Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
Marilisa De Simone was hired by Carnival Cruise Line after she received a tip-off from a dear friend.
It was ten years ago. De Simone, who was working for Barcelo Hotels and Resorts at the time, was missing the day-to-day hustle of the cruise industry and confided to her industry pal, Derek Lloyd, that she was looking for a way to sail again.
She knew cruising well. De Simone had previously spent 16 years working at TravelBrands in various roles, including one at Encore Cruises, where she was a product and marketing manager.
In-the-know Lloyd (who’s now vice-president of agency sales for North America at Norwegian) informed De Simone that two cruise companies, at that time, were hiring – Carnival being one.
It was an opportunity De Simone couldn’t ignore, so she fired off her resume to the “Funtastic” Florida-based brand.
“The rest is history,” De Simone tells PAX. “Sending in my resume was the best decision I made.”
Today, De Simone is Carnival’s business development director for Eastern Canada, a role that also involves overseeing tour operators and national accounts.
“Every day is a different day,” says De Simone, who will celebrate a full 10 years at Carnival this November. “I review the territory, create brand awareness by seeking opportunities with new and existing accounts, develop marketing strategies, partner on consumer events, provide agents with training opportunities, and organize ship tours and seminars at seas.”
De Simone, a first-generation Canadian, born and raised by Italian immigrant parents, and who lives in downtown Toronto with her family in Liberty Village, has always worked in travel.
She got her start in 1997 while studying at Humber College’s School of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism.
“I was fortunate to get a job at a brand-new Marlin Travel agency while attending school,” she recalls. “I was the only student in my graduating class who was getting hands-on experience while enrolled in the program.”
It was 26 years ago when De Simone became a marketing manager and senior travel advisor at that agency.
“Then I got tired of our nasty winters and I ended up working in Punta Cana,” says De Simone, who pivoted over to TravelBrands as a destination rep in the Dominican Republic.
After four “incredible years” of sand, sea and sunshine, forging “amazing” friendships in the Caribbean, De Simone returned to Canada. Positions at TravelBrands and Barcelo (a product that she loved) followed, but the ocean just kept calling out to her.
“I was having F.O.M.O – fear of missing out – when it came to cruising,” De Simone says, reflecting on her decision to apply to Carnival.
Almost a decade later, De Simone feels “incredibly blessed” to be a member of the Carnival Cruise Line family.
“I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and forge lifelong relationships/friendships with many of my accounts and other suppliers,” she says. “I can honestly say that I love what I do!”
For her, it isn’t job – “it’s a passion of mine,” she says.
“I get to wake up every morning, loving what I do, and meet incredible individuals, travel the world and enjoy our ‘Funtastic’ product – life doesn’t get better than that!”
Here, PAX Checks In with De Simone to discuss Bon Jovi, becoming an instant Mom, and why Carnival will be full of fun and Italian flair this summer.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Marilisa De Simone (MDS): I’ll admit it – I’m an overpacker! I have to have my dresses when I travel – I love to get dolled up on both vacation and business trips. I’ll pack my Beachwaver curling iron, and lastly, my Nexus card. It’s a lifesaver at the airport.
PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?
MDS: I don’t have a favourite, but if I had to choose one, I’d choose Toronto Pearson. Not for what it offers, but for what it represents. If I’m at Pearson, it means I’m lucky enough to embark on a new journey for work or pleasure. In addition, when returning, it means I’m one step closer to being home with my loved ones and my adorable pets.
PAX: What was the first trip you ever took?
MDS: As a child, I went to Europe in the summer and sometimes for Christmas. Visiting our family and friends in Italy was such a highlight when my brother and I were kids. We were surrounded by love, amazing food and incredible sights. From playing in my Mom’s small Italian village, to spending time with our grandparents and hearing my grandfather’s stories of WWII, to going swimming with our cousins and friends, it was an amazing experience.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
MDS: This past December I took my family and my parents on a seven-day day Eastern Caribbean cruise on board the new Carnival Celebration to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday. We enjoyed the ship to its fullest – including all the amazing specialty restaurants, spa and activities it has to offer.
PAX: What’s the most memorable meal you ever ate while travelling?
MDS: In high school, I was in an orchestra band and we performed every two years in international destinations. In grade 13, we performed in Italy and Switzerland, and the best pasta dishes I ever had were in the small town of Orvieto, Italy. Also, my Mom and I were once on a girls’ trip in Aruba and we had dinner at this small local restaurant called Papiamento. We dined with the amazing Colleen LesSard of the Aruba Tourism Authority, and both the food and venue were outstanding. More recently, on board the Carnival Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration, Rudi’s Seagrill was probably the best meal in my life.
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
MDS: On airplanes, having the person behind you kick your seat, especially when you’re trying to sleep. And when you’re trying to deplane and passengers in rows behind you decide to not let you in the aisle.
PAX: What’s your funniest travel anecdote?
