this face to face, of course, and when I say “we” I mean I did it with our human resources director. This position started a few years ago and is now fleetwide and has become a tremendous asset to the crew. So in the company of our HR director, I met with this staff member and we took our time to explain why he had to leave and looked back at previous documentation and discussions we had. There were tears, there was anger and there was not a moment that I did not feel like a total bastard, despite his inability to do the job that he was required to do at the standards the company expected. Yep, put a crying, begging, angry 20-something man in front of you and I doubt anyone has a heart cold enough not to feel some kind of empathy. I read recently how one company in the UK fired all 180 of their employees by e-mail.  There has also been “techno-dumping” of partners as well with partners telling their wives, husbands, girlfriends and boyfriends that their relationship is over and that they are having rumpy pumpy with their best friend or changing their name from Randy to Penelope.

OK, you may be too scared to face the wrath of a woman you’ve been having rumpy pumpy with ……..hence the text……but surely ……is it ever OK to fire someone by e-mail? I guess there is the simple but important difference that it is much harder to fire someone than to dump someone. I hate the way in which The Apprentice presents an unrealistic picture of how easy it is to fire someone as Mr. Trump — and that poofy orange hair of his – pointing his finger and saying “You’re fired.” In real life……… it isn’t anything like that and many of you in a managerial position will know what I mean, right?

As easy as it would make it, I could never fire anyone by e-mail and I would hope that when I finally lose the plot completely and walk into Gerry Cahill’s office wearing only a leather thong, smoking a palm tree, singing a reggae version of the song from the movie Frozen, “Let It Go….Mon” ….that he will fire me in person and not by an email. But I don’t want to make light of having to fire someone from their work here on the Carnival Miracle because it is an unpleasant a task there is. And as we roll out the new entertainment director position they will take over this burden and numerous other responsibilities… and I, for one, will not miss it at all.

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

Claire asks:
Hi John: I love reading your blog, it’s so entertaining as well as informative! My husband and I will be sailing on Carnival Breeze in January 2015 for our 40th anniversary and have signed up for Faster to the Fun since we aren’t quite Platinum yet. I just read in your most recent blog that there are only 15 cabins per cruise available for Faster to the Fun. Is this true on all ships, including Carnival Breeze? Thanks for having to address this issue twice in such a short time.
Have a great weekend and keep us posted!

John says:
Hello Claire

What a wonderful way to celebrate your anniversary and mark this milestone of 40 years together. We do limit Faster to the Fun to approximately 15 cabins per cruise and also take into consideration the number of Diamond and Patinum cruisers on that voyage. I think you will really enjoy the benefits this brings and, if there is anything else I can do for you, please do let me know. Best wishes to you both.

John

Ralph Lacey asks:
We just got back from our cruise on Carnival Dream with one big negative. On the Tuesday afternoon my wife and I decided to spend the afternoon on the balcony and then ordered room service that took nearly 30 minutes to bring two sandwiches and coffee!!!! That is not my complaint. We were so relaxed that we decided to stay in the cabin that afternoon and night and skip dinner in the main dining room. We put the Do Not Disturb sign out. The next day was a day with no port, so we slept late but, even though we had the Do Not Disturb sign hanging on the door, our idiotic room steward (name) knocked on the door at 10:30 am.  My wife and I are heavy sleepers sand did not expect and did not hear him knock until he came in and saw us both in bed. This was very much a shock to my wife to see him and a man in white uniform standing our doorway staring at us. I complained to the front desk and asked for the steward not to clean our rooms but to have him replaced. This night not sound like a big deal but why have a Do Not Disturb sign out if your staff ignores it?????????? Very unsatisfactory behaviour and not the way to run a cruise company

