Carnival Spirit: Behind the Fun

Ticket Envelope

As Carnival Cruise Line fans know, the Behind the Fun tour is extremely popular and (supposedly) sells out quickly, which is why I threw myself at the Excursions desk soon after boarding to get a ticket. (But only one ticket; Mike was still a bit gimpy for that much walking.)

What you also may know is that no cameras (or anything with an audio or video recording function) are allowed. Here we were, third sea day, and I would be on my own without Mike or a camera? My two best friends!

When I arrived at the Shanghai Bar at nine a.m., most of the group were already there (my kind of people), and I realized I would have to sit with other folks while we waited. I chose to perch on the edge of the "lucky alcove" where Mike and I sat during trivia. Already there was a congenial-looking man about my age. We made introductions (Tom, second-grade teacher, on his first cruise) and after some moments of quiet had passed, I turned to him again. "How much is it killing you that we can't take photos?"

Startled silence... then laughter. Tom was a kindred spirit. In fact, he was one of two people who brought their cameras to the meeting point (despite the warning on the tickets), where he had to surrender it for the duration of the three-and-a-half-hour tour.

I looked to where Tom pointed and realized that I needed to check in with a tall blonde in high heels and a dark blue suit by the bar. She checked my ticket, checked me off a list, confirmed that I didn't have any verboten goods, gave me a lanyard with a tour pass, handed over a leaflet with ship statistics and a recipe for the famous chocolate melting cake, and pointed out the coffee, juice, and pastries set up for us by the door. This was Vanessa, who proved to be an efficient, calm, and friendly leader throughout our tour. At every point she clearly wanted to make sure our questions were answered, and when we were quiet (she said we were unusually so), she asked questions for us. To this day I worry that I didn't gush enough on the comment card about her.

We were the second of two tours this day, the only two tours offered during the entire cruise, as is standard. The first tour left a half hour before us. (We never once spotted them, other than one time when they all walked past the bar while we were still congregating.) As we stood to line up for a security swiping from the wand of a uniformed security agent who would reappear now and again throughout the tour, Vanessa asked us to let her know if her South African accent interfered with our understanding of anything. (As if her English was anything but enviably crisp.)

And then, we were off! To the theatre!

My first thought was, yay, somewhere close. The strenuous stair climbing mentioned in the tour flyer kind of had me nervous. After all, hauling myself up the steps from muster drill to our cabin (a four-deck journey) on the first day left me questioning whether 40 really was too young for one of those little oxygen tanks on wheels. What if the tour was nothing but climbs like that? I didn't mind the exercise, but the heaving and panting would be mighty embarrassing. More than once, especially as I thought of having to leave Mike (guaranteed fun) for a guided tour (something I usually avoid when not on shore excursions), I considered canceling.

Well, I can't speak for anyone else's ability to participate in the tour. What I can say is that I'm very unfit, seldom exercise, seldom even stretch, have personally known the horror of no longer going from trying to keep my weight under 200 to keeping it under 300 instead, and at the time of this tour I had a recurring heel spur-like issue with my foot. (Probably just its little screams as it tries to lug the mass that is me around.)

Despite all of that, I had no problem with the tour. We only stopped to sit twice, and we did take steps almost all of the time, but I still wouldn't hesitate to take the tour again.

I do think Mike made the right choice, though, even though he - despite being a big guy - is far more fit than I plus a few years younger. His knee and foot probably wouldn't have appreciated the ongoing motion and standing.

So, if you're wondering if you're healthy enough to go on the tour, I can't say. I also don't know how other ship tours differ from a Spirit-class one in terms of exertion. But, if you're just out of shape, don't automatically rule it out.

(For anyone who is still horrified about my own state of shape from the description above, take some comfort in knowing that I did work out three times this week. I'm not saying that someone is planning to lose weight here - not with three two pints of Soy Delicious Chocolate Almond in the freezer and a new understanding of how to microwave papadums - but maybe a little damage control is a start. Probably not, but I don't want you to worry.)

Inside the theatre and waiting for us, sitting on the edge of the stage, were the lead tech and the dance captain. They talked about how shows work and answered questions about productions and life as staff members. (Compared to life as crew members.) My question was whether the dancers practiced alternative choreography for when the ship had more movement. Answer: no, they just decided as individuals how much less to extend/pirouette/etc.

