Interview with Carnival's John Heald

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

John Heald is the Senior Cruise Director for Carnival Cruise Lines, currently sailing on the Carnival Freedom. John is widely regarded by members of the CruiseMates.com online community as the best cruise director in the industry. He recently joined the online world with his own blog, sharing detailed and entertaining stories about life on the Carnival Freedom http://johnheald.wordpress.com/?wt.mc_id=HhmpgnewandfunCBlog

On the blog, he talks about life onboard with his wife (and assistant cruise director) Heidi, giving readers a behind-the-scenes peek at the his job -- the good, the bad, the ugly and often the incredibly funny. John's blog has grown to one of the most popular blogs at wordpress.com, with over 11,000 visitors daily, and more than 700,000 total visits. John Heald was most recently named "Seagoing Employee of the Year" by Seatrade Insider, a leading on-line source for cruise industry news and information.

We've had the good fortune to sail with John and Heidi on CruiseMates group cruises, and even "worked" for him for a day as a member of his cruise staff, for a feature article for CruiseMates http://www.cruisemates.com/articles/kukiside/KukiLiberty.cfm . Over the years, we've done several interviews with John about his job as cruise director, but this time we interviewed John about his new adventure in the "blogosphere".

CruiseMates: John, when did you write your first blog? And, did you have any conception of how quickly it would grow and draw people into your life?

John: The simple answer, Kuki, is NO. I had no idea what a blog was, I had no idea what people expected it to be and today I still have no idea if I am operating within the normal expectations of a "blog ." However, I do realize that it has become so important to so many people, especially as a tool to ask questions about forthcoming cruises. The blog also has allowed me to share with everyone what really happens onboard whether it be the good, the bad and some times the ugly.

CruiseMates: As cruise director, you've always been in the communication business, and you‘re amazingly good at it. How do you feel now that you've moved into the world of the written word?

John: A wise man once told me that all a microphone does is make your voice louder; it should never change your personality. The only thing I can say is that when I write, I just type the words that come into my mind -- at the same time I think, I write. I have tried having Heidi (my wife) type while I dictate, but it does not work ... I have to think and type at the same time or nothing happens.

CruiseMates: I know you've been aware of the power of the Internet for years, being very helpful and kind to people on our CruiseMates group cruises, and those arranging meetings for their Internet roll calls. Now that you've become a blogger, has it surprised you how personally people get involved in your blog?

John: This has been the biggest surprise to me. Not only do people take the time to read the blog, some every day, but they take time to post comments as well. Also, it has started to become a community chat room thing as well, with people wishing each other well, etc. ... that really makes me feel good about the blog.

CruiseMates: Do you feel yourself developing personal relationships with people who read your blog and submit comments and questions?

John: There is no doubt that even though I have met few of the thousands of people who have read the blog, I feel like they are all friends. I have more chances to talk to the bloggers through this source than when they are onboard. The cruise community is like no other. You would never forge a friendship like this in hotels and resorts, but there is something special about cruise ships that makes friendships happen and last. The blog is an extension of that.

CruiseMates: Passengers have always shown a large interest in meeting you onboard, and having more personal conversations and interaction with you. Are you finding that phenomenon growing because people feel they know you now through the blog?

John: Yes, there are many guests who have humbled me over the years by booking cruises just because I am onboard, and now that is multiplying because of the blog. This makes me very proud, and also makes me realize the responsibility I have in providing them with a fun vacation. Seeing people wear t-shirts with my name on them has taken some time to get used to.

CruiseMates: On your blog, it's evident that you share your personality and sense of humor in your postings. Do you also find it's somewhat therapeutic to share your thoughts about your day, and your adventures and misadventures onboard with Internet friends?

John: Therapeutic? No. Exhausting? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely. But therapeutic -- no. My therapeutic needs will best be served in November when I take a vacation through the use of my La-Z-Boy chair, my plasma TV and my mum's cooking. Now that is therapy.

CruiseMates: On a number of occasions, you've had me spitting coffee all over my keyboard and rolling on the floor with laughter about your encounters with passenger complaints. One of my favorites was the people who wanted a refund for their shore excursion because the people sitting next to them on the bus smelled bad. I'm sure at the time you deal with them they may not seem very funny, but do you have some favorite incidents?

