12.06.2014

Apropos of nothing

 I thought this entry deserved its own, rather than lump it in with the Live From the Getaway series.
 
One thing I have learned in life is there are two kinds of people when it comes to dealing with challenges:  Those who say "It can't happen", and those whose instinctive response is "How do I make this happen?"

And in the world of customer service, the former have no business.  Too many people in service jobs these days don't even realize the reason they have a job is to think, try, and overcome.  You could program a machine to endlessly repeat "We can't".  Employers could get a chimpanzee to work cheap if all they wanted is someone who looks cute in a uniform.  You are there because they WANT someone who can draw outside the lines, when necessary, to keep customers satisfied, and returning.
Oh, and p.s. - yes, you probably are smarter than your supervisor.  The reason he/she is your boss and not the other way around, is he/she has a history of actually figuring shit out.  It's almost never necessary to resort to rocket surgery.  Even limited intelligence, with the right attitude can figure out what needs to be done to keep the clients happy.
 
Now, one of the reasons I have always enjoyed cruising with my wheelchair user brother is this "can-do" attitude amongst cruise ship staff.  Our very first cruise was 33 years ago on the Carnival Tropicale.  That's over 10 years BEFORE the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed in to law.  The doors on that ship were 22" wide.  His wheelchair was 26" wide.  We figured out (because I am the latter type of person, which is why I've managed to deal successfully with my brother for 35 years, while most of his family is the first type, and would have let him languish in a facility, where he probably would have died 30 years ago) how to work a standing transfer, standing him up, collapsing his chair, opening it back up on the other side of the door, and doing a swivel/pivot in to the chair).  More importantly, the crew on that ship figured stuff out, too.  There were 2 steps down in to the main dining room on that ship.  And no ramps, anywhere.  The first night, the maĆ®tre d' sent a couple busboys over, they each grabbed a wheel, and carried him down the steps.  Without us even saying a word.  And for the rest of the cruise, every time we walked in the dining room, a couple staff came over to get him to his table.  That kind of service was a major selling point on cruising.  And it's always been that way.  Not only have ships vastly improved in terms of accessible cabins, ramps and flat thresholds, etc, but in most of the industry the staff and crew are both A: more familiar with wheelchair users and how to best accommodate them, and B:  Of the "How do I make this happen?" mindset.
 
Sadly, this last week I had a run in with that first type of person.  I am sorry, but this deal with the strobe light in the ceiling just didn't have to be an issue. 
 
First off, it's completely unbelievable to me that the light can't be switched off when necessary.  If that is true, it's the worst bit of engineering since engineering was invented.
 
Second off, it's completely unbelievable to me that no one has the ability to remove the bulb.  If that is true it means these two ships (Breakaway and Getaway) will have to be scrapped when the bulbs fail (as light bulbs generally do, eventually), since I have been told in most solemn terms that they are REQUIRED by ADA for the passengers safety.
 
Third off, it's just not that hard to cover a light.  Which is what I finally did, just before two guys from engineering showed up with some cardboard and duct tape.  My apologies for my attitude when they showed up and I assured them I had an even better solution, because I am not burdened by the title "engineer", but do have an above average IQ.
 
Finally - Norwegian Cruise Line, a few years ago, in response to several lawsuits over ADA, instituted "Access Officers".  These Access Officers were supposed to be the "go to" person for disabled passengers with issues.  Sadly, the program is a complete and epic fail.  To quote from Norwegians website:
"Once you have boarded, you will be met by staff who will have all of the information that you conveyed to Norwegian Cruise Line either directly or through your travel professional. Staff will be available throughout your cruise to see to your needs. Norwegian Cruise Line has Access Officers who will be the primary go to person for all of your needs. Norwegian Cruise Line also has a centralized internal corporate resolution staff to assist the Access Officer, available by telephone 24 hours a day."

Well, swell, except the "meeting" turns out to be a two page letter with the name of the access officer (no direct extension to call), and a list of where the accessible bathrooms are around the ship.
 
Twice since these Access Officers were born, I have cruised Norwegian with my brother.  On the first, the person was scared to death of disabled people and would not make eye contact with my brother.  It took a phone call from a Vice President of the Corporation to get her to meet with me. 
 