I have to apologize at this point because I don't remember much of what I learned on this tour. I mean, I'd probably remember if someone asked me a specific question ("How much does it cost just to buy enough gas for a cruise?")... or kind of remember ($800,000? I think? I remember it was a really astonishing amount.)... but as I just think about the day, three months later, with almost no notes or no photos, I can't relay with any vibrancy even a small part of what we learned during the tour. If I ever get to take a tour like this again (and I hope I do, although given the price tag I'd probably only do it on a different class of ship), I'm going to bring a small notebook. 

Next we walked up on the stage (I must be kept away from stages - they tempt me into twirling) and continued through the backstage area to see the wigs, costume racks, and bins where each performer keeps his or her gear layered for maximum efficiency. One woman asked if men and women shared the same dressing area. (Yes, definitely. Modesty and showbiz don't mix.) I asked the dance captain where in Australia she was from. (Sydney, of course. It's never Perth.)

The most steep stair climbing probably happened as we exited the theatre, ending up in the back of the Jungle Room one deck up. (Which is more like a horseshoe-corridor of intimate tables with a garish nursery school theme than an actual room, which I guess is why it's called "Jungle Interior Promenade" on the deck plan. Ignore me with my crazy "Jungle Room" talk.) Vanessa talked about muster stations and the crew. We looked at the wooden floor and noticed the markings for where crew members muster here. Just one of the many things you might never notice.

Next we traveled the length of Deck 3, squeezing with authority through a throng that was about to pounce on the "gold by the inch" sale. Our destination was a place I hadn't anticipated touring, the photography lab.

Everyone was still hanging back politely at this stage, but as soon as the manager suggested that some of us come closer to him, behind the two computers and next to the enormous printers, I was right up front.

Next to each computer was a small poster of all of the possible backgrounds for the professional photos. Each background has its own number, and the manager (Kevin? No...) said the numbers help to calibrate the machines before printing a run with that background.

Behind us were larger posters, one showing standard poses, the other showing "advanced" poses. The eight ship photographers may pose people as they wish, although using standard poses first is encouraged, with the "advanced" poses being used only as time permits. ("Advanced" = people getting on the floor, diagonal angles, etc. In other words, the more interesting but less conventional, and potentially less likely to sell, shots.)

Lockers on the right wall as you enter, up high like kitchen cabinets, are where the photographers store their cameras. I can't remember what else was there, but someone did ask the big question:

"How many of the photos are thrown away?"

For those of you who haven't cruised, every photo taken of you by a ship's photographer is displayed in the gallery for the duration of the cruise. By the end of the cruise, that's a lot of photos. It can take awhile to find your photo. This was our third cruise, but it was the first time I noticed the boxes throughout the photo area for people to discard unwanted pictures so there could be more space. The staff will remove photos from display as space is needed, but - as I learned from not-Kevin - no photos are actually destroyed until the ship arrives back to the home port. There, "a company" takes them away for shredded and recycling.

Hands up if you think that in 20 years we'll see a blog called "Unloved Cruise Photos" from "a company"?

Since photos cost between $10 to $20 each, a lot of photos end up not being purchased. Just from one sitting on Elegant Night, Mike and I had about seven photos. Then you have your walk-by photos in the dining room (sometimes with pirates holding a cutlass to your throat), your embarkation photos (we are 3/3 for dodging these), your disembarking in port photos (each time), and then there are photographers set up every night around dinnertime, sometimes with tasteful scenes to match elegant night, sometimes with fun beach or similar scenes, and sometimes with "period" scenes, with a rack of costumes nearby.

Like I said, it's a lot of photos, and while John Heald keeps murmuring about a more modern system around the corner, imagine how many photos are taken every day on a cruise ship, then multiply it by the number of days on the cruise, then multiply it by the number of ships in the fleet, and... wow. A lot of photos.

So, how many of those photos do they sell each week?

"About 20 percent."


Let's hope that new system comes soon.

People often cite the photographers as being concessionaires - third parties not actually part of the cruise line, like the art auctioneers, spa workers, and shops. However, on this tour they were identified as actual Carnival staff. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, or maybe something has changed, at least on Carnival.

