Princess' Cult of a Cruise - #FollowMeAtSea Folly

Over the past week, those of you who read my blog but don't Twitter missed the remarkable phenomenon of bickering between a small group of travel bloggers invited by Princess Cruises to promote cruising under the hash tag #followmeatsea - and a larger group of green travelers who could not stomach the wow-cruising-is-amazing tone of the tweets.  

"Bickering" may be an understatement.  The debate was more like the food fight in one of my favorite movies, Animal House.    

And boy did I enjoy it.  

John Belushi - Animal House - Food FightThe first time I read that Princess Cruises was making its foray into social media with #followmeatsea, I knew that it  was going to be a disaster.  

In September, I praised the social media skills of Princess Cruises' sister company P & O Cruises for its use of YouTube by its CEO to provide information and diffuse criticism in "Cruise Lines and Social Media - P & O Cruises Hits A Home Run," but I blasted Princess Cruises for its lack of social web skills. 

The problem with Princess was that it was oblivious to the discussion raging on Twitter when one of its cruise ships caught on fire.  When Princess finally responded days later, it lost credibility by refusing to engage in a conversation on Twitter and by referring the public to its its self-serving and misleading press statements.   

And here we are again.

The green travelers baited the here's-a-free-cruise-so-write-something-nice-about-us bloggers on Princess' Crown Princess with questions about the obvious unsustainability of cruising.  The bloggers were blind-sided.  While Princess's guests were being skewered, Princess ignored the environmental inquiries but chose to re-tweet only the most mundane isn't-this-wonderful tweets by its new friends with comments like "Beautiful!" or "Too funny!"  

When Princess finally responded to the spot-on environmental criticisms, it referred to a statement on its website (circa 2008). But it refused to answer a single question about the use of bunker fuel or its ongoing history of discharge violations which continue to this day. 

With good reason.  Princess has the most deplorable environmental record of any of the 25 cruise lines sailing out of the U.S. over the last couple of months. Lets put the nicely written environmental policies on its slick web site aside for a moment. Take a look at Princess Cruises' actual practices:    

In September, the Diamond Princess, Island Princess, Pacific  PrincessSapphire Princess and Sea Princess were cited for violating the Alaska Wastewater Quality Standards.  Again, in October, the Diamond Princess, Island Princess, Pacific Princess, Sapphire Princess and Sea Princess - together with the Golden Princess - were cited for water discharge violations.

This month, the same culprits - the Diamond Princess, Island Princess, Sea Princess, Golden Princess and Diamond Princess were busted for pollution.  The charges?  Dumping illegal levels of copper, ammonia, zinc and fecal coliform bacteria into Alaska's pristine waters. It was therefore hard to read one of the bloggers' comments:  

  Kim Mance tweet on behind the scenes Princess Cruises Tour
 

 

 

 

The Norwegian Environmental Officer who charmed the blogger no doubt looked very impressive and convincing in his white uniform. But nothing could be further from the truth. Princess Cruises had bamboozled this nice travel writer and set her up for ridicule.  

Now, I will admit. I tweeted a few grenades into the #followmeatsea debate, asking about the start of a trial in L.A. where a Princess Cruises waiter allegedly sexually assaulted a passenger aboard the Coral Princess, as well as Princess Cruises' nasty practice of dumping insufficiently treated chemicals and feces into Alaska's Cruise Pollutionclean waters.  Princess Cruises ignored these pointed questions, although one brave blogger promised to ask the Environmental Officer about the violations and tweet his answer.  

The problem here is that Princess doesn't realize that it cannot control the debate by inviting a few nice people onto their cruise ship with the hope that they write nice things about the cruise. Todd Lucier wrote an interesting blog on Princess' social media debacle entitled "Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media: Lessons from #followmeatsea."  Deadly Sin #1, according to Mr. Lucier, is "thinking you can control social media."  

Unlike the cult-of-personality cruise community sites like CruiseCritic and CruiseMates where membership requires group-think cheerleading and true cruise critics are banished, the Twitter forum is pure free speech.  Fortunately, there are many free thinkers out there with a healthy dose of cynicism.  Princess Cruises' #followmeatsea happy talk was predestined to turn into a discussion of real issues, which the cruise line was ill-prepared to handle.

The spirited back and forth on Twitter was invigorating.  But I am still waiting for a response from Princess Cruises' Environmental Officer about Princess' last 17 wastewater violations.

 

Credits:

Coral Princess    Barbara Bagnell (via National Post)

#followmeatsea tweet          Todd Lucier     

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Comments (11) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Caitlin - November 13, 2009 11:23 AM

I also used the #followmeatsea tag to raise awareness of the environmental issue. However, I didn't engage in 'baiting' myself as I regard my fellow travel bloggers as friends and colleagues. To be fair, I don't think it's true that the participating bloggers were 'blindsided' or at least not all of them. I know some were planning to research the environmental side before the controversy blew up (it would be easy for them to claim this later but I know it's true because they told me so back in October, after I wrote some posts about the enviro downside of cruising on my own blog). One of them, @nancydbrown, even wrote a post about the environmental impact before she left.

