They ask for sex, closets, kosher, no-carb, credit

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Si Liberman
Globe Correspondent / March 21, 2004

How do you pacify the well-heeled cruise ship passenger who is furious because she can't fit the clothes from her 12 garment bags into the cabin closet? Or the one who claims she can't use the bathroom toilet because the seat's too high, or the fellow who says his bed is too close to the floor, or the one who can't stand the paintings in his stateroom?

Well, you smile a lot and try to solve the problem.

Those are some of the demands and odd requests that Per Nilsen, Alfred Salomoni, Franco Verde, Pier-Giorgio Micallef, and W.M. Cruijsberg have had to resolve. The five are veteran European-born hotel managers with competing cruise lines.

"We were able to talk the lady with all the clothes into paying for a second cabin," said Salomoni, the hotel manager and purser of the 55,000-ton Costa Romantica owned by Costa Cruises. "She ended up with two cabins -- one for her, the other just for her wardrobe."

Verde, 59, the manager on the Crown Princess of Princess Cruises, resolved the toilet and bed challenges. He had a stool placed at the foot of the too-high toilet, and piled another four mattresses on the man's low bed.

Nilsen, 46, the Crystal Harmony hotel manager, calmed the passenger who disliked his stateroom art "by covering the paintings with bedsheets." It wasn't so easy meeting the request of a passenger who demanded Diet Pepsi instead of Diet Coke. We only had Diet Coke on board. At a Mediterranean port nearby, there was an American aircraft carrier. Someone got the bright idea of querying them. Sure enough, they had Diet Pepsi, and we ended up exchanging a case of Coke for Diet Pepsi.

"Usually, we'll go out of our way and sometimes at great expense to meet a passenger's dietary needs," Nilsen said. "Our only request: Tell us of your need in advance."

On another ship, Cosmo Costanzo, 56, the Romantica's maitre d', remembers a very wealthy woman who essentially lived on the ship for four years.

"She loved the captain's parties and insisted on giving her own," Costanzo recalled. "Money was no problem with her . . . . Believe it or not, three times in one year she paid for parties with an open bar, inviting all the passengers -- about 700 of them."

Food is often a contentious issue. Fresh milk, for example, is unavailable on long cruises.

"Can't keep it fresh," Costanzo said. "When passengers ask for their breakfast cereal, I try to humor them, saying, 'The crew don't milk the cows until 5 p.m.' Occasionally, someone takes me seriously."

Verde recalled a woman who once "begged us not to clean or make up her cabin. She claimed to be allergic to detergents. What could you do? For the whole week, I kept our cleaning people out of there. Never did find out if the cabin steward got a tip."

Verde also remembered, "After a fight with his wife, a man refused to get into bed with her and wanted us to make up his bed in the bathtub. A mattress wouldn't fit in the tub. We had to use a deck lounge chair and pad."

Satisfying former president George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara on the Regal Princess, a Princess sister ship, was easy. Bush wanted pizza and pasta when he dined with the captain, and his beverage of choice was Absolut vodka.

"No big deal," Verde joked. "The captain just made sure they didn't serve him broccoli." (Bush once said, "I do not like broccoli. . . . And I'm president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.")

Some requests are simply impossible to meet, said Micallef, hotel manager on the Carnival Cruise Line's Sensation.

"A passenger asked me to have the boat change direction, claiming it would improve TV reception so he could watch a sports event," he recalled. "A teacher traveling with a bunch of teenage students wanted me to have the bartender serve them liquor. 'Can't,' I had to tell her.

"After being denied more credit, a passenger asked me to have the casino return $11,000 he said he had lost."

Micallef tried but couldn't help two passengers who had a falling out with members of their tour group. They wanted cabins as far as possible from the others. All other cabins were occupied, and he couldn't talk anyone into switching rooms with them.

There also have been times when he's had to have security personnel restrain unruly passengers, like the naked woman running through a hallway, knocking on cabin doors after midnight, and the man, claiming to be a tribal chief, who went around lifting up women's skirts with his cane.

"The law allows us to discharge troublesome passengers at the nearest port, and they have to pay their own way back," Micallef said. "One time, I had four men kicked off at Key West because they were fighting and waking up passengers in the middle of the night."

Twenty-seven years on the high seas have taught Cruijsberg, hotel manager of Holland America's Westerdam, to expect the unexpected. Some of his examples:

Requests for low-salt caviar and nonfat prime roast beef. "I'd have to be a miracle man."

An elderly married woman's request for sex. "She embarrassed me."

A Jewish passenger who had made arrangements for kosher food but changed his mind after seeing what others were eating.

Cruijsberg said he's had to say no to couples who suddenly decided they want to be married by the captain at sea.

"Can't be done legally after we leave port," Cruijsberg said, "but we do offer a service for those wishing to renew wedding vows at sea. The captain will perform the service. . . .

"I've seen many a tear shed at those ceremonies."

Si Liberman is a freelance writer and retired editor who lives on the Jersey shore and in Palm Beach.

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