From here we continued to the back of the ship and down to Deck 2, next to the Empire Restaurant, into a door I'd never noticed, to that place from where all of the wonderful food comes: the galley.

Right upon entering we paused to watch two men making swans out of soap. How lovely and intricate, and how fast they worked! Funny, though, I've never seen swan-soap decorations in the bathroom or at the table. What are these for? Everyone was curious, but before anyone could get an answer, we moved into the galley proper.

Our group was on the large side, 19 people, so we had to negotiate carefully to stay together. Usually the limit is 16, Vanessa said, as opposed to the 12 reported on the boards. Perhaps they upped the number due to the popularity of the tour, but I did think a few fewer people would have made the tour a teense better in terms of always getting a good spot or getting to hear without asking someone to repeat. (So long as I'm not one of the people denied the tour, right?)

The three types of kitchen worker caps were explained (um... and later forgotten...) and it turns out that four nationalities (Only four? I was surprised.) are represented in the kitchens: Indian, Filipino, um, and... um. Crud. I was paying attention; I even quizzed Mike that afternoon over all the trivia I learned. But now? Sigh.(The fact that it's been a week since I typed all of the above, a week spend rotting my brain playing Frontierville, isn't doing me any favours, either.)

Well, if anyone wants to send us on another cruise, ship of your choice, I'll pay for the Behind the Fun tour and take proper notes, how does that sound?

In the busy galley some of us kept sliding across the tiles. I was wearing the clog-sneakers I'd brought just for this tour since open-toed shoes aren't allowed. (I also thought I might want them if I decided to work out. Funny how we never found time for that.) If you're taking the tour, keep this in mind.

Common ingredients for dishes were presented along one counter, I think to give us a sense of the variety of food that must be onboard every week to feed the ~3000 passengers and crew. On the walls were posters showing how each menu item should look when plated. (That would be a fun souvenir. On the other hand, can you imagine the complaints if people received their meals with, say, the raspberry drizzle looping around the cake in three circles instead of four? The whipped out their posters and started demanding full refunds for the entire cruise? Ah, people.)

We didn't see many waitstaff, but we did see warmers where waiters retrieve items that are to be served hot. I think there was also a special oven for a certain kind of steak, but I'm very hazy on this point and may be completely yet unintentionally making things up.

In other disappointments, I had visions of illustrating this post with inept but better-than-nothing, just-for-fun drawings made in MS Paint. I've tried this once before (scroll all the way to the bottom, then up a bit), and although my art genuinely is terrible (as opposed to people who use scrawled-style drawings ironically, so that even their stick figures are full of emotion and commentary), I thought this would be better than nothing.

But, I started drawing, and the results were not better than nothing, so what we get here are vague memories that, at best, hope to present themselves in chronological order. (Later that afternoon I wrote down everywhere we went, but even by then I was unsure of a few things.)

That said, Carnival's photographers did take a few photos of us, free of charge, which were delivered to our cabins later. This is a lovely and unadvertised service, and everyone was extremely pleased about it. (I'd heard stories on the forums, so I wasn't surprised. However, I didn't assume it would be happen on our tour, so it was still a treat.)

So... I almost never have my photo taken, and even more rarely do I show the photos that do exist, but here I am in the group shot with the chef:

Us With Chef

(If you want to read the comments, click the photo to enlarge. I'm the one left-of-center, unprotected by the smudge tool.)

We had two different photographers for the tour. This first photo was taken by Miss Cold Disposition who rang us up at the photo counter a few days before. When I first saw the pic, I joked that she deliberately made sure I was partially obscured. Then I saw the poor guy behind me. Or, you know, the top of his forehead between two shoulders. So, no conspiracy, and I prefer to be partially obscured, actually. (But whatsherface is still a bit of a bitch. And maybe a touch incompetent. She's the one who shuffled us into this pose. Also, should the chef really be posed to the side for this kind of grouping? Just saying. On a happier note, check out our spiffy lanyards.)

The only other thing I remember from the galley was - wait! I remember that they gave us chocolate-covered strawberries right before this photo. Mmm. Okay, so the one thing I remember is that the chef said he enjoyed cooking for the captain because then he can show off his creativity and try new things, not just make the Carnival menu. (The captain commands whatever dishes he likes.) The "Chef's Table" concept, available on some ships and spreading across the fleet, hasn't made it to Carnival Spirit yet, but I'm sure this chef is looking forward to it.

