Why Royal Caribbean Gave A New Meaning to ‘The Big One’

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Just about 10 years ago, Royal Caribbean redefined the meaning of The Big One.

Until then, the cruise industry generally regarded crisis management as the response to a catastrophic event, something affecting all of a ship’s passengers and crew, or several ships in a region slammed by a natural cataclysm.

As those in the industry focused on The Big One and worked together to create “care teams” to respond to it, RCL realized that the term most often meant something more personal that might affect only one or two guests among thousands on a ship.

“If I’m on a cruise with my mom, and she has a heart attack and dies, well, that’s The Big One for me,” says Ray Gonzalez, manager of RCL’s eight-member Miami-based CareTeam.

Gonzalez says the low-profile outfit is “a group of specially trained people that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, provide emotional and logistical support to guests and crew members during a crisis or in the aftermath of a dramatic event.

“This includes medical disembark, bereavement disembark, sexual assault, people who are victims of crimes shoreside, people who go missing shoreside, accidents onboard, accidents shoreside.”

Same goes for MOBs (man- or woman-overboard incidents), suicides and guests who miss sailing from a port of call.

The work of the core team at RCL’s Miami headquarters is supplemented by onboard officers and crew who are specially trained to help guests in crisis at a moment’s notice, something Gonzalez and his colleagues call “psychological first aid.”

This CareTeam Associates Program is unique to Royal Caribbean and can include as many as 30 or so volunteers on larger ships.

“If I die on a ship and my mother decides to stay onboard, the cabin steward, the waiter, the maître d’, the guest services manager, the hotel director – all of these people are going at some point to make contact with my mother,” Gonzalez says. That cabin steward, for example, can make all the difference to the bereaved guest by knowing not only how to say the right thing when arriving to turn down the cabin, but by knowing how to avoid saying the wrong thing.

None of this is as simple as it might seem. Visa requirements in different ports may limit which CareTeam Associates can assist in debarkations. Not all incidents, onshore or onboard, meet CareTeam guidelines for a specific type of assistance, so each case must be analyzed on its particulars. And in some cases, the costs incurred by RCL for ground transportation, onshore lodging, meals, and other necessities have to be bird-dogged to assure that what was agreed upon is what’s being billed to the company.

The CareTeam is also proactive, assessing potential needs on cruises that typically carry an older guest population and others that potentially require more support. And there is self-evaluation.

“We continue to evolve every day to see how we can best support our guests and their families,” Gonzalez says, “because there’s always a better way to do everything that we do.”