Carnival Imagination, Dec 18-20, 2014 Birthday Quickie: ENSENADA

So, up and at 'em at 7am.  Stumbling around to find enough clothes to go upstairs for coffee and a quick vape.  As I step out of the room I am ONCE AGAIN assaulted by the smell of burning hemp.  I don't know if the neighbors are still at it from last nite, or doing the wake and bake thing, but it's really starting to piss me off.  I look at the  list of items that are not allowed to be used in the room, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, e-cigarettes, etc.  Nowhere does it say you can't smoke dope.  I assumed this was an oversight, but apparently it's policy.  Honest to God, every hallway on the ship smells like a Dead Show.  And, you know...it's not that I care if anyone wants to get blazed on their vacation, but it's puzzling that my odorless vaping is grounds for a $250 fee, if I were to get caught using it in the room, but this is overlooked.  And you can't tell me the crew doesn't know what that smell is.

But, yeah...I get some nicotine and caffeine in me and then head back downstairs to get dressed for breakfast.  Had a quick eggs Benedict in the MDR and made my way to the gangplank.

I have been going to Ensenada since the 70's, and nothing much ever changes there.  Except they moved Papas and Beer.  I liked the upstairs location better.  I walked around the main drag, did a little shopping, found an ATM to replenish the cash, and decided to go to the aforementioned for lunch.  Kyle and Natalia were there, so I joined them and watched the hijinks whilst munching some carne asada fries.  Maybe it was just early, or maybe they are toning things down, or maybe the new outdoor location is considered unsuitable, but I was dismayed to find out women can now get bumper stickers without taking their shirts off.  Boring...

After lunch I headed back to the ship for a little nap.  That plan was interrupted by a trivia game, at which I sucked.  So then I had to wait for the next one, to prove I didn't turn stupid.  Won that one.  Now I could nap in good conscience.  So I did.

And nearly missed my dinner date.  A few of us from the piano bar had made plans to dine at 7, and I got there at 6:58.  So, no worries.  Dinner was definitely better than the previous night, but still not all that.  I started with a caprese salad, and again, the portion was comical.  3 slices of nearly-cherry tomato, and 3 equally diminutive slices of mozzarella.  Followed by a chicken tortilla soup that was FINALLY a flavorful and hearty thimbleful.  It was the best tasting thing I had the whole time.  So I ordered another.  Then a beef tenderloin that was tender, but not terribly tasty.  Even the sauce was just blah.  And I was refused a baked potato!  Mashed is all I could get.  They were okay, but again, just sort of blah.  A little gravy would have been good.  For dessert I ordered a chocolate panna cotta.  What I got was really a chocolate mousse.  While I admit a good panna cotta is a challenge to make, they didn't even try.  This was straight cream with some chocolate pushed from a nitrous charger.

So, after dinner I decided to head back to the piano bar.  Mat wasn't in yet, and they were cleaning the room.  So I stood at the rail of the atrium with some of the others and listened to the kid playing in the atrium bar.  He was fantastic.  In 20 minutes he covered John Legend, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and The Eagles...yeah. 

Finally got in to the piano bar and Mat had to wait while atrium dude did 3 encores.  He actually joined in one song, playing a duet with the guitar guy.  Some new faces and some repeats from the crowd last nite, we all put in our requests and sang along and had a good time.  Except Silvia's esposo.  For some reason (probably alcohol-fueled machismo) he thought his job was to mean mug everyone who looked at or spoke to Silvia.  Including me.  And, you know...I was sitting next to her, and it would have been rude NOT to talk to her.  So I talked to her.  And didn't think too much about it when they left. 

He came back an hour later, even drunker, walked right up to me and in slurred Spanglish asked why I was bothering his heina.  I had no idea what he was talking about, and said so.  He again accused me of inappropriate contact with Silvia.  I again told him I was completely unclear on just what he was referring to.  This is all taking place 3 feet to the left of the piano, and with a half dozen onlookers, all of whom have been sitting there all night, all of whom are mystified at what it is I have done. 