Now we descended one level to our first visit to a crew deck, specifically, to the storerooms. The man in charge of this area (Mickey?) was very professional, very serious, and thus I was cowed into respectable behaviour and didn't ask him why they ran out of Mr. Pibb halfway through the cruise. I did, however, see the big gap in the soda storeroom where the Pepper-clone was supposed to go. Beer, wine, and soda are all kept in the same cool room. Ice cream gets its own, smaller room, and whatever illusions I had of homemade desserts were diminished by the sight of industrial tubs and generic-looking cardboard cartons. (Still more appetizing than the cartons of powder poured into the soft-serve machines. I wish I'd never seen that.)

The final storeroom we saw was the one for meat, which is divided into two sections: "rock solid frozen" and "slowly thawing for 72 hours." Someone asked what they did if they thawed too much meat. Probably-not-Mickey said that such meat was re-frozen. The rest of the tour - at least those not standing in the hallway because the cold was too much (you may want a light jacket?) - expressed shock. Probably-not-Mickey reassured everyone that their thawing/refreezing techniques were safe and wouldn't result in loss of flavour. To be honest, vegetarian-me was too busy trying to be adventuresome by standing in a room of frozen animal flesh to catch the details.

Now we walked further up I-95, the nickname for the busy corridor that includes the gigantic bins for luggage loading and the doors to the different crew/staff dining rooms on Deck A. Officers eat separately from regular crew, but the kitchen between these rooms is shared. (With those same slippery tiles.) New waitstaff start by serving their fellow crew members, then move up to room service, then the Lido buffet, and then finally the dining room.

While we were paused for Vanessa to point out some deck maps on the walls, two girls walked by, smiling and talking closely together in a language other than English. Vanessa sharply addressed them with a single word: "Ladies."

The girls continued on in chastened silence.

A few times during the tour we were told - by Vanessa, or someone else presenting - that everyone must be able to speak English. A common language is important for safety reasons, and English is the chosen language for this purpose. I remember from Cruise Confidential that the crew is supposed to speak only English when in public areas. As much as I love languages, I agree that this helps to maintain a more "accessible" and thus a more hospitable atmosphere for the guests. (I know some people object to this practice and consider it oppressive of culture, or somesuch, but I'm not one of those people. Understatement.)

Later Vanessa would describe the language training and other education programs onboard - it's all pretty impressive. Although applicants must have a certain level of English proficiency (and take a test to prove it) to be hired, Carnival provides opportunities - free of charge - for the crew members to develop their skills much further. When we went to the training room, there were posters for all of the Rosetta Stone programs, for example.

Back to I-95. The crew dining areas were small but had booths, tables, centerpieces, a television in the corner, and menus. Certainly not your stereotypical workplace cafeteria. The crew is on a month-long menu to avoid repetition, a menu that Vanessa said was heavy on rice dishes since the cooks come from cultures where rice is a staple. Zoltan had already confirmed for us that the crew also has the option of whatever is being served in the dining room or the buffet. (This seems to contradict what I read in Cruise Confidential, but perhaps this is an area where CC is out of date, or perhaps what I read there had more to do with taking food during work hours. Shrug.)

As we walked through both crew dining rooms, we also saw a buffet set-up with salad items and regular fare. This kitchen operates around the clock to accommodate everyone's schedule.

Next we went to the environmental control/garbage room. Once again, I don't remember much about it, other than the men in there were friendly, a bucket was mounted with a sign asking for pennies, and Vanessa emphasized Carnival's fanaticism about maintaining a pristine environmental record. (There were some incidents years back in the cruise line industry with dumping into the ocean, so this is now a heavily monitored - by the industry and shore agencies - area of concern now. Although, with the recent BP disaster, I bet at least one person has wondered why they've been bending over backwards all this time.) Around us were machines for sorting recyclables and organizing garbage for disposal back in port.

I didn't ask about the pennies were about. I wanted to, but I didn't jump in with my question before Vanessa started to say her thanks and our goodbyes to the pen. Not her fault - I have terrible timing with these things. I almost didn't admit here that I had an unanswered question, because I know that would horrify Vanessa, who was such an excellent guide. But, if anyone reads this who has been on the tour or is going on the tour - what is up with the penny bucket?

