In early 2010, the announcement came that there would be a transatlantic cruise for the new Carnival Magic to reposition back the US shores. Around the same time, came an assignment to write a piece on a transatlantic group on a popular message board. I had followed transatlantic message boards before as part of my message board articles, but never followed one from beginning to end in real time. Most often, I was reviewing archives of the sailing long after the fact. This time, I decided to actually follow it in real time. The board already existed even though the destination was not yet announced. I was surprised to find the board was already pages into existence with the usual “know it all” posters giving what they swore was “inside information” from their contacts at Carnival. In true message board fashion, a “can you top this” mentality already prevailed. Since bookings were yet to open, all was pretty much without substance, even though there was already a competitive edge to many of the postings.
After discussion with my husband, we both agreed that a transatlantic crossing would be a great time for me to write, as well as days of ship time which we both enjoy. I could also join the message board and really get involved, rather than just joining, but never actually sailing on the ship. What better way to write about a group; I would join, post and actually interact with the group as I did the research to write about them. I stopped short of actually telling anyone at the time that my main focus was following the group for a story, rather than just another passenger cruising with them. As it turned out, before I was done, I was ignored, banished and kicked out of the group, along with quite a few others. Had I made my reason for participating known, I might not have been treated as badly, but I would not have experienced the rollcall from the point of any other innocent person who tries to join a public roll call for an upcoming cruise. Trying to be objective in writing this piece has been my biggest challenge.
A quick call to my planner at Carnival let him know we were interested in sailing on the Magic TA. He would let us know when booking the cruise was finally being offered. It was then that I joined the message board and actually committed to cruising on the TA, scheduled about 18 months in the future. We were already cruising on the Magic, one of the 12 day itineraries being offered about 6 months before the TA, so the crossing would be the second time on the ship.
In the middle of June came the call that bookings were opened for the cruise. This was to be the first controversy in a group, that would end up being full of secret alliances, cruel postings, petty fights, behind the scenes covert emails, deception and an outright mutiny at sea. The first bit of controversy actually involved us, our planner at Carnival, and a few others.
We actually became the 10th booking for the TA crossing, as we were home to get the call when Carnival telephoned with the news that we could book the cruise. At the time, we booked our favorite aft cabin, gave our deposit and received our booking number. Armed with that, we visited the message board where a few other people had booked the cruise that day as well. The first attack was on our cabin, which a message board host claimed he had reserved as part of “his group of cabins”. It was also implied that I was lying, as Carnival was not yet taking bookings. Having no intension of arguing with an idiot, I did not respond, although one of the other posters did. As we would soon find out, the bookings were accidently opened up, and even though we booked that day, the bookings were quickly closed. This was the first ripple in the demeanor of the folks on the message board. It would be three weeks before bookings were again opened, with “those in the know” constantly telling us our bookings were void. Actually they were not, they stood and when bookings opened with higher prices, we were happy we were home on that fateful day to book the cruise at a much lower price.
Like many “roll calls” as they are called on the message boards, this TA already had a “leader” emerging, and everyone seem to fall in line behind the leader. There were already activities being planned, cute names for the group, and potential icons being tossed around for our consideration as the days went by. We soon had a “mascot”, a group name and a design for tee shirts to be ordered and worn on the cruise. Red frogs soon appeared in most people’s message board signature, right next to the countdown clocks dotting the pages. It was official, we were a group and everyone belonged.
Since the message board is a travel agency in disguise and no links to anything but their own companies are allowed, the group soon had to find a place for posting useful information away from the censors on the message board. Our leader soon started a facebook page so people could post information not censored by the “big brother” cruise site. While some people flatly refused to join facebook, a good majority of people joined where we could also chat online in real time.
Then came the “seasoned” cruisers with agendas. Bit by bit, the roll call was acquiring people who had cruised many times on Carnival, and their goal in life is to “command” a message board roll call group. We recognized some of them from previous roll calls where hostile take overs, and controversy prevailed. They soon brought that and more to our TA roll call.
The first email to my private inbox was a bit disturbing. Our “leader” was expressing concern that a new poster had to potential to “destroy” our group. We were advised to ignore this person on the roll call until their “true intensions” were known. The ship holds about 4000 people and we had a very small group, why couldn’t more people join our group, after all, it is a public website? Why was this stranger, this self-appointed leader, trying to control whether we interacted with another cruiser on a public site? This was soon to be a disturbing trend, with even people who had been in the group for some time, falling victim to the poison, back door emails. Then one day in late 2010, came the attack and renegotiation of the group leadership.
