Is Carnival Cruising For A Bruising?


I was upset, though not surprised, to read Curt Anderson‘s AP article about Carnival Cruise Lines refusal to reimburse the US government after a series of high seas breakdowns. In the billion dollar world of supersized cruise ships we’re talking spare change, $780,000 for the Carnival Triumph and $3.4 million for the Carnival Splendor.

Carnival’s refusal follows a sharply pointed letter from West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller to Carnival CEO Micky Arison.

Arison is an interesting character in his own right. It is well reported he renounced his US citizenship to avoid paying billions in taxes. His cruise lines follow a similar strategy.

Other than about half a million dollars in annual property tax on its West Miami-Dade headquarters, and lease payments for its Port of Miami terminal, Carnival gives little to the county or state. Nor does it (or any other foreign-flagged cruise line) pay corporate income tax. On more than one billion dollars in profits last year, all of Carnival’s fees (plus federal taxes on its Alaska-based tour subsidiary) totaled less than one percent of its profits. Had the 35 percent U.S. corporate tax rate applied, more than $358 million would have gone to the IRS. – Miami New Times

Carnival Corporation maintains headquarters in Miami and London. It’s incorporated in Panama.

Carnival’s ships often sail from US ports. None are registered here.

I have written about this subject before. It irks me to see corporations and people take advantage of America this way. Make no mistake, we’re getting jobbed!

When businesses like cruise lines use services, but avoid taxes, we all make up the difference. I have taken cruises in the past, including Carnival cruises. You have subsidized my trips.

It is illegal to structure financial transactions solely to avoid taxes. Do we enforce that at all? Isn’t it about time?

I suspect Senator Rockefeller would like to go after the cruise lines. Me too.

Is There A Silver Lining To The Carnival Splendor Debacle?

I’m an unlikely person to write something good that’s come from this incident, but I will!

By now you know about the conversion of the Carnival Splendor from a cruise ship to raft after a fire in the engine room. Right after it happened I piled on by pointing out Carnival does everything possible to only be American when convenient or cheaper. That opinion hasn’t changed.

I’m an unlikely person to write something good that’s come from this incident, but I will!

You may have noticed as the passengers exited the ship they were in pretty good spirits. There haven’t been panels of disgruntled cruisers appearing on cable news or shows like Nightline. Why not?

Trust me, if they were there they’d be on TV!

So what made this disaster different from airline passengers being stranded on the runway?

The fire happened. That is a given. However, from that moment on Carnival’s crew did everything right.

The lesson to be learned is you’re judged by your intentions more than the result. It was obvious to everyone on board what Carnival’s intentions were: Make the best of a horrendous situation.

Bad customer service could have killed the Carnival brand. I suspect it will end up relatively unscathed.

Some of my opinions on this incident have been formed after reading John Heald’s blog. He is the Cruise Director on the Splendor and the liaison between the ship’s captain and the passengers. I can’t recommend it enough. It is an incredibly compelling read.

He says it’s an unvarnished recounting. It reads that way.

The following is going to be my honest and open account of what happened. It will be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth because that is what I always write here and this particular blog thingy must be no different. And besides…….that is what our President and CEO Gerry Cahill told me to write when I met with him today. – John Heald

Just below this entry I’ve embedded a YouTube video (the video is worthless, but the audio is clear) from the ‘all hands’ meeting hold onboard the Splendor once the passengers were gone. It is obviously being held after a job well done by a company that’s appreciative.

Why did the fire happen? We won’t know for a while. You have to hope it isn’t because corners were cut.

However, when new textbooks on customer service are written Carnival will surely deserve their own chapter.

Why Isn’t The Panamanian Navy Saving The Carnival Splendor?

Obviously we want to make sure the U.S. citizens are safe, but this is not an American ship nor is Carnival an American company. In fact Carnival does pretty much everything in its power not be American… except when convenient.

The Carnival Splendor is dead in the water. A fire below decks has neutered the ship leaving it a 952 foot long raft. No one is happy especially the nearly 3,000 passengers.

Right now the US Navy and Coast Guard are working hard to assure the safety of the Splendor and its passengers. This is not a cheap undertaking which raises the question: Why are we doing this?

Obviously we want to make sure the U.S. citizens are safe, but this is not an American ship nor is Carnival an American company. In fact Carnival does pretty much everything in its power to not be American… except when convenient.