So, Mat decides right then to stop what he's playing and break in to "Santeria" by Sublime.  Which, as soon as I recognized it, caused me to bust out laughing, and decide to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize.  The little pendejo didn't much like being laughed at, but when the others caught the lyric and joined in the laughter, little dude just had to slink away.  And for the rest of the night, I had to answer to Sancho.  Like I said...one of the weirder cruises I have ever been on.  So, I finished the night in the piano bar, headed up to the buffet for a late night snack, hoping not to run in to Silvia's man, and decided to pack it in about 2am.

Thus effectively ending the birthday quickie cruise, as I rolled out Saturday at 8am, packed my bags and went HOME!


Carnival Imagination, Dec 18-20, 2014 Birthday Quickie: BOARDING DAY

Looking at something for a client, when I saw this 2 day cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada and back in two nights.  The price was outrageously low, and it was coming up on my birthday, so I decided, last minute, to jump on.

As it turns out, this might be the weirdest two days I ever spent on a cruise ship, and the signs were there, early.

I actually booked it the day before, which was a small mistake.  There is last minute, and then there is LAST MINUTE.  One of the things that happens when you book LAST MINUTE, is that TSA gets antsy.  Despite the fact that every terrorist plot to blow something up, from the Embassies in Africa, to the USS Cole, to both attacks on the World Trade Center, were later found to have been months and sometimes years in planning.  So, when you book something last minute, they assume you are a terrorist.  I've had this happen on planes too.  So, yeah...when I got there I had no key ready, and had to wait for it to be made up and THEN I was personally escorted through security for the special grope and tickle treatment.  I'm not saying he was thorough, but they should probably put a sign over that area that says "The Champagne Room".  I have paid strippers good money for less intimate contact.  I should have tipped him, I suppose.

Anyway, got thru that part, boarded the ship and found my room.  Although there were nothing but insides left when I booked, the ship was nowhere near full, and I did at least get a cabin exactly mid ship.  Like 2 doors down from the mid elevator lobby.  So that was convenient.  It took less than 10 minutes to unpack and then I headed up to the buffet for a bit of lunch, and then found a table by the pool to see who was on the ship with me.  As I said, the signs were there.  I expected, on a ridiculously cheap cruise like this to have, shall we say..."low end" cruisers onboard, and a lot of young, overdrinking first timers.  I was not, however, prepared for the diversity of ghettos/barrios/hoods/magkakapitbahay/sangkeat/khu pho represented.  It was somewhere between the Mos Eisley Cantina and a dirtbag United Nations.  But with more tattoos and piercings.

Anyway, I whiled away the afternoon until the Muster Drill.  And after that, since I had finally successfully got myself confirmed for Your Time Dining, I decided to check out the dining room.  Now, many of you know that while Carnival is not my favorite cruise line, they're not me least favorite either.  Mostly for two reasons:  There main dining rooms have always had excellent food, for a mainstream cruise line, and the piano bar.  Fortunately, the piano bar did not disappoint.  The dining, however, has gone way downhill.  Both taste and presentation have slid, and portions have gotten ridiculous.  That Cheeto commercial with the tiger and the kids in the chi chi restaurant, where the waiter set the plate with a 1/4 inch pink cube and the guy says "This is a steak?"?  Yeah, that.  I started with a "seared tuna" appetizer.  It was 3 strips (with no sear) of tuna, about and inch long, 3/8 inch wide and 3/16" thick, on maybe 8 glass noodles and a flavorless sauce.  Followed that with a thimble of soup whose only redeeming value was having been freshly nuked so it was too hot to eat for 15 minutes.  It was so insipid I honest-to-God can't remember what flavor is was supposed to be now.  Finally for the entrée I had a miso marinated salmon filet, which came with the only distinctively flavored bit of food in the whole meal - a round of rice that was bizarrely over-vinegared.  I think it was supposed to approximate sushi rice.  But apparently they ran out of rice wine vinegar and thought any old vinegar would do.  Seriously.  Oh, and on this topic, not that it's exclusive to Carnival - but when the hell did we quit preparing fish, and just throw the whole damn thing in a pan?  Honestly, salmon skin is disgusting, unless it's fried CRISP.  And that brown part that runs down the middle of a whole fillet?  That's the fishes Lateral Line.  It's not meat.  It's nervous system tissue.  It's not edible.  Like tuna, a properly prepared salmon starts with a whole fillet (side), which is then skinned, and halved again, lengthwise, removing the lateral line tissue.  So, anyway, by the time I skinned and trimmed, I had 4 bites of salmon.  Oh, and a baked potato that was cold before the sour cream showed up.  And I topped it all off with the strangest "cherry pie" I've ever had.  It tasted like cherry filling, more or less, but had a weird, jelly like texture that was off-putting.  But, hey, I did sit at a big table with 6 others, and the conversation was good.

