I started working for carnival in August of 1983. I did not know it at the time but I was getting ready for a career in the travel industry. I started at carnival as a wire room cleaner and ended up working as a room attendant on a Carnival Legend in Cozumel, Mexico. This was my first international cruise. After working on the Legend for a few weeks, I was asked to move to the second deck for the Carnival Fantasy, which had just been remodeled.
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John Heald tells it like it is. And it’s because of this that the Carnival Cruise Line brand ambassador has been so successful.
Heald, who has over 350,000 Facebook followers, addresses questions from cruise fans — and the occasional hater — on a regular basis. He’s honest, humorous, and he speaks with a beautiful British accent. He also puts his emotions on his sleeve. Fans of the carnival adore him.
In 2024, Heald will celebrate 35 years with Carnival, so now is a good opportunity to reflect on how he got started in the industry, how his public image developed, and how he feels about returning to ships after the pandemic closure.
Back in 2019, Doug and John Heald were on Carnival Panorama.
It’s a fascinating tale of how a guy born in Essex, England in 1965 got his start in the business. He was working at Lloyd’s Bank as a young commodities banker in 1986, yet he felt something was lacking.
Heald was unqualified for the role, but that didn’t stop him from taking it.
Heald told Cruise Radio, “I was sitting on a train going back from my work in London.” “It was dark and I couldn’t find a seat, it was pouring, and I was uncomfortable, despite the fact that the work itself was excellent. I thought there had to be more to life than this, so I saw an article for cruise ship bartenders in a magazine.”
Heald was completely unqualified for the position, but that didn’t deter him.
READ MORE: Mardi Gras Arrives in Costa Maya, Mexico for the First Time
“Throughout the interview, I bluffed my way through. I really pretended to know everything there was to know about foreign cocktails when I actually didn’t since all I knew how to serve in the UK was warm beer. But I got the job, and despite being the worst bartender Carnival has ever had, it was the start of my amazing career with this great company.”
In 1990, Heald was promoted to cruise director due to his easygoing demeanor. He was promoted to Senior Cruise Director for Carnival Cruise Lines in 2004.
Carnival executives saw the power and attractiveness of Heald’s “everyman” character and encouraged him to start writing a blog about his cruise director experiences. In March 2007, the blog was started during the Carnival Freedom’s maiden voyage. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but it was so successful that the blog lasted for years before evolving into “daily thoughts on Facebook,” as he puts it.
Heald’s weekly Facebook engagement averages 1 million people.
By 2013, Heald’s blog had received over 17 million visits as a result of his honest comments. His popularity has only grown, and he now has a weekly Facebook interaction of approximately one million people.
We asked Heald what it is about his strategy that engenders such high levels of engagement and loyalty among Carnival Cruise Line passengers.
“A cruise director once told me many years ago that the greatest cruise directors are the same off the microphone as they are on it. For the most part, Facebook is my microphone these days, and I simply try to be myself. I never pretend that everything is great all of the time, and that includes me. So, I suppose the short answer is that I am just myself. I’m honored and grateful that so many people appear to like my page.”
Heald and Carnival President Christine Duffy attend the launching of the Carnival Horizon. (Carnival provided the photo.)
The Carnival Cruise Line aboard experience, according to Heald, fosters strong loyalty by allowing individuals to be themselves.
“There’s no pretension, no concerns about what you do, what you dress, or how much fun you have – it’s really a cruise line for everyone. Our visitors’ devotion is unparalleled.”
The 16-month cruise industry closure was a difficult experience for a guy who spends most of his time at sea. When asked how it felt to board the Carnival Horizon on July 4, Heald gave a succinct and to-the-point response. “It’s where I’m supposed to be.” “It’s over.”
“There Isn’t Any Pretension.” “It Is Truly A Cruise Line For Everyone.”
Heald also just had the opportunity to visit the brand-new Mardi Gras, the line’s biggest and most sophisticated ship in its almost 50-year existence. Did it live up to the hype?
Heald adds, “It totally and utterly surpassed my expectations.” “It was as if we took the best of the past and enhanced it by adding a roller coaster, more live music, more entertainment, and more of everything. And the stateroom design and decor, everything was so unique it was incredible.”
The continuing epidemic continues to wreak havoc on the cruise industry’s relaunch. Heald squeaked aboard the Horizon for the first Carnival cruise from a US port since March 2024. Due to the proliferation of the Delta version in the UK, he was originally turned away from his trip to the United States at Heathrow Airport in London. He was permitted to cross the pond at the last minute to commemorate the historic voyage.
Even though there may be some stormy seas ahead, Heald thinks Carnival has done all necessary to provide a safe sailing experience.
“Obviously, I’m prejudiced — or, more accurately, I’m large biased, since I’ve never been accused of being little. However, I am certain that we are doing all we can. As we approach the homeport of normalcy, our goal is to offer a safe holiday experience.”
READ MORE: Day 1 of the Carnival Horizon Trip Report: Carnival Cruising Returns
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