The Man Behind the Captain

Some cruise ship officers I've met through the years have confided that when they hear the Staff Captain wants to see them, it triggers bad boyhood memories of having to report to the principal's office.

CLICK FOR PICVincenzo Alcaras
Staff Captain Vincenzo Alcaras of Carnival's Paradise smiles at the comparison. "I do call officers in to give warnings if our rule policy is broken, and sometimes an officer may have to be fired, but I do nothing without the Captain's approval," he said.

But Alcaras pointed out that he has no trouble on the Paradise with any officers or staff. "It is a good ship. Everyone gets along. It is clean, and the crew likes it and keeps it that way. I have not had any trouble with anyone. The fact it is a non-smoking ship is also nice, because I do not smoke."

But the vessel's stringent no-smoking policy can sometimes cause problems require Alcaras to get tough. At boarding, passengers must agree in writing to take no smoking materials onboard--not even matches--and if they break the rule, they will be fined $250 and put ashore at the next port of call. "We had an incident where a woman broke the rules and locked herself inside her cabin and said she was not going to be put off the ship. This was before we left Miami, so I called the Miami police, and when they came onboard, I went with security to the woman's cabin, unlocked the door, and the police escorted her off the ship," Alcaras recalls.

If the Captain of the ship becomes incapacitated, the chain of command calls for the Staff Captain to take command. Alcaras' other duties include responsibility for all onboard safety. He's very visible during the lifeboat drill on sailing day, and also when the crew has its weekly fire and safety exercises. He can be seen walking the decks at all hours to make sure everything is as it should be.

Alcaras has an impressive background in nautical skills. After five years of college, he began sea life as a mere deck boy, then served in the Italian Navy for two years. Next he went to work for Sitmar Cruises as a deck cadet, moving up the career ladder to Princess Cruises before signing with Carnival in 1996 as a Second Officer. A year later, he was promoted to First Officer and in 2000 became Staff Captain. He looks forward to one day becoming Master of his own ship.

Staff Captain Alcaras also spends time counseling his officers about relationships with the opposite sex. "I feel like a priest sometimes. I talk to them about how they must be careful at all times. I encourage them to come to me if they have a specific problem." Officers are strictly forbidden to enter a passenger's cabin, he explained, "and they cannot take a female passenger into theirs without my permission."

In his few leisure hours, Alcaras enjoys reading and watching the videos he rents ashore. He also enjoys playing soccer with other officers and working out in their private facilities.

He is onboard four months at a stretch, then vacations two months with his family in Sicily.

On some ships, when select passengers are invited to dine with the Captain, the Captain is the only officer at the table. Not so on the Paradise. Alcaras joins him, along with the Chief Engineer, Chief Staff Engineer, Chief Purser, and the Hotel Manager. "It is one of my nicest nights when I get to spend time with passengers," he said.

Vincenzo Alcaras is one of the youngest Staff Captains in Carnival's fleet. This speaks well not only for his skills but for his ambition. "Captains usually don't retire until they are 65," he said with a grin. "That means once I do get promoted, I will have a very long time to serve."

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