We recognized the couple from a previous cruise where they staged a hostile takeover of a meet and greet on the ship. In that instance, there was hard feeling, tears and an exodus that left the couple literally standing there with a microphone and no one to talk to as we all walked out. Now it appeared that they wished to get a shoe in earlier than they had on that previous cruise, and stage the takeover online prior to the cruise. In no time, my inbox was filled with “secret emails”……
In a few weeks time, they had make it to the top, bottlenecking through and they emerged as co-leaders and friends with the current leader after they exchanged phone calls and plans for traveling to meet each other in person prior to the cruise. From that point on, our TA roll call was filled with animosity, accusations and fighting. Not that the original leader was a saint, but it was interesting to see one couple take a group of people on one ship, and then another group online, and so poison both groups.
Same couple, different group of people, different ships, yet the same results.
Our group was already split at that point, but it was another couple that fractured it for good. Their daily postings in the first months of 2011, consisted of several sentences, each sentence starting with a person’s online name. They would make sure, that ONLY the people they considered important were addressed in their posting. With a healthy dose of Texas twang, they would blatantly ignore all people of the group except for the select few highlighted in their posts. On a daily basis, despite their claims of “good will to all”, they fractured the group forever. As the people they included highlighted their posting and responded, the rest of the group was at that point doomed to be outsiders. Any attempt for them to post was completely and very obviously ignored.
Then came the fun loving, ever optimistic man of many hats and hundreds of days aboard cruise ships………….and what did this group do?
They took aim at the hat and launched the torpedoes!!
Like many of these roll calls, this one had many travel agents, who do not make their true interest in booking private excursions, transportation and activities onboard known to others. We usually do poorly when we make it known that we only book Carnival excursions. After all, Carnival has been so valuable in making connections for me to do historical research for my novels. That means we are always going to book their excursions. We have nothing against people booking private excursions, except for the fact that they need to drag others with them in order to profit from the venture. This means they have a vested interest in members of the group that will follow them privately and no interest in the members in the group that will not. We were enticed into many activities in the roll call that had fringe benefits for the leaders of the activities. So why then was accusations hurled at the funny man in the hat?
Cruising with followers of his own, the “Pied Piper” of cruise ships was glad to share some of his activities with the group if they so desired. Very gracious offer to the group, and the best part was there was no money involved and no one had to pay to join in the fun. The man’s attempts to help secure some nice activities through John Heald for the group, ended up with nasty comments and accusations that were hurled at John Heald on his facebook page. This caused a flurry of comments about the group from other bloggers that were less than kind. When it was all said and done, the original leader was no longer going on the cruise and the alpha couple was given free rein. The man in the hat was offering friendship and fun to his fellow cruisers, and the leaders of the TA roll call responded with a ton of private vile emails, and then used the message board hosts to get him kicked off the site. Somehow, I missed the point of this, other than to see that the couple on charge felt somehow threatened by someone who had more influence on the ship then they did. They were soon joined by other travel agents in the group in a malicious attempt to convince the group that we were almost cheated in some sort of a travel scam. Of course, no one else really admits to being travel agents, and when confronted, we are told they are the “good ones” without an agenda. Anyway, the jolly man in the hat was gone, and sorely missed.
As the clock ticked down towards the late October sailing, more problems occurred. It seemed if you closed your eyes and followed blindly, you were fine, but if you dared to question, you were done.
Then came the slot pull scandal. A woman wishing to run the group slot pull where everyone contributes money to spin the wheels of a slot machine a certain number of times, and split the winnings, raised questions in the group. Of course, when someone asked the question of whose card should be inserted in the machine at the time, the “leader” graciously said it would be her card as people putting in their own cards would “take too much time”. Since the group was running their money through the woman’s card, who happens to be a travel agent, she would benefit from over 1200 points on her account, soon giving her free drinks for the reminder of the cruise. This little debate brought out the more intelligent members of the group who were just tired of pretending that they were not aware of all the scams being done by members of the group.
When the ship finally sailed, the group was forever split into smaller groups. We did not join the others in their meet and greet party. Having been banished from the facebook page at one point back in January, we were done, except for meeting up with our special fringe group and writing this article.
What happened to the jolly man in the funny hats, you ask? Despite the fact that he was told he would be welcomed at the meet and greet – that was not to be. It was reported he was threatened with bodily harm by the couple running the roll call at the meeting. He was thrown out of the meeting and told he was not welcome. The final insult; an attack………mutiny at sea.
I can’t believe the behavior we saw over the last year on the TA message board. There was no way to anticipate what happened, or why. Personally, I was glad we did not attend, as I really do not understand the politics of what amounts to our personal vacation. Who knows, maybe we would have been thrown out as well, condemned to walk the plank with the man in the funny hat…….
Copyright November 1, 2011 Rita Alexandrea