And on this one, the Access Officer was a nice lady, but definitely in the 1st category.  When I FINALLY got her to respond, after Guest Services was completely unhelpful, all she could offer about the seizure inducing strobe light was "We can't do anything".  Well, gee...is your job to hide behind ADA (which, of course, cruise lines routinely assert doesn't apply to them when they are being sued, but then want to use as a reason for their policies when they think it's in their favor) and say "We can't", or to fix problems for disabled guests by asking yourself "How do I make this happen?".
 
I think the reason the program is pointless is that it is assigned to certain job titles, period.  Personally, I would ask for volunteers, and perhaps give them a small stipend for taking on the added duties.  Persons With Disabilities really need to have someone who is sympathetic and understanding of their needs...not just a few minutes from someone who has been told to handle this task whether they like it or not. 

In that sense it's kind of like the kids programs.  All the kids camp counselors are self-selected people who actually LIKE children, as well as being trained specifically to handle them.  They aren't just assigned from the general staff and told to deal with kids all week every week.  I am sure you can see what a disaster that could be.
 
Anyway...that's enough from me.  I will continue to recommend Norwegian to many, if not most of my clients.  For the able bodied, it is a great cruise line, with much to recommend it.
 
Those with disabilities, however, will continue to be sent to Princess and Royal.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Norwegian Getaway, 11/29 - 12/6 NASSAU, BAHAMAS

Nassau was a complete Charlie Foxtrot. I had a van scheduled (and paid for) to take us to Atlantis, and join up with the rest of the agents for a tour/site visit. Gerard Lewis (Courteous Transfers is the company) was supposed to pick us up at 11am. The company came highly recommended and I can't for the life of me figure out why. We were downstairs about 10 minutes early and waiting in the designated spot. Now, I understand Island time, so I wasn't too concerned when he wasn't there at the stroke of 11. But when I finally called him (at international roaming rates) around 11:20, and he was surprised and embarassed that he had forgotten us, I was not too happy. But he assured us he would be there in no more than 30 minutes. So, no big deal. But then 30 became 45, became 60. At 12:20 I decided to walk across the street to VIA to find a decent wifi signal, get some work done, and forget the tour. As I was crossing the street, I heard the esteemed Mr. Lewis calling my name. So, what the heck. I figured I had missed the original tour, but didn't think I would have an issue taking a later one, as I have heard Atlantis does pretty much non-stop tours.

 So we climbed aboard the scariest POS van I've seen in years, and headed to...the gas station. Yeah. Gerard needed gas to get the 4 miles to Atlantis. Fortunately, he did have a dollar for the bridge toll. We got out at Atlantis, and headed in. First stop was at Guest Services, who had no idea what tour tickets I was talking about, but did give me the wrong directions to the ticket office. Which can't be reached by wheelchair. So I perched Steve on the steps, and went down to talk to them. They had no idea what I was talking about, but they did call Guest Services to confirm that no one on the whole property had any idea what I was talking about. And here's the thing: I paid a nominal sum for this deal a couple months ago. At one point the organizer said she would be sending an email with meeting times/places for the tour. Then there was an email that we would be given our tickets/times at the cocktail party Sunday evening. At the cocktail party it was explained that we would be meeting at some other time/place to get our tickets/times. And the organizer told me, personally, that I could go to (I THINK), the Reef Tower to get my tickets/tour. It could be she said the Beach tower. But in the end, it doesn't even matter, because we checked with the Reef Tower, the Beach Tower, The Royal Tower and the Coral Tower. I am pretty sure those are the only towers available, and none of them had a clue what I was talking about, nor had they heard of the organizer personally, her company name, or the Norwegian Getaway. At this point I don't even remember waht I paid , but it's not important, as it's trivial compared to what I paid for the van to get here, so I could log a couple miles pushing a wheelchair around several miles of hotel lobby. All in all it was over $100 completely pissed away, as at this point (about 2:30, I just called Gerard back and told him we were ready to go back to the ship.