Though Carnival’s operations are headquartered in Miami and London Carnival itself is incorporated in Panama. Its ships are all registered outside the United States in what are referred to as flags of convenience. Carnival Splendor is registered in Panama even though it’s seldom if ever there.

There are many American laws ships which use our ports must follow. Because the Splendor and its sisters are registered in Panama there are many others it’s under no obligation to follow.

I’m sure there are Americans employed on these cruise ships which primarily carry Americans to-and-from American ports, but as a Carnival cruiser I can’t remember any.

I am irked by this. If you depend on the strength and wealth of the United States to run a viable business the least you can do is be an American company.

Is Carnival doing anything that violates the law? Probably not. The law is an ass.

Steaming Northbound Toward Jacksonville

Our ship left Half Moon Cay under cloudy skies. No sunset pictures for me.

It was windy–meaning choppy seas. I estimate 2-4 foot swells with small whitecaps. Yes, you can feel the ship sway through the water. I stopped the Dramamine a few days ago and, knock wood, no queasiness.

If there was a show, we didn’t see it. After dinner Helaine and I walked to the casino where I redistributed most, not all, of my winnings.

There is no shortage of eating opportunities onboard. We had sushi at a small stand between the casino and theater last night. There is also pizza available 24 hours a day at the cafe at the aft end of the ship. There are freshly baked sweets in the same area. Cofffee, iced tea and juices are available and served without charge.

Some ships have ‘extra cost’ restaurants. Not this older ship.

Helaine and I have discussed the cost of this cruise more than once over the last few days. It’s really quite reasonable. Here’s my guess. The cruise itself is a break even situation for the line. The real money is made in ancillary sales. This ship–all cruise ships exist to be stores.

From the time you board until your disembark there are things for sale. Sometimes they are items you can’t get on land–not always. They are always priced high. We have heard, more than once, of 4-figure bar bills! Not being drinkers has its advantage.

The ship has a crew of staff photographers. They are visible any place people aggregate, whether it be the entrance to the dining room or theater or the gangway while in port. They print every photo and cover a large open area with them. They are sold at outrageous prices.

There are also shops selling watches and jewelery and knick-knacks. It’s tough for me to make a judgment call on price, but experience says no bargains. The ship also sells, or actually resells, shore excursions, cellphone service and Internet access.

I don’t hold any of this against the cruise line. This is their business and they are entitled to make money.

On the other hand, I am distressed with the cruise business and its removal of assets from US rules and taxes. This ship is registered in the Bahamas. Others are registered in Panama. The ship’s officers are Italian. The remainder of the crew is a virtual United Nations of the seas reperesenting dozens of countries–not the U.S. Other than a few entertainers I saw no American staff. None.

Make no mistake–this ship and dozens more like it would make nothing without US passengers and ports. Virtually every passenger boarded in the United States and is an American resident. If there was a distress call it wouldn’t be the Bahamian Navy coming to our rescue.

As I remember, even the owner of this cruise line personally left the United States for tax purposes (please correct me if I am wrong).

Back to the trip… after breakfast we headed to the pool deck to watch an ice carving demonstration. With a few hand tools one of the kitchen staff transformed a huge block of ice into a pair of love birds atop a heart. He attracted quite a crowd and plenty of photographers and videographers.


We’ve just gone for the galley tour. Years ago there were galley, bridge and even engine room tours. Now, post 9-11, the other two are out but the galley tour persists. I suppose it’s tougher to poison a ship full of people than steer us into rocks.

It is astounding to see the method to the madness of service a few thousand guests. Even though first seating is only a few hours away there wasn’t that much hustle and bustle going on. As Helaine pointed out, if we’re having guests there’s plenty of action two hours before!

Back in the room Helaine is packing for departure. We’ll be in Jacksonville early tomorrow morning and hopefully through customs and at the airport in time for our 12:55 PM flight to Bradley.

This was a wonderful vacation. It’s not for everyone. We made a list of our friends who are ill suited for cruising. It’s a long list. For us it’s nearly perfect.

My next post from dry land.


Oh–I almost forgot. Carnival has towel animals. Each night when we get in after dinner Andy, our room steward, has fashioned one or more towels into some sort of critter. Last night’s was probably a cat–we’re not 100% sure.

We’ve been on lines that didn’t have towel animals and missed them.

Anchored Off Half Moon Cay

A cruise is for relaxing–and we have relaxed. Still, a lot has gone on since yesterday afternoon when I last posted.

