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What It's Like To Captain A Cruise Ship

Capt. Ravera-9

All cruise ship captains have stories to tell about life as a captain. Some tell, some don’t.

Captain Stefano Ravera of the Star Princess has a few he’s willing to share…

About what happened in Papeete, in the South Pacific:

“We were supposed to receive the food for the first leg of the world cruise. The ship bringing the container over from New Zealand was two days late because of bad weather. We started our cruise but we did not have enough food so when the container arrived, we were already at the second island. We rented a small boat capable of transporting a truck with the containers; we took it to the next island, Moorea.  We were using tenders for the passengers so I dedicate one tender for provisions. I said: ‘Since we all eat, I need people from all departments. We took ten people from every department, and we loaded 20 tons of food. It took just a good afternoon.”

About a funny response in Dakar (Senegal):

“They wanted us to send ashore only the people on tours. When I asked why, they said: ‘Oh, we don’t know if they will want to go back on the ship.’ I said: ‘I’m very sure that they won’t stay.’ We had quite a long discussion with the authorities. They thought passengers Capt. Ravera-4wanted to stow away in the car. I said I don’t really think that they will.”

About what it takes to be a captain:

“Lots of people think my only challenge is the nautical side, which is not really true — this challenge is everywhere and anywhere. It can go from nautical to receive the food supply, like that time in Papeete.”

About all the ships in his resume:

“This is number 12. Yes, you do get attached. My first command was the Dawn Princess. Then to the Ocean Princess, which was the Tahitian — she will be sold in 2016 — because I was four years with her. I was very sad.”

About the Gulf War of 1991:

“I was working on a military ship as a liaison offer for Italian merchant navy, to organize and assess preparation for navigation in the gulf for our expedition there, because I had experience in the Gulf previously with the merchant marine. One time I was on a cargo ship that was hijacked, but we were released after a relatively short time. Militarily, let’s just say we were involved to a certain degree…”

About why cruise ships generally enjoy smooth sailing:

“Various reasons, such as the distribution of weight…the provisions…number of passengers and crew. The center of gravity is always monitored…and we must comply with an extra safety margin taking into account rough weather. The ship will be comfortable, and aways safe. The vessel may move but we will have gentle movements, especially for first-time cruisers. Stabilizers tilt at positive and negative angles to achieve the dampening effect to smooth down the rolling of the vessel. The pitching of the vessel — back and forth, front to back — cannot be dampened by any instrument or equipment, only by changing the course of the ship.”

About his scariest day in the Italian Navy:

“Thank God I didn’t die. We were sent out to rescue people. It was August 2, 1982. We capsized — and I woke up in the hospital.”

Today at portsandbows.com: First looks at new river cruiser AmaDara

Carnival Fascination
5 nights
October 5, 2015
Jacksonville (return): Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $279
Cost per day: $55
www.carnival.com

Lessons From Star Princess ‘Master’

My father taught us this: “Be happy with what you achieve, wherever you are. Try to do your best and be honest.” The teaching of life when we grew up was integrity, honesty and be happy with what we have. If you keep chasing something you will never be happy. You have to have a goal in life. It’s good to aspire to something but you don’t have to be selfish.

With every life, there are at least two stories, one personal and one professional. With Captain Stefano Ravera, Master of the Star Princess, both are interesting.

Capt. RaveraThis is the personal, yet it touches on the professional.

He comes from a small town on the east coast of Italy, near La Spezia, which is considered a small town because it’s lightly known, an after-thought by Italy’s Cinque Terre. The father he talks about was also a ship’s master, an occupation that rubbed off on both his sons, Stefano the elder and Paolo the younger. Ironically, today they both command Princess ships (Paolo is on the Sea Princess).

While their father’s skills rubbed off, it was not a given.

“No,” recalls Stefano, “we just like it. My father told us to do what we want. My sister doesn’t sail. She is nine years younger and has a university degree in language.”

There are cruise ship captains…and there are cruise ship captains. In the Ravera family, there’s clearly a code of ethics. Also responsibility.

Here is his:

“If I have a crew member who went to the hospital and I went to see them, or a passenger, they say ‘How come you came to the hospital?’ I say ‘Because you are in the hospital’ and I come to see how you are, if I can. If my mother’s in the hospital, I go. Why not? I try to pass this message to younger officers because we have a responsibility to bring up the younger generation. We cannot say the world is not good because of them. The world may not be good because we don’t create a better place.

