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Cruise-Student Program in Curacao Inspired by the Panama Canal

On March 27, a unique internship project was concluded on board of Princess Cruises’ 70,000 ton ship, Sea Princess, in Curacao. Twenty local tourism and hospitality students gained valuable experience on board and received certificates.  How it all started..

The “Curacao On Board Student Program” came about in May 2000 as a result of one of my journalistic activities during a (private) cruise on board the Dawn Princess.  After I booked the Panama Canal cruise, I contacted the Princess Cruises’ head office well in advance to ask permission to take photographs in the Canal on the navigational bridge. I planned to write an article about the technical aspects of the Canal, to be  illustrated with my own photos and experiences.

This request started—as it sometimes happens—an unexpected chain of incidents, confronting me with an intensive schedule for interviews of all important officers on the ship, settled by the head office. This was not my purpose at all…the cruise was supposed to be a vacation trip, and the objective of my writing would be only the Panama Canal, not the ship.

Following the schedule, which was so enthusiastically provided to me that I felt uncomfortable to refuse, I found myself interviewing the captain and the F&B manager among others for several days. It unexpectedly turned out to be time well spent because during these interviews I heard about the pilot of a student program that had been carried out in Barbados and Grenada on board of this ship while in port. Immediately I asked why the program was not implemented in Curacao, being the next port of call, and the answer was: “We do not have a contact person in Curacao.”  Five minutes later that problem was solved and the keel was laid for the program in Curacao.

I started preparations right away and not even half a year later the program started in October 2000. During ten visits to the ship, ten students of the local Maris Stella School were able to take advantage of a unique opportunity to see and learn the “ins and outs” of all five departments on board, an experience that turned out to be extremely valuable for their future careers.

The pilot program turned out to be a big success for all involved. Even in Princess Cruises headquarters it was enthusiastically received and as a result we were allowed to continue it during the next winter season.
Unfortunately, September 11, 2001 put a spoke in the wheel.  After “begging” in vain for continuation every year after, I finally got the chance to speak to Princess Cruises’ responsible official personally and I managed to convince him in the summer of 2005 that we could carry out the project again in Curacao despite all stringent international security regulations.  In October that year, twenty students, recruited from two local schools this time boarded the sister ship, Sun Princess, for the first time!  This year 20 students became familiar on the Sea Princess.

Both projects led to a successful conclusion and two times twenty valuable certificates were awarded at the end, enriching forty local students with an experience of a total different world, in which giving excellent service and working efficiently together is common. The certificates were presented by the captains of the vessels in the presence of the deputy governor and other local dignitaries. Two local TV stations and a camera team of the Tourism Office taped and broadcasted the event and again the headquarters in California granted the promise for continuation.

A modern cruise ship is an inspiring learning platform for the students, a trip abroad on their own island. And, on the other hand, the students add a “Caribbean Flavor” to the atmosphere on the ship, providing the passengers with a lot of information about the island. The teachers of both schools realized the positive effect for the island and put them through an immediate tourism crash course.

It was very appropriate that the students wore uniform blouses with the logo of the program, including the word Curacao and the island flag, obviously showing they were local students. The costs of the blouses was the only expense, spontaneously provided by the Catholic School Board. The program is not dependent on sponsors. Princess cruises took care of the certificates, which might open doors for the students in this rather closed business.

Prime Minister Emily de Jongh-Elhage supported the program from the beginning on. At that time she was the island commissioner of education, and she agreed to be the godmother of the project. She still shows a warm interest in the students and the coordinators.

On board the students get a good insight of the hotel business of the ship. They are able to get a peep behind the scenes at places that are not accessible for the passengers. They also experience working together with crewmembers of 40 nationalities and are taught to be more environment-minded, experiencing the high standards on board, which certainly will affect the attitude of these future leaders of the Caribbean tourism industry. They also learned that American citizen-passengers loathe a filthy environment. With this acquired knowledge they might become shining examples for other young people on the islands.

It’s a well known fact that the big cruise ships hardly ever open their gangway to interns—or any visitors. Princess Cruises’ good example is praiseworthy and needs to be copied on more islands and by more cruise companies!

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