The Great Barrier Reef lies about 150 feet below our keel and is not visible from the surface at the moment, but per the Captain there is some interaction with the surface waves off in the distance. Walking on the promenade deck around 7AM this morning was pleasant, but by the time I finished around 8am it was starting to heat up and you could tell this was going to be a hot one – and considering where we are – to be expected. As I write this at 4pm it is now 88 degrees with 64% humidity – and that is 88 degrees in the shade – under the sun it feels much hotter.
A steady stream of ships passes by throughout the day as we remain close to the coast and in the middle of major shipping lanes. The ships air-conditioning is handling the situation well and we could still cool our cabin to meat locker status if we so chose. You hear passengers complaining that the common areas are too cold – a nice problem when you are in the tropics. Hopefully this will hold up as we will be in high heat areas for a while – probably until we pass thru the Suez Canal.
The main event today was the 90 minute briefing by Orlando Ashford, President of HAL and Gerald Bernholf – Director of the Mariner Society. Stein Kruse, CEO of Holland America Group spoke for a minute or two, but was not part of the main presentation Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Group was introduced and waved, but did not speak. Justin Poulsen, Director of Pricing and Demand was introduced, and waved from his seat.
The briefing was held in the Queens lounge with 10 AM time with the doors opening at 9:30. I arrived a little after 9:30 and the line was already stretching into the Atrium. Once the doors opened the lines moved quickly and after the initial surge the theatre was about ¾ full. At 10 minutes to 10 AM the Queens lounge was SRO.
Gene, wearing a coat and tie, opened by welcoming everyone and then introduced Orlando. Orlando, wearing a sport jacket without a tie, took the stage and introduced everyone else:
Arnold Donald – CEO of Carnival Corp
Stein Kruse CEO Holland America Group – Princess, HAL and Seabourn + Alaska Land
Gerald Bernholf – Director Mariner Society
Justin Poulsen – Director of Pricing and Demand
Orlando started the slide show with an overview of the main points he would cover: Review of 2016 Cruise, what’s new with Music & Entertainment, Culinary & the Fleet and finally a discussion of the 2018 World Cruise.
He showed a new 30 second commercial about HAL followed by a short video about the Koningsdam. He didn’t make any major news as everything he discussed has been previously released, but it was a nice recap and summary. Copies of most of his slides are here and are generally self-explanatory. There is a new area they are rolling out on the Koningsdam called the Blend – where you can create your own wine by blending different varieties onboard and to top it off, you can design and personalize a wine label for your creation. I think it will be a big hit – no word on the pricing.
He also covered the evolution of the brand logo and slogan, but again nothing new.
Orlando spoke for about 30 minutes and then was followed by Gerald Bernholf for another 30 minutes. Gerald gave an interesting overview of HAL first world cruise back in 1958 that went eastbound. He remarked that future eastbound world cruises are very unlikely.
He also discussed a university at sea world cruise that took place in 1926 in cooperation with the University of New York. There was book written about the experience that has been ordered and will be one of our future pillow gifts. (Note – I created special links to all the pillow gifts so far which are available on this blog under the World Cruise Reference Tab)
There was a bit of news regarding the Koningsdam, currently under construction in Italy. It will be almost done when we arrive in Italy in April and we will be given an opportunity to tour this magnificent vessel! What a treat!
Gerald announced that the key triad – Captain, Hotel Director and Cruise Director – would remain unchanged for the 2017 World Cruise.
Q and A was next and Orlando opened by discussing the number one question – the internet. He said that peoples’ expectations for speed and pricing far outpace was is available today in the maritime environment at affordable pricing. This is a major issue across all Carnival ships and they are working the problem hard because – aside from the frustrating experienced at sea with the internet, they hate so see people wasting precious port time searching for WiFi hot spots.
A few weeks back, they passed out forms for people to fill out with questions they would like to ask Orlando, but they didn’t use a single one, nor did anyone explain why they went to the bother of distributing and collecting these advance questions only to ignore them without explanation.
Here are the highlights of the questions asked by passengers. They were remarkably on point, appropriate for the panel present, no whiney and no speeches.
Q: What about smoking on Verandahs? Don’t like it.
A: We are experimenting replacing Verandah smoking with smoking is a special room, like you see in airports. Nothing will happen too soon, but we think about it a lot.
Q: Keep the dance hosts! I will only sail on ships with Dance Hosts.
Q: Will single supplement remain at 25%?
A: Single supplement will be priced according to demand. (Pete’s explanation – no – they will only reduce single supplement once they realize they won’t sell out and they prefer reduced price singles to empty cabins.)