Not far away came one of the highlights: the engine control room. Because of security concerns, we couldn't visit the engines themselves, but we could see them on the monitors as we stood behind a horseshoe-shaped counter in this medium-sized space. (And the security officer from earlier reappeared to stand behind us.) A Croatian officer discussed the bells and whistles - probably literally, in some cases - on his side of the room, which we could not approach. On the table was some sort of log book, with entries in pencil, but I couldn't suss out what they meant. Behind us were volumes of manuals in black binders. Volumes and volumes. That we were sailing on the SS RTFM touched my readin' heart to its rocky center. (There were also a few computers that looked like they could run 5.25" floppies. Best to keep eyes ahead.)

It was here that we learned about the enormous fuel costs of a single cruise. Something else for me to file under "La la la let's not consider the implications of that." La-la-la.

After we exited the engine control room's little corridor (too fast for me to read the communications on the wall), we divided to take two large elevators down below the waterline and to the laundry facilities.

First we walked through the area where they clean and iron the passengers' personal items. Nearby were racks of crew uniforms, and everywhere were people staying busy. After a few turns we gathered around the man in charge and the machines that everyone talks about: the towel and sheet folders!

Alas, the sheet mangler was broken.

Apparently they'd been working on it for over an hour, and if things didn't sort out soon, someone would be manually ironing and folding those sheets. (We all looked behind us at the floor-to-ceiling stacks of linens... and shuddered.)

We were able to watch the machine fold a few of the blue Carnival-branded towels, though, which was pretty cool. We also learned that the stewards keep two backups for each stateroom's linen in their cupboards at all times.

Now we were truly in crew territory, but we didn't get to see inside a crew cabin, which everyone wanted to do. Vanessa said we could look inside of hers, but it was too messy. Ha ha ha. More than one person took her seriously and someone ventured we wouldn't care, but she laughed us off and continued on. Shucks.

However, as we passed a section of crew quarters, it was possible to get some idea of size from the distance between doors. Also, some doors were open, but we were walking too quickly to really peek. On several closed doors were whiteboards, and I noticed a couple of them with messages that, if Vanessa knew about them, was probably hoping we wouldn't notice. (I remember a "fuck," a "cock," and a "balls," but I forget the context.)

Hereabouts was the medical office, where Vanessa showed us the waiting area and the little window that looks like so many other patient/receptionist interfaces back on land. The same medical team that serves the passengers also serves the crew, and medicine is mostly free, especially the everyday stuff - aspirin, etc.

I think it was around this point that we passed the paymaster's window. That has to be an interesting job. No deck-swabbing, no people-serving, no engine-fussing... just being a banker on the high seas.

Semi-related sea shanty time?

(This is me trying to make up for the lack of photos.)

As we approached Vanessa's office - she's in charge of training - we passed bulletin boards with lists of birthdays for the current and coming months and photocopies of complimentary comment cards, persons mentioned by name being highlighted in yellow. I hoped our comment card would be there this time next week. We had so many praises to sing!

Once in the office, we all sat around a large table in comfy office chairs as Vanessa pointed out the computer facilities for training (the computer lab for personal purposes is next door), and she talked a little about her job then invited us to ask questions that hadn't been answered on the tour so far. Most of the questions were ones I already knew the answer to, thanks to time spent diligently reading John Heald's blog and Cruise Critic. (Like, why do you only see Americans and Western Europeans in the staff, not the crew. Vanessa said that Carnival's crew wages weren't of interest to people from those countries, but with the economic downturn, they were seeing more applications from those places now.)

I did have two questions:

One, were potential cultural tensions something that Carnival's orientation training had to address? This was on my mind because our assistant waiter Mile was Serbian, and at some point earlier Mike noticed that only ever saw Serbs, not Croatians. Deliberate divisions? Hmmm... Then I met the Croatian in the engine control room, so there went another conspiracy theory. Anyway, Vanessa said that the people who are hired seem to understand and be able to handle the ship's diversity before coming aboard. Her training promotes a general idea of this respect, and so far nothing culture-specific has needed to be addressed. Most crew disagreements seemed to come more from just people being people, she said. In fact, the culture-oriented training tended to be focused on understanding the cultures of the guests and avoiding unintentional rudeness (or being offended without cause).

