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The Story Behind Our Virtual Cruise Gala


We were gathered (well, sort of) in Bill’s back garden, beers in hand, patio chairs spaced 6 feet apart. I say “sort of” because several of us were FaceTiming in, a practice that didn’t feel at all natural yet.

“I always liked those Jerry Lewis-style telethons,” Tom offered. Tom Hanscom is the Chair of our Board of Directors, and his background in PR made us feel a bit more confident in transitioning to a socially-distanced gala fundraising format. After a month of holding out hope that the pandemic would turn around in time for our annual gala, we finally had to face the reality that the epic Masquerade Ball we were planning would have to wait until another year. At least we hadn’t ordered the decorations yet.

“People are bored and restless – entertainment is what they need right now,” said Bill Toone, ECOLIFE’s Founder and a natural-born optimist. But stacked up against Netflix and the rest of the Internet, a telethon-style gala wouldn’t compete for people’s attention.

Kat, our Admin Assistant, liked the idea of putting together a drive-in event, where everyone could party together-but-apart in their cars. We even got silly enough to consider filming an Olympics-style marble race, where people could sponsor marbles of their choice and bet on marble athletes.

Then, beer cans empty, the conversation drifted off course to what we were missing, and what we wished we could experience. Meeting new people. Visiting new places. Making plans for future adventures. We stopped trying to put ourselves in our audiences’ shoes: we were restless. We were feeling lonely. We wanted something different. We wanted to escape, to travel.


That’s how the Virtual Cruise Gala idea was born. How could we give people the experience of sightseeing in luxury from home? It had to be immersive, the whole shebang (“Extraordinary,” Bill kept interjecting, “It should be extraordinary.”), with a bar to chat in and a professional Cruise Director and on-board entertainment. We wanted people to connect with other globetrotters, to get inspired for their next big trips, and to feel, at least for an evening, like they had sailed off into the world beyond their living rooms.

The idea developed into a plan quickly. We would take our audience not only to beautiful and exciting places, but into the future of conservation. Members of our team have spent a good deal of time out in the field, and are experts in the regions we work in. Incidentally, our team also happens to be a highly charismatic bunch (have you met Connor, our Sustainable Ag Program Manager? He could be a stage actor) – perfect to act as tour guides. Bill’s friends with professional cruise entertainers we could call on to help us make it real. And we had some gorgeous footage we were itching to show off. As soon as we’d charted the course, we couldn’t wait to set sail.

Built Lovingly by Landlocked Explorers

The SS ECOLIFE Virtual Cruise Ship leaves port tomorrow evening, 5 PM PDT. She was built lovingly by landlocked explorers dying to travel: people who dove into this project to escape their locked-down homes to far-away places. We created an atmosphere and an experience that was everything we wished we could be living right now. We hope that that feeling comes through to you tomorrow when you climb aboard.

Don’t forget your tickets!

Have you gotten your tickets yet? What are you waiting for, they’re free! Register Here, and if you need extra help figuring out the tech side of things, we put together this step-by-step guide to get you set up on our streaming platform.