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John Heald - Carnival's most popular cruise director
Carnival's John Heald

Commentary by Editor Paul Motter
John Heald, Carnival's most popular cruise director, has been with the company for 20 years as of next month. That is a very long time to be working at sea -- let alone working for the same company, but he loves his job.

"They talk about a call to the sea, you know?" he told me in a recent interview you can hear on CruiseMates as a podcast, "and that is what I have. The one time I thought seriously about leaving I only lasted about three and a half months before I was back." He typically does four and half month contracts onboard, takes six weeks off, and then comes back for another contract.

Carnival almost always uses John to bring out their newest ships, and as Carnival Freedom is their newest this year, John is aboard as she sails her inaugural season in Europe, out of Venice, Italy, where she was built nearby in the Fincantieri shipyards. Our recent interview was conducted by ship telephone from Venice.

John started his career as a bartender on Carnival ships, one the few cruise directors not to come to the position by being a shipboard entertainer first. "They thought I had a good sense of humor, so they gave me my chance and I've never looked back." John now has such a loyal following there are dozens of people who will only go on his cruises. Some people have sailed with John over 40 times. So, John is leading a special "John Heald Cruise" in January 2008 so all his friends can meet.

I asked John, "What is the most embarassing thing you ever saw happen to a passenger?" He told me an elaborate story about one of his stage shows where he gets the audience involved. During "The Bedtime Story," a woman on stage was laughing so hard at the stage action she lost control of her 'bodily functions'. Although the puddle was growing and the audience roaring, John failed to see it due to the bright stage lights in his eyes. So he walked right into it, lost his footing and fell flat on his back -- in the puddle of water. Needless to say, that brought the house down.

"You obviously couldn't script anything that funny," I said to him. "I have it on video" he says. "I would pay to see that," I told him.

What really gets under John's skin as a cruise director? "Two things; one is the still living perception that Carnival is the cruise line of young party animals. It is not at all. We have old people, young people, lots of families, and mostly just people from all walks of life on board. This is as diversified a crowd as you would see in any city, and it is like a city with every type of person represented."

"But that party reputation simply isn't true of Carnival! Maybe 15 years ago when we first started up, but not anymore. I have people tell me all the time that 'if I had known Carnival was like this we would have started coming on here years ago. We are so sorry we listened to our friends who warned us against it'".

The other thing that gets under John's hide is when people knock cruise ship entertainers. "People have the idea that entertainers come to cruise ships when they are washed-up and too old to work. Well, our young people in our stage shows are as talented as you will see anywhere; New York, London West End. They are fantastic, dedicated entertainers." I have to agree with John on that one, especially when yuo are talking about Carnival which truly has some of the best stage shows in the business.

Listen to the entire John Heald interview here. gray hr
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