A Carnival Captivates the Caribbean.
November 29, 2013
He was, almost certainly, a young man whose name we’ll never know. Perhaps age 10, he was nondescript, like a background figure in a Charlie Brown comic strip. He sought not to make a name for himself, but rather to help out–not “paying it forward,” but “paying it up and down.”
My wife and I, among the 3,100 guests disembarking from the week-long maiden voyage of Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Sunshine, were back in New Orleans. It was time to face the “real world” after a few days of “good old summertime” in the Caribbean.
On the elevator down, we noticed the youngster stationed nearest the button panel, assuming he “belonged” to one of the three other couples on the car. After all adults exited, he remained on the elevator, and we realized our error of assumption. This well-scrubbed, happy “button-pusher,” his voice raised slightly, announced, “Going up.” He seemed resolute to help luggage-laden guests end on a high note. We scratched our heads like folks in Lone Ranger episodes, pondering the identity of the “masked man.”
Transfixed, we watched the process twice more before the announcement of our disembarking number beckoned us to the gangway.
Each shoreward step brought with it lowered temperatures and heightened memories of a grand week that underscored good intentions—rendered both corporately and by individuals.
These good deeds were capped off by a nameless youngster seemingly determined to help out.
Upon boarding, we “oohed and aahed” over the $155 million makeover of the Carnival Destiny–the largest cruise ship on the high seas when it debuted in 1996. We soon overheard several conversations about Filipino crew members who make up some 15% of Carnival’s 39,000 employees.
Many of them, of course, were affected by the typhoon that wiped out so much of their homeland. It was gratifying to learn that Carnival’s parent company, Carnival Corporation– along with the Miami Heat–already had written a $1 million check to help the stricken area.
Further, the corporation pledged another $100,000 as matching funds for employee gifts. Additionally, the cruise line underwrote free transportation back to the Philippines for employees whose lives were hardest hit. Other crew members “doubled up” to cover duties of their grieving comrades, readily adding to already challenging responsibilities. They were cheerful givers, realizing that if their Filipino companions had remained at their work stations, they would have been smiling by day but crying by night.
This backdrop brought with it thoughts of how crew members work relentlessly, certain that their jobs represent “tickets out” from far less attractive employment opportunities back home.
Again, they are “Everyman”–and, of course, “Everywoman”–mostly nameless. Some impress so greatly, however, that one feels compelled to learn their names and details of their pilgrimage.
One such person is Marzhan Batyrshayeva. At age 22, she is manager of the ship’s Ji Ji Restaurant, which features Asian cuisine. In our view, it provides the most memorable dining experience on the vessel. A native of Kazakhstan, at age 20 she saved money for a plane ticket to Lithuania, where her future rested on a positive interview with the cruise line. With charm, beauty and a glacier-melting personality, she was hired. Now, she directs the work of an entire staff—all of whom are her elders.
Much is different about the Sunshine, which, in 75 days, was transformed by thousands of contractors working around the clock on a massive project unprecedented in maritime history.
The result is a masterpiece, details of which are too many to describe.
Foretelling cruise delights was the ship’s naming ceremony, highlighted by enthusiasm churned by band members and cheerleaders of New Orleans’ Destrehan High School. They won performing rights after competing with 20+ other schools.
The program was stunning. Lin Arison, whose late husband Ted founded CCL in 1972, pressed the button to electronically break a champagne bottle against the bow. (Mardi Gras, Carnival’s first vessel, went aground on its maiden voyage.)
Officials spoke; a priest offered a prayer of blessing.
Program-planning professionals pushed “all the right buttons.” Remembered equally as much, though, is the unscripted role of an unnamed youngster. He, too, pressed buttons to help out.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Don Newbury’s When the Porch Light’s On.