The Costa Romantica
Seminar participants aboard ship
Seminar at Sea
by Donald J. Morris
From the Editor: Don Morris is President of the NFB's Blind Merchants Association, familiarly known to us all as the merchants division. Our merchants have a knack amounting to genius for combining business with pleasure. The following little article and the pictures that go with it provide a clear illustration of this fact. Here is what Don says about the division's hard-working seminar at sea last April:
April 18, 1999, the call was "Welcome Aboard!" This announced the start of the Blind Merchants Division spring conference cruise aboard the Costa Romantica. The ship, which is more than two football fields long, carries a crew of 600. Among the 1700 passengers were fifty-five members of the NFB Merchants Division. By happenstance, also on board were Dr. Atkins (the diet doctor) and a group of 500 conferees. We sailed from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Sunday evening.
Conference meetings started Monday morning with a presentation by Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, for ten years a practicing clinical psychologist and adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University and now Director of Special Programs for the National Federation of the Blind. Her subject was "Elimination of Stress for Improved Performance on the Job." This was a great start for our group.
Monday afternoon we arranged a private galley tour in which conferees were permitted a hands-on examination of the ship's galley. We observed the preparation of the evening's appetizers and desserts. The galley was immaculate. Stainless steel glistened on every surface. Of the very large kitchen crew, twelve members are dedicated to keeping dishes and cookware clean and ready for use. Although every meal tasted and looked as though it was made to order, the galley tour showed us that these delicious meals were really mass-produced. Souffle batter was pumped through a nozzle into individual cups. Several hours later the result was 1,400 perfect souffles. The preparation and presentation of the meals were a great example for cafeteria managers, who all agreed to tempt their customers with new offerings. The chefs and sous-chefs oversaw each aspect of the galley operation, and they managed their part, focusing in order on cleanliness, quality, and productivity.
Study of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and Regulations provided the meat of the conference. We were privileged to have with us Jim Gashel, NFB Director of Governmental Affairs. In the early days of Jim's career, he was instrumental in crafting the language of the 1974 Amendments to the Randolph-Sheppard Act. His seminar title was "The Randolph-Sheppard Act: What Does It Say; What Does It Mean?" Jim introduced the subject by reading and discussing line by line 20 USC 107 et seq. Because of Jim's extensive knowledge of the Act and his experience in numerous federal arbitrations, the audience was able to gain special insight into the Act and its requirements.
The Tuesday afternoon session was conducted by John Martin, President of the National Buyers Group, discussing "Modern Buying Practices, Inventory Management, and the Benefits of Volume Purchasing." John explained how the National Buyers Group lets blind vendors use their current suppliers while still realizing new discounts and special rebates available only to National Buyers Group participants. John explained that blind vendors can participate without any fee or obligation other than a requirement to notify the NBG Office that the vendor wants to participate. John announced that, by using the Internet and going to <www.nbgmag.com>, anyone can download an application for participation or can complete it on line.
Tuesday evening Sue Kable of Glyndon Square Travel hosted a private reception for our conferees. We appreciate and thank Sue for the reception and the professional way in which she handled the arrangements for the cruise.
At 8:00 p.m. the ship docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where many revelers enjoyed late-night shopping, disco dancing, and simply seeing the sights. Others stayed on board to enjoy the nightly entertainment. The Argentine Gauchos beat drums, swung sabers, clacked bolos, and danced and stomped and ran all over the stage. They recruited Jim "Gaucho Man" Gashel to participate. While none of us thought Jim should give up his day job, he did a credible job of beating the daylights out of the stage.
Wednesday morning we arrived in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. After a day of shopping, snorkeling, eating, and simply being awestruck by the island's beauty, we sailed just before sunset.
On Thursday we visited the island of Serena Cay for a beach picnic or snorkeling. It was not all play, however, since the picnic was prepared on the beach by the ship's staff. Once again blind vendors were able to observe firsthand how large quantities of lunchtime fare can be produced in volume with high quality. During the day aboard ship, demonstrations of fruit and vegetable carving were presented, and many blind vendors learned innovative techniques for decorating and garnishing lunchtime platters.
Friday we were at sea all day, and the conference returned to the subject of the Randolph-Sheppard Act. During the morning and afternoon sessions we completed the reading and discussion of the Act itself and began discussing 34 CFR 395, the Code of Federal Regulations, which implements the Randolph Sheppard Act. As before, Jim's in-depth knowledge helped all participants understand more about the Act and how it applies to them. In the case of many conferees who are members of their committees of blind vendors, this understanding will help prepare them to serve their constituents better.
Saturday morning we all attended lectures by the Customs and Immigration Officers, learning our responsibilities for reentry into the USA. Saturday afternoon we docked at Nassau in the Bahamas and did our best to empty the Straw Market, but mostly we emptied our wallets.
Many readers will remember the conflict blind people had with Carnival Cruise Lines several years ago over the cruise line's treatment of blind passengers and their guide dogs. Thanks to the lesson Carnival learned at the hands of the NFB, we had absolutely no such problem with COSTA, even though it is now owned by Carnival. Members of our group were treated with courtesy but were in no way singled out for those annoying services that are neither required nor desired. Neither our white canes nor the one guide dog with us created any problem or any particular concern.
Sunday morning saw us back in the USA, and, though the trip was great, there's no place like home. Arrivederci!