On August 14, Monumental Life Insurance Co.'s director of meetings and incentives, Michael Key, had just finished moving 500 Pinnacle Club qualifiers and guests (Monumental's top producers) from the Westin New York at Times Square to the Victory Carnival Cruise ship at Carnival's New York City pier. He had also just finished rounding up the additional 1,000 qualifiers who had arrived in New York and were joining the ship for a cruise to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for Monumental's Chairman's Round Table Conference. “We had just got the last person on the ship when the power went out shortly after 4 p.m.,” he says.

“The whole city had just stopped,” Key says, adding that he could see people jostling on the dock for a spot on the ferry. “If the blackout had happened three hours earlier, when we still had to move all those people from the Westin, and from the airports and train stations…Let's just say I was the happiest meeting planner on the face of the earth that day.”

But he didn't stay ecstatic for long. While the ship was completely self-contained, it couldn't just cruise off into the sunset at the scheduled 5 p.m. departure time because the gigantic gangway used to load the passengers on the ship wouldn't budge. “My heart was beating so hard. We plan these things two to three years in advance, then all of a sudden the ship didn't move.”

“The gangway was electrically operated,” explains Joyce Landry of cruise specialists Landry & Kling in Coral Gables, Fla., who served as cruise consultant for the Monumental group. “The captain told me later that week that they had to actually cut away some clamps and clamping bolts to get the gangway to release.”

Less than an hour after the scheduled departure time, the ship began its voyage to Canada. “When I saw that ship begin to back up, I was doing cartwheels,” Key says. “You could see the people on the shore wanting to hitch a ride with us to get out of the city.”

While the next day was filled with turmoil for those in afflicted cities, Key and his qualifiers enjoyed a lovely day at sea and then a great stay in Halifax.“It could have been a disaster, but it ended up being just perfect,” says Key. “A great cruise. I'm one lucky meeting planner.”

For Cruise Info

Bookmark this portal site if you're considering a cruise for an upcoming incentive program: www.corporatecruises.com. The Web site of longtime meeting industry cruise specialists Landry & Kling, it offers deck plans and virtual tours of 360 ships, an online RFP service at no additional cost to planners, and handy tools including checklists, seasonal destination info, and even tax-deductibility guidelines.