MOVE YOUR FEET – LOSE YOUR SEAT
The expression above ran our household for many years. Saved seats were not allowed, there was no discussion or exceptions, the rule applied in all situations and it applied to everyone. There were no invisible people occupying the seats; when you were not there, an empty chair was just that – an empty chair. Your possessions did not represent you when you were indeed somewhere else.
Carnival has that rule in theory; but it doesn’t really exist when you find yourself in the company of invisible people. On crowded ships, you expect some long lines and waiting in them becomes part of the routine. The people in line can been clearly seen, all shifting from side to side as the line shuffles forward and it finally becomes your turn at the front of the line. The frustrating times on cruise ships occur when you are surrounded by “invisible people”. You cannot see these people, but they are there. The empty lounge chair on the deck, the seat in the theater, the place at the table on the lido deck or the empty chair in front of a slot machine – they all “appear” empty to the naked eye, but they are in fact occupied by the “invisible” people.
On a beautiful day at sea on a ship, the deck is often filled with invisible people. That’s right, all those lounge chairs that appear vacant are really occupied. Their presence is known only by looking carefully at the chairs. Invisible people often have with them, a towel, a book, a lone flip flop, or are empty, but tied together with a towel to other chairs. You can only see the objects, but in reality, the invisible people are actually sitting there enjoying their prime piece of real estate surrounding the pool. Right under signs that declare seat saving against the rules, rows and rows of empty lounge chairs exist, with the possessions of the invisible people prominently displayed. The signs above remind people that possessions left for 30 minutes or more will be collected, making the lounge chair available for an actual passenger to enjoy. Do the Carnival employees ever actually free up that prime real estate for the people you can actually see? After all, it is their rule posted on signs and published in every daily paper on the ship. The answer is no, not only do they not remove the invisible person’s possessions, they will not side with the people who get frustrated, move the articles themselves and sit down. In reality, many of those “invisible people” are actually still asleep, eating a leisurely meal somewhere else on the ship, gone back to their cabin to change clothes, or are at the gym doing their daily workout. The idea being that they will have a chair saved when they finally return. Many times, they don’t even leave possessions on the chair, and instead leave one member of their party ready to duke it out with anyone who comes within 5 feet of the 10 chairs they have saved for “other people in their party.” It should be easy, get a Carnival employee to enforce the ship’s rule against seat saving. Unfortunately, they almost always side with the “invisible people” occupying the chair, even if it has been hours since anyone actually sat there. The people who are arrogant enough to save seats in this fashion, already know that the excuse “in the bathroom” is a free pass to holding an empty chair for invisible people. They know that Carnival employees always side with the people “in the bathroom.” The name “chair hogs” has been applied to this widespread problem on cruise ships.
On the transatlantic voyage of the Carnival Magic, the multiple sea days on the crossing really make the problem of saving seats around the ship a major problem. Luckily, I cruise to write so finding a quiet place with my computer is not a problem. I am rarely in search of a piece of prime real estate, so the invisible people around the ship are rarely in places I want to sit. Unfortunately, during writing breaks, my husband and I have gone in search of some of the multiple sources of entertainment available on the ship, that is where we have encountered the “invisible people”.
In one 24 hour period on the Carnival Magic TA, we were turned away from every entertainment and food venue we tried to attend. Thank goodness for our assigned seat in the dining room at 6:00pm. That was the only place we did not encounter someone telling us we could not sit in an empty seat due to someone else saving it. The first problem occurred at the lunch meal, where we wandered around with our filled plates, unable to find a seat. All the tables were occupied, many by people, not eating but playing cards, dominoes or reading a book. We ended up finally returning to our cabin to eat our lunch. The next problem occurred in the theater. After looking in and seeing many seats available, we went in search of a seat. Every time we sat down somewhere, we were quickly told someone was sitting there. The “invisible person” was always “in the bathroom.” That is an excuse frequent cruisers who save seats know Carnival will always accept. The amusing thing was despite the 50-60 empty seats we were told were occupied by people “in the bathroom”, the bathrooms were empty. In theory there should be 50-60 people in the bathroom. I guess the invisible people in the seats are also invisible when they are in the bathroom. Unable to find a seat, and with the fact that my husband would not be able to stand that long, we left – another venue unavailable to passengers on the ship. Saved seats assure that one person can save seats for many of their friends pursuing other activities throughout the ship, and the seats will be available minutes before the show starts. Sometimes the people never make it to the show and the saved seats go empty.
