Close Encounter With The Mafia

Derek Travel Tales 29 Comments

As my last post dealt with travel warnings and the dangers they warn us against, I thought I’d share a story this time around about a threat to my own safety that I once faced. And if you think this story will take place in some war-torn or lawless country, you’d actually be wrong. It takes place on board the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship during my time as a Tour Manager.


The telephone rang in my office and one of my team members informed me that an irate passenger was demanding to speak with me. This was a common occurrence during my time working as a Tour Manager on board cruise ships, so I simply straightened my name tag, walked across the lobby, slapped a smile on my face and extended a friendly hand to the angry passenger standing in front of the Tour Desk.

But this time, the passenger didn’t want to shake my hand. He was a large man, with disheveled hair, a scruffy unshaven face and dressed in camouflage pants, a black leather jacket and black army boots, not the typical attire of passengers on board the Queen Mary 2. And the fact that this man clearly hadn’t bathed in an extraordinarily long time made me want to resolve his issue as quickly as possible so that I could return to the comfort, quiet and pleasant aromas of my hidden office on the other side of the lobby.

He was an Italian man who didn’t speak any English, so I asked my Italian staff member, Susanna, to translate our conversation. It turned out that Mr. Campanella wanted Susanna to act as his personal translator when off the ship in every port of call on the itinerary and Susanna had rightly informed him that such a request was not possible. I again confirmed that Susanna had specific duties and responsibilities to perform every day we were in port and that with the size of our team, we could not afford to have her away from the ship each day.

Mr. Campanella then started slamming his hands on the counter before looking me in the face and stating “You are terrible man and you don’t want to help me.” He then stormed off. I just shrugged my shoulders, shared a chuckle with Susanna and returned to my office.

Three hours later, Mr. Campanella returned, demanding to speak with me once again. We then proceeded to repeat the exact same scene as earlier except that this time, he ended our conversation by yelling “Who do you think you are?”. Another shoulder shrug, another shared chuckle, another day on board.

When I eventually I finished my work for the day, I went up to the passenger gym for a quick workout. As I was sweating away on the elliptical machine, my pager went off and upon calling the number, I heard Susanna’s frantic voice on the other end. She told me that she had just run into Mr. Campanella in the lobby and he gave her a message to pass along to me. The message was: “Next time I see you, I will punch you in the face.”

Back to my workout I went.


At 7:00am the following morning, our ship arrived into the port of Newport, Rhode Island and I went out to the pier shortly after our arrival, as I always did in port, to meet with our tour operators and dispatch the day’s shore excursions for our passengers. It was a hectic morning as usual and when it finally slowed down I was happy to realize that my face had remained un-punched. But soon enough, Susanna came off the ship and pulled me over to one side. Mr. Campanella had now told her to “Tell your boss to be careful today. I will get revenge. Make sure you pass that message to him.”

So, with the message passed on to me, I promptly walked over to my favorite bakery in Newport, sat down and enjoyed a nice piece of apple pie and a cup of tea. And then I returned to the ship, went to my office and carried on with my preparations for the remaining ports of call of the voyage.

At 5:00pm we opened up our Tour Desk for business as usual and before long, I found myself walking back and forth across the Grand Lobby from my office to the Tour Desk in order to assist my team when long lines formed or to deal with the occasional complaining passenger. The only difference on this evening was that every time I left my office, I noticed Mr. Campanella standing in a corner of the lobby staring at me, shaking his head slowly from side to side and pounding his right fist into the palm of his left hand.

After seeing this a few times, I decided I had enough of his shenanigans and I went to speak with the Hotel Manager (cruise ship equivalent of a hotel General Manager) about the situation. The Hotel Manager, after listening to my story, made a phone call to the Chief Security Officer on board in order to have Mr. Campanella placed on the security ‘watch list’. However, it turned out that Mr. Campanella’s name was already on that list.

The Chief Security Officer informed us that after spending a few hours ashore in Newport, Mr. Campanella was caught trying to smuggle two hunting knives, a flip-knife, a machete and two spray-cans of mace that he had purchased in port back on board the ship.

Upon hearing this news, and for the first time in this saga, I started to fear for my safety.


Within five minutes, the Captain of the ship had joined myself and the Hotel Manager for a meeting and it was decided that Mr. Campanella would be banned from coming anywhere near me, my office, my team or the entire Grand Lobby.

Unfortunately, after receiving this warning, Mr. Campanella clearly failed to get the message as I found him waiting for me right outside my office the next time I opened the door. Needless to say, the Captain and Hotel Manager were soon issuing their second warning to Mr. Campanella, one that banned him from being anywhere on the entire Deck 3 at any time of the day or night.

The security office then provided me with an on-call security escort to accompany me around the ship 24-hours a day and I was also advised as an added precaution to begin locking the door to my office at all times, even when I was working inside.


The next morning, our ship was docked in Boston and once again, I went out to the pier to organize all of our tours as soon as the ship was tied up.