 He showed up relatively promptly. Put Steve on the lift and it wouldn't go up. Given the condition of the van, I wasn't terribly surprised. With much fanfare, and some weird story about telling someone he would charge their battery for them, Gerard set about removing the battery from his van, and replacing it with one sitting by the front seat. So, yeah, if you ever wonder whether you should do business with this company, consider that they carry extra car batteries in the front seat. But eventually he got the van restarted and the lift operating and we made it back to the port without a stop for fuel. Finally got back onboard around 3:30, and Steve was too tired to eat. I on the other hand, was famished. So I put him down for a nap, and headed to O'Sheehans for some wings and some fish and chips, which never fail to lift my spirits. I was joined there by one of the people in the Reunion group who of course asked if we had gone to Atlantis. I gave her the quick version and changed the subject. We chatted for a bit, and I went back upstairs to check on Steve. He was still feeling tired, so i left him and went on a quick spin to get some pictures around the ship.

Dinner tonite was LeBistro. We toyed with the idea of going back to La Cucina or Teppanyaki, but in the end decided to stick with the plan and hit each one of the alternative dining venues. When we got to LeBistro, a couple new friends, Kim and Karen were there, so we joined them at a table for 4. Dinner was good (although the rack of lamb is still too small a serving, requiring 3 starters), but the conversation was better. Looking back on it, during the whole week Steve and I only dined alone twice. We had Kim join us at Illusionarium, Lisa and Karen at Moderno. At Ocean Blue we were alone, and again at La Cucina. We were joined by the lovely family from Chicago at Teppanyaki, Cagneys was a whole group dinner, and now, Kim and a different Karen at Le Bistro. And with the addition of Karen, only half of us were travel agents, so the conversation was actually just normal stuff!
So, yeah...I had the rack of lamb, with the grilled asparagus, onion soup and the salade gourmande (with the smoked duck in it) to start. Steve did the grilled asparagus and Cocquilles St Jacque before the grilled swordfish entre. All were excellent, although just one more chop, to make it a 1/2 rack instead of a 1/3 would be good. IMHO.
Dinner took us well over two hours, and we knew debark and get home would be a loooooong day, so we turned in early.
I also assumed getting a transfer to the airport and then to our day room hotel would be a major hassle, and I was not dissapointed.
But that's a story for a different day.

Overall, I am going to give this cruise an 8. Most parts were a solid 10, but a few things were just too bad for words. So...yeah.

I'll let you know how the get home day works out.

12.05.2014

Norwegian Getaway, 11/29 - 12/6, DAY SIX - AT SEA

So, yesterday was our final day at sea. After two hectic days in port, it was kinda nice to just relax a little. After popping out of bed at 7ish, we got ready and headed to breakfast at O'Sheehans, of course (I mean, we have a regular table now and everything). After breakfast a quick detour to the Shore Excursion desk, where Greg was again extremely helpful in getting the charge for yesterdays tour corrected. Then another trivia. Since I was late and missed the first 3 questions, I only got 13 right. I am pretty sure I would have had 16, and 15 was the winning score. Oh, well...I didn't really want a coozie, anyway.

After breakfast we went out on deck. A little windy and cooling as we head back to Florida. Ran into Lisa and Karen, and accompanied them downstairs to the photo gallery to look at pictures. I have been respectably successful in avoiding having my picture taken, so that didn't take long. I did, however find two nice pictures of some other couple who obviously didn't know their stateroom number. Which gave me an idea. In future, I think I'll tell all the photographers I DO want a picture, and then just give them random cabin numbers, so I'll pop up in various folios around the ship. Call it "taking photo-bombing to the next level".

That took us to snack time so we ducked in to Savor for some popcorn shrimp and scallops gratin before heading up to the cabin for some down time. Rene, our steward, was in the middle of making up the room, so we sat out on the balcony and just enjoyed the wake and the clouds for a bit. Then laid Steve down for a bit before a late lunch. I finally convinced him we needed to eat at the Flamingo grill, and I am really glad I did. Amongst the other Caribbean-inspired dishes the had what they called Puerto Rican-style roast pork, but which might be more familiar to you as "Lechon Asado". And they NAILED IT!