(Later I thought about how, in Cruise Confidential, the author said that Carnival discouraged situations where tribalism might result, including percentage of nationalities hired and placement of those nationalities, not to much success. Once again, I don't know if things have changed within Carnival, or the world has changed, or maybe nothing has changed at all. I know that service-oriented companies are never as shiny and happy behind the scenes as they may seem to the customer, but Carnival is like Disney World - they're very good at making you think they're the exception and life is beautiful all the time.)

My other question was whether couples get to bunk together. The answer is yes, and Spirit is working on offering more rooms with double beds, although those would be more for people who can demonstrate a long-term commitment.

Vanessa also said that there is a limited number of guest cabins below deck that are available for family of crew members at a discounted rate, but that most crew/staff members book their families in a regular cabin.

We left the office, backtracked a bit, and came to the crew bar, where there were cookies as well as soda, juice, and coffee. This room of big chairs and sofas is a place for the crew to drink and relax, but the hours of booze availability have shortened over the years. (There were "problems.") One area we did not get to see was the crew's deck at the front of the ship, where they have their own hot tub. I've heard reports of other tours going there, though, so maybe it was just us or just Spirit or just a new policy or who knows? However, look at any aerial view of a Carnival ship, and it's easy to notice this deck, once you look.  (Like in this photo, from

Now we made the longest journey - down halls, up the elevator, down more halls, up more elevators, up some stairs here and there, and suddenly we were on Deck 8, at the front of the ship, hustling forward. I was somehow second in line behind one of the young men, feeling the pressure to keep moving and not hold anyone back, and thus holding my breath to keep anyone from knowing that I was about to grab a wall and start gasping. Yeah, great plan. Luckily the kid in front of me stopped and started gulping for air, at which point everyone else gave up and took their time slowly catching up, wheezing with each step. Yay - not just me! Vanessa turned, looked surprised, and apologized. Maybe some of us (well, the others) could have kept up with her at the start of the cruise, but after six days of endless buffet? Nahhh.

We passed the cruise director's cabin (marked with a plaque), which I tried to show Mike later, but it's behind a "Crew Only" door. (Imagine if it wasn't.) Directly across the hall (starboard side) was the captain's quarters. Exciting! If you look at Deck 8 on the Carnival Spirit deck plan, you can see the unmarked area before the bridge where these and other quarters (such as the Hotel Manager's, I think? Or Food and Beverage? Both?) are located.

Passing through a door in the center of a wall, and passing by the security officer again (Does he have a secret tunnel?), we entered... the Bridge!

It is a beautiful space, and we spent a long time lingering here, looking at all the different systems of navigation and listening to one of the Italian officers. I also read emails deemed important enough to be secured to the wall or computer terminals. (Nothing exciting; just stuff like slight schedule changes.) Over the door was a quote in Italian from... was it da Vinci? I can't remember, nor could I translate it.

The carpet was deep blue (like the sea?), and the view was outstanding. Potted plants lined the big bridge windows. In addition to the long computer stations, like something out of NASA command, plush armchairs and little tables decorated the port side.

Most surprising were the wing windows. Not the ones around us, but the ones in the floor, looking straight down into the ocean and used for navigation when docking. Coooooooooooool! Like a flying glass bottom boat.

Then Captain Rocco Lubrano came out, and he may as well have been David Bowie, people kept inching closer and closer in respectful silence as he welcomed us and spoke of his wonderful crew and ship. At one point he almost sounded the horn, but then he decided the other passengers - especially those sunbathing - might find it alarming. (Dang sunbathers, or "sunbakers," as Mike claims Australians say.)

We posed for a group picture:

Behind the Fun with Captain Lubrano

Yes, there I am, about to play piano on the captain's shoulders.

After this, we queued to have photos taken with him individually. MEMORY OF A LIFETIME, right? I think there may have been a handshake in there somewhere, too. It's all a blur of me being brave and allowing my not-safe-in-a-group photo to be taken. (What, you thought maybe it was a blur because of the sexy Euro-charisma of Captain Lubrano? Fear over pheromones, alas.)

