My Cart

Mariners Still Sailing Together…Apart – Part 2

The Gifts That Keep Giving

Noelle preparing to package & ship our most popular models, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia/USS Merrimack. Ordered via our online gift shop. (All images in this blog: Amanda Shields/Mariners’ Museum & Park)

Back in April, at the height of Virginia’s stay-at-home orders and less than a month into the museum’s work-from-home status due to the pandemic, the only staff still physically working at the museum at the time were a skeleton crew of essential personnel. Noelle, our visitor services manager, was working from home when she noticed an order come through the online gift shop. Problem was, all of the packing and shipping had to be done while physically in the museum gift shop, but not only was the museum closed, even our park was closed. With everything going on in the world and the museum itself, I’m sure no one would have blamed Noelle for responding to the customer that the museum was closed and we just couldn’t fulfill the request at this time. After all, it was a small order from out of state, just toy models of the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. Instead, she reached out to the buyer to find out more and discovered that it was a father buying the ships for his 6-year-old son’s birthday which was coming up that weekend. He explained how much his son loves the story of the Monitor and the Merrimack. Noelle told him we would make it happen; if the items were shipped by Monday they would reach the family in New York in plenty of time for the little boy’s birthday that weekend. She came in Monday, packaged the models, and even included a note wishing the little mariner a happy birthday. She then confirmed that the item was picked up, and upon receiving the tracking number passed it on to the family. This special kind of dedication and empathy isn’t found everywhere, but it’s here, even behind the scenes, at the Mariners’ Museum.

Noelle entering the museum gift shop.

In this exclusive behind the scenes series, I am introducing you to several members of our Mariners’ crew who are still manning the ship even though our beloved museum remains closed to the public. Allow me to introduce you to the resourceful and dedicated leader of our visitor services department.

Noelle packing items ordered from the online gift shop.

Picture this if you will, the visitor services department…the admissions desk, 3D movie theater, the gift shop, and just overall customer service for museum guests suddenly faced with no visitors to serve, a museum closure, and the challenge of suddenly trying to figure out what remote work looks like for such an “on-site” department. Enter Noelle, the Mariners’ Museum Visitor Services Manager.

Noelle confirming an order invoice before packing books ordered via the museum’s online gift shop.

“Shifting my mindset to things our team could accomplish from home that would still improve guests’ experiences once we re-opened, was a little challenging at first,” Noelle says.

She knew they had to do everything differently! A department, once relying so heavily on teamwork and working just steps away from each other, now suddenly has to transition into a world of emails, zoom calls, and independent work.

Step 1 – Look Inward

Noelle got her team signed up for some formal online training & certifications because she recognized that training with the database would help our staff be more independent with troubleshooting minor issues that may occur in daily interactions. All of which will improve and streamline the guest experience at our admissions desk when we re-open…And we are ALL looking forward to that when it’s the right time to do it!

Finalizing gift shop orders.

Step 2 – Look Forward

Once the team completed the certifications, the focus switched to serving the museum’s members and guests during the COVID closure. This led them to the online gift shop. While it has existed for many years, it has never been the main focus, so this time is being used as an opportunity to improve, expand, and really maximize our guests’ online museum shopping experience. Now, the layout is more user-friendly, the amount of merchandise available has more than doubled, brand new merchandise has been added, and much more. One of the main duties that brings Noelle back into the Museum has been processing and shipping out orders that come in from our online gift shop. As we move closer to re-opening, Noelle and the team alternate days coming in to clean, refresh, restock, and reorganize the gift shop in order to get it ready for guests to return!

Sorting books for orders.

-Shameless plug: Relive your memories from the Mariners’ Museum even while we’re closed at our newly revamped online gift shop! –

Noelle opening a letter requesting a passport stamp.

“We are really proud of how far it has come, and are excited that utilizing this resource has allowed us to continue providing our guests and members with unique gifts, books, and toys to help pass their days in quarantine and beyond,” says Noelle.

Step 3 – Look Around

The Visitor Services team is also helping other departments too! They have been helping library and archives, some are helping the Department of Interpretation with content development, while others are focusing on expanding and improving the online gift shop. Remember what I said about this team being used to relying so heavily on teamwork and working just steps away from each other every day? Each person being focused on different tasks has a way of making one feel very disconnected from each other. They found that frequent texts, emails, and zoom calls are really helpful for bringing them all back together when they can’t be together physically.

Noelle working in the now-quiet gift shop.

When I asked Noelle what she was looking forward to the most when the museum is open again, the first thing she said was “Interacting with our guests!!!” She loves hearing your stories and having the ability to make your visit with us a little more special. Sometimes that’s as simple as helping you find the perfect memento for your visit to our gift shop. It might even include sharing part of her maritime connection with you and calling a Collections Department team member to bring out her favorite artifact, the Narwhal tooth!

“The guests absolutely are what make my job great!”
– Noelle, Visitor Services Manager

I could tell you a dozen more things big and small Noelle has done to make a difference here at the museum since becoming the visitor services manager, but simply put – Noelle is living proof that the right leader in the right position, even during uncertain times like a pandemic, can keep morale up and a team moving in the right direction.

Finishing up her duties at the admissions desk.

“Post” Postscript

Making a stamp for a guest.

Psst…Did you know that you can get a passport stamp of our own Cape Charles lighthouse lens?

Our stamp depicting the First Order Fresnel Lens from the Cape Charles Lighthouse.

The Mariners’ Museum is part of the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s Passport Program! I didn’t even know that was a thing until Noelle received a letter requesting a stamp and now I might be a little obsessed. You too can get your own stamp! And it’s available by mail! Which, by the way, we have Noelle to thank for getting us a way cooler stamp!

Just send a self-addressed stamped envelope & $1 donation to:
The Mariners’ Museum & Park
100 Museum Drive
Newport News, VA 23606
Attn: Front Desk.

Now go collect ’em all like they’re Pokèmon or something! 😉

Collect ’em all!

Here at the museum, there’s still wind in our sails and so much is happening in every corner! Subscribe to our blog to get stories from ALL our team members, and for the next posts in this Behind the Scenes series. If you missed Part 1 in this series, you can find “The Teaser Trailer” here!

Coming up, I’m going to take you into the archives, see what our Cultural Heritage photographer has been up to, and introduce you to a couple of team members whose department is the backbone of our museum and part of that skeleton crew who never worked remotely. Our galleries had to close, but we haven’t gone anywhere.

The museum is closed but you can still order online! Click the photo to see what’s in the shop!

Until next time, fair winds & following seas, my friends!

Scroll to Top