Q: Love the idea of dedicated single rooms, but why are they all in undesirable locations.
A: We will get back to you. (Pete’s explanation – they have a hard time selling these bad locations, so if they make them singles, people might complain less after they book them.)
Q: Big gap in loyalty program between 5 star and Presidents Club.
A: Looking at a new level that kicks in after 1000 days.
Q: Why not newer ships for World Cruise
A: Captain answered by stating the Amsterdam is more suited for world cruising than newer ships from a sea keeping perspective. (Pete’s explanation: If they can’t even sell out the Amsterdam on a world cruise, why would they use an even bigger ship and not sell out?…They won’t)
Q: Do you share best practices among all Carnival lines – specifically why do you do muster drills differently across your brands?
A: They share best practices during periodic meetings. They are looking into using electronic muster process in the future, (like they do today on Princess Lines.)
Q: Why doesn’t $$ spent in the casino count for onboard spending credit that increases count for accumulating mariner days?
A: Mumbo Jumbo Answer. (Pete’s explanation – I play the casino frequently and received discounts on cruise fare above everything else based on casino play – real savings. Surprised they didn’t make this point.)
The meeting ended on time. The executives mingled with the audience afterwards and were available for individual questions.
Judy and I grabbed some lunch in the Lido and then relaxed in our cabin until 2:30 when Judy goes to Arts & Crafts and I head to the Texas Hold’em table. Judy made a fabric necklace with wooden beads knotted inside to make an interesting pattern. I was lucky and won again at the Texas Hold’em tournament.
After lunch we discovered 2 roses and chocolates in our cabin! Gifts from the Captain. I tried to pretend that they were from me, but the Captains accompanying greeting card was a giveaway.
They had two Mariner Appreciation Cocktail parties in the Queen’s lounge – one for early seating at 4:15 and the other for main seating at 6:45. They formed a line on deck 4, starboard side if you wanted to get your picture taken with Arnold Donald, Orlando Ashford and wives and then a second picture with the Captain. We avoided the line at first and then jumped in around 7:15 pm when it was much shorter. Show Host Erin was working the door and she asked your name followed by a formal introduction to Arnold and Orlando. Very nice touch. After about 30 seconds of chit chat they lined you up for the picture and then you moved on. Unlike other Mariner events, everyone was shaking hands without a bottle of Purell in sight.
Once inside the Queens lounge we found an empty table and joined our dinner companions for chit chat, cocktails and very tasty appetizers that were be passed around by waiters. Champagne and wine were being served from trays, but you could order anything and they brought it to you in a few minutes. I ordered a martini.
About 7:30 or so, Orlando took the stage and thanked everyone for their support and then they recognized employees for exceptional service and then length of service. Once that was over, the band played on until time for dinner at 8:00Pm when everyone filed out and headed to the MDR for dinner.
The menu was beautiful and everyone at the table saved theirs. A copy is posted on the blog under World Cruise reference and then look to February 14th. The food was outstanding, really a couple notches above previous cruises. Everyone at our table ordered something different and everyone reported that their dish was magnificent. Appetizers included Caviar and Foie Gras. The dining room was decked out with red hearts and red, heart shaped, Mylar balloons. The waiters were dressed in colorful Valentine themed costumes.
After dessert, it was time for the Valentine’s Day Ball in the Queens Lounge, which started at 9:30 and went on till Midnight. The Queens lounge was transformed into its dance floor configuration which was packed at 9:30 and stayed packed, song after song. When we left at 11PM, the joint was still rocking and the dance floor crowded.
Around 10PM, Orlando took the stage and made some more gracious remarks and surprised everyone by announcing that his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer a while back but successfully completed treatment and was recently certified cancer free. To celebrate he took to the dance floor with his wife and swayed for a few minutes until his oldest son cut it to dance with his Mom for a bit, followed but their youngest boy who completed the Ashford family dance. Very touching and sweet. The dance floor was reopened and filled instantly – the music being provided by the HAL band, with Australian singers Liam John and Darcy Jones alternating with the vocals throughout the evening.
Complementary beverages flowed freely and Gene kept things moving with the occasional raffle for a bottle of champagne. The Queens Lounge was filled with high energy fun the entire evening.
Everyone was dressed to the nines, with most of the men wearing tuxedos. For this evening, the grand spirit of classic cruising was in full force!
Back in our rooms we discovered the 4th pillow gift of the cruise. A very nice heart shape Valentino Votive (candle holder) made of glass by Orrefors. Very nice!
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