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Old January 20th, 2008, 01:54 AM
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Default Bloggers Cruise..Virtual Cruise Report from the Freedom

Blogger’s Cruise – Day 1 – Jan. 19
For those who weren’t cruising along with us on the Holland America Zuiderdam Virtual Cruise last week…. We disembarked the Zuiderdam this morning, rented a vehicle large enough for the population of a small country to fit in the luggage for four of us, and drove from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami to board the Carnival Freedom.

We decided to stop along the way at the Rascal House in Miami for a deli lunch, and arrived at the pier shortly after 1 P.M. Back in November we’d boarded the Freedom for our CruiseMates Thanksgiving cruise and the embarkation was quick, painless, and seamless. Arriving today the terminal seemed scene was much more crowded, and appeared slightly chaotic, even in the VIP check in lounge for suite and Platinum level Carnival repeaters.

We came to learn that the computers were down so much of the process was being done manually by the check in agents.

In the VIP lounge, to add to the problems, there was a travel agent who had come into the lounge and loudly insisted that the dozen or so clients with him be allowed to complete their check in process in the VIP lounge even though they were not eligible for this benefit. The VIP Lounge staff gave in, rather than create a scene, but doing so forced those who were eligible for the expedited check in process to wait.

While the agent surely thought he was providing a service to his clients, I’d have just as surely liked to get his name and contact info, so we could have a chat at a later date about his etiquette. I was pretty relaxed, having just completed a cruise, so was in no real rush, but some people who had indeed booked suites and were watching what was going on in the lounge were getting fairly perturbed with this individual.

Shortly after 2 P.M. we were crossing the gangway, and having our pictures imbedded in our Sail & Sign card. We’ve just sailed this ship in November, so there were no startling surprises once onboard. Her interior still struck us as odd as when we first saw it. Friends with us, who have never sailed Carnival before, described the décor as like an “Italian Whore House?… though I think it highly unlikely they’ve ever seen one of those either. Later, I also overheard other strangers describing the ship as beautiful… though I don’t know how many buckets of beer they’d already consumed. Kidding aside, I think different people will indeed look at the décor differently.

Once we made our way to the pool deck there was definitely a high energy party atmosphere. The ship is carrying over 3000 passengers this week, and almost one third of the total are signed up a part of John Heald’s Bloggers Group. For those of us who are part of the “Blogger’s Group? there are quite a number of special events planned, as well as a variety of gifts that John and Carnival have put together.

The Bloggers events were kicked off today immediately after the muster drill, with a cocktail party in the Victorian Theater.

As we entered the theater Stephanie, a member of John’s Cruise Staff (who I spent a day working with when I did a “day on the job article? in 2006) informed us there were reserved seats for us at the front. It was unnecessary, but I was honored by John’s thoughtfulness, but we do go back quite a number of years. I think I personally have publicly announced to the world six times that John is retiring.

Thankfully for Carnival cruisers and for Carnival John has changed his mind each time. And the Blog John started writing last March has not only informed and entertained his fans, it seems to have also rejuvenated John, giving an already energetic person renewed energy.

There was no doubt that the people in this crowd are John Heald fans! He was greeted by a standing ovation.

As John spoke to all the “bloggers? gathered he introduced some friends from the audience, and I was surprised and honored when he introduced me to the crowd, and spoke about CruiseMates and our friendship. I haven’t been asked to stand in front of a crowd this size since the police executed a warrant and arrested me for being in the United State illegally in 1999. (Just kidding!!).

When all the “bloggers? got to their cabins earlier today they found great looking beach bags, with I Love John’s Thingy emblazoned on them. During the get together this afternoon he talked about other gifts the bloggers would be receiving as the cruise went on. Of course each announcement was greeted with enthusiastic response from the crowd.

Perhaps the most enthusiasm occurred when John announced that a decision had been made for another Bloggers Group Cruise for 2009. It will sail on Feb. 9, 2009, from New Orleans on the then totally refurbished and updated Carnival Fantasy. My reaction was “BRILLIANT?. As John went on to explain the reasons this ship and embarkation were chosen, it all made great sense.

The cruise will demonstrate John’s enthusiasm for promoting Carnival, and also demonstrate the great humanity that those of us who know him know makes up so much of his personality.

He is formulating fabulous plans for a pre-cruise event where passengers will combine fun and donating some working time to assist in building housing in a city that still needs help.

In the next few days I’ll be supplying much more detail about all of the plans. Being the outstanding professional journalist I am, I of course, didn’t have my note pad with me to make certain I was accurate. But I will bring back ALL the facts soon.

I’m not sure I am to report this, because it’s not fact, and not yet set in stone, but John did hint to me later in private, that if things work out, Elton John MAY be performing during the 2009 John Heald Blogger’s Group Cruise. For now it’s a rumor, but keep your eyes peeled.

You can be assured that when I return home we’ll begin working on putting together a CruiseMates Group Cruise for this cruise. I’ve felt for some time that we needed to do a group cruise out of New Orleans, to do our small part for the city. This will be a great chance to do it, while helping a great cause.

An interesting tidbit from John for all of you who are booked for the CruiseMates 3 C’s Transatlantic Group Cruise on this ship in April…. John had earlier announced that he wouldn’t be the CD for that sailing. John confirms he won’t be the CD on that sailing, but he and Heidi will be onboard with us! And John and I have agreed that we’re going to get together to plan some special happenings for the CruiseMates gang.

It’s nearly 2 A.M. and it’s been a long but very exciting day. I apologize in advance for any late night typos and grammatical errors I have made, but I’m too tired to edit.
Tomorrow, after some sleep, I should be back to my normal elegant writing style.
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