Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Bloggers strengthen bonds, combine fun with good deeds
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Big Ed — namesake of Big Ed’s Evil Bloggers — gazed upon hundreds of passengers gathered in the Carnival Freedom’s main showroom on the final afternoon of a weeklong Caribbean cruise.
“We started as bloggers, went from there to being friends, and now we’re family,” he said. “This week has been everything I hoped for and more.”
Big Ed — real name Ed Konefe, from Allen Park, Mich. — is arguably the most notorious participant on an increasingly popular blog maintained by Carnival Cruise Lines senior cruise director John Heald.
“Big Ed was the first person to post,” Heald says. “And he hasn’t stopped since.”
You may recall my writing last summer about the blog, a cruise-industry first just beginning to gain attention at the time. Less than year after Heald initiated the project, it has generated more than 1.5 million views.
Heald muses about life at sea, blending his keen wit with insightful advice and industry gossip gleaned, he quipped, through his relationship with a blogger known only as PA007. Heald’s remarks, posted almost on a daily basis, are followed by as many as 50 or 60 comments from faithful readers — some directed at Heald and others interacting with fellow bloggers.
The endeavor can tickle the funny bone and tug at the heart, and that same pattern fit the inaugural John Heald Bloggers Cruise last month.
As the moniker implies — and I can get away with saying this — Big Ed is, well, big. So is Heald. And after they joined to lead a raucous line-dancing exercise in the showroom, Heald said, “The captain called the emergency line. He told me that something was making the ship list. I then realized that this was happening because Big Ed and I were moving on the stage from left to right at the same time.”
Moments later, Heald and Big Ed were misty-eyed at the announcement that bloggers on this cruise raised almost $8,000 for breast-cancer research.
“We’ve had fun, but some of our regular posters have been through a lot of misfortune during the past year,” Heald said. “We’ve had four or five bereavements, and members of the blog are quick to comfort one another. This sense of community is the blog’s most important asset.”
Konefe helped convince Heald that frequent bloggers — known online as Southern Dreams, Mark Twain and a Half, Peanuts, Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and other aliases — had developed such a bond through postings that they would relish sharing life experiences on a cruise.
Almost 800 bloggers, or about 25 percent of the Freedom’s passengers, signed up to sail as a group from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Only a handful had met before. Only about 20 percent had traveled on ships with Heald, a Carnival cruise director since 1990.
Hundreds more back on shore — Sheriff Coltrane included — connected to the fun via the Internet.
Exclusive blogger activities, all free of charge, included three parties, two Q&As and an all-day “beach bash” in Jamaica where Heald and Big Ed managed to forget a vow to don their skimpiest thong swim trunks.
Konefe, a retired businessman who sails frequently with his wife, Pat, recruited about 80 participants. “I have a blog, too, and I started a roll call to get people together,” he said. Konefe’s contingent displayed “Big Ed’s Evil Bloggers” posters on their stateroom doors.
Though Konefe sailed previously on ships where Heald was cruise director, the two had never met. By midweek, Big Ed and Pat were surprising Heald with a gala birthday party.
The Evil Bloggers included Texans Mary and Travis Hicks from Garland. “We’d booked a cruise to Europe last summer, and I was doing some online research and came across John’s blog,” Mary Hicks said. “I first started communicating with John, then I saw Big Ed’s blog. We hadn’t planned another cruise so soon, and we wouldn’t be here today without Big Ed.”
As the Bloggers Cruise approached, she said, “I was getting 200 to 300 e-mails a day from others in Big Ed’s group. I had to open a separate e-mail address. We had never met any of these people, but Big Ed is right; this is a family.”
A second Bloggers Cruise is scheduled for February 2009 aboard the New Orleans-based Carnival Fantasy. Konefe already is calling the roll, and as of last week his Evil Bloggers had committed to 22 cabins (and, no, he’s not a travel agent). Carnival has booked scores more participants.
Heald and Big Ed promise lots more fun. But they urge participants to arrive early because, Heald said, “We’re organizing some volunteer efforts before the cruise to help New Orleans in its (post-Katrina) recovery efforts.”
It’s a sense of community.
Link to the article; http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/travel/shattuck/5562223.html