MDS: My friend/colleague and I once flew to Punta Cana for 24 hours. I used to live in PUJ as a destination rep, and we didn’t book a hotel, figuring we would go clubbing and hang out with my friends there. Well, in the middle of the night, we needed a place to stay as my friends had family visiting from out of town. So, we ended up staying at Las Cabanas. I will spare you the details of what these are intended for. All I can say is people rent them by the hour (if you catch my drift). It had a small bed, a wooden bench and you paid through a tiny window, which opened up in the room. They also provided a “care package.” I slept on the bed, my friend slept on the bench. We couldn’t help but laugh the night away and for days to come.
PAX: Would you travel for a month in luxury, or travel for a year on a budget?
MDS: This is a tough one as I’ve travelled both on a budget and in luxury. I might have to go with a month in luxury. I’d be too homesick if I was away for a year.
PAX: What do you consider your greatest achievement in recent years?
MDS: Last summer, I got married. Our original date was set for July 2020 but we all know what happened then. Due to the pandemic, we had to reschedule the date four times. It finally took place last summer and it was perfect! Not many people are aware of this, except for my inner circle, but last summer, I became an instant mom as my stepdaughter (who was six at the time) went through a lot after her mom was diagnosed with cancer and sadly passed away a month before our wedding. Her passing is clearly not an achievement. We were hoping she would beat cancer, but knowing that I can be a mother figure for my stepdaughter, and help my husband raise her, is an ongoing achievement.
Professionally, I’ve been fortunate to have had many achievements, but being recognized by my peers and accounts as a top BDM is a huge accomplishment for me. Also – educating a new or veteran travel advisor about our product, and seeing them make a booking with us, and hearing our mutual clients rave about their onboard experience, is a huge win!
PAX: What is your motto?
MDS: Kindness is magic. If we can all be kind to one another – to strangers, to those we know, to animals – the world would be a much better place. I also believe that we shouldn’t take people or things for granted as tomorrow is never promised.
PAX: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
MDS: I have always said that if I could be like Oprah and have a home/land full of dogs, I’d be complete. I currently adopt animals – I would save and rescue several animals and give them a loving home. This brings me pure joy and happiness. And, of course, I’d love to continue travelling the world.
PAX: What is your biggest fear?
MDS: I don’t really have many fears, but my greatest fear would be death.
PAX: Who is your favourite singer or band?
MDS: I absolutely love Bon Jovi. I have seen them a few times in concert. I also love Andrea Bocelli, Marc Anthony and Ed Sheeran and would continue to go see them in concert as well.
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
MDS: When I was a kid, I was known to do Don Knotts (Ralph Furley) impressions from Three’s Company. My family and relatives would gather around and watch. I’ve also been featured in high-end wedding magazines and blogs for my cake creations – I’ve worked with Food Network stars in the U.S. as well as in Canada. I create whimsical cakes like “The Cake Boss,” and high-end wedding/celebration cakes and sweets. I’m part-owner of cake business with a dear friend of mine, @EdibleArtShop. I also have other creative outlets where I create backdrops for events. I created the backdrop for my wedding and wedding cake table last summer. I also love to restore furniture with a fresh makeover. It’s incredible what a little paint and imagination can do.
PAX: How has the pandemic changed your outlook on life and business?
MDS: I’ve always had a positive outlook on life – my family/loved ones have always been a priority for me. I believe the pandemic has taught people to focus on who and what is important. Life is short and we cannot take people or things for granted. In regards to how I conduct business, we all learned how to adapt with the times and you have to continue to adapt and evolve. During the pandemic, it was key, more than ever, to maintain relationships and build on new relationships.
PAX: What is the biggest challenge facing the travel industry right now?
MDS: From what I hear from travel advisors, airfare is extremely costly right now for Canadians, especially when planning for a cruise. From my conversations with my Rock Star Travel Advisors, airfare has increased 30 to 50 per cent since prior to the pandemic. In some cases, it deters consumers to book a vacation.
PAX: What is this year’s top travel trend?
MDS: Cruising is back with a vengeance and more and more of the general public are interested in booking a cruise. Our ships are completely full at their time of sailing. Clients are also booking early, which is what we all want to see, and more consumers are booking with a travel advisor, more than ever before.
PAX: What should travel advisors know right now about Carnival?
MDS: We have a new ship, the Carnival Venezia, which makes her debut in June. She will be sailing from New York City year-round. She is the first of two ships, with Italian flair, in a new program called “Carnival Fun Italian Style.” On board, the Lido Deck resembles Piazza San Marco in Venice, with a retractable glass dome ceiling (covering the Lido Deck pool, so if poor weather conditions hit, guests are still able to live their best life). She will also feature a canal and gondola resembling the ancient canals of Venice. This is a fantastic opportunity for travel advisors to offer a fun yet unique experience from one of the most entertaining cities in the world.
We also have incredible travel advisor/interline rates, which are commissionable. Advisors can book any client who is an airline employee, but can also book rates for themselves. This allow our partners to book their own stateroom plus up to two additional ones (unless otherwise noted) for friends or family. It's a fantastic opportunity to vacation with us and experience firsthand our award-winning ships, incredible restaurants and our phenomenal service as our crew are truly the heart and soul of Carnival Cruise Line.
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today! Click here to follow PAX on Facebook.