After dinner we headed to the theater for the evening’s show. We were worried about getting good seats so we showed up early which meant we were there in time for the end of BINGO. Call me a snobbish member of the media elite, but why do people play this game? Adding to the ‘fun’ was a cruise staff member who brought insincerity to new heights and who Helaine said looked like Robin Leach’s illegitimate son in ill fitting clothes. Too many buffets!

A new set of comedians came on board in Nassau. The first guy was billed as “Physical Comedian Howard Mincone,” so I figured Carrot Top or Gallagher (or, more likely Gallagher II). Not funny! At points embarrassingly not funny. I actually felt bad for this guy. We would have left, but we were close enough to the stage to be seen.

He was followed by Frank Del Pizzo. The name was familiar though his act was not. This was standard fare stand-up and he was pretty good. We’ll go back for the “R” rated show tomorrow night. Please–tell Howard not to come!

God–I hope Howard doesn’t Google his name from the ship.

After the show we wandered to the casino and, again, I sat down for poker. My pre-cruise expectation was the table would be full of poker neophytes–easy pickings. BINGO! Last night I quickly won $160 from a $50 stake playing $1/$2 no limit. I was called down and paid off twice when reasonable players would have folded.

There’s no guarantee the pickings will be as easy tonight or that I didn’t confuse good luck with good play. We’ll see.

We woke up this morning anchored off a beautiful island. Carnival calls it Half Moon Cay–but that’s not it’s real name. Carnival got this island when it bought Holland America. The Half Moon was Henry Hudson’s ship of exploration. Half Moon Cay is just too convenient.

We watched the island’s little tenders bob up and down as they tied up to a hatchway off Deck 3. It was breezy and cool as we set out. Some people were already returning to get sweatshirts. Helaine headed to the room to get ours, but they were never needed.

The Sun was bright. The water was mild. The beach was a pale powder with no rocks nor shells. The ocean threw waves just a few inches tall.

There were lots of people on the beach, but also plenty of lounge chairs. I took some photos and video then joined Helaine at the edge of the crowd. I laid on my back and quickly fell asleep. This is the life!

We headed back to the ship for some lunch, though by the smell of things there was a barbeque somewhere on the beach.

I continue to be impressed by this cruise. Our tickets were reasonably priced. The value is high. We have not been bored. There’s always something to do or see or eat!


In our cabin we have access to CNN and CNN International. It quickly becomes obvious CNN is CNN Dumb compared to CNN International. Are Americans really that stupid that we need newscasts dilluted with sensationalized stories of crime and style?

The world is important. We miss so much.


I am reading emails, but responding…. not until on shore. The Internet is priced like gold!

Funky Nassau

We took a walk down the dock and up to Bay Street, which I think is the main drag. The city is bustling and the people seemed friendly. Three ships means seven or eight thousand visitors additional in one day!

We got an elephant! This was Helaine’s greatest anticipation and biggest fear. She wanted towel animals–sorely missed on our NCL cruise to Mexico.

When I went back to the room for a few minutes, he was waiting on the bed–our white elephant. Helaine’s sunglasses finished the look as his eyes.

It’s funny how a tiny stateroom can really have enough room–but it does. There is plenty of closet space and four small drawers. We put the suitcases under our bed and some bulky stuff on the top of the closet.

Last night had prime rib and lobster on the menu. I decided on the prime rib, but Helaine asked the waiter to bring me both–and he did. I’m a growing boy.

We went to the smaller showroom for Tony Esposito’s “R” rated show. Trust me–we’ve heard plenty worse without the “R” warning. I’ve become a Tony Esposito fan. He’s very funny.

I have a suspicion he’s a lot less good old boy/redneck than he claims. No–he is from the south, but from time-to-time something sophisticated comes out which belies his claimed simplicity.

It was another night with plenty of sleep! The ship really isn’t rocking that much so I suspect it’s the “less drowsy” Dramamine I’ve been taking. So, as of this morning I’ve gone off the meds, but not quite cold turkey. Before the trip Helaine started me on ginger capsules. I am very prone to seasickness. We’ll see how I fare without help.

We woke up docked in Nassau, Bahamas. Next to us was the Disney Wonder and alongside it Carnival’s Valor. We are the smallest of the three ships even with our seventy some-odd-thousand tons of displacement.

We took a walk down the dock and up to Bay Street, which I think is the main drag. The city is bustling and the people seemed friendly. Three ships means seven or eight thousand visitors additional in one day!