John says:
Hello Ralph Lacey

I am very sorry to read that this incident has left you feeling frustrated and, yet, I am glad you have written to me so that I can try and explain. If I am reading this correctly you had the Do Not Disturb sign out from the previous afternoon through the night into the late morning the following day. If that is the case, we do have an internal rule which requires the state room stewards to check on the safety and well-being of the guests inside the cabin. I am sure that you will feel comforted knowing that this was the reason your cabin steward, and what sounds like an assistant housekeeping manager, knocked on your door. It also sounds like, thanks to the wonderful deep sleep you were both in, that you did not hear him knock. And while I really can’t apologise that they checked on your safety and well-being, I do understand, of course, the discomfort you both felt seeing two employees at the entrance to the cabin. I hope this explains why this happened and I do hope that you can look back at the many positives you enjoyed on the cruise and the fun you had and that we will therefore see you soon. If there is anything I can do for you, please let me know. Best wishes.

John

Jason Wilson asks:
I’m booked on my third cruise in September. I’ve always brought a bottle of wine with me on board and paid the cork fee. I haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy the sea day brunch yet and was wondering… if I buy a bottle of champagne on board, do I still pay a cork fee if I bring it to brunch to make my own mimosas? I see mimosas aren’t on the sea day brunch menu, so I figured I’d make my own… options?

John says:
Hello Jason Wilson

Thanks for writing and if you have purchased a bottle of champagne from on the ship there is no corkage fee at the brunch. If you purchase this off vessel we will charge a corkage fee. Mimosas sound like a great complement to your brunch and I hope you enjoy them. Please let me know if you have any other questions and have a great cruise

Jenny A asks:
Alaska is on the bucket list! I am an experienced cruiser (six cruises just last year) but the elusive Alaskan cruise will be soon. From your opinion, pertaining to Alaska — any specific side of the ship- portside or starboard? A higher balcony versus a balcony on a lower deck? Mid-ship balcony versus forward or aft? Tracy Arm fjord or Glacier Bay? I am sure each is beautiful but if you may only cruise Alaska once- which is better? Is one risky with weather and maybe a miss?
Due to my work schedule, I must cruise Alaska late in the season (September). Aside from cooler weather, what should I expect? More/less rain? Towns starting to close up for the winter? Less excursion options? Less daylight? What is the must-do excursion for the entire trip? I know you won’t have time to answer for each port but what excursion do you hear is the most unforgettable? These questions may seem mundane but I’d like to try and plan well. I promise not to use a fanny pack nor complain about the fog horn. Although is aft easier on the ear with the horn? I look forward to meeting you soon!

John says:
Hello Jenny A

I can tell already how excited you are for your Alaskan cruise. People often ask me what side is better, port or starboard and, really, the absolute truthful answer to that is that it does not matter. When we enter Tracy Arm or Glacier Bay, the captain maneuvers the ship 360 degrees so everyone gets to see the wonders that these places offer and, apart from the first cruise where every single whale was on the starboard side, they have since then been dividing their time equally. As for which is best, Tracy Arm or Glacier Bay, that really is impossible to answer? It would be like being asked to choose between two gorgeous puppies. Whatever cruise you choose you will see amazing sights and incredible views and you will not be disappointed. The best tours are in my opinion the helicopter tours, the trains to the Yukon and any of the whale and wildlife quests. These are unforgettable. The weather is hard to predict so wear layers and, certainly, bring something waterproof and warm. I do hope this starts to get you even more excited and if you have any other questions, please let me know. I hope to see you with us going north to Alaska very soon. Best wishes.

Dianne Hernandez asks:
In follow up to your blog statement about dress code, take notice of what RCI does. They have staff at each entrance to their restaurant on the Independence of the Seas and anyone not in proper attire is sent away to eat at their bistro. This did not happen on the Carnival Magic, our first Carnival experience. Not sure if this was because the ship is full of Texas people but the restaurant was overflowing with baseball caps, jeans and I even saw someone allowed in wearing camouflage hunter pants!!!!!!! This spoiled our experience in the restaurant considerably. Are dress codes different on a ship from Texas or is this typical standard at Carnival?

