Unsung Heroes & Worthy Causes
Agents, Ops & Cruise Lines Shine in Hurricane Relief

by Vanessa Lee

Andy Stuart welcomes guests from the Norwegian Sky rescue mission

Royal Caribbean hurricane relief

Carnival hurricane relief

As I write this I am actually taking a vacation – something I have not done in quite some time. We are in New England, currently on Martha’s Vineyard, after kicking off the holiday with a two-day hotel sojourn in Newport, Rhode Island.

However, had we planned this trip for last week it would have been a very different story – due, of course, to the terrible and devastating hurricanes wreaking havoc on the Caribbean and parts of the U.S.  The ferries stopped running for three days due to storm surges and winds, so we would not have been able to depart from the mainland to get to the Vineyard. 

Our holiday plans would have been disrupted. Too bad for us. But the reality is that a little inconvenience is nothing compared to those in the thick of recent events in parts of the U.S. and so many Caribbean Islands.  

This made me consider, even more so than usual, how disappointing and awful it is for people to have their vacations literally lost. Never mind if you were in the Caribbean on holiday in the last few weeks and how scary that must have been.

And this is where you come in, the ever-ready, professional travel advisor. The ones who reach out to clients to calm their fears, to help them return home safely, to ensure they are aware of options. The ones who spend hours cancelling tours and flights, cruises and resort stays only to have to rebook them again. The ones who assure valued clients that you truly do care and understand that this may be their one main vacation of the year for which they have saved and looked forward to for many months.  

It’s not just agents who have gone above and beyond during the recent crises. Cruise lines behaved impeccably in these last few weeks, going so far as to send empty vessels, as in the case of Norwegian Cruise Line, to bring home over 900 people stranded in the USVI. To quote Andy Stuart, president and empathizer-in-chief, who is one of the really good guys: “In my 30 years of working with Norwegian Cruise Line, it was my proudest moment.”

Stuart said this after greeting hurricane survivors when the ship docked in Miami. “Hearing the stories directly from those who survived the storm and seeing the emotion and relief on their faces as they stepped off the gangway was a moment I will never forget,” he added.

Royal Caribbean sent two ships to evacuate a combined 1,700 people from St. Maarten and St. Thomas. And this week, Adventure of the Seas, normally sailing from San Juan, cancelled its cruise (with full refunds to all guests plus a future cruise credit for rebooking) so that it could sail a mercy mission to deliver supplies to the affected islands but also again bring people back to the U.S. from San Juan, St. Croix and St. Thomas, some of the hardest hit islands. 

Carnival, which has a major year-round presence in the Caribbean, has made massive donations and also done its bit in supplying hard-hit areas as well. Canadian tour operators have done a stellar job too, putting on extra flights, evacuating guests from harm’s way, sending people to different destinations – it is a massive undertaking for all.

These last few weeks have been terrifying and exhausting for many, but have also put a lot of pressure on those managing flights, hotels and cruises. It is beyond anything most of us have seen, other than when we experienced the atrocity of 9/11.  

But, as we know, things will soon normalize and hotels, resorts and restaurants will be rebuilt, ships will sail and flights will take off. It is the human toll that we need to remember; this is the time to open our hearts and our minds -- as well as our wallets -- and stand together and make a difference in even the smallest way.

You really are the unsung heroes, working tirelessly behind the scenes to help, to save people’s trips and to offer choices as well as consoling and soothing their anxieties. I continue to applaud all that you do and all that our wonderful industry does to inspire, lift hopes and ensure, in some fashion, that dreams may come true.

No wonder we are all pretty much addicted to what we do and love it as well. No matter how tough it gets – it is worth it. 

Vanessa Lee

Vanessa Lee Columnist

An internationally-known luxury cruise expert, Vanessa is publisher and editor of Cruise and Travel Lifestyles magazine. She contributes a column every other Friday for OJ’s Splash News and appears with Nina on the bi-monthly video Cruise Factor.

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