By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 4/17/2007 6:40:42 PM ET 2007-04-17T22:40:42

John Heald is proud to say he has no idea what he's doing writing a blog, never mind that he's created a sensation in the cruise world. The veteran cruise director for Carnival Cruise Lines has been blogging since March, and more than 105,000 people have already logged in to follow his always informative, sometimes sad and often hilarious account of life at sea.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

"Originally I thought it would be read by just my mum and dad, but it seems quite a few people are taking the time to read it," Heald says with his usual British self-deprecation. He attributes his success to the vicarious thrill that comes from reading about what he calls the "emotional rollercoaster" of life on a cruise ship -- both on deck and behind the scenes.

"Sperm of the Devil"
In his blog, Heald answers e-mail questions from readers and offers travel tips and photos of various ports of call. He also seeks advice from passengers. Currently, he's getting tips on how to deal with passengers who hog deck chairs with towels. He also never misses a chance to plug for Angelina Jolie to become the next "godmother" of a Carnival ship. But Heald is at his best when he ponders crew life and passenger follies.

In one blog entry, Heald tells of a passenger who was upset that the shops in Naples, Italy, refused to take U.S. dollars. "I explained that in Europe the euro was the accepted currency, but this lady was adamant that the dollar is accepted all over the world," Heald writes.

In another entry, Heald recounts a passenger's anger that John would encourage tours of Istanbul's mosques. "The passenger felt that for various reasons it was wrong and that I was promoting terrorism -- he left by calling me "the Sperm of the Devil." Heald says he's seen a lot of things over the years, but was unprepared for both this man's wrath and his reasoning.

It turns out Heald is a multi-media guy, and some of his best blog entries recount stories from his daily TV show, which is broadcast each morning to all the staterooms aboard ship. In addition to shipboard news, the show features passenger requests and questions. One such request came from a passenger whose luggage had been lost by her airline. The woman, who was quite large, was able to find some clothes that fit, but she couldn't find a comfortable pair of plus-sized underwear. She begged John to help, so he put out a panty call to everyone watching the show. Result: seven pairs of underwear from sympathetic fellow passengers. Heald sent each of the kind ladies champagne with a thank-you note.

"Could such a thing have happened in a hotel or a vacation resort?" Heald asks in his blog. "No way. Cruising can really bring the best out in people, there is nothing like it."

On another morning show, a passenger called in to thank the crew for setting up a laptop so he could watch the birth of his grandchild some 4,000 miles away in Tampa, Florida. The passenger's son had set up a webcam so Grandpa and Grandma wouldn't miss the big event. Heald reports that the gentleman stayed on the phone, giving the audience live reports of the birth -- right up to the point when he said he could see the head. Heald cut away then, remarking that childbirth "is really not a spectator sport." Ever the gracious host, Heald gave the proud grandparents a DVD copy of the show for their new grandson, who was welcomed by so many strangers, so far away.

Everybody loves John
Heald was popular long before he became a cyber-celebrity. He joined Carnival in 1986 as a bartender and, after transferring to the entertainment department, was named a social host three years later. Within a year, he'd been promoted to cruise director, and in 2004 he was named "Senior Cruise Director" in the Carnival fleet -- the only person in the company to carry that title. Among Heald's duties is launching each of Carnival's new ships; Freedom is his ninth.

Cruise directing is a difficult job that involves keeping both passengers and crew happy. It takes a special type of person ("a manager, a big brother and a dad," as Heald explains it). It also takes tolerance and diplomacy, especially on the crew side, because the Freedom's crew of 1,200 hails from 50 different countries and represents every manner of creed, color and religion. Heald clearly likes this international melting pot, and some of his best blog entries are about the crew members and their dedication both to the ship and to their families back home.

"We all work and live in harmony together," Heald reports. "If only the world were like that."
The passengers aren't the only ones who love John. His wife of two years, Heidi, is also crazy about him (she's a member of Freedom's entertainment staff), and so are Carnival's chairman, Micky Arison, and president, Bob Dickinson.

"John's unique, offbeat sense of humor and friendly demeanor have made him perhaps the most popular cruise director in the industry," Dickinson says. "His blog is truly an extension of his personality." Heald has been joking (maybe not) that if his blog reaches a certain goal, he'll get Dickinson to buy him his dream car -- an Aston Martin.

How long will John Heald continue writing his blog?

He says he has no idea, but he guesses from the overwhelmingly positive feedback that he'll keep at it a little longer. But there's no career change in his future. Heald really prefers his interactions to be up-close-and-personal, and his greatest satisfaction, he says, is seeing the guests smile and saying "Thank you" as they disembark.

Will all Heald's wishes come true? Will Bob Dickinson come through with that Aston Martin? Will Angelina Jolie become the godmother of Carnival's next ship? Log on to John's blog, and stay tuned.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column.

If you are interested in joining the fastest growing travel message board on the internet, register at our Tripso Forums.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments