In the Beginning and at the End

December 20, 2008 -

John Heald

I want to talk about the very first time I went on stage on a Carnival Cruise Line vessel. It was 1988 and I was a very attractive and slim assistant bar manager. I used to stand at the back of the theater on the Holiday and Celebration and watch the king of the ship entertain. That king was the cruise director and how I dreamed of one day being them.

Bill Panoff, Gary Hunter, Kenny Day, Malcolm Kennedy, Dave Armor, Eddie Capone, Bob Goss, Bob Hamill, David Fee, J.B. Anthony but not some Elvis impersonator called Gene Cook……..he was an idiot and had no more right to be a cruise director than a food blender.

Anyway, I befriended the cruise directors and, much to the annoyance of the bar managers, I started spending any spare time I had with them and the entertainment staff. Well, one day I was approached by an old friend and brilliant stand-up comedian Lewis Nixon to help him on stage. Now…….this should have set the alarm bells ringing because Lewis and I had already started a vicious campaign of practical jokes against each other.

This had started when I had emptied an entire bottle of Tabasco sauce into his cup of coffee and his next sip had caused him much pain. He responded by getting into my cabin, emptying all my clothes leaving just condoms on the hangers a note that read…………”If you are going to act like a dick you can dress like one.”

I will tell you how I got my own back on him for that in a later blog………..oh by the way, I have invited Lewis on the bloggers cruise so he can tell you from stage some of the outrageous practical jokes we played on each other. Anyway, as I said, Lewis asked me to help him on stage and specifically to say goodbye to his friend and mine and Carnival’s best-ever cruise director………..Gary Hunter.

Gary, as I may have mentioned before, was my mentor and I can still only dream about being half as good as he was and still is. Gary had a ventriloquist act and his lifelike puppets were two old characters called Mr. and Mrs. Tweed. I won’t give to much of his act away as he is still performing, but I will tell you that his show would have the audience crying with laughter and then crying tears of sadness as Mr. and Mrs. Tweed sang “Yes, I remember it well.”

Now, I could do an OK impression of Gary’s boy next door Southern accent and so it was that Lewis approached me. He told me that as this was Gary’s last week onboard before vacation that he needed my help in paying tribute to him during the last night’s show.

I would play the part of Gary and he and the magician Gaetano (whose brilliant show can be seen on the Caribbean Princess) would play the part of Mr. and Mrs. Tweed. Well, I jumped at the chance to be on stage and we started to rehearse. Gaetano and Lewis had costumes just like the puppets and we went through all of Gary’s routine. I would squeeze the backs of their necks and they would open their mouths… was going to be brilliant.

Well, it was soon showtime. I had gone through the show one last time backstage with Lewis and Gaetano before the show and now there I stood at the side of the stage ready to perform. The theater was packed……….and there I stood ………..dressed in my white assistant bar manager’s uniform……….it was not a good day to be my underpants.

Then, came the announcement: “Please welcome to the stage your host tonight, Assistant Bar Manager John Heald.”

And up I went to what can only be described as lukewarm applause.

I took the microphone and there I was………….for the first ever time………….on a Carnival stage …………ready to entertain the expectant audience.

I introduced myself and remember saying how we would all miss Gary………..and in tribute to him we would like to present a special performance. I then reverted to my Gary Hunter voice and asked the audience to please give a big round of applause to my puppets…………….Mr. and Mrs. Tweed ………………………. nothing.

Maybe they hadn’t heard me

So once again I said…….please welcome Mr. and Mrs. Tweed …………….. still nothing

Silence from the audience.

I stood rooted to the spot………what had happened?…………I didn’t know what to do……I had the improv skills of a jellyfish……………still, no sign of the puppets …..and silence from the audience………..until…………………from the back of the room I hear

“You suck”
“Get off the stage”

All of the above was shouted out by the unmistakable voice of………………….Lewis Nixon

I had been had…………………….bugger

Then the audience started to boo and it got louder and was followed by a slow hand clap

Now, if this had happened a few years later I am sure I could have used my stage skills to get myself out of this situation. However, I was an assistant bar manager …………… I just said “Oh, bollocks” over the microphone and buggered off.

