When Rosario Arena was 10 years old, his school gave him a test which asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Without hesitation, Arena wrote a “sea captain.”
Now, sitting in his office near the bridge on Carnival Freedom, Captain Arena says: “My dream has come true. This was one of the best things that I have done in life. I am really happy that I chose this job. You change as a person. You go around, talk with so many people, experience so many other cultures, you grow. It is a beautiful job.”
Of course, he did not go directly from elementary school to command of a modern 110,000 gross ton cruise ship. After completing his education, Captain Arena worked as an officer on oil tankers for eight years. While he admits that it was a good job, serving on a ship with less than 25 other people aboard was not a job that suited to his personality.
“I like to talk to people. If I cannot talk, I cannot live. There you are alone. You don't have any interaction.”
A friend who had recently joined Carnival Cruise Lines suggested that Arena consider switching to cruise ships. So Arena applied and was accepted. In the 15 years since then, Arena has served on almost every Carnival ship. "I have done the Fantasy class, the Spirit class, the Destiny class - - Destiny, Triumph and Victory - - and then I did almost all of this class - - Conquest, Glory, Valor, Freedom and Liberty. I am still missing the Splendor, a few of them."
The work has been no less demanding on cruise ships than it was on tankers. “You do this kind of job because you love it, we don't do it for money. It is full immersion, 24 hours.”
However, it is work better suited to the Captain's personality. “Here, I found a different life. I like to go around and talk to people. Each evening, I go to the promenade deck and talk with the guests. I really enjoy exchanging experiences and points of view.”
“One thing I like is the bridge tour. We spend a full hour with [the guests on the tour]. The first thing that they talk about is the crew. The first thing they say is 'Captain, you have a beautiful crew.' I believe the people when they come aboard are really interested in the ship's life. They do not come here just for travel.”
Carnival Freedom attracts a high number of repeat passengers. Captain Arena says that this is due in part to the fact that the Freedom is conveniently based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. However, the ship also has its devoted fans. “Many people really like the ship. Every ship looks the same from the outside but there are some people that like [a particular] one. Sometimes we change [a ship's homeport] you see people almost crying. They really get close [to a ship] and things remain as good memories.”
The Freedom is the last ship that was built in Carnival's Conquest class. Its design is based upon the design of the Carnival Destiny, which entered service in 1996. However, that does not mean that the ship is a 1990s design or employs 1990s technology.
“It began with the Destiny in 1996 but they improved it. The Conquest, the first one of this class, is longer and higher than Destiny. [Technologically] everything is completely different. The equipment is different, the thrusters are different, the layout of the bridge, the safety center - - even the motors are different engines. Over time they improved a lot.”
And the improvement did not end when the ship entered service in 2007. To illustrate, in April 2014, Carnival Freedom will enter the shipyard in Freeport in the Bahamas to get the Fun Ship 2.0 enhancements. This will include a revitalization of the main pool area, including the addition of a Guy's Burger Joint, a new Red Frog Pub on the inside promenade, the addition of a series of Captain's Suites and various other updates.
“All the time, we try to improve because [what the customers] demand is always changing. We need to be always on top of that.”
When he is not commanding one of the Carnival ships, Captain Arena lives in a small town in Sicily with his wife and young son. However, even there he needs to remain active. “When I'm here, I am working. When I'm home, I must do something. [To just sit and watch television] is not my style. Many captains when they are retired, they are not so happy because they want to do something. We are different people, [our work is] more active than the normal job that people do at home.”
Therefore, in addition to fishing with his son on a small boat that he owns, Captain Arena spends his vacation time studying for a master's degree in navigation.
The sea and ships are never far from his mind or his heart. “I went to visit the Carnival Sunshine in Messina and I waited until she sailed. To see her go out is an emotion I like. It is nice. You feel something that I cannot explain. I can spend days watching [ships]. Maybe when I retire I will sit in some ports watching the ships go in and out.”
Cruise ship captain interview - - Carnival Cruise Lines - - Carnival Freedom - - Captain Rosario Arena