Local magician, wife stranded aboard Splendor

Magician Rich Bloch and his wife, Susan – owners of Dickens Parlour Theatre in Millville – were among those stuck aboard the Carnival Splendor, the cruise ship that became stranded this week off the coast of Mexico after an engine-room fire on Nov. 8.

“It was obviously not what we planned on,” said Susan Bloch. “We got on the ship Sunday at about 4 o’clock in Los Angeles, and this happened 6 a.m. the next morning, so we virtually had no cruise.

“There was this huge shuddering, and there were plumes of black smoke,” she recalled of the initial incident. “We knew that was quite unusual. Everyone was directed to go upstairs and outside. The hard part was not knowing what exactly was going on and what was going to happen.”

“I knew there was something profoundly wrong because the ship was shuddering in a way I knew it shouldn’t have been, and there was black smoke coming up outside our window, so that’s always not a good thing,” added Rich Bloch, who has been performing aboard cruise ships for more than a decade.

“I said to Susan, ‘I think this cruise is over.’ We were totally shut down. The ship was literally dead in the water. There was no electric, no nothing. So that’s certainly unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said the cruise ship veteran.

Bloch was one of the magicians hired to entertain a magicians’ convention held onboard the ship during the cruise. But approximately 18 hours into the trip, the fire occurred, stranding the boat and shutting off power.

“The hard part was there was no electricity. There were no flushing toilets for the first 24 hours or so, the food was obviously cold, and there was no hot water,” said Susan Bloch. “The food – because there was no refrigeration – we were going to run out of food fairly quickly, because they couldn’t cook what they had and all they had was cold food, and that obviously wasn’t going to stay fresh for very long.”

Despite the lack of electricity, hot water and even, for a time, flushing toilets, the Blochs said that the experience was not as horrific as some have made it out to be.

“There’s a lot of misinformation going around about the food,” said Rich Bloch. “I heard some people saying we were eating sour milk and Spam. That’s just wrong. They had plenty of food, and they were being careful not to give you anything that might have turned because there was no refrigeration.

“But there were always plenty of fruits, salads and cereals,” he noted. “There were lots of sandwiches. I had bagels and lox and cream cheese a couple of times, and some cereal and Danish, and that’s more than I ever eat at home.

“I don’t mean to say it was a feast,” Rich Bloch emphasized. “It wasn’t, and you do get tired of sandwiches two or three times a day, but we’ve got people in the military over in the Middle East right now, and I’m sure the food they’re getting is not as good and their lives are far more in danger. I just think the people who are complaining need to put this in perspective. Was it inconvenient, sometimes unpleasant? Yeah,” he added. “But, come on – everybody did fine.

“I give it to the passengers, too,” Rich Bloch said. “I didn’t see anyone onboard who wasn’t doing their utmost to be a little more courteous and a little more pleasant than the situation warranted, just so that we could all keep the lid on this.”

Bloch praised the Carnival staff for keeping the 4,500 passengers safe and informed throughout the ordeal.

“The ship did an incredible job in keeping us safe and advising us at all times. There was no bull. They gave it to us straight, and they came through,” he said.

Passengers were given free food and told they could clean out their rooms’ mini bars, and small organized activities were put together by crewmembers.

“The last night, they opened the bars and it was like New Year’s Eve. Everybody was having a good time,” Rich Bloch said. “The magicians all spread out and entertained everybody, and it was like the last night of any cruise I’ve ever been on.”

“I don’t want to paint this as all roses,” he added. “It wasn’t. But it was by no means like these stories, ‘the horror cruise ship from hell.’ It just wasn’t. Everybody did a good job staying calm and handling the problem.”

Once on dry land, passengers were provided with transportation home by Carnival, which paid for airline, train, bus and other travel. The passengers were also to be refunded the cost of their ill-fated cruise and given the chance to take another Carnival cruise in the future, at no cost.

As for whether or not they were put off by cruise ships after the experience, the Blochs had mixed feelings this week.

“No – I was turned off by cruises long before this. That’s why I built the theater,” Rich Bloch said with a chuckle. “I’ve been working cruise ships for the last 15 years, and I mean it. It’s really true.

“The reason I built the theater is that I’m so tired of wrestling with customs and airlines, and 300 pounds of equipment, along with everything else. So, yeah, I don’t particularly want to cruise again, but it has nothing to do with what happened,” he said. “It was just an unfortunate thing and they handled it very well. So, no, it didn’t turn me off.”

His wife wasn’t quite so definitive in her take on the impact of the experience.

“If you asked me today, I’m not so sure,” Susan Bloch said, “but I think, in a few weeks, I’ll probably forget.”