Long before the first cruise ship season in seven years commenced in St. Croix in January, U.S. Virgin Islands' tourism officials had been hard at work behind the scenes. A total of 52 ships will call this year, following months of dialogue between the major cruise lines and the territory's Cruise Ship Working Group, which had been established by Gov. John P. de Jongh.
A branding campaign, themed "St. Croix: Your Port of Solace," was launched late last year to create a marketing identity for a Caribbean port of call "unlike all the rest ," as tourism officials pointed out.
However, glitches developed when the Disney Magic and its 4,000 passengers docked for the first time on Jan. 6.
"We were excited, anxious, but we were rusty," said Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson Doty.
"We hadn't had cruise calls in so long, and we realized after that first call that there were gaps in customer service areas that needed fixing," she said. "This was a wakeup call for us."
"Disney is a great partner. Based on the feedback they gave us from their passengers, we were able to rectify the problems quickly," Nicholson Doty said.
Tourism officials sat down with taxi drivers, tour operators, shop and restaurant owners and vendors.
"We had a candid discussion," the commissioner said. "Everyone knew that the comments came from the passengers, not the government, and it was important to get it right."
Before the second Disney Magic call on Feb. 3, two training sessions for taxi drivers were held, attended by 70% of the drivers on the island; tour guides were retrained; better signage was posted; and traffic and transportation flow plans for Frederiksted were in place.
One exercise simulated four, land-based sightseeing tours with 30 volunteers acting as tour passengers on islandwide tours.
On Feb. 3, Nicholson Doty walked the main streets in Frederiksted and Christiansted, observing the passengers' reactions to the day in port.
"A Disney official was on island as well," Nicholson Doty said. "He was pleased that the major logistical concerns had been met."
The tourism department staged a miniparade along Strand St. in Frederiksted for the passengers as they reboarded the ship at the end of the day.
"It was important that we acted quickly and collectively on this customer service issue," she said. "We still have work to do, but we are pleased with the result to date."
The feedback from the Feb. 3 cruise call was "very positive," according to Nicholson Doty. Passengers reported that the island tours were "informative, fun, different. The guides had great knowledge of the island, transportation ran well and the beach excursions were perfect. Our goal is to deliver a unique and memorable experience for every visitor that comes to St. Croix."