Among the coolest things is a lone policeman on a pedestal directing traffic with his gloved hands. He is all spit and polish and precision. There had to be a dozen little camcorders trained on him. One of the few times I’ve seen people recording video.

On the horizon Atlantis dominates. There are two huge hotel buildings. Helaine and I both have heard stories of people being nickel-and-dimed incessantly while there. We passed.

This is a short port call. We’ll be leaving around 6:00 o’clock.

A Lazy Day At Sea

No–there are no buts. The ship is very nice. So far I am pleasantly surprised/pleased by this Carnival cruise.

“The ship is very nice,” I said as I walked back in the room a few moments ago.

“But,” Helaine replied?

No–there are no buts. The ship is very nice. So far I am pleasantly surprised/pleased by this Carnival cruise. There is a lot to like.

We’d asked for early seating so were surprised when we got our assignment for late seating! Our decision was more a result of indecision, so this substitution wasn’t much of a problem. We headed for the Sensation Dining Room and were escorted to a table for six. A lone couple was sitting there.

For a few minutes it was mostly awkward silence and then we began to chat with Robert and Terry from Panama City, Florida. He is in construction, she hair. They’re both in second marriages, both with two children of their own–mid and late teens.

Terry has never seen snow!

We and they could not be more different and yet they’re great dinner company. I’m not sure there’s another way we could have met… but we did. Shipboard luck.

Dinner was was pretty good. The steak was a little dry. Helaine had touted the “Chocolate Melting Cake” based on what she’d read on line. Thank you Internet posters! The cake was great.

We headed to the main showroom for the “Welcome Aboard” show. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you’ve seen this show. The ship features an oversized combo they refer to as an orchestra. They’d be better with better arrangements.

There were around a dozen boy and girl dancers. Each danced well, though no two started or stopped at the same time!

There was a featured male and female singer and they really could sing. Nice.

The cruise director was the emcee. That’s what cruise directors do.

The featured act was Tony Esposito, an Italian guy from the south. The southern Tony dominates the Italian. He was very funny. We’ll come back for his “R” rated show tonight.

Saturday began in the middle-of-the-night for us. I was spent long before midnight. We went to the casino anyway.

It was about this time I realized this ship and the NCL ship we were on a few years ago are very similar. In fact, they might be built from the same design. I’ll have to check when we’re back in Connecticut.

I love poker. The ship has a “PokerPro” electronic table. My thought was I’d eat up the competition, made mostly of people who never play. Maybe I will, but it’s going to be tougher than I though because of the rake structure. Rake is how casinos make money at the poker table. Mostly it’s 10%. Here it’s 12.5% and a $6, not $4, cap. That’s a huge amount of money removed from the table with each hand.

Today was a day at sea. I spent it walking the decks and shooting pictures. The weather was mainly sunny with a high in the mid-70s. The breeze was light.

This is not February in Connecticut!

When Good Airlines Go Bad

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a big fan of Southwest Airlines. I still am at this moment, but they’ve shown a side I hadn’t seen before.

Our flight from Midway was due out at 8:00 PM. “Conditions” (a word which covers a multitude of sins) didn’t allow us to depart on time. Hey – it happens.

The departure time was changed to 9:25 PM, so Stef and Helaine headed out searching for food. I sat on the floor, playing online poker.

A little after 8:00 PM, I faintly heard an announcement from the boarding area. I wasn’t sure what I heard, but Hartford was included. With Helaine and Stef gone, my laptop open on the floor and five bags next to me, I was stuck.

Next to me, another laptop user was also sitting on the cold marble. I had heard her mention New Haven in her conversation. I asked if she’d mind watching my stuff for a moment while I checked out what was going on.

At the gate, the CSR told me “we’re boarding now.” Yikes!

I called Helaine on the cellphone. She was at the far end of the concourse and I was at Gate 24. “Run,” I said.

To show the agents I was earnest about getting on, I disconnected from the poker game, pack muled myself and carried all the bags to the gate.

I will remember that for a while because my hip is killing me with the twingy pain that probably means I pulled a muscle!

It looked like they were about to close the door, but they weren’t. A minute later, Helaine and Stef, who had ordered dinner and then canceled it (thanks Harry Carey’s who understood their situation), pulled up to the gate.

We got on a half empty plane. Many of those who held boarding passes were nowhere to be found.

Imagine you’re told that your plane is delayed nearly two hours. You walk away to get a drink, a sandwich, go to the men’s room. When you come back, your flight is gone! I suspect this counts as “your fault.”