Janet Huggard - November 13, 2009 11:28 AM

Excellent blog post Jim. Missed it all due to Swine Flu, but sounds like it caught Princess off-guard. Twitter certainly is filling a void, one the cruise industry has taken safe haven in, up until now.

When you seek to use the web to promote yourself, you must also consider that the web will be used against you. It is not a one-way street to riches.

It is more like diving for a treasure chest in shark infested waters. When the quest is based on greed, you are likely to get bitten in the ass.

Right about now, corp executives should be ready for a medevac out of their fish bowl.

Jim Walker - November 13, 2009 11:48 AM

Thanks for the comments.

Caitlin - I'm giving the onboard bloggers the benefit of the doubt, although you are probably right. I follow some of the travel writers like @Nancydbrown and @ARoadRetraveled who has an enjoyable travel page -http://www.ARoadRetraveled.com. I don't think they understood what they were getting themselves into . . .

The cruise line's lack of transparency placed the bloggers in a precarious spot.

Jim Walker - November 13, 2009 12:45 PM

Caitlin:

Another point -

Consider the following statement sent by Princess Cruises Public Relations Director, Julie Benson, to travel writer Nancy Brown. Not only didn't Ms. Benson mention Princess' 17 recent environmental violations, she said this about Princess Cruises policies:

"We care deeply for the environment. We make our living on the ocean. We're a highly regulated business. In terms of our commitment and our doing things the right way, we meet or exceed all environmental requirements."

http://www.nancydbrown.com/journal/2009/11/5/environmental-impact-of-cruise-ships.html

You can't get away with such B.S. on Twitter!

Nancy D. Brown - November 13, 2009 2:10 PM

Hi Jim
Thanks for including the link to my Environmental Impact of Cruise Ships post that I wrote BEFORE stepping foot on the Crown Princess.

I respectfully disagree with your comment re: I knew #FollowMeAtSea was going to be a disaster before it set sail.

In the short and long run, Princess Cruises should be considered a pioneer in being the 1st cruise ship to host a Twitter press trip.

As a professional travel writer, I did not feel "blindsided" regarding the green bloggers comments. The environmental "behind the scenes" ship tour segment was added as a result of my questions asked of Princess Cruises before we set sail.

I do not consider myself a "green" blogger, nor am I a "cruise" blogger, I am a journalist with a specific focus on luxury and adventure travel. I am interested in all types of travel, http://www.uptake.com/blog/family_vacations/europe-spain-green-travel_676.html

Thanks for your post and following me at sea. What a Trip!

Jim Walker - November 13, 2009 2:36 PM

Thanks for the comments Nancy. I think the concept of a Twitter cruise is great.

But journalists and lawyers alike have the obligation to point out the disconnect between's Princess' claim to "meet or exceed all environmental requirements" and the reality that the cruise line has been caught violating Alaskan wastewater standards 17 times since September.

It seems to me that the cruise line owes the #followmeatsea team an explanation. Otherwise, Princess will continue to be perceived as lacking transparency.

Kim@Galavanting - November 13, 2009 3:26 PM

Wow. Reading your perception of what happened is quite interesting, though mostly fiction. While I didn't expect to get personally attacked for taking a cruise (by only one person, who relentlessly did so only for attention -- not concern for the environment), I'm interested in how a few bloggers perceived it differently than that, while most saw right through it. To be clear: It was about one person wanting attention, not concern for the environment. A stalker person. Everyone else with reasonable questions, I've literally had asked and answered from Princess Cruises.

While I understand your expectation (though not your demands) that everything should be *immediately* answered because via the Twitter medium, I'll wait until I'm done and ready to publish my fact-based research. I like to stick to facts not just mud-sling either way for entertainment value. I'm reporting on this because it interests me and have nothing to gain either way.

Kim@Galavanting - November 13, 2009 3:32 PM

Also, not that you seem interested in facts (I've seen a few of your posts), but the ship's environmental officer was Canadian. Just like my husband, who incidentally an earth and environmental sciences professor whose helping me fact-check as I go along. But thanks for your concern about me being swooned, charmed, bamboozled or otherwise unprofessionally swayed because of a crisp while uniform or Norwegian accent. (PS: ex-husband was in military and I could do without ever seeing a deceptively charming man in one ever again).

Your remarks are just downright off the mark, offensive, and misogynistic in my view.

But that doesn't mean I didn't grill Julie Benson the other night over dinner about the pending Alaskan waste water violations. And I will answer you as soon as I have time to right up my well-balanced, well-researched article.

Kim@Galavanting - November 13, 2009 4:34 PM

Um, you don't have to publish this comment if you don't want to...but just thought you may want to change Todd's last name to Lucier instead of Lucifer. Also, the "brave blogger" you reference as promising to get an answer to the waste water violations wasn't a he, it was also me...

Jim Walker - November 13, 2009 5:10 PM

Kim@Galavanting

No offense intended to you. Sorry about the typo. I enjoy your travel blog http://galavanting.tv

Nancy D. Brown - February 9, 2013 6:30 PM

Hello Jim,

It appears the link you have to my environmental impact of cruise ships blog post is incorrect.

Would you mind updating the link? Thank you.
http://www.nancydbrown.com/2009/11/05/environmental-impact-of-cruise-ships.html

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