John says:
Hello Dianne Hernandez

Our dress codes are, indeed, the same through the fleet and not based on where the ship sails from. Certainly, it is difficult to see what every guest is wearing as they enter the dining room. It sounds like we can do better but, I for one, would never want to see any of our guests on their hard-earned and valuable vacation having to pass a dress code inspection before being allowed to come in for dinner. I will, of course, pass on your thoughts to the managers on the Carnival Magic to see what they can do to improve here. I am sure that you enjoyed the service and the food despite what others may be wearing and I truly hope that you had a wonderful time and that we will see you again soon. Best wishes.

John

LaDonna Kay asks:
Hi John!
Platinum cruiser here! Love Carnival and will be loyal forever!  Question: When, if ever, do you anticipate an expansion of your ports in Charleston or Baltimore? I’m in North Carolina and would really love to see the larger ships a little closer to home. I love those large ships and recently sailed on Carnival Breeze (December 2013) but it can be pricey when you consider airfare to Florida. Would love to know if this is in the works at all? Seeing those bigger ships in the rotation to these areas would be amazing and would enable me to cruise even more frequently than I already do! Love the blog, love Carnival!
LaDonna

John says:
Hello LaDonna Kay

Thank you so very much for your appreciation and for your loyalty to us and long may that continue. I can tell you that we really enjoy sailing from those ports but I am not aware of any immediate plans to bring bigger ships to Charleston or Baltimore but will certainly let you know if that ever comes to fruition. I hope you have more cruises planned and, if there is ever anything I can do for you, please do let me know. Best wishes.

Megan Kates asks:
I agree – we platinum VIPS should get more and should not have to scramble for seats at shows. We deserve reserved seating based on the thousands of dollars we have spent. John, others may not like the fact but we are loyal, so why should we have to use the same gangplank and not have the best seats at shows, a private line for all the buffets and free Internet? Loyalty programs keep passengers loyal and we deserve to be thought of as VIPs and not fenced in with the other non-VIPS as we are now.

John says:
Hello Megan Kates

I agree that the loyalty of our VIFP guests is extremely important to us at Carnival and I thank you for the loyalty you have personally shown. We do not have any plans to reserve seats at shows or have a private gangway but we are looking at what we can do to improve the current program and, when I have news on that, I will share it. Thanks again and hope we see you soon. Best wishes.

John

Kenneth Pomering asks:
This is being written from the check-in waiting area because I am so angry.  I am waiting to board Carnival Triumph for the start of our cruise this huge obese monster of a woman in a wheelchair and her family of seven were allowed to board first. Why? This woman chose to be that big but she and her non-handicapped family got to board before me and, get this, Heald, she was carrying a 12-pack of Coke on her knees as the staff person tried to push her fat ass in the wheelchair. Being fat is a lifestyle choice, not a proper disability and should not be rewarded with priority boarding.

John says:
Hello Kenneth Pomering

It would be unfair of me to talk about what does and does not constitute a disability as I do not know all the circumstances, I am sure you understand. If a guest requires wheelchair assistance we do, by law, have to provide them with just that. I hope once on board, you had forgotten how frustrated this made you feel and that you started to have immediate fun and that you ended up having the best of times. Best wishes.

John

Michael Kaplan asks:
John: Since meeting you on Carnival Liberty years ago (2005) and getting to know you better during the past Blogger’s Cruise, I felt the keen desire to pass along this to you. Sometime at the beginning of May I was speaking with a neighbor about how much we enjoy cruising and she mentioned she would love to go sometime. I immediately started to look for a three-day cruise out of Long Beach on May 29. We included another first-time cruiser neighbor and booked a cruise. I can’t explain exactly why, but it rivals as one of the best of the 30+ cruises I’ve been on. There were so many exceptional staff members, I thought I might run out of room on the survey. My friends are ready to go again – soon! I may have captured two new Carnivalites, but, with you leading the way, we all become Carnival ambassadors! John, for all you are and for all you do I thank you. And I thank Carnival for keeping the bar raised for the quality of staff and crew. See you again next January on Carnival Breeze. We’re going to do back-to-back on this one because we just can’t get enough!

