Heald's blog, which covered the travails of trawling through Europe on the new ship, were initially popular because the ever-candid cruise director was unusually honest. He proffered praise and brickbats in equal doses, opened Oz's curtain so passengers could experience the behind-the-scenes world of working onboard a cruise ship, and injected his own doses of hysterical humor, ranging from his obsession with actresses Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angelina Jolie (going so far as to circulate a petition that would designate Jolie as godmother of Carnival's next new-build) to his unfortunate penchant for jelly beans.
Along the way he illuminated characteristics of particularly colorful characters who'd participate in the blog -- Big Ed, "007," the sneaky secret-stealer from Carnival headquarters who supplied many scoops, and even Heald's wife Heidi, a one-time member of the line's entertainment staff.
One of the most intriguing byproducts is that readers, who tuned in almost daily for Heald's reports, also began to talk among themselves via the interactive post part of his blogs. And so it was thought that a bloggers cruise would bring all of them -- Heald and his devoted core of readers -- together in a room (or in this case all over Carnival Freedom and throughout the Western Caribbean.
Indeed, remarks from Heald's first blog on this cruise, which began Saturday, were typically colorful:
"So, good morning everyone from the Carnival Freedom as we head to Cozumel. The weather though looks to be a bit grey and overcast and little white horses are strutting their stuff atop of the waves .............. ahhhhhhhhhh. I hope the weather gets better, I know so many people have come from cold and miserable weather hoping for some Caribbean sun..........fingers crossed then.
"So, what happened yesterday? Well the fun started during embarkation and as I went down to the lobby bar about 2 pm for a coffee I was attacked by a hoard of screaming fans who were kissing me, hugging me, ripping at my clothes and trying to drag me back to their cabin ..............and that's just Big Ed!"
More than 700 people signed on to sail on this first-ever blog cruise. For them, and for Cruise Critic Contributor Erica Silverstein, who's onboard to give us a first-hand look (follow her through the week -- as she blogs in our Carnival forum about the, er, blog). Don't forget the true success of a blog is reader interaction -- so by all means feel free to post comments, questions, observations and insights all throughout the week.
And it will be a week for the unusual, at least for Heald's registered blogger fans. An otherwise "ordinary" seven night western Caribbean cruise will be spiced up with special events and fun gifts. Onboard activities will include games, Q&As, and other mystery activities hosted by John and his wife Heidi. In Ocho Rios, a special shore excursion has been arranged where the blogger community (and other Carnival guests) will take over Pearly Beach for a private party with John (who threatens to wear a thong bathing suit). Plus, Heald and his head office helpers will blog regularly from the cruise so fans not lucky enough to be onboard won't miss a single joke; visit John Heald's Blog.
Next year's Bloggers Cruise is already planned for February 2009 on Carnival Fantasy out of New Orleans. The hope is for guests and crew to participate in community service projects prior to embarkation.
In the meantime, participate virtually in our "blog-in-a-thread": Cruise Critic Blogs Live from Bloggers' Cruise!
--by Erica Silverstein, Cruise Critic contributor