OCHO RIOS, St Ann — For a group of medical professionals who usually spend their days on hospital wards tending to patients' needs, it was the ultimate escape to spend a few hours as a Carnival Sunrise cruise ship passenger.
Carnival was the first cruise line to return to Jamaica after ports were reopened to cruise ships in 2021, and the invitation to Thursday's ship tour and appreciation luncheon made it very clear: those being welcomed on board had provided great assistance to cruise guests during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team of 15 health-care workers had broad smiles on their faces as they boarded the vessel docked at the Ocho Rios cruise port terminal.
"We are elated and excited to have a day where we can come just to relax and rejuvenate from a stressful environment. We are a big hospital and we see quite a lot of patients and offer care to a large population so our days can be really hectic; so this is welcome. I give kudos to our CEO for organising this venture. I think we are deserving of it," senior medical officer at the St Ann's Bay Regional Hospital (StABRH) Dr Tanya Hamilton-Johnson told the Jamaica Observer.
The hospital's Chief Executive Officer Dennis Morgan worked with executive director of Jamaica Vacations Limited (JamVac) Joy Roberts to pull off the event.
"I wanted to show my appreciation for what they have done and continue to do, especially in the successful managing of the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of my staff added great risk to themselves because they stayed through the course and delivered. I wanted to say a big thank you and bringing them on the cruise was one of the ways in which I could do that," explained Morgan.
He said JamVac's Roberts jumped at the chance, when contacted, to be involved in the initiative.
"She was just as excited to make this happen. Since my team and I came onto the ship we have been treated with respect and the experience has been amazing. I can also see the excitement on all their faces and I'm happy for that," Morgan added.
He and his team boarded the vessel at approximately 10:00 am and they were welcomed with an enticing array of tasty pastry, fresh fruit and refreshing beverages. Then they were given a tour of the majestic ship which has a capacity of 3,000, including crew and passengers. The day ended with lunch at the Sunshine Restaurant with a special dance performed by crew members.
Dr Shanique Davidson was among those happy to share in the experience.
"It is no easy feat to be working in the healthcare system because there is a lot that we have to undertake with the little that we have. However, I'm happy for what is happening today. It is really appreciated by the staff. Today feels like a little breather from all the things that we undergo on a daily basis," she said.
Dr Shakera Guyah, a general surgeon at the StABRH, also spoke highly of the day out.
"This is a very good undertaking for the staff, especially after coming out of such a stressful period. It makes us realise that we are appreciated and this experience has been enjoyable for us so far," he said.
As senior vice-president of government and destination affairs Marie Mckenzie explained, the cruise line was eager to take the opportunity to show its appreciation for the ongoing support medical professionals provide to the cruise sector.
"Today's event is quite personal to me because, besides COVID, they really help us with our guest and crew for medical care. Many times we have accidents on our ships and they are very helpful to us. Today's event is dear to us, that we could get them on board just to say, 'A big thank you!'. Some staff members have never been on a ship and so for us to get them to be a part of this occasion means a lot," she said.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, who was also in attendance at the event, lauded the healthcare professionals for their selflessness and drive to protect destination Jamaica.
"The pandemic that we had was the greatest challenge in the history of mankind and Jamaica. There was nobody to indicate how persons should be treated; everybody was uncertain and we were thrown into an almost existential panic. But someone had to be strong and emerge with confidence and the medical profession emerged and stood on the frontline and take that risk in order to save our lives. So bringing them here for lunch today is a small way of indicting our deep appreciation for your selflessness that you have displayed to mitigate the effects of that pandemic," he said.
"People are confident to come into Jamaica from anywhere in the world they are. Irrespective of how we are managing whatever social situations might occur, the confidence is there that they are always safe once they are in Jamaica. I want the world to know that Jamaica is safe for the finest winter tourism experience in the history of our country," the minister added.