Nina Gets The Carnival Groove Aboard Horizon

By Nina Slawek

A view of the horizon aboard Carnival Horizon (and Nina)

Havana Pool & Bar

Carnival has discovered the formula that makes middle America (and many middle Canadians too) feel at home. 

Not awed. Not bowled over. At home. 

The prevailing attitude of guests is: ‘This is my playground and nothing’s going to stop me from having fun.’ And they do. 

As a marketing case study, getting customers to take such ownership of your product is a phenomenal achievement. 

Cruising on Carnival for the first time changed my perception of the brand. Initially, encountering what looked like two members of the Bloods in undershirts and low slung pants, I was a little apprehensive. By the end of the cruise they were my buds and I had the dubious honour of being tagged “baddy.” (It might have been ‘batty’ but I’m sticking with baddy.)

One day when the ship was listing badly, I was teetering along, clearly struggling, when a few beautifully dressed ladies surrounded me and gently ushered me to safer ground.

To them, it’s what you do among neighbours. To me, it was one of those moments that make a vacation.

In the narrow hallways of cruise ships, encountering other guests can occasionally be awkward. Do I say hello even though they are clearly avoiding eye contact? 

Not on Carnival. 

Every guest I passed had a smile and a cheery good morning. No pretence. No attitude. Black, white, big, small, old and young. Everyone was polite to a fault. And seemed to treat every experience as a joyous gift. 

‘This is my ship and I’m loving it.’

As to the food, it was, without exception, first class. The presentation alone of the sushi platters at Bonsai Sushi rivals any of the best Japanese restaurants in Toronto. The steak from the Steakhouse melted in your mouth and was cooked exactly medium rare -- which small restaurants often can’t manage, much less the enormous kitchens of a cruise ship.

The lunchtime outdoor BBQ is brilliant. Jerk chicken served alongside corn and freshly baked biscuits. Ya mon!

The Italian is truly Italian. At the Cucina del Capitano I tried Nona’s favourite pasta made with a blend of tomato sauce and pesto which gave it a nutty edge. Slurpy and delicious. Baddy liked it. 

Even the main dining room, which can often be hit or miss, was a hit on each occasion. No iceberg lettuce surprise on Carnival. 

People like to eat. So serving really good food is really smart business. It keeps everyone happy. And, more importantly, it keeps them coming back. 

The sophisticated side of Carnival comes through in places like the Library Bar, the Havana jazz club and the Chef’s Table  where a multi-course dinner is paired with amazing wines and served in a beautiful private dining area right in the galley. 

As with any large organization, training staff to be gracious and friendly is probably one of the most challenging areas. On Carnival, I found all my encounters with service staff absolutely effortless. Everyone is friendly, helpful and seems genuinely pleased to see you. 

I met guests from Canada who are on their 20th Carnival cruise. They grew up with Carnival and now bring their entire family with them. Why? Besides the fact that they truly enjoy themselves, they feel comfortable on Carnival. They feel at home. 

No amount of advertising or artwork can elicit that kind of loyalty. It’s an emotional connection to the brand which marketers would kill for. 

This is Baddy, signing off.

Nina Slawek

Nina Slawek President

The visionary co-founder of Open Jaw, Nina handles everything at OJ from the purse-strings to the talented but eccentric staff. She is frequently spotted hobnobbing with industry leaders and making glamorous appearances in the Open Jaw TV Room.

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