“People will spend years to complain but will never spend one second to say thank-you. So it’s very important to spend that second to look after someone. Something that for us may take 10 minutes, but for another person it might last an entire life. We should never avoid doing that. It is very important. I believe in that. It’s my two-penny opinion.

“Every day I learn something. Every day is a learning day. You never stop learning, not even when you retire. I can see my father. He’s 86 years old and every day he learns something and he’s happy to do that. That I think is the way you have to approach life, with a positive attitude. Try to be a mentor for the future generation and pass what little I know to the other people.”

So it’s as much about the type of person he is as the type of captain. This was not a self-serving speech from the bridge…this was from a casual conversation in his office, a post-Capt. Raverascript to an interview about living your life at sea, which he has pretty much done since joining the Italian Merchant Marine as a 16-year-old deck boy 39 years ago.

It is his life. He hopes that will continue for 11 more years.

Nine months of every year, he’s on a ship — “That is my choice’ — and in the other three he spends time with his parents in Italy, his children in Eastern Canada and his partner in South Africa, where she is a doctor.

If he sees his brother, it’s usually like ships passing in the night, although one time they were on the Coral Princess together during a “shift change that lasted for two days in Fort Lauderdale.

“That was very nice, but we keep it low key,” smiles Stefano.

They are, however, a trivia item among cruise ship captains, or masters. One of his ships was the late Pacific Sky and Paolo is a former captain of her sister ship before it became the old and now-retired Dawn Princess.

“We both had the chance, being not extremely old, to command steam-turbine ships and that will never happen to any captain now on a passenger ship,” he explains. “The Sky was the last one afloat.”

The brothers share another quirk.

We’d heard Captain Ravera often refer to the Star Princess as “the white lady” so we asked him why.

“It’s a little tradition between me and my brother that we had in our family, because ships are female and passengers ships, most of the time, are painted white. So we call her the white lady because they are elegant, like a lady.”

Today at portsandbows.com: How to be loyal before being a cruise customer

Crown Princess
10 nights
September 23, 2015
Los Angeles (return): San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Loreto, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $64
www.princess.com

Costa Message: Forever Italy

A couple of months back, we were in Italy, which in our world is always a nice place to be. Today would be an even better time to be there, because it’s Republic Day, a national holiday to celebrate the end of Italian royalty (except for Sophia Loren, of course).

The ship we boarded in Naples that day was the almost-new Costa Diadema. At a press Neil Palombaconference that week it was made abundantly clear by Neil Palomba, President of Costa Crociere, that his cruise line is first and foremost for Italians and that — while owned by Carnival Corporation — it’s run by Italians.

As they say in Italy…si?

He sounded a little defensive, almost as if he was getting some heat with talk of Costa ships going off to America and China, among other worldly cruise hotspots. More than 60 per cent of Italian cruisers choose Costa and this week the cruise line is showing once again it’s not forgetting its roots.

The press release that announced Republic Day celebrations four times on three Costa ships made a point of saying the ships would be flying the Italian flag. Thinking that the ships must be registered elsewhere (most are registered in tax Diademahavens), we found that all three are registered in Italy. As is the Diadema — you can see its flag modestly displayed halfway up the funnel. 

The celebrations are while the ships are docked at ports in Denmark, Germany and Norway, so we can only assume Costa wants to show the locals what they’re missing by not being Italian…as well as involving the Italian embassies, of course.

This is the 69th June 2 since the Italians exiled the monarchy for its unpopular decision to back Benito Mussolini, the dictator who ruled Italy during the early years of World War II, and it’s 68 years since Costa became a cruise line. They’ve grown old — or up — together, and Costa’s never going to miss a chance to remind Italy’s people.

In the news…

• Chinese ship capsizes on Yangtze River; hundreds feared dead
• New Royal Caribbean sale starts today: up to 30% off fares

Today at portsandbows.com: Tallest of the tall ships

Norwegian Spirit
7 nights
December 5, 2015
Port Canaveral (return): Nassau, St. Thomas, St. Maarten
Inside: $519
Cost per day: $74
www.ncl.com

Corsica Education From The Diadema

Diadema-Ajaccio

AJACCIO, Corsica — The Costa Diadema is responsible for educating. A vehicle of learning. This newest ship in the Costa Cruises fleet of 15 regularly drops passengers off for a day in Ajaccio, a pretty town on the island of Corsica.

That’s where the education starts?

Among the things we didn’t know until getting off the Diadema:

• It is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, behind Sardinia and Sicily (although we probably could have discovered that by studying a map).