Our last encounter with invisible people was in the casino. We had seen the scams in the casino going on since day 2 of the cruise. One group of five women all gambled on one woman’s card until she achieved 1500 points. That milestone is the point at which Carnival gives free drinks to the card holder for the duration of the cruise in the casino. After that day, the five women could be found sitting very close together. They very slowly played penny machines at the bare minimum to pass the time at the machine. The woman with the free drink card ordered drinks and promptly passed them to the other four women who were also feeding the penny slot machines at the slowest rate possible. That meant that they no longer had to really play the machine, they could sit together drinking for free while they threw a bit of money in from time to time to justify sitting at the slot machine. I took a break from writing to play in the slot tournament that I enjoy, but always lose. This was the second slot tournament of the cruise and during the first one, as we waited, we saw the “invisible slot machine players.” Since there are many rounds played in the qualifying slot tournament, each lasting 5 minutes, seat savers held other slot machines while their friend played a qualifying round and then returned to their regular slot machine that had sat vacant for 5 minutes. Then the other person would go play and their seat would be saved as well. Since this is clearly not allowed, it was quite frustrating for the people waiting to play a particular machine.
There was one machine that I enjoyed playing during my writing breaks and despite losing enough money myself to qualify for the free drink program, I continued to play the machine much to Carnival’s benefit. Unable to play due to others using the machine, I was happy to see that the machine was vacated when a woman left the machine to play a round of the slot tournament. As I began to sit down to play the machine, the women sitting at the next machine said “my sister is sitting there.” Of course, the machine was not being used and the seat was empty which means no money is being made at that machine from Carnival’s point of view. No problem, a casino employee would certainly clear up the problem and explain that seat saving of slot machines was not allowed. I then recognized the 4 of the 5 women from the drink scam. As they stared me down and told me their sister went to the bathroom, they pointed out her card in the vacant machine. The casino employee then appeared and I asked to use the vacant machine. Did he rule in my favor or in the favor of the “invisible sister” who I had seen walk over to play her round of the slot tournament? Would the machine sit empty and unused until she came back to join the other 4 in the drink scam. Would I, the stupid slot player who had already collected 4000 points in a few days in losses in the casino, get to loss some more money at the machine? The woman promptly played the “in the bathroom card” one more time and the casino employee told me that the machine was being used by the “invisible sister” and I could not use it.
So despite cruising 6 or 7 times a year on Carnival ships, on this TA cruise we had been unable to eat our meal on the Lido deck, unable to use the deck loungers, unable to see the show and unable to use a machine in the casino due to the presence of “invisible people.” Since I had been in the habit of taking my writing breaks in the casino on sea days, and I am a poor gambler who loses a lot of money to Carnival’s benefit, the decision by that casino employee was a costly one for Carnival. The 4000 points I earned in losses the first few days of the cruise, probably would have been repeated every few days for the duration of the cruise, adding quite a bit of revenue for Carnival. Instead, after being chased from the slot machine, I chose to boycott the casino for the rest of the trip, which was a total of 10 days that I would not be playing a slot machine in the casino. I also skipped the last slot tournament of the cruise, something I never would have done. That saved a lot of money from our set aside “casino budget”, as my husband boycotted the casino as well.
I decided to take my future breaks from writing in the gym, where at no cost to me, and no revenue for Carnival, my sign and sail card, sat unused in my pocket while I burned “calories consumed” on a machine instead of money. The four ladies and her “invisible sister” continued to be seen in the casino, drinking away and throwing enough pennies in the machine to justify being there. Our usual trip at the end of the cruise to tip the casino staff was also cancelled, as after 10 days of bypassing the casino, the staff there was a distant memory.
MOVE YOUR FEET – LOSE YOUR SEAT, might be a much fairer way to operate the venues on a cruise ship. Writing, relaxing and historical research is my main reason for cruising and that can still be enjoyed at no further cost to me. Not a great business benefit for Carnival, but why waste time attempting to attend events listed in the Funtimes paper or announced over the PA system. These things are for the “invisible passengers”, not the real passengers. We will now make our own fun, relax and leave our sign and sail account devoid of any purchases. Let the “invisible people” be the ones who spend the money on the cruise ship, after all in a dispute, we have now learned, the Carnival employees will always side with the “invisible people” in the bathrooms.
Despite all, we had a wonderful, but rocky time on the Carnival Magic. The storms at sea during the crossing were actually quite spectacular, and my historical sailings during the 1700’s in my books just came together as I sat and watched the storms, safe in the fact that it was a 2011 ship and not a 1700’s sailing ship.
Now if they could finally conquer the “invisible people” problem on the transatlantic crossings, that would definitely be a big plus for the joy of sailing across the sea.
copyright November 10, 2011 Rita Alexandrea