March 7th Diana and Tara boarded the Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam to escort a charter for one of our long time clients. With the world news in the months and weeks leading up to it there had been some concerns amongst our clients and their guests regarding sailing. With the help with our partners at HAL we were able to proceed with our charter and help everyone feel secure.
We got to the port at 6:30 am with our Venti coffees in hand to begin the load in and started turning the ship into a gaming and nerd extravaganza for 2000 passengers. We made it to about 8am until the first curve ball. One of the other terminals who handles a different cruise line had 2 employees test positive overnight with Covid-19 and none of their employees were able to work, so we were losing quite a few of our terminal staff. We are well adept at rolling with the punches so no problem, we can make this work. We had also been informed previously that Vice President Pence and several heads of the cruise line industry were going to be having a meeting in South Florida to discuss the current global situation. Surprise! This was happening at Port Everglades in a few hours and there would be an increase security presence. Fast forward to about 11:30, everything was going well. The usual behind the scenes stuff that was taken care of, we had our precon meeting and the ship was excited and ready to welcome our guests who were anxiously starting to congregate in the terminal ready to board and become Sea Monkeys for the week. This was when things started to get a little stressful!! Effective immediately ALL passengers had to have their temperatures taken prior to boarding. A car pulled up to the terminal with 4 forehead scanners, no batteries and no staff to do it! The ships medical staff came down to do a quick training class to the volunteers, our charter manager and the hotel director found enough batteries to operate them, and we quickly implemented our new plan. All this took under 30 minutes and lots of running around, BUT to our clients and the passengers it appeared to be a well-oiled machine! 12 o’clock rolled around and it was boarding time! Our Sea Monkeys were starting to board, drinks were being consumed and food was being eaten. There was a sense of relief to finally be on board and enjoying their community.
With the ever changing situation back on land, the changing worldwide policies, and the uncertainty of several cruise ships being denied disembarkation it was certainly an interesting week for all us in leadership. We were unable to tender at our first port of call due to weather, a big disappointment to this group as they love their beach day on the private island. The next day was our big land event. We managed to turn an old fort built in the 1800s into a fully accessible concert venue complete with food/drink tents, and an amazing light and sound display. This was truly spectacular. The passengers had a great time, and I heard one guest telling his friend “this is epic!” Pictures really don’t do it justice but the backdrop was beyond beautiful. At around 9pm I got a phone call that our charter manager and the hotel director were coming ashore to discuss something with us. (Insert melodramatic music). Turns out Turks and Caicos had decided a few hours ago that they will no longer be accepting any tourists from affected countries onto the island. This was applicable to crew and passengers alike and we had about 100 people aboard that would be affected, thus our ship was denied entry. But the captain and the HAL team had already secured us an option that they knew our clients would be happy with. We had our triumphant return to Half Moon Cay, with sunny weather and our guests were very happy to have their beach day back.
Ship side there was an obvious, ever increasing change in operating procedures. We went from being reminded to sanitize our hands frequently to having staff members stationed at every entry point of food and beverage services and the gangway to give you hand sanitizer before you were permitted to enter. We were no longer allowed to get our own food or drinks at the Lido buffet or Neptune Lounge and additional sneeze guards were put up. To completely change your entire F&B delivery system is no easy task but the HAL staff made it seem effortless. Walking around the ship you could see sanitation staff wiping down hand rails, elevator buttons, etc and at night the high traffic areas and food service locations all received a full sanitation. On the final night of the charter this client does an awards ceremony where they invite the heads of departments up on stage for the passengers to thank them. They typically receive a very warm welcome but it was a delight to see the tremendous gratitude that was shown for the entire team, and I have to say it was probably the first time the Sanitation Officer received a standing ovation!
That night the ship was informed that this would be the last cruise for 30 days, and as we all know that has been extended. The captain and hotel director had the difficult task of informing their crew that they would not be turning around with another voyage but instead faced a temporarily uncertain future as the entire industry was coming to a pause. The way that the entire Nieuw Amsterdam team handled this was far above my expectation. They not only continued to do their job, but did it with such grace and resilience.
The next morning we debarked into a strange sight. The typically busy port was relatively quiet, we didn’t have to dodge forklifts and golf carts like we usually do on the dock. We managed to get all our guests debarked (all COVID free!) and to the airport (which was incredibly busy as everyone was trying to get home and we had started to shut down our borders for international travel).
During the charter Steve had been busy back on land on the phone with various clients, cruise lines, and other brokerage agencies ensuring that we had the most up to date news and our clients were taken care of. One thing we learned is that out of the brokerage agencies we were the only one that had someone out on a ship at this exact moment. We were the only ones that got to see first-hand what was happening on the ships as they dealt with the ever changing situation and were able to supply important information for the industry.
All in all my experience operating a charter during worldwide pandemic was an interesting one. But this is what we are all about, this is our job, and this is why our clients use us time and time again! We all know stuff happens behind the scenes, curve balls are thrown, shit hits the proverbial fan but our job as your cruise liaison is to make sure you don’t have to deal with it. The feedback we received from our client after the fact was humbling and the surveys they received from their guests were great. People had a fantastic time and were looking forward to the 2021 charter already.
“ This year more than ever, we want to thank Diana, Steve, and Tara for the hard work and guidance that make it possible for JoCo Cruise to put on amazing events for its community. With Worldwide’s help, we look forward to working through the current difficulties, and to many more successful years. We’d also like to convey to both Worldwide and Holland America Line a deep appreciation for keeping us informed and involved during the ever-evolving situation before, during, and after our sailing. Special thanks to Rob Coleman for making the effort to listen to, consider, advocate for, and ultimately address our concerns. It’s especially appreciated given the wider challenges he must have been working through at the time.” –JOCO
“The crew and staff are amazing and I am so appreciative and humbled by how hard they worked during a tough situation.” -guest