Mike

John says:
Hello Mike Kaplan

This was a joy to read. Thank you for introducing new people to Carnival and the fun that comes with it. It sounds like you all had the most amazing time and I hope there will be many more amazing times to be had in future days. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you and thanks again for this wonderful post. Best wishes.

John

Rick Walton asks:
Your call/no-call on tsunami hysteria was just swell.  BTW, our first day home, and my four-year-old is singing, “Is that a booger in the sugar …” Thanks for that. Cheers.

John says:
Hello Rick Walton

Thank you for the positive reinforcement because it really was a tough choice to make. If there had been even the smallest of concerns to the safety of the ship I would, of course, have kept everyone informed but in this case there was none and so it was decided not to worry anyone unnecessarily and, from what you have written, and from what others on board that cruise have told me, it was indeed the right decision. I am sorry about that song……..it will have by now I am sure, started to grate on your every nerve. I hope we see you and the family again very soon and thanks so much for sharing in the fun. Best wishes to you all.

John

Cath Hamrick asks:
Let me start by saying we are frequent cruisers with Carnival. We will be sailing on Carnival Sunshine in May 2015. My question is what happened to the deck cams? They have not worked for several weeks. Love seeing what is going on. Thank you

John says:
Hello Cath Hamrick

My apologies for this. I have checked and they all seem to be working now. Here is the link. http://carnivalentertainment.net/ships/verify.php?go= Please let me know if you have any other questions. Best wishes.

John

Jen Qualls asks:
We are sailing on Carnival Victory out of Miami to Grand Turk, Nassau and a Bahamian out island for five days.  Will we be able to purchase a “Cheers” card?

John says:
Hello Jen Qualls

Yes, indeed, you will as the Cheers program is available on the Carnival Victory. Enjoy this and have a wonderful time. Best wishes.

John

Philip Erwert asks:
I read your new cruise director schedule blog and do not see two of my favorite cruise directors Tex and Willy Lee, mentioned. What gives?!

John says:
Hello Philip Erwert

Both Tex and Willie have left Carnival and are working elsewhere. We wish them both all the best. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Best wishes.

John

And that’s all for today. So it was a great cruise despite bad weather in Skagway which resulted in a mudslide on the railway line to the Yukon which resulted in lots of excursion changes. The rest of the cruise, the weather was superb and the guests, I think, all had an excellent Alaskan experience. It was certainly a busy one though and I have three enduring memories of it and here they are.