• Unlike the other two, it belongs to France…not Italy.

•  Everything that isn’t named Napoleon is named Bonaparte, or so it seems, in honor of its  most-famous son and the large house where he was born has become, as expected, a tourist attraction.

• Corsicans still don’t like the sea that surrounds them because they associate it with invaders (including malaria-carrying mosquitoes) even though none of them exist today.

• The man Corsicans regard as their greatest hero is Pasquale Paoli, the highly educated leader who was defeated by Napoleon, who wrote the island’s constitution and who was far ahead of his time in demanding equality for all, at a time when women were regarded as unequal.

• People came from all over the world to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s birth in 1969 and they ran out of beer — by 10:30 that morning!

Ajaccio-2Corsica today is mostly French and Italian, as you might expect, in what has for centuries been an uneasy relationship. It’s also divided between north and south, by mountains, and that relationship is regarded as “competitive” today. It’s only 50 miles from Italy and its second language (Corsican) is more Italian than French.

Ajaccio is in the south, the capital of the south, and it’s clear that — 200 years after his death — Napoleon is still an industry in the town where he was born but spent less than 10 years of his life. The statue of the famous French emperor is an exact replica of the one over his gravesite in Paris and a regular tourist stop for anyone who comes here on a cruise or a plane.

More and more Europeans are flying in to experience Corsica’s pristine and rugged geography. Green with pine forests, it’s called Ile de Beaute (which requires no translation) and its interior is a magnet for adventure tourists. Complementing that are sandy, unpolluted beaches all the way around the island, and going from the sea to the interior can take longer than it takes to fly to Switzerland.

Approximately 100 miles by 50 miles, Corsica is home to 300,000 residents, and many come from elsewhere. Our guide, Rollie Lucarotti, and her husband boarded their boat in England, sailed here 43 years ago and Ajaccio-Rollienever left. The first book written about Corsica was penned by a Scottish spinster, Thomasina Campbell, after she toured the island on a cart pulled by a pony, and her pockets were deep enough to build a church and a mansion on what is now Rue Miss Campbell.

Besides spectacular scenery and its ability to remain in something of a time capsule geographically, Corsica is also known for its perfume. Legend has it that the perfume is so unique that Napoleon could recognize the island with his eyes closed just by inhaling it.

Just one more nugget of information about Corsica, thanks to a 3,600-passenger vehicle of learning.

Ajaccio-6Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
May 10, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $439
Cost per day: $62
www.carnival.com

Vroom! Grand Prix On The Diadema

 

ON THE COSTA DIADEMA — Several years ago, we spent almost three weeks driving around Italy. From Tuscany to Turin and back. From Tuscany to Naples to Venice and back to Rome. About 3,000 kilometers in 19 days. By the time it ended, Bob had turned into Roberto. If you’ve ever driven a car in Italy, you know why.

So when we boarded the Costa Diadema in Naples a few days ago, somebody’s eyes lit up at the thought of climbing into the Grand Prix simulator. Maybe another name change — Grand Prix-1Mario, perhaps — was imminent. 

The simulator is one of the fun aspects of cruising on the Diadema, or on any of six other Costa ships. It was one of the cruise line’s innovations that was added to the list of excellent entertainment amenities on this, the 4,850-passenger newest ship for Italy’s (and Europe’s) best-known cruise line.

Rides start at four euros. That’s for three minutes on a choice of international tracks, as they're displayed on three screens just above the cockpit. Step one on the road to Monaco for a real Grand Prix, just like on that poster above, right? In the simulator, thrills and crashes are included. You can go as fast (or slow) as you like and while helmets aren’t required, seat belts are. Nobody wants to be ejected from a Grand Prix car, even a simulator.

North Americans would surely find this a heart-stopping experience. Okay, at least palpitations. For Europeans, just a shrug. Just another day on the Autostrade, where seat-belt laws are observed and speed laws are not (just ask Roberto).

Grand Prix-2Such was our frenetic schedule on the Diadema that we decided to save the best for last. The Grand Prix experience would be on our final night, at the 11th hour. Closing time was 10 p.m. We arrived eight minutes before the hour. Alas, with no line-ups, the operator who locks drivers in the enclosure where a bright-yellow Grand Prix car awaits had also locked the door and shut off the “ignition.” A seat in the cockpit, yes, but no keys. There would be no ride on this night…on this cruise.

Mario would have to wait.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Pearl
5 nights
May 2, 2015
Los Angeles, San Francisco, Victoria, Vancouver
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $53
www.ncl.com

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