John: On every ship, on every line, on every cruise, there is going to be a Mr. and Mrs. Complainer. The cruise industry has welcomed these guests, and it has become part of cruise ship life. Mr. and Mrs. Complainer usually make comments because that is how they live their lives -- harsh, but in my opinion, the truth. Some 99 percent of complaints are justified, and constructive comments are so important -- but that 1 percent that are made because there may be something free around the corner, those are the ones I love to share with everyone. This may be one reason the blog is popular, as I do not think anyone has shared this before. I was determined, though, that the blog would not concentrate just on how excellent everything is, but also areas we must improve on.

As for my favorite complaint -- it's a hard one to choose, but in recent times it has to go to the lady who said that another line had arranged for the entire country of Greece to speak English and take American money, so why couldn't Carnival? Priceless.

CruiseMates: At times, you've shared some very sad yet inspiring experiences you've had with passengers. Has it surprised you how much of a sympathetic and heartfelt reaction these reports have received from the blog community?

John: In the beginning I was uncertain about sharing the sad times, but now they are as important to the blog as the fun times. We have a current situation where a reader publicly told us she is undergoing chemotherapy. The heartfelt sincerity from so many other bloggers is wonderful to read. It's part of life and that's what I hope the blog reflects.

CruiseMates: I note that besides posting to your blog, you take the time to respond to comments, which must take a lot of your time. By adding the tasks of blogging and responding to your duties as Cruise Director, how much sleep are you getting these days?

John: The first thing I promised myself and Carnival was that the day that the blog interrupts my job as a CD, then it will have to stop. Nothing is more important than me than providing a full service to the guests and so far I have been able to do so. However, it does involve many late nights and many early mornings.

CruiseMates: Having the blog as part of your daily routine for so long, do you think you'll find it difficult to stop when you leave for vacation?

John: I just don't know. Right now, the plan is to blog from home once or twice a week under certain parameters. What they are, I do not know. We have had 704,000 hits so far, so obviously it is very popular and I need to continue as best I can.

CruiseMates: You've also organized a Blogger's Cruise on the Freedom for January 19, 2008. And I'm happy to say that I'll be hosting a CruiseMates group on the Blogger's Cruise. At what point did the idea for the Blogger's Cruise arise, and what is its intent?

John: We started to plan a Bloggers Cruise when we reached 100,000 readers. The idea was to have a cruise where we could all get together and meet, like you and the Cruisemates groups do. It was, I admit, a bit rushed, and the next one needs more planning so that many more people can attend. I am especially looking forward to seeing you, Kuki.

Get your tickets to John's Blogger's Cruise HERE

CruiseMates: Can you give us a hint about what special "blogger events" you have planned during this cruise?

John: There will be lots of "special events," but I want to keep those close to my big manly chest for now. One thing I am particularly looking forward to doing is being able to spend time with bloggers. On a normal cruise this time is limited; however, with Todd Wittmer taking care of the day-to-day running of the vessel, I can spend quality time with everyone. One thing I can promise -- laughter galore!

CruiseMates: I know I, and all of the devoted blog loyalists, will be depressed if and when it happens; but do you have a set date in my mind to end your blog?

John: I am sure that one day I will have to stop but when that days is ............ who knows?

CruiseMates: We have several upcoming CruiseMates Group Cruises on the Freedom (US Thanksgiving sailing Nov. 17/07, The Bloggers Cruise Jan. 19/08, and the Transatlantic sailing Apr. 26/08). The question I get asked the most regarding these cruises is: "Will John Heald be there?." So I'd be remiss if I didn't ask. Will you be sailing with us on any of these dates, other than the Blogger's Cruise?

John: The last two I will be there for but I am not sure yet about the Thanksgiving cruise. I am in discussion with Carnival about my vacation. I am in the middle of the longest contract Heidi and I have ever done ........... 9 months. This is because of the blog and its popularity which has meant I have had no vacation. Let's see how long I can keep going. It will be a joy though to see all my CruiseMates friends again.

CruiseMates: And finally -- now that you are such a big star on the Internet, can I have your autograph ... Preferably on a check large enough to purchase an Austin Martin?

John: The check is in the post. Thanks Kuki mate and see you soon.

CruiseMates: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us about your blog. I look forward to sailing with you and Heidi again very soon!


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