And that was the first time I ever appeared on a Carnival stage……………and even though I felt sick with embarrassment…………….I knew I wanted more…………..I wanted to be Gary.

Well, a few months later Gary took me under his wing as his social host and that was the start of this continuing journey.

I wish, therefore, that I had been in Florida last week when many of the great names I mentioned above and many more gathered for a very special reunion. This was organized by my old mate, ex-Carnival CD, Editor of Porthole Magazine and founder of the PPI Group, Bill Panoff.

Here are a few more details about what happened……………… a great photo.


Fort Lauderdale, FL — Nearly 100 former Carnival Cruise Lines cruise directors and entertainers reunited on Saturday, December 13, 2008, for an evening of rekindling memories and friendships from the past. The reunion was held at the Fort Lauderdale Grande Hotel & Yacht Club, and attendees came from Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, California, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, and even as far as England and Germany. For some, it had been more than 20 or 30 years since they’d seen each other.

“It was a magical evening to rekindle memories and friendships forged over 20 – 30 year ago “, said Bill Panoff, president and CEO of The PPI Group, which produced and sponsored the event along with Bacardi.

The event featured an open-mic format hosted by Gary Hunter, former Carnival cruise director and ventriloquist who invited attendees to tell stories of their time aboard Carnival. Some told jokes, others sang songs, and some just remembered fond times and friendships. “Carnival gave us all the opportunity to perfect our acts because each week we had a new audience,” said Hunter. “There was so much laughter in the room it was infectious.”

“It was a historic moment and a remarkable gathering,” said Bob Goss, former Carnival cruise director and entertainer. Attendees included former Carnival Cruise Directors Gary Hunter, Eddie Capone, Kenny Day, David Fee, and many more as well as retired Senior Vice President of Operations Meshulam Zonis, who were joined by current executives and Carnival Corp. & plc President and CEO Micky Arison.


How wonderful that must have been and thanks to Bill for organizing this event. I was invited and, honestly wanted to go, but my priority had to be here with Heidi. I want to say thank you to all the past cruise directors who did such a wonderful job for so many years. The young CD’s of today have huge Shaquille O’Neal-sized shoes to fill.

Do you have any memories of the old school cruise director’s?………….If you do please take the time to share them with us here on the blog thingy.

One of today’s young cruise directors is Butch Begovitch. Butch worked with me for some time and I immediately knew he was destined for great things. Well, I was right because Butch is now a fully fledged cruise director currently serving onboard the Carnival Glory. I have asked Butch to write me a few Dear John letters describing what it is like to work onboard a ship during the holiday season.

So, lets turn things over to Butch……………..take it away mate.

The Glorious Butch!

Hello, John, Heidi, Thingy and all of you out there in blogger land. Weeks ago, when John asked me if I would be interested in writing a guest spot on his blog, I originally told him flat out…NO……not to be harsh, but I have my reasons….one, I have never done anything like this before……two, I do not think that I could be as witty and captivating as John is daily on the blog and three, where would I find time in my day to do this?

But then I thought to myself I encourage our guests everyday to step our of their comfort zones and I should follow my own cruise mantra and just go for it…..and I also cannot say no to John, he has done so much for me and my career and owe him the world for where I am today. So bloggers, here I am…..Butch Begovich!

In the coming days, I hope to offer some insight on what the holidays are like on board a Carnival Cruise Lines’ ship from my perspective here as cruise director on the Carnival Glory. To be honest, I have had to muster a lot of energy to get in the holiday spirit this year as I am from Minnesota and it is really hard to imagine Christmas without snow and bitter below zero temperatures. But I am determined to not only make the holidays special for our guests sailing on this very special holiday voyage, but also my on board team as we will not only be spending the holiday away from our families, but also working.