  • Zoe – The very first time I met Zoe, she looked like she was shouldering all the world’s problems and, that after losing her husband at such a young age, who could have blamed her. But here we are, one year later, and seeing her cruising with the ladies who one year ago took her under their wing and seeing Zoe smiling and listening to her tell me about her new job and how she is beginning to live her life again……..well that was the most brilliant feeling.
  • The National Anthem part 1 – As I documented on Facebook, I had received a request from a father for his young daughter to sing the National Anthem at one of the shows for the 4th of July celebrations. After a letter from me and a follow up conversation and even an offer for her to sing a duet with one of the show band singers at one of their sets in the Jeeves Lounge, I am afraid to say that Dad was not happy. I saw them two more times in passing around the ship and, each time, I greeted them with my usual exuberance and each time I was blanked by Dad……who gave me not even a nod of the head. And that makes me very sad.
  • The National Anthem part 2: Again, as mentioned on my Facebook page, two different cabins complained about the waiters singing the National Anthem on July 4th in the dining room. Both said that they found it “disrespectful.” Now what’s interesting here is these are two different cabins and they certainly do not know each other. Yet both used the word “disrespectful” so does that mean they may have a point? Let’s look at the facts shall we? The waiters, under the leadership of our “singing maître d,” the incomparable Mr. Ken Byrne, come from 23 different countries. Now, admittedly, I did not hear it but like every song they sing they would have done it with great gusto yet two sets of guests found this disturbing enough to complain and I wanted to check before speaking with the guests if anything had happened during the performance. So I talked to Ken who confirmed they sang the correct words, no comedy or jovial behaviour was added and the waiters all sang the song with gravitas and with some pride as well. As they did the guests sang along as well and most stood……not all……..but most. So what was it that these guests found disrespectful? Well it turns out that one cabin was not actually upset at the singing of the song which, by the way, was not the Star Spangled Banner but a song called “God Bless America,” something had been lost in translation between them reporting their comment to the head waiter who reported it to the guest services desk. The reason they were upset was that we had not done the same for Canada Day last Tuesday and they found this very disrespectful to the Canadians. And maybe they are right, certainly short of me wishing the Canadians a very happy Canada Day over the PA system we don’t do anything and I will address this with the beards. The second cabin — well that’s a whole different story. They felt the waiters who stood on the stairs at around the upper level singing the song did not do so seriously and that they were laughing and, I quote, “treating the song with disrespect and ridicule.” Those were his words. Now, at this point I would like to have said how this again is worthy of discussion. A song like God Bless America or any national anthem, regardless of where you are from, gives you a sense of great pride and maybe this chap had served in the military or had a personal connection to the words of the God Bless America. But that now does not matter and let me tell you why. First of all, he was so mad that he went straight from dinner and screamed — and I mean screamed — his bloody head off at the guest services associate and this brings me to another point if I can digress just for a moment, please. Carnival’s ships are staffed by humans, who make good decisions and bad ones. If a decision is bad enough and it affects you or those dear to you, it is worth complaining about and we are here to listen, always.  But don’t shout at the poor sod at the guest services desk. Please, stay calm and ask to speak to someone in charge and then if you must shout, so at someone who can actually help. If your complaint is logical and well-argued, and you are persistent, you will be surprised how often you can get a result, we really do care and we really do want you to have the best of times on our ships. As I mentioned, this chap’s complaint about the staff singing this song may have been worthy of discussion but not by me, not here. You see, the second reason for that statement is that he removed the gratuities for his family of four, not just for the waiters but for his cabin steward, as well. That’s his right to do, of course, but this has taken away any thought of me trying to ponder and trying to understanding and his indifference of the waiters singing the anthem of the United States of America. I am sorry that the song upset the guest………….but did it justify him removing all the gratuities? I guess only he knows.

We are now talking about singing this every week and, so as not to upset others, we will have other countries anthems sing as well and will provide little flags for everyone to wave. We will include the American anthem, the Canadian anthem, British anthem, the Australian anthem and the French anthem. I think this will be a wonderful addition to the dining room entertainment even though it will cost us some money to provide national flags for all the guests to wave …….. Although for the French anthem, the guests can, of course, just wave their table cloths in the air.

Let’s see who is sailing with us today, shall we?

Guests                                     2,434
US                                           2,002
Canada                                                89
French Canadians                   12
UK                                          18
Australia                                  9
India                                        52
Guests under 18                      488
Diamond                                 4
Platinum                                  176
Labradors                                1
Most common last name         Patel (27)

So now I could go on and talk about what’s been happening here on the ship but it would be silly to do so because all anyone wants to talk about is my dangly bits…..bugger………I mean smoking. Now for those of you who may have not have heard, here is the news on smoking.

In response to the preferences of a majority of our guests, effective October 9, 2014, Carnival Cruise Lines will no longer allow smoking on stateroom balconies fleetwide.  The company already prohibits smoking within staterooms.  Carnival’s updated smoking policy is consistent with most other major cruise lines.

Smoking will continue to be allowed in designated open deck areas, as well as night clubs and certain areas within the casino and casino bar.

Guests who smoke in their staterooms or on their balconies will be assessed a $250 cleaning and refreshing fee on their Sail & Sign shipboard account.  Information on this fee is included in Carnival’s ticket contract.

We appreciate our guests’ understanding of this modification to our smoking policy based on guest feedback.