After about an hour, I suddenly found myself standing in front of Mr. Campanella’s traveling companion, a 6’6” Italian guy wearing tight black jeans and sporting a mullet, who had approached me to ask where he could find the bus for the tour he had booked. I quickly pointed out that he was two hours early for his tour and therefore, the bus had not yet arrived. He then mumbled something about wanting to wait outside and I just turned around and returned to my work.

But when I suddenly turned around a few minutes later, I caught this same guy videotaping me from a distance with a small video camera. Although as soon as he noticed I saw him, he quickly put the camera in his pocket and pretended to be wandering around aimlessly. Yet five minutes later, I caught him videotaping me once again.

And when I approached him, he just looked at me and calmly stated, “We will get you.”

Without replying, I instantly ran away, across the pier, back on board the ship and into the Hotel Manager’s office. I then informed my superior that either Mr. Campanella and his friend were kicked off the ship immediately, or I would be disembarking myself right there in Boston.

The following four hours involved meetings with the Captain, the Chief of Security, Boston Police and US immigration officials. Unfortunately, since Mr. Campanella had not actually committed a crime, the Boston Police could not arrest him. In addition, US immigration refused to allow the ship to kick him off because they didn’t want him on US soil. So in the end, the Captain had no choice but to keep Mr. Campanella on board.

And naturally, following lengthy meetings and discussions, I didn’t leave either, mostly because abandoning my team in the middle of a voyage would have caused some serious problems. In addition, the Captain assured me that the ship would try to unload Mr. Campanella once we arrived into Canada.

Of course, it came as no surprise when Canadian officials in both Quebec City and St. John’s, Newfoundland also refused to allow Mr. Campanella to remain in Canada longer than the ship’s stay.


The final port on our itinerary, before finishing the voyage back in New York City, was the beautiful little village of Bar Harbor, Maine. And on this day, after I finished dispatching the morning tours, I treated myself to some much needed free time in the afternoon, which I spent devouring two yummy lobster rolls in the park and enjoying a massive cone of chocolate chip ice cream from an old country store and ice cream bar.

I stayed ashore as long as possible and only returned to the pier an hour before the ship was scheduled to set sail. However, when I did return to the pier, I was instantly snapped out of my relaxed state, as I noticed the Chief Security Officer arguing with none other than Mr. Campanella at the ship’s security checkpoint. It turned out that, once again, my Italian friend had been caught trying to smuggle knives on board, this time two steak knives, a hunting knife and a cleaver.

As soon as Mr. Campanella noticed me standing there watching the situation from what I felt was a safe distance, he started shouting in my direction and began walking towards me. I took a couple of quick steps back, but the security officers grabbed him before he could reach me.

For the remaining 36 hours of the voyage, the Captain had Mr. Campanella and his pal completely confined to their cabin, with constant security posted outside of their door. And despite all of the begging that Mr. Campanella did on the last night, trying to convince the Security Officer to destroy his knives instead of turning them over to the US Customs and Immigration officials in New York, the last I saw of Mr. Campanella was when he was being escorted into an interrogation room in the cruise ship terminal in Brooklyn.

Side note: Later that day I spoke with an Italian officer on board the ship who had acted as translator during Mr. Campanella’s meetings with the Captain. He informed me that he wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Campanella was some sort of low-level, mafia-affiliated clean-up man based upon the region he came from and the suspicious way in which he acted. Whether or not this is true, of course, I’ll never know…but it seems like a good idea to look over my shoulder every now and then just in case.

UPDATE: A friend of mine just reminded me of one final part of this story. After the ship left Boston, Mr. Campanella asked one of the Receptionists on board for a detailed schedule of the Queen Mary 2 for the following year. He then informed the Receptionist that he would be “waiting for the Tour Manager in the port of Civitavecchia, Italy” the next time the Queen Mary 2 visited. Approximately five months later, the Queen Mary 2 arrived into Civitavecchia and sure enough, Mr. Campanella was waiting outside the port gates, still dressed in camouflage and wearing black army boots. Luckily, I was in India on my vacation in between contracts. But when the Chief Security Officer recognized him, he notified the port authorities and had Mr. Campanella removed from the area by police.

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Comments 29

  1. Mike Pole

    Great story! Thanks for sharing. Traveling teaches you that most people the world-over have rather similar motivations. And then there are a scary few that you can’t fathom at all….

  2. Pingback: Meet the Nomads: Earl Baron |

    1. Earl

      Hey Anil – I’m sure something was going on as well, as that was hardly a reason to get so upset and potentially violent! However, I once had a passenger actually jump over the Tour Desk and attack me because the tour we sold him spent only 80 minutes, not the 90 minutes that was advertised, at a white-sand beach. So you never know!

  3. Alan

    I’ve read travel stories. I’ve told travel stories.

    But THIS. This is a ridiculous story! Thanks for sharing Earl, and glad to hear that you’re still alive and well. I take it you’re not pressing to go to Italy anytime soon? I mean, they’ve got video footage of you…

    .-= Alan´s last blog ..No Regrets: Renaissance Living and a Bucket List =-.