So let’s start by getting to know…ME! I come from a small town in Minnesota and am from a rather large family……..I am a first generation college grad and what I would consider….for lack of a more positive phrase, the “Black Sheep” of my brood. My siblings all took similar paths, got married, started families, and stayed in or around my home town………my parents are very supportive of all of their children, but thought it strange when I decided to go away and forge my own path…..That path? Two college degrees, some entertainment jobs on the east coast and then, by chance, to Carnival Cruise Lines.
While working as a Social Host I met the man who would become not only my mentor, but my friend, my cheerleader, and a second father to me….that Man? John, of course, and if you are reading this Heidi, hi Mom (I have called Heidi “Mother” for years and so excited that she will actually have a little one of her own soon)!

Through John’s leadership and guidance, I worked my way up to cruise director and am proud now to call the Carnival Glory my home. This ship is special to me because it is where, almost five years ago, I spent my first contract and met John and Heidi. Although I find the Glory to very challenging due to our home port location and the amount of repeat guests we have sail weekly, I couldn’t imagine a better ship in the fleet to be on right now.

I have a wonderful team here and feel so blessed that I have a support system on board that is truly a family away from home. So that is the abbreviated me…….so join me bloggers on a journey in the coming days for a look at the holiday season Fun Ship style…….I hope it will be as entertaining for you to read as it will be fun for me to write share my days here on John’s blog.

Thanks Butch…………….what a wonderful writing skills you have which so reflect your personality. We all look forwards to hearing more soon.

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading the Carnival Dream blog I posted yesterday. If you haven’t had time to stop by please do as I really want everyone to know just how brilliant this ship will be. Last week was a busy blogging week and, therefore, some of you may have missed the brilliant interview given by the master of the Eurodam and author of the blog………Captain Mercer. Again, if you did I invite you to return to read all about a true man of the sea.

Heidi and I would like to thank the hundreds……….yep……….hundreds who have sent cards and gifts to Heidi and I through our P.O. Box number. I should also say thank you to Heidi who will be sending cards to each and every one of you ……….you will get those soon. Thanks again, you have made us feel very special.

I also have 30-plus questions marked “Urgent, Please Reply.” I again apologize for the lateness of my reply and promise to work on these over the weekend and the answers will be posted on Monday for sure. However….there is one I would like to answer and discuss today.

Here it is.

John – please respond.

I have been an avid reader of your blog since cruising with you in August of 2007 on the Freedom. The Mediterranean ports were beautiful and myself and my wife, along with her parents, had the times of our lives.

It was our first Carnival voyage and we were all so impressed that we immediately booked a cruise on the Freedom again going to Panama and Costa Rica. Sadly, though, my wife’s father passed away a few weeks ago.

During his short illness he requested that his ashes be taken on the ship and scattered at sea. I am not sure of the protocol here and did write to Carnival but have not received any answer so I thought I would ask you.

My father in law spent 20 years in the Navy and the sea was in his blood. You made him laugh so much and he always told his friends your joke about the lady on deck holding on to her hat in the wind. He wanted to enjoy the cruise with us and wanted his ashes ceremony to be one of fun not to be somber. I promised him I would try as I know you will make this sad event “fun” as that is what he would have wanted.

Please let me know if there is anyway we can work this out as it would mean so much to all of us.

Derek and Family
Sandpoint, Idaho

Let’s start with the most important thing and that is on behalf of all the thousands of bloggers send you our deepest sympathies at your loss. I hope you will have many treasured memories of your time together, including those from the Carnival Freedom ………….we are thinking of you.

In days gone by, Derek this would have been no problem and we could have just done this without any preparation. However, with all the new laws and regulations that the cruise industry has to abide to this has become slightly more complicated. However, the good news is that we can do this and I will make sure I complete all the paper work for you, etc. ahead of time. I will be in touch personally on Monday so we can talk about exactly when you are sailing and what type of FUN scattering you father-in-law would have wanted…………….and that’s what we shall give him I promise.

