John Heald had never been on a cruise ship when he replied to a want ad seeking a bartender aboard the Carnival Destiny ocean liner.
“Much to my parent’s horror, I got the job,” Heald recalls with a laugh. “I gave up my job in London and I’ve been on cruise ships ever since.”
That was back in 1986. Since then, Heald has quickly risen through the ranks. In 1989 he was promoted to social host. In 1990, he traveled to Helsinki, Finland, to help launch Carnival’s first 70,000-ton ship, the Carnival Fantasy.
Noting his easy rapport with guests, Carnival leaders made Heald a cruise director. In March 2004, he was named to the new position of Senior Cruise Director for Carnival Cruise Lines.
This week, Heald has been aboard Carnival’s newest ship, the Magic, to help on her inaugural U.S. cruise from Galveston to the Caribbean. “When I first started out, never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine a ship like this,” he said.
Nor did he imagine how his job as cruise director would change over the years.
“It was oh so simple back then,” he said. “You would wake up, do an announcement promoting the gift shop, casino, tours and spa and then bugger back off to bed before a spot of lunch and some sort of show in the afternoon.”
Today, Heald said, the cruise director has to be on board to welcome guests to the ship and remind them to put their plastic room keys in the stateroom slots to turn on the electricity. He has to announce the many offerings and activities on the ship, as well as multiple other jobs. In Heald’s case, he was called upon to introduce the popular Maroon 5 band at a Galveston kick-off concert with the massive Carnival Magic as a backdrop.
“I was supposed to get the audience excited to see the band and they were already excited,” he said.
Before Maroon 5 took the stage, Heald also introduced a young man named Justin from small town Trenton, Tennessee. Justin had won a Carnivals Facebook contest for his unusual dance moves which he was going to share with the audience. Seeing that the nervous Justin was a bit shocked to be standing before such a huge crowed, Heald joked that the two of them – Justin tall and skinny and Heald a bit shorter and more rotund – looked like the number 10 standing side by side.
Heald also pens Carnival’s popular blog and shares his daily adventures at facebook.com/John Heald. “I started the blog three years ago and now I write four or five blogs a week,” he said. “On Facebook, I probably get 100 questions a day. People have a connection with Carnival and they want to know what’s going on. It takes a lot of time to blog and do Facebook.”
Technology changes also have affected the ships, guests and crewmembers, Heald says. “There have been so many changes,” he said. “The changes in technology are huge.”
When he first began cruising, Heald said there would be 10 to 15 bags of mail from the crew unloaded at home ports. Crewmembers were writing home to family and friends.
Instead, crewmembers use cell phones, the Internet and Skype to keep in touch with those far away. Guests also bring laptop computers or use ones in the FunHub to communicate with home.
When he first sailed the seas, Heald says he got a bit queasy in the stomach but never seasick. Unlike many guests who are lullabyed to sleep by the gentle rocking of the ship, Heald said he prefers his bed to stay still when he slumbers.
After seven weeks at sea, Heald is heading to his Great Britain home at the end of this Carnival Magic trip to spend some time with his wife Heidi and two -year-old daughter Kye.
For more information, contact Carnival Cruise Lines at www.carnival.com.