Carnival Cruise Line’s senior cruise director John Heald didn’t even know what a blog was when he was asked to write one back in 2008. Fast forward four years and John Heald’s Blog has had 13.5 million page views, regularly gets 50,000+ views a day and last year he was up against Bill Gates for the Social Media Personality of the Year Award. In an exclusive interview with Cruise International he tells us how it all happened, why he prefers writing in his underpants and what he’s most looking forward to on Carnival’s latest ship, Carnival Breeze

 

Cruise International: How and when did this all happen?

John Heald: Back in 2008 we were delivering one of our new ships, the Carnival Freedom, and I was asked by our marketing department to write a “blog”. I had no idea what a blog was. Now I do. They are a way for the guest to go through the “crew-only” door to discover what’s on the other side. We now have 13,500,000 page views and I am totally flabbergasted by how popular it continues to be.

CI: Did you ever expect to get to the number of followers that you have?

JH: Nope, I have to say that when I see that we have 50,000 page views a week or more I can only think that either my mum keeps pressing “refresh” or there must be bugger all on the TV. Either way I keep trying to entertain the readers and thanks to the brilliant support of the Miami office who allow me to speak my mind on the blog it seems to continue to do well.

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CI: You were up against Bill Gates for the Social Media Personality of the year award last year – did you win?

JH: No, it was very close though and Bill only beat me by 5 million votes. Seriously, I have no idea how many he beat me by, but to be mentioned in the same sentence as the great man was a huge honour. Based on the money he gives to charity he absolutely should have won. He is a great man… except when I have to press “control, alternate, delete” in which case he is a total ba*tard.

CI: What do you put your success down to – is it because you tell it how it is?

JH: I would like to think so. You know when I first started these blogs they were based on Carnival is the best cruise line in the world and everything we do is perfect. But after a few weeks when I discussed with the beards (Miami bosses, I call them the beards) I said if I was going to continue then I wanted to tell the truth and write it in my own words. I really didn’t want it you see to become a corporate blog but something that expressed how I felt and to be able to talk about the good, the bad and in my case, the very ugly. And the beards agreed although they did put a disclaimer on the blog which made me laugh. I do hope that the blog stays true to this and I am ever asked to make it more PC or corporate then it will be time to hang up my Dell.

CI: How on earth do you get away with it? – not many companies would let someone speak so openly and frankly.

JH: Well that disclaimer helps but I think many have seen me on stage and see that this blog is an extension of my personality, whatever that may be. I do realise that I am so lucky to be able to write what I feel in a style that I know other companies may shiver at but hopefully the proof that it works is in the amount of readers and the fact that I have just started a Facebook page thingy that has 24,000 on it as well. But yes, I can totally understand why some would think “why are they letting this fat bloke say what he does?”

CI: I think many of your readers would be keen to know – do you find it easier to write in your underpants?

JH: Yes, when you’re fat like me tight clothes restrict the thought process. After the Carnival Splendor had a bit of a fire on her I wrote about my experiences during that time and because we had no air conditioning I wrote in my underpants. That series of blogs received 500,000 views in one week and many said it was my best blog. So, ever since then I write in dressed only in my Marks and Spencer Y-fronts size XXXXL… unless there are lots of mirrors in the room.

CI: Could you share with us your top three destinations?

JH: I have been so lucky to cruise many parts of the world but my top three to cruise to are:

1. Venice

2. Aruba

3. Ocho Rios, Jamaica

CI: And your top three likes of being a Cruise Director?

That’s difficult… hmmmm… ok, here they are:

  1. Despite the fact that I have no talent and am as funny as a hemorrhoid, each week I am on a ship I get to walk out on stage and hundreds of people laugh at what I say. That is simply priceless
  2. Working with beautiful dancers who have a dressing room next to mine backstage. There is a hole in the wall… Still, I don’t care… I let them look.
  3. Meeting guests and crew from all over the world, many of whom I am lucky to call true friends.

…and top three dislikes?

  1. Easy this one… being away from my wife, daughter and family.
  2. You can never have a bad day at work.
  3. The food. I hate it. It’s so good and now I am so fat.
Carnival Breeze – launching in June

CI: More and more Brits are cruising, but there are still so many preconceptions surrounding it. Do you think we’ll ever be like the Yanks and jump on a ship for a short-break/stag or hen weekend etc.?

JH: Yes I do. Carnival is really pushing into the UK market now and we are going to smash that perception that cruising is only for old people and their parents. Everyone deserves to have fun whether they are on a 3-night, 4-night, 7-night or longer cruise. Its getting them to take that first cruise which will be the challenge because I know so many Brits who once on board swear that they will never take any other kind of vacation… bugger – I am so American – holiday… sorry.

CI: What’s next for John Heald? How about a game show or a virtual John Heald?

JH: I don’t think there are computers with enough gigathingies to make a virtual me. I will be introducing our brand new Carnival Breeze this June and we are so, so excited about her. Next year we will be in Dover with the Carnival Legend and I intend to be there as Cruise Director as we sail the Baltic, Norwegian Fjords and some round the British Isles cruises. Surprisingly my hometown of Southend-On-Sea isn’t on the itinerary though. I would love a chat show where I get to interview the great and good of the cruising world… maybe we can go into partnership, what do you think?

CI: Please share with us your top three cruising predictions

JH:

1. Following what happened in January and the tragic Costa Concordia incident all the cruise lines are refocusing on safety. Cruise travel was already so very safe but expect even more attention to emergency procedures on board.

2. New destinations.

3. Overall I think we will all continue to provide excellent value for money and encourage the millions of people who have never cruised to do so. On a personal note I think with our new British marketing team led by Adolfo Perez that we will see more British people having fun on our ships and if they bring a copy of this article on the ship with them and hand it to the Cruise director we will send a special prize to their cabin… a photo of me in a thong. Kidding – it will be something pleasant I promise.

CI: And finally, Carnival Breeze launches in June – what are you personally most looking forward to doing on the ship?

JH: The ship will have all of our Funship 2.0 upgrades on her. At Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint guests will soon have a choice of delicious, fresh-off-the-grill gourmet burgers designed by the Food Network star. It’s a new laid-back poolside dining venue modeled after a roadside burger joint off an iconic coastal highway. Best of all, these burgers will come at no additional charge to the guest.

Carnival is partnered with EA Sports on an exciting new sports bar concept where guests can play their favorite EA Sports videogames, watch live sports on a massive video-wall and keep up with real-time sports scores 24/7.

Shorts and flip flops are welcome at two new poolside destinations: The RedFrog Rum Bar and RedFrog Pub. Both will specialise in Caribbean rum-based frozen drinks and beers, including Carnival’s new private label draft brew, ThirstyFrog Red. Across the deck will be the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar, a Mexican-themed watering hole offering tequila-based frozen drinks and Mexican beers.

Alchemy, a vintage-themed cocktail “pharmacy” will “prescribe” concoctions from fun categories while The Library Bar is designed for guests seeking a more relaxed and quiet venue.

The Blue Iguana Cantina is a new, no added cost dining options with fresh Mexican cuisine. Poolside, Blue Iguana offers guests freshly made burritos and tacos on homemade tortillas with a variety of salsas and toppings. An innovative addition is the Cantina’s automatic tortilla maker, fresh wheat or jalapeno, and all the accompaniments

Plus there will be four new shows and a brand new architect so the interior of the ship will have a completely different design and feel to her as well. I am so very excited. Hope to see you all there!

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