Cruising with a Train Club
By John Luppino, TCA Operations Manager
Editor’s Note: As John’s article shows, traditions and accomplishments often start with an idea that takes root and evolves.
Back around 2003 I received an invitation to lunch from a woman who did group sales work for Carnival Cruise Lines. Being Italian, food is important and free food is seldom, if ever, refused. Of course, I accepted.
Lunch was at one of Lancaster County’s better restaurants and was excellent. Also in attendance were representatives from a number of the County’s better known nonprofit organizations. The after lunch program was a description of how organizations such as TCA could use a cruise as a way to raise money. It boiled down to three things.
- For every cabin booked the cruise line would pay a booking fee to the organization
- For every so many cabins booked the organization would receive a cabin at no cost.
- Once on the ship the organization’s representative would have an opportunity to talk to the group members about the financial needs of the organization.
The number of cabins needed to begin to make this pay off for an organization such as TCA was fifteen. That would generate one free cabin and a modest amount of booking fees. Some discussion ensured as the various organizations conjured up ways to book 15 cabins (30 people). While everyone was thinking of where to find 30 people I was thinking along a different line.
Our Convention Guidelines Committee Meetings at the Eastern Division York Meets had discussed the fact that convention attendance was declining and that the trading pits were not as big an attraction as they were at one time. The general thought was that we needed something new and different. At this point I will say that the popularity of the Dinner Cruise Excursions at National Conventions came to mind.
When the floor was opened for questions, several people posed theirs and then I asked mine. “How many people can you get on one of your ships?” The room fell strangely silent. The woman from Carnival blinked and then said that the newer ones could hold 3,000 passengers. “So if I had close to that number I could basically rent the ship?” She replied, “We need to talk.”
A few days later she stopped by the office and I described my thought in greater detail. TCA needed something different for a National Convention site. We discussed space, average number of attendees, the banquet and the trading pits. She said she would get back to me. About a month later I heard from her. She apologized for the delay.
When she talked to her boss about my idea they got on the telephone with the main office in Miami, Florida. In its corporate history no one had ever approached Carnival about chartering an entire ship. For them, as it was for TCA, this was new territory.
They did come back with some interesting ideas. The ship’s sailing itinerary could be determined by TCA. For example we could sail from New York and make stops to a turnaround port and run the convention excursions right from the ship. The terminal building on the pier could serve as the trading pits on one level and the banquet room on the other level. To reserve the ship would require a down payment of $1 million. Unfortunately, this idea was a bit too far out of the box for TCA but the idea never really went away.
The 2005 National Convention had a cruise at the end of the convention. It sailed on the Sunday after the banquet and about 50 people signed up. At least TCA now knew that our people would sign up for a cruise that took longer than the time it took to eat dinner.
Eventually, TCA created the position of development director and filled it with Jane Boyce. She and I discussed the fact that TCA needed to develop non-dues sources of revenue as the cost of member benefits was out stripping the ability of dues to support them.
The cruise idea was resurrected and Jane began investigating the idea. We already knew that chartering an entire cruise ship was not going to happen but taking a group on a cruise was deemed possible. In September 2008 Jane and I sailed with about 140 people from New York City to Halifax, Nova Scotia and back. Everyone had a great time.
However, the trip was not an eight day voyage of fun for me, as I was working on the draft of the TCA budget that was due two days after we returned. In addition, my fondness for boats and ships did not extend beyond anything that carried guns and/or airplanes. If you could not blow up things what was the sense of going?
Over the years TCA groups of various sizes sailed to the Bahamas, the Western Caribbean, Western Mediterranean, Hawaii and, most recently, the Bermuda Islands. As Jane retired in March of 2013 I became the group escort. By this time we had developed some definite ideas about what we wanted to accomplish. In 2014, what is now called the “TCA Legacy Cruise” will sail to Alaska. As I write this, 74 people have already signed up.
Almost from the start it was decided that the money raised would go into the TCA endowment Fund. I am happy to say that we have generated over $40,000.00 for that fund in an economic climate that can only be described as hostile.
In a major step forward in support of the fundraising program, the Association has committed to putting a National Officer on the cruise. Seeing this as an excellent way to interact with an obviously dedicated group of members the first TCA Host was Treasurer Bob Mintz. On this recently concluded cruise to “Bermuda Bob” had many opportunities to bring those aboard up to speed on the Association’s finances and I had the chance to discuss other projects underway at the National Headquarters.
As I look into the future I see the Legacy Cruise as a way to allow TCA members an opportunity to form new friendships with other members and strengthen existing ones. The Association has found a revenue stream to build the endowment fund and we have found a way for people to have a good time.
It does not get any better than that.