I won't share that photo, though, because I'm a bit sunburnt and my face looks like someone carved a grinning witch-totem out of an apple and stuck it into a ball of dough. Oh, and because I can only share so many cringy visuals of myself before I flip out into All or Nothing mode and sharing videos of myself singing in the shower, and that's not happening. Not without a PayPal link. And my own margarita machine.

However, I will share the other time I let myself be snapped in a non-Mike photo. This is me five years ago, with singer John Waite:

With Mr Waite

Totally weak transition to namedropping, but every once in awhile I have to find an excuse to trot this out and throw my inner 15-year-old a bone. (I know all of this cruising talk just crushes her little "let's backpack across the planet!" spirit, and without my inner 15-year-old, I can't beat my husband every now and again at 80's music trivia.) Also, I hated this photo of me (at 35) until I saw the ones from the cruise (at 40), which really makes me worry about what my version of 45 will look like. When am I going to start moisturizing? When?

Captain Lubrano did not give us all half-distracted mini-backrubs, unlike certain rock stars, but he bid us a very gracious adieu, leaving a litter of smitten kittens on the cerulean carpet. What? Italian men in uniform. Non-fascist uniform. You try to resist.

Nobody wanted to leave the bridge; it's the ultimate of box seats. (The picture with the captain was taken with the port wing behind us, the front view to the right of the photographer and unseen.) It was like after the fireworks, when you don't want to move until the last smoke trail puffs away.

However, we had one more stop. On the other side of the ship. Trot-trot-trot to...

The steakhouse galley? How... anticlimactic.

Inside the cramped steakhouse kitchen, the chef launched into an in-depth discussion of different cuts and grades of meat and fish with vibrant examples set on the table before us... and you can imagine how delighted this vegetarian was to see all that. Not that I begrudge this part of the tour existing, as most people eat meat and the steakhouse gets a lot of happy buzz, but after the bridge and meeting the captain? Talk about a comedown... (With suspicions of a subtle upsell.) Shouldn't we have done this after the galley, perhaps? What's an extra elevator ride for continuity?

Not only that, but it was now nearly 1 p,m., sliding past the three-and-a-half-hour advertised running time of the tour, and I wanted to rejoin my dear spouse and savour a lovely three-course lunch together while I told him all of the interesting stuff that I had seen and learned that morning. (All of the stuff I can't remember now.) And here I was, the memory of the bridge fading away while I attended deadfleshapalooza. Grumble.

However, all was forgiven as filed out of the kitchen and were ushered into the port side of the steakhouse dining room, by the windows. Mimosas, champagne, and orange juice awaited us, as did survey cards. Vanessa came to each table and - as we surrendered the backstage passes from our necks - handed us branded "Behind the Fun" goodie bags with lanyards, bracelets, and a baseball cap inside. 

Carnival Spirit - Behind the Fun Tote Bag

Carnival Spirit - Behind the Fun Hat

(I gave the hat to my Dad, who sort of collects baseball caps. He quite dutifully wore it for our entire visit. I gave my Mom the two visors we made in arts and crafts. Only the cats rejected their gifts of little catnip bungee balls on sticks. Perhaps they, too, wished for hats.)

Oh, and what else did Vanessa give us?

Soap swans! The soap swans we'd seen them making at the start of the galley. So that's who they were for - us!

I wish I hadn't forgotten to take a photo of my swan before... the accident. Then the next accident. Then the everytime-I-pick-him-up-it's-a-new accident. But the carvings were lovely while they lasted, with red ribbons around their necks...

Fine. I will share my shame:

Poor Swan

He's still in his baggie, like a victim of poor autoerotic asphyxiation management.

We had whatever time we needed to complete the survey cards while enjoying the steakhouse ambience (it is lovely) and our befluted drinks. I was effusive in my praise, even mentioning how I thought the steakhouse ending was going to be weak and disappointing but ended up being totally VIPish and the perfect way to part, and then it was over. I said goodbye to Vanessa, gave her the comment card for the beards to read (as John Heald would say), shook her hand, and bolted down to the restaurant...

...where there was no Mike to be found. But that is another story.

(Next Post in This Cruise Report: The Third Sea Day.)

27 June 2010 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)