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Longtime Carnival crew members now staffing the Magic

ABOARD THE CARNIVAL MAGIC – I see a definite pattern here. In chatting with my cabin attendant Marco Balbuena of Peru, I learned that he has been with Carnival Cruise Lines for 20 years.

Adam Levine and Maroon 5 perform for the Carnival Magic inaugural U.S. cruise in 2011.
Adam Levine and Maroon 5 perform for the Carnival Magic inaugural U.S. cruise in 2011.
Jackie Sheckler Finch
Adam Levine and Maroon 5 kicked off the Carnival inaugural U.S. cruise in 2011
Adam Levine and Maroon 5 kicked off the Carnival inaugural U.S. cruise in 2011
Jackie Sheckler Finch

During an evening cocktail party, Guest Services Manager Marcus Davies of Wales told me he joined Carnival 17 years ago.

My dining room team headwaiter and surprise singer Catherine Villareal said she has worked for Carnival seven years.

Stopping by my dining table as he has every evening, Senior Assistant Maitre D’ Branimir Plovanic of Croatia said he became a Carnival employee 17 years ago.

Carnival Magic Cruise Director James Dunn of England signed on with Carnival Cruise Lines eight years ago.

And Carnival Magic Captain Giovanni Cutugno of Italy told me he has been with Carnival an amazing 35 years.

“I have been a captain for 23 years,” Cutugno said. “I have Carnival’s most seniority.”

Carnival Cruise Lines must be doing something right to keep valued employees for such a long time. “It’s like a small city on this ship,” Plovanic said. “You have whatever you need… It’s a good life.”

The Magic’s crew consists of 66 different nationalities, Davies said. “The three main ones are from India, the Philippines and Indonesia.”

STARTING WITH CARNIVAL

When Plovanic applied with Carnival back in 1997, he didn’t speak a word of English and had little hopes of getting a job in his native Croatia. “The Croatian War was going on and there weren’t jobs,” he said. “I had a friend who worked for Carnival so I thought I would apply.”

Plovanic was hired and started out working as a server in the crew dining hall. He learned English in a hurry. “I’ve always felt if you want to do something, you can find a way to do it,” he said.

Now Plovanic has excellent English and an unbelievable memory. Each evening, he goes from dining table to dining table greeting passengers by name and remembering past conversations with each.

“You just train yourself to do that,” he said. “I taught my brain to remember names and faces because it is important for me to do that.”

What he likes most about his job, Plovanic said, is the people he meets and the places he goes. “We have had many changes over the years. Carnival company was much smaller when I started but now we have many more ships and go many more places.”

SURPRISE SINGER

For Catherine Villareal, being a dining room waiter has brought an unexpected joy for her and for diners. After serving my delicious crème brulee with berries for dessert, Villareal said she would be back in a few minutes. If I needed anything, she added, assistant waiter Carlos Erickson (six years with Carnival) would be standing by.

Savoring my crème brulee, I heard our head Maitre D’ “007” announce that we would be hearing a special treat. A beautiful voice began singing Adele’s hit song, “Rolling in the Deep.” When the singer came into my view down the dining room staircase, I saw it was Villareal.

Every night on my cruise, she would sing a different difficult song – without missing a beat in her dining room duties. Villereal told me that she has been singing for two years on the Carnival Magic and was surprised at how it all came about.

“I would always sing to myself,” she said. “I would hum and sing little bits of songs to energize myself.”

One day, however, Villereal said she was called into her boss’ office. “I was so nervous. I thought I had done something wrong, that a passenger had complained,” she recalled.

Instead, the boss said he had heard her soft singing as she worked and wondered if she could sing a song. Hoping she didn’t sound too cocky, Villereal answered that she could sing “many songs.”

That’s how it all started. “And I’ve been doing it ever since.” Much to the delight of passengers.

CARNIVAL SENIOR CAPTAIN

For Captain Cutugno, it started on Nov. 15, 1978, when he boarded the Carnival Festivale as a third mate. “I come from a family of seamen which means it was in my blood,” he said. “But my experience was in cargo and tanker vessels.”

Working his way up in the ranks, Cutugno served on a long roster of Carnival ships – Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Tropicale, Holiday, Jubilee, Celebration, Fantasy, Ecstasy, Sensation, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Paradise, Destiny, Fiesta Marina, Spirit, Pride, Legend and Conquest.

He moved from assistant navigator to third officer, then second officer, then first officer and on to safety officer and staff captain. In 1991, he became captain of the Tropicale. The Magic is the fourth new vessel he has commanded.

“My goal always was to be captain of a cruise ship and I love my job,” he said. “I have been with the Magic since she started. She is my baby.”

The safety and comfort of the passengers is his first concern, Cutugno said. As the top man on the Magic, Cutugno also sets the tone for the ship and, from what I saw, he is a congenial charming man who likes to keep things shipshape. That carries over to other crewmembers. The Magic is immaculate and I always seem to be greeted with a friendly smile from crewmembers who often know my name.

When he was introduced at our initial Welcome Board Show, Cutugno came on stage to the sounds of Maroon 5. That is always his intro music, he said, because that is the GRAMMY-Award winning band that performed for a standing-room-only crowd on the Galveston pier when the Magic arrived two years ago in her new year-round home port.

As ship captain, Cutugno gave Adam Levine and Maroon 5 a tour of the ships’ navigation bridge. Surprisingly, I was at the same kick-off concert and on the week-long trip that departed Nov. 14, 2011, for the Magic’s inaugural cruise.

Small world!

I hope to cruise again with Captain Cutugno and the Magic crew someday. And hope you will come along for that ride, too. Thanks for following along on this adventure.

For more information: Check out the Carnival Cruise Lines website at www.carnival.com