My name is Emma Gillings and I’ve worked for Royal Caribbean International since 2005. I am an Adventure Ocean Manager and my role onboard is to oversee all Youth and Family activities ranging from Babies in the Nursery to Teen Discos.
One of the greatest and most rewarding aspects of my job is that I get to be the personal contact for any family sailing with us from Make-A-Wish®.
Royal Caribbean not only raises money for Make-A-Wish with our Walk for Wishes and Destination Joy months, but also hosts a number of families who are granted their wish onboard any of our ships. We get families from all over the world who come sail with us and I make it my goal to give them a vacation experience they will never forget!
The wishes made by the children range from anything to a family Caribbean cruise to swimming with dolphins or my own personal favorite – being the Captain and getting to blow the ship’s horn! I had one six year old boy onboard who once got up to the Bridge, sat in the Captain’s chair and didn’t want to leave. He started commanding the Bridge Officers to do things and made everyone call him “Captain”. He had his own Captain’s hat and a wide smile on his face that his mother said she had never seen before! We had to draw the line when he started trying to push the buttons and move the steering wheel but luckily he was still young enough to listen to his mom when she explained he has to wait until he’s old enough to drive a car before he’s allowed to drive a cruise ship.
All of the wishes create lasting memories for the children however what I find amazing about the families coming on a cruise is that everyone gets something out of it. It is often the first vacation the family has had in years, or as many families tell me, the only time they have been out of treatment to go away for longer than a day or two. Whether it is their siblings, their parents or friends sharing the wish with them – we always try to make sure every person in the family gets their very own personalized VIP treatment such as a spa treatment for Mom, free arcade credits for the teens, a personal meeting with Shrek or the gang from Madagascar. For the younger kids, meeting the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers from our onboard production shows and behind the scene tours of our theaters and galleys is always popular, and of course the all-time favorite, a bridge tour for the entire family with the Captain.
As the contact person for these families, I can tell you that I never have the same experience twice. Every family is unique in their story and they all want something different out of their vacation. Some families are happy just to have me as someone they can refer to for information; others want me to share in some of the experiences with their family and others want to be involved in Make-A-Wish fundraising onboard. We’ve had family members make speeches to thank the entire ship during the fundraising activities. But one thing every family has in common is that it is an emotional time and seeing the smiles on the children’s faces is something that brings tears at some point during their cruise vacation.
It’s hard not to feel part of something very important especially when some families start to become emotional while telling me their story and explaining why this cruise vacation was so important to them. For most parents, seeing their children smile and laugh is a wish within itself as for the first time in years they see their child is the same happy upbeat person they were prior to undergoing treatment. It never fails to amaze me when I hear of the bravery of these children. I take great joy in being able to be a part of their wish and in just one week I get to go from being a complete stranger to the person included in their vacation pictures and part of their everlasting memories.