CruiseMates' Cruise Director Kuki recently sat down with a real-life cruise director, John Heald of the Carnival Triumph, to learn more about that job--which as far as passengers are concerned is probably the most visible, high-profile position on the entire ship. Since Kuki will be joining John for an upcoming CruiseMates member cruise on the Triumph, we thought it was only appropriate that Kuki should familiarize himself with the real thing.
Kuki: John, let's start at the beginning. Where were you born?
John: I was born in Essex, in the southeast of England, on January 22, 1965.
Kuki: What was your first job at sea?
John: I was employed as a bar waiter, and served my first pina colada in a whisky glass (ouch!).
Kuki: How long have you been a cruise director with Carnival Cruise Lines?
John: My first ship was the T.S.S. Carnivale, where I became cruise director in 1990.
Kuki: Over the years, there have been rumors of you leaving the business. Besides the big bucks, what's the most important factor that keeps you onboard?
John: Carnival has been very good to me; and while I miss my family more and more, I still enjoy providing the "fun" that Carnival is all about. My time is limited, though, as Heidi and I want to start a family. Having children and starting a life on land is very important to us both. We will be on the Triumph until December, and then on the Carnival Pride.
Kuki: Were you kind of "bonkers" before you became a cruise director, or was it a quality that grew as you dealt with cruise passengers?
John: I never really excelled at school, except maybe as the class clown. Therefore I always have used my sense of humor to get me through life, and being a cruise director has given me a chance to use it to succeed. I have been very lucky.
Kuki: You are such a popular cruise director, I know there are people who check to see what ship you're on before they book their cruises. Do you know the most number of cruises any one passenger has sailed with you?
John: I realize that some guests cruised with me a lot. For example, my good friends Robert and Suzanne Schneider have sailed with me more than 20 times now. I'm honored to say it's people like them and all my other repeat cruisers who make the job so enjoyable. Thanks to you all.
Kuki: The times I've cruised with you, I've behaved pretty well. Are there any passengers whose antics make you laugh out loud when you remember them?
John: I remember so many different "happenings " that its hard to pick out one. However, the site of a 98-year-old man dressed as a hooker in the male nightgown contest will be one very hard to forget--and the cause of many nightmares.
Kuki: I think the Bedtime Story is one of the funniest audience-participation things you do. Getting people to play parts to fit the story can be difficult, I'd imagine. Of all the times you've told the Bedtime Story, do you have a favorite 'Mary'?
John: The Bedtime Story has become my signature activity; it's always my favorite thing to do. It is different every time, as many people will tell you, and I always try to get people to take part who in "normal life" would NEVER be on stage, so I can give them their 15 minutes of fame. I don't have a favorite 'Mary', but I look forward to this event every week (although sometimes it really hurts!). I don't have a favorite--they were all great! The ones that I remember are the ones that left me with bruises.
Kuki: Have you ever actually met anyone named Dick Wooden? [Editor's note: every sailing with John Heald somehow finds a guest named Dick Wooden during the introductory festivities].
John: Yes. The original Dick Wooden sailed with me on the Ecstasy in 1993. He was from Canton, Ohio, and has become the most famous man in that town!
Kuki: Can you tell us some of your favorite real questions that passengers have asked you?
John: Well, there are some I will never forget. One of my recent favorites was from a guest who wanted to know what time we were arriving at the "Grand Canyon." I then explained that it was "Grand Cayman," and had to comfort her when she realized we were not going to see the Grand Canyon, but an island in the Caribbean!
Kuki: I would guess that passengers sometimes give you little gifts or souvenirs. What's the weirdest gift you've received?
John: I would have to say the weirdest gift ever was a pair of men's underwear, left to me by a guest because they had the words "Yaba Daba Doo" on them, which I had used in a skit. Why do I always get MEN's underwear?
Kuki: Do female passengers find cruise directors to be sexy?
John: Please see my answer to the question above. I am probably Carnival's ugliest cruise director except for Corey Schmidt. By the way, Corey is a wonderful C.D., and I hope some of your readers get a chance to sail with him. But he is ugly. He has performing parrots onboard, so I have bought a performing slug.
Kuki: I've had the pleasure of meeting Heidi, your lovely fiance, and she seems quite normal. Here's a question I often ask myself in regard to Mrs. Kuki: Do you sometimes wonder how she puts up with your antics?
John: Kuki, both you and I know that the one calming source in our sea of crazy fun is our relationship with our precious ladies. For me, the only person I really never have to be "on stage" with is Heidi. She has provided me with five happy, fun years and is the love of my life. She also has the patience of a saint--as I am sure Mrs. Kuki does.
Kuki: Our CruiseMates Group Cruise on Triumph is, I think, aptly called the "Test Your Sanity Cruise". Do you think we'll be testing your sanity, or you ours?
John: All I can say is, Let the games begin. I will do my very best to make this a "FUNTASTIC CARNIVAL CRUISE."