In fact, if you could see me now, you would see me in my underpants, wearing a black armband because I, for one, am mourning the loss of smoking on the balconies. I will miss being in Alaska, sitting late at night, on my balcony and enjoying the solitary peace that my cigar brought me after a long day as CD and posting on social media.  However, I am a cigar smoker second and a cruise director and brand ambassador first and so from a guest point of you I have to face the obvious that I have known has been coming for many months. One question will be this, I am sure. Why didn’t we go 100% smoke free? The answer is simple and that’s if a family or a group book a cruise and just one person smokes, Carnival will not be a vacation choice. They will end up going to places where you can smoke like ummmm ……. ummmmmmm…….. ummmmmm …..or…..ummmmm.

This is a non-smoking world we live in. Let’s face it — because it’s true, isn’t it, and our new policies place us in line with most other major cruise lines and the vast, vast majority of our guests are non-smokers and we wanted to have our shipboard experience to meet our guest’s preferences. And our ban on smoking on the balconies is just another rule I have seen come into play. Yep, I have been at sea 27 years this August and I have seen so many changes during my time. I don’t just mean that in the 80′s and 90′s you could smoke everywhere — the dining rooms, all the bars and lounges and even in a lifeboat if you wanted …..no, I mean that people’s tolerance to smoking was far greater back then. But this is not just a cruise ship thing is it?  Because hotels, bars, restaurants, casinos and even sodding golf courses and beaches now have huge nonsmoking signs on them.

Smoking is, of course, is hazardous to your health and others and the damage caused is self-inflicted and maybe the harder it is to smoke, more of us will stop……………and, yep, that’s a good thing, obviously.  You know, I remember a friend of mine who works as a doctor here with us at Carnival once telling me something I will never forget. She said, “I worked in hospitals watching people some only in their 50’s, gasping for air and unable to walk 20 meters without having to rest. To this day, not one of them has ever said, ‘I’m glad I smoke, it is worth it.’ They never say, ‘The government shouldn’t tell us what to do.’ It is usually, ‘I wish I had listened and stopped’ or ‘Please tell my children not to smoke.’

When it was first suggested that passive smoking was harmful, the idea was at best controversial and the evidence supermodel thin. It is not so now. It is widely accepted that second-hand smoking is dangerous to those who experience it for a sustained period and that’s why we have stopped it on balconies and because it is simply not fair to the many who are on the next door balcony who do not want to be surrounded by smoke…………despite the fact that much of it dissapissatates (spelt correctly) into the air.

I have, of course, read a few “We will never cruise with you again” already today and that, of course, is understandable, even though for some it was a knee-jerk reaction. What can we do to make those guests happy? One thing for sure is we MUST improve the outdoor smoking areas. Provide better seats, more of them, more shelter from the elements, tables and bar service and basically mirror image the brilliant smoking areas on the Dream-class ships that can be found on The Lanai. And that’s my short-term solution for you and for me, Mr. and Mrs. Smoker. These ships have superb outdoor areas and so if you are booking based purely on smoking polices then for now those are your best bet and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a short elevator ride to the Lanai, there is a bar right there open 24 hours a day and the coffee ship is just a few feet away.

Meanwhile, I will make it a personal endeavor to work with the beards to improve the outdoor areas for smoking across the fleet because, well, we have to. Yep, as much as I will miss my “me time” on my Alaskan balcony next year on the Carnival Legend here in Alaska I accept and totally understand why we have done it.

Now hold on, please don’t panic I am not saying anyone should give up smoking — it’s a free world and I still will continue to enjoy my cigars and the time spent with others as we enjoy this pastime. The points I raised are only made to show why smoking has such a bad image.

And I should add that maybe one day as we get “smoking kills” messages on packets of cigarettes and boxes of my beloved Opus X’s cigars, we will also have similar messages on wine bottles, sugary candy and soda, even cell phones once someone with a beard determines they cause cancer.

Thanks for listening and, as always, I will be here and on my Facebook page to listen to you.

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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