In case you aren't aware, everywhere in the Spanish speaking world "lechon" means "lunch", and is the generic word for anything you might eat in the middle of the day. In Puerto Rico, the highly seasoned (mostly garlic and pepper) and spit-roasted whole pig is so ubiquitous it is called "lechon asado". Strictly translated "roasted lunch". Like, you don't even need to specify what it is you're roasting or having for lunch, because there really isn't anything else worthy of the name.

When I was a young boy, growing up, in Bayamon, there was a lechoneria across the street from our house. Two guys would walk past my house every morning with a whole uncooked pig on a spit. When I got home from school, I would go grab a plate of the by-now-nearly-gone lechon and a piece of bread. The owner would save me a few pieces of the skin, too, because that is absolutely the best part. The seasoning! the crispy skin! and the mostly-rendered layer of fat right underneath! Throw a little in your mouth, bite down and the fat just flows, carrying the flavors, while your teeth hit the crispyness. I know it's a cliche, but "A party in your mouth" is the only way to describe it. I have tried over the years to replicate this dish, and I have come up with some pretty close dishes, but never QUITE perfect. The thing is you have to have at minimum a whole butt roast or the like, with the skin on, and a way to cook it that gets all the skin crisp. Regular pork roast cuts, or ribs or whatnot can be good, but they can't be just right.

So, I watched in bemusement as the guy in front of me at Flamingo went to great pains with the tongs, to remove that part from every chunk of meat he put on his plate. Because, you know what? Without that top skin/fat piece, lechon asado is just, well...roast pork. I happily scooped up his orts and leavings and ran back to my table and was transported to 1971 Bayamon. The seasoning was right, the skin was crisp on the edge of too-hard-to-bite-thru, the fat was half-burned/half-melted...but I digress. Wow, did I ever digress. Back to Planet Earth, now.

After the late lunch it was time for the Blackjack Tournament. Things started off really well, and I racked up about $5000 in the first 4 hands. I was just behind the leader and the two of us were thousands ahead of the rest of the table. In the last 3 hands, I was dealt 14, then 12, then 13. Managed to push once, and lost the other two, while the leader was dealt a 10 that he successfully doubled down on, a Blackjack and finished with a 19 dealt against the dealers 17. So that ended badly, and I decided against entering again. Some days you just aren't feeling it. But while we were there Steve and I hit a couple of slots and managed to lose the rest of the money I had won on Sunday. So, me and the casino are exactly even this week. I think I'll leave it that way.

By now it was almost time for our big group dinner, so we headed back to the cabin, threw on some nicer clothes and headed to Cagney's. When I got to the cabin, I had a nice cheese/cracker tray and a bottle of wine from the Access Officer by way of an apology for the Disco At The End Of The World fiasco. Nice. So I had a bottle of wine to take up and share with my colleagues. Which I did. Cagney's was it's usual awesome self. Steve had the shrimp cocktail and the lobster and shrimp entre, with a little side of creamed corn. I went with a Ceasar Salad (or, as they call it a "Mexican Ceasar Salad", which seems somewhat oxymoronic, since a Ceasar Salad is a Mexican salad created in Mexico [at Ceasar's, of all places!]). And then the bone-in ribeye, rare, with some mushrooms. And Cagney's Fries, of course. All were as good as I've had them at any other Cagney's. Cagney's is back to being my favorite Norwegian Speciality restaurant. Moderno gave them a run for their money for a while, but...I don't know...I guess the novelty of churascarria has worn off. Desert was the raspberry creme brulee. Typically, excellent.

So, yeah, great food, and some interesting conversation with some colleagues, and dinner took almost 2 and a half hours. Steve was feeling tired, so I tossed him in bed, and headed up to the Glow Party. When we got back to the cabin there was a tray of chocolate truffles from the Hotel Director. Just because, I guess.

Stayed at the Glow briefly, but wasn't feeling partyish, so I headed on home at 11. We have a big day planned at Atlantis tomorrow, and I decided I needed to rest up for that.

Which, of course, I will tell you about in painstaking detail, in my next post.

So, TTFN, mes amies! And just to warn you, tomorrows post will probably be delayed...once these minutes are up, I ain't buying any more internet. I'll wait til I get onshore and find some wifi somewhere.