    1. Earl

      Actually, I went to Italy last summer (which was 8 months after the above incident took place), but I stayed far away from Sicily!

    1. Earl

      Thanks for visiting Michael! I’m glad you enjoyed the read. If I had some free time, I’d love to turn this story and all the other crazy things I witnessed on board cruise ships into a book…it seemed like every voyage something absolutely bizarre happened.

  4. Simon

    Maybe it was all lost in translation? Perhaps a punch in the face is a sicilian greeting, and the knives were because he wanted to cook for you?

    1. Earl

      Hey Si – Perhaps! And the video taping? Maybe they just needed some footage for a video montage they were going to send me for my birthday.

    1. Earl

      Hey Brian – Not only does one not need a machete, but hunting knives, flip-knives and mace aren’t exactly useful items for a cruise either! And what a way to spend time in each port of call, shopping for weapons. I’m not quite sure why he even wanted to take a cruise in the first place…

  5. Suzy

    What a story! You were lucky to have all of that security. I lived in Sicily for several months and a group of American guys I knew started a fight with these Sicilians. They kept threatening they would take care of them later in the week. A few days later I think something like 64 mafiosi were arrested in town. I wrote my college thesis all about the Sicilian Mafia and Journalism so I could go on forever, but thanks for sharing such a story.
    .-= Suzy´s last blog ..Suzy Stumbles Over Travel: Week of April 12, 2010 =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Suzy – Hopefully Mr. Campanella’s name never came up in any of your research! And starting a fight in Sicily definitely seems like an unwise decision to me. No matter what Mr. Campanella did, I sure was not about to get aggressive myself…I much preferred to run away in the opposite direction instead!

    1. Earl

      Hey Ashley – It does seem a little bit more crazy when I think about it now as opposed to when I was on board! Maybe because my job required so much work in such a fast paced environment that I didn’t really have the time to sit down and think about the reality of the situation. I was definitely a little scared but still had to attend to my work duties regardless.

  6. Osborne

    After reading the story I find myself wandering why he did not just harm you once you were off the ship and relaxing at the various places you mentioned. He got the knives and what not on shore and after his first failed attempt to sneak them back on board I find it odd that he would not just wait, watch, and follow you somewhere on land. Loved the story though.


    1. Earl

      Hey Osborne – You’re exactly right and that is what led me to believe that he was just a confused individual who really had no idea what he was doing. I wasn’t quite sure why he even felt the need to use weapons, as given the differences in our sizes, he could have easily overpowered me without them! I would have been no match at all for him and his giant friend. Lucky for me, planning was clearly not his specialty.

  7. Dina

    WOW Earl! What an experience! Scary must be at that time, but very entertaining to read it now (of course knowing that you are fine till now!)

    I wonder what happened with Mr. Campanella after that… btw, this particular line cracks me up:
    “However, it turned out that Mr. Campanella’s name was already on that list.”
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..Friday Photo: Monkey parenting (Ubud, Bali) =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – Normally the security ‘watch list’ doesn’t have any names on it, so that’s what made it such a surprise that his name was already there. And as far as what happened to him afterward, well, he did appear one more time. Something else happened that I forgot to mention, but I just added an update to the post at the bottom, so its there now…

  8. Moon Hussain

    Earl, that’s quite a scary story. If he was trying to bring machette on board, an assumption can be made that he was into the business of harming people and disposing of them.

    You kept your cool more than I would have, that’s for sure. Try not to be this adventurous 😉

    …and I thought quitting my job was an experience. Whew!
    .-= Moon Hussain´s last blog ..Fun Friday Round-Up: Delicious Blog Chowder! =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – He was either in the habit of harming people or in the habit of being a little ‘confused’. Honestly, crew deal with such random stuff on board those ships all the time, that its hard to take anything seriously. Had it been one flip-knife I probably would have still laughed it off, but when a 2-foot machete is involved, it’s time to take things a little more seriously!

    1. Earl

      Hey Johnny – Yeah, every now and then I remember that they have some video footage of me out there, and that’s a weird thought. But I can’t imagine that me not allowing my staff member to be a personal translator would be reason to come after me!! Hopefully not anyway…

  9. Maria Staal

    Wow, what a fabulous story! Really enjoyed reading that. As sureal experiences go, this one must be at the top of your list…
    Interesting to read you worked on a cruiseship. I worked on containerships, but also for the passengers, so I recognise some things.
    .-= Maria Staal´s last blog ..The Romans Set the Stage =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Maria – Container ships? How did you enjoy that? I wonder how similar life on board those ships is to the ‘ship life’ on cruise ships…

      I’d be interested to hear some more about your experiences!

    1. Earl

      Hey Brian – I have no idea why I’ve never shared that story before, maybe I feared for my safety if the story got out. They do have video footage of me after all…haha. But I think enough time has now passed that the mafia has moved on to other more important matters of business!

      Thanks for visiting Brian.

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