A few more, but not all, the passengers made it on the plane before we left for Connecticut. We arrived at Bradley after midnight.

While I went to get the car, Helaine and Stef stayed for the bags. The buzzer buzzed. The carousel spun. Some bags came down – not all.

A disembodied voice on the PA system apologized. Another plane was about to leave. Our bags would have to wait a few minutes more.

I know it’s tough to be in the airline business on a night when Mother Nature just isn’t cutting you any slack. I just think, in this case, Southwest didn’t live up to its reputation – at least it didn’t in my eyes.

The delay in Chicago wasn’t handled properly. No one was ever advised the plane might not be held until 9:25. I’m not sure what to make of the baggage snafu in Hartford, other than to say we once had this same problem with Carnival Air.

Does any airline want their attention to customer needs compared to Carnival?

New Camera

Over the past few years I have become a little nuts over digital cameras.

Early on I had an Olympus point and shoot with 640×480 resolution, extremely slow shutter and very wide lens. I always stood closer than people expected, or asked someone taking a photo of me and my family to move in because the camera captured such as a broad area. I became so predictable that the wide angle lens advisory I’d give to strangers became a family joke.

Next was a Casio QV2000-UX. Compared to the Olympus’ 307,200 pixels this one had over 2 million. The pictures were better, the lens longer and narrower. Casio, unfortunately, really isn’t a camera company and the cameras reflected that. It was somewhat difficult to operate and ungainly.

Next up was the Fuji Finepix S602Z. This was my favorite camera of all time. I had graduated to 3 megapixels (though Fuji through some sort of mumbo jumbo math claimed 6 megapixels) and a camera designed like a camera. The S602Z resembles a film SLR camera – except the eyepiece viewfinder is actually a tiny video screen. That is a real disadvantage because you can’t see when it’s dark (even when the camera could be pushed to shoot a picture) and focusing in low light is nearly non-existent.

I took about 9,000 photos from March 2003 to August 2004. Imagine if I had paid for photo processing!

Steffie and Helaine had a love, hate relationship with it. If I became too much of a pain in the butt (like while on vacation or traveling to New York City) it was my motivation. On the other hand, if they took it to a Rick Springfield, or other, concert it was the perfect way to take photos and bring back something that was often spectacular. Steffie’s concert photos with the S602Z have been published twice.

This summer I began to feel I was ready to take the next step and began reading the photo magazines and computer bulletin boards. My two choices were a Nikon D100 or Canon Digital Rebel. For a variety of reasons, though price was most important, I chose the Canon.

The more sophisticated the camera, the more difficult the purchase. I’m not just talking about cost, though the price varies among mail order and brick and mortar dealers. The camera body is stock. Everything else is custom configured.

The Digital Rebel is 6 megapixels with a very sensitive and precise sensor for capturing the images. Nearly every parameter that controls the shot can be customized. It can be used as a point and shoot camera, but that would be sacrilege.

I decided to buy the body without the Canon lens and instead ordered two Sigma lenses. Though mine were not, lenses can be more expensive than the camera itself! One, 28-125mm, zooms from a wide angle to medium range telephoto. The other, 70-300mm, zooms from mid range to very long.

The zoom can be so long, magnifying the image so much, that it can’t be used under less than bright light! It’s not that it won’t take the picture. When the light’s dim you have to hold the shutter open longer. Unless the shutter time is very fast you will move the lens and blur the shot.

I’ve had the camera a few days and am very impressed. This shot of the moon (something every photographer with a new long lens seems to do) came out just the way I wanted. I haven’t had a chance to be artistic, but have looked at some technical aspects of the shots. Are they sharp enough with the correct color? What’s the depth of field? How slow a shutter can I get away with?

On the other hand, it is heavier and bulkier that what I’m used to. Reading the postings I see some users consider a single lens their ‘walk around’ and leave the rest home unless they know they’ll be using them.

The more I read, the more I realize I don’t know and will have to learn.

A versatile camera doesn’t take better pictures on its own. Yes, there will be an improvement if only because the glass and sensor are better. My job is to work on optimizing my skills and understanding how the camera should be set under any situation.

Tonight I’ll be doing the weather at the Orange Volunteer Fireman’s Carnival and I’ll bring the camera with me. After the news there’ll be a chance to take a few (dozen) shots. It should be like letting a sports car out on a stretch of open road. I’m looking forward to it.