After dinner I ran to the buffet to finish dinner, and then to the casino, where I turned $50 in to $200 in about 4 minutes.  Then back in to $100 over the next 1/2 hour.  Oh, well...I wasn't really looking to gamble, I was just waiting for the piano bar to get started.  And THAT was the high point of the evening, and the cruise.  Even better than winning money on the casino.

Most Carnival ships have good piano guys, and there are a few REALLY good ones.  I was lucky enough to find one of the really good ones.  A new kid on his first contract.  Matias Sanchez from Argentina.  He was a great piano player, a passable singer (he said he had a cold, so maybe he's better sometimes), and most importantly, an ENTERTAINER.  He really knew how to work the crowd, telling jokes, getting people to sing along, making all the girls (and some of the guys) fall for his Latin good looks and charming accent.  Most importantly, while he had a play list, he managed to fake his way through a lot of other songs with aplomb, when requested. 

While at the piano bar I met Lindsey and Leah, two nice young ladies from Long Beach.  We talked, we laughed, Leah hit on Mat, and Lindsey sort of hit on me (no big deal, I am just setting up a story here).  About 11pm, Leah, after giving her number to Mat, decided she had had a long day, and too much to drink, and headed back to the cabin.  Lindsey and I stayed, talking, and a lovely couple from Alhambra took the seats next to Lindsey.  Kyle and Natalia.  Nice kids, sort of newlyweds.  So the 4 of us chatted and sang and listened and requested and what not, til 1am when Mat called it a night and left us there with no music.  We decided we weren't ready to call it a night, so we went in search of something to do.  The only thing still open was the dance club.  So we went in.  As we were grabbing barstools, Lindsey went over and started talking to some guy she had met earlier, at dinner or something.  Then those two headed to the dance floor, and Kyle and Natalia were all over me, asking what was going on, and why wasn't I out there, and who was that guy, etc...apparently, they had decided Lindsey and I were a couple. It took me 10 minutes to convince them I had known her for about 4 hours, wasn't "with" her, wasn't really concerned with who she danced with, and wasn't feeling particularly upset.  At which time, Natalia decided her mission in life was to get us together.  So she went and talked to her, and then came back and talked to me, and then told me what I needed to do to get her.  Then she let me know I was a bitch for not doing it, while Kyle was accusing me of slowplaying it.  When she was unsuccessful in forcing me to the dance floor, she forced Lindsey to come back and sit with us.  Etc.  Etc.  Fortunately, Natalia was seriously hot, and perceptibly drunk, or it would have been quite annoying.  I finally convinced them I wasn't really interested, and was there in the club because I had only heard "Blurred Lines" 5 times all day, and was hoping for an even 1/2 dozen before I went to bed.  They finally closed the club on us, and Lindsey went right to her elevator and I went right, to mine, while Natalia threw up her hands and rolled her eyes. 

Thus ended the first day.

I'll be back later with the Ensenada part of the story...GOOD NIGHT!


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 maître 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.