I am very glad that you contacted me. I am sure our office would have replied very soon but now I can give it my personal attention.

Once again, sorry for your loss and I will speak to you soon


Actually, that’s not an uncommon request and with the help of my friends in operations I will make sure this happens. However…….death and fun…………can the two go together?

Becoming deceased used to be ever so easy. They’d put you in a wooden box, lower you gently into the ground and let you rest in peace. Or, if the ground in your town was full, they’d throw you on a fire and let you spend the rest of time in a vase, on your kid’s mantelpiece.

Now, though, in the same way that you can get married underwater or in a department store by Elvis, you can choose how you wish to be disposed of when you have done dying. Just this week, for instance, a former navy diver was attached to the nose of a torpedo, which was then detonated on the sea bed somewhere in the English Channel.

Meanwhile, in Daytona, officials at the circuit announced on Monday that NASCAR fans can be laid to rest at the track. Quite how this will work I don’t know. It’ll certainly be a big nuisance for Jeff Gordon next year if he skids in the final corner on Rob King from Pennsylvania.

Some may argue that if you are used as a crash barrier or detonated on the sea bed, some of death’s dignity is lost. I’m not sure this is so, because I don’t see much dignity in lying in a box either. Far better, surely, to use your liquefying body as a soft landing for NASCAR drivers. And if you wind up in the Atlantic Gulf Stream, at least you get to see the Caribbean once in a while – something that’s not possible if you are lying under six feet of Chicago.

I’ve always said that when I die I want to be buried, because I want to go to heaven and it will be hard to enjoy its bountiful magnificence if I’ve been cremated. Seriously, you’re never going to have rumpy pumpy with an angel if you look like the contents of a vacuum bag.

So, I will make sure that as per Derek’s father in law’s request I make this event a FUN one. First of all, we have to make sure the weather conditions are OK for the ceremony.

A scattering at sea sounds lovely, but because it can be windy, the bereaved family can go back to their cabin with ashes of their dearly departed coming back on them. This means that, far from ending up on the Caribbean Sea heading to Jamaica, they end up being washed down the plughole of the cabin shower.

Space is tempting because there’s no wind, and it doesn’t change, and I’m delighted to report there is indeed a company that will blast your ashes into orbit for just $550.

A word of warning, though. While the company managed to get bits of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, into orbit, it made a bit of a hash of things when it came to getting the Enterprise’s chief engineer up there.

The first time it tried, the rocket crashed and Scotty ended up not orbiting the planet Vulcan but just outside Santa Fe, in New Mexico. Happily he was found, and earlier this year he was launched again from the Pacific. But that went wrong too when the rocket exploded, sending the Canadian actor into the sea, where, one day, he will probably crash head-on into the navy diver I mentioned earlier. Almost certainly, this is not what either man would have wanted.

I should also explain that if you do manage to get your loved one into low orbit, he will be a hazard to navigation in the years to come. So don’t come crying to me when what used to be your spouse’s left leg punches a bloody great hole in the side of a the International Space Station, killing everyone on board.

Let me therefore give you some ideas I am having about what will be done with my ashes.

My dust could be mixed with paint and used to create a piece of art. This means I could spend the rest of time as Jessica Simpson’s bottom.

I could become part of a soccer pitch or have permanent floor seats for all of the Miami Heat home games. Or I could be turned into a diamond. This is surprisingly easy. I get Heidi to heat me to 1500 C and keep me at this temperature for several weeks until everything that isn’t carbon has oxidized. Then you mix me with a bit of metal and a diamond seed crystal. After a period of several years, Heidi can have me cut and placed in a ring of her choosing. She may even opt to wear me as a stud in her navel or, as one of those nipple thingies. As long as she remembers to remove me if she got remarried.

Anyway, Derek, I am going to make sure your father-in-law’s last cruise is one to remember

I will be back with a blog thingy on Monday………..see you then

Your friends
John, Heidi and the Thingy

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.