Royal Caribbean Calls on "Captain Hollywood" to the Rescue Following the Latest Brilliance of the Seas Debacle

I have been critical of Royal Caribbean's PR skills over the years, thinking that this particular cruise line's credibility is at the bottom  of the cruise industry.  So when RCCL announced after the terrifying storm which rocked the the Brilliance of the Seas and injured its passengers that the cruise ship "had full power and was operating as normal" and that no passengers were "seriously injured," I thought here we go again - another misleading PR statement.

Brilliance of the Seas - Storm - Cruise  RCCL has pulled this stunt time and time again, quickly issuing misleading statements in the hope that the media will quote its carefully crafted misinformation and then the story will quickly blow over.

This strategy didn't work with the Brilliance storm story.  The storm was too big.  And the damage to the ship's interior and to the passengers' psyche were too extensive. 

Multiple media sources revealed that the ship was clearly not operating "as normal."  The ship was a complete mess.  Televisions were ripped from their mountings lying broken on the floor, glass shattered everywhere, furniture tumbled and passengers were thrown like rag dolls throughout the ship which looked like a bomb had exploded inside. 

Royal Caribbean couldn't sweep this one under the rug. The national networks - ABC, CBS, and NBC - featured dramatic photographs and video taken by passengers aboard the cruise ship.  Dianne Sawyer's news show earlier this week revealed the terror aboard the Brilliance as it was rocked and rolled off of the coast of Egypt in the middle of the night.  ABC ran a story that the passengers were "in revolt."  AOL News and USA Today ran stories that over 100 passengers appeared in the ship infirmary for injuries. 

Royal Caribbean's everything-is-okay PR statement was overwhelmed by the power of YouTube where passengers on the cruise ship post videos and photos of the spectacle for the world to see.  The discrepancy of what these photos (below) showed versus what the cruise line said magnified this cruise line's lack of transparency.

Royal Caribbean finally acknowledged that the incident was indeed "serious" and some passengers were seriously injured (broken bones).   Royal Caribbean also agreed to reimburse the entire cruise fare for all passengers and provided an onboard credit. 

Brilliance of the Seas - Storm - Cruise ShipCaptain Hollywood To The Rescue

The cruise line then called on its Vice President of Marine Operations, William Wright, to appear before the media and answer questions about  what happened. 

Captain Wright flew from Miami to Valletta Malta and was ready when reporters began to interview the Master of the Brilliance, Captain Erik Tengelsen, who has a reputation for being honest and forthright.  Captain Tengelsen was at the helm when he was trying to outrun the storm into the crowded port of Alexandria.  He knew there was a storm on his tail, but when he slowed down at the port in Egypt, the stabilizers lost their effectiveness.  The cruise ship was a sitting duck. 

When Captain Tengelsen told the reporter that the incident was "horrific" and that he knew that a storm had forecast to blow to 45 knots and then gusted to 50 to 60 knots, Captain Wright saw danger brewing.  He quickly interjected that "Mother Nature is fickle" and the weather must have been a surprise. (see video below)  Clearly, Captain Wright had been sent to baby sit the ship and make certain no damaging PR statements with legal implications were made by the vessel's officers.  He shut Captain Tengelsen up and took over the show.       

Royal Caribbean also produced a short YouTube video back in its Miami corporate office. Wearing a friendly open collar and sweater with palm tress swaying behind him, Captain Wright provides a reassuring and calming cadence to bring the public's focus away from the horrific storm off of Egypt.  No real information as usual, but a nice relaxing video to calm everyone down. 

Many in the media loved it.  A very popular cruise blog in the U.K, picked up on the feel-good vibe and Royal Caribbean pulled off a PR comeback with "Full Refund for Brilliance Passengers."

A Seasoned Media Pro 

This is not the first time that Captain Wright has been used as a PR ploy for the cruise line.  He Captain William Wright - Captain Hollywood - Royal Caribbean was the media star for Royal Caribbean following the last high profile incident involving the Brilliance of the Seas.

Our firm was first introduced to Captain Wright when he was pushed to the front of a PR war our firm was engaged in following the death of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise on this very cruise ship, the Brilliance of the Seas, in July 2005.  We represented Mr. Smith's widow.  The cruise line wanted the public to think that her husband's disappearance was just an accident, whereas many thought that Mr. Smith met with foul play.  Royal Caribbean handled the circumstances after George Smith's death badly.  It paraded a number of employees from its corporate communications, human relations and security departments in front of the cameras to carry the Royal Caribbean "its-just-an-accident" message - only to see them flounder before the cameras.

Finally, Royal Caribbean settled upon Captain Wright to appear regularly on the cable news shows.  I nicknamed him "Captain Hollywood" given his tall stature, good looks, deep voice, and dramatization of the cruise line's talking points.  He was was a natural before the media.  Captain Wright appeared regularly on Greta van Sustern's show on Fox "On The Record."   The cruise line also picked him to fly to Washington D.C. to conduct media interviews during the Congressional hearings for the past five years into the investigation into cruise safety and security issues.

Brilliance of the Seas - Rough Weather - Cruise ship Getting cruise executives and media friendly cruise faces in YouTube videos is something I have advocated in the past if the $35,000,000,000 cruise industry wants to compete in the word of media relations.   

But cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are still a long way behind the curve in matters of social media.  For example, around 15,000 people looked at "Captain Hollywood's" video - compared to around 290,000 people who viewed a video on our Cruise Law's YouTube page of a cruise ship facing rough weather in Antarctica.   

Royal Caribbean still has problems handling its PR matters.  Its first inclination is not to tell the truth.  It tends to minimize the seriousness of serious life threatening incidents when honesty would serve it best.  It finally has a blog by its President Adam Goldstein, and it finally is using YouTube, although both its blog and YouTube pages lag far, far behind the popularity enjoyed by this blog and our YouTube page.  The cruise line still does not integrate Facebook, Flickr or, my favorite, Twitter, into its social media.

Instead, its media strategy is to simply issue the same old tepid "everything-is-just-fine" PR statements.  When that doesn't work, it sends Captain Hollywood to the scene to reassure the faithfuls that everything is okay. 

When the next disaster strikes a Royal Caribbean ship, look for Captain Hollywood to fly in from Miami and announce on YouTube that the cruise ship is safe and sound.    




Photos of damage to Brilliance of the Seas - MailOnLine

Video - Times of Malta

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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Suzanne - December 20, 2010 6:43 AM

Spot on Jim! I have seen Captain Hollywood in action myself and boy, did you hit the nail on the head. RCCL is terribly backward concerning the use of the Internet and not just social media. They are paralyzed by fear of the written word.

Great observations once again. Thanks!

KYL - December 22, 2010 3:32 PM

I'm not able to post this to Cruisecritic or any other site, but wanted to share this with you as I had told people on the ship that they shouldn't have cheered when they offered the full refund as there was more than meets the eye...

Questions to ask yourself:

No doubt the crowd cheered when they announced a full refund of the cruise, but I wasn’t happy with this as people seem to miss the point which is why I am listing down what happened as I want the truth to come out from Royal Caribbean.

We all know that missing a port due to Mother Nature is something we cannot fault the cruise line for. As such, why was Royal Caribbean being so generous? What really happened?

I personally think and I am searching on-line for evidence to back up my opinions that Royal Caribbean took these steps simply to hope they won’t be sued for putting our lives at risk. Almost everyone on board the cruise took the cruise for the port of Alexandria which was the money making part of the cruise for Royal Caribbean and there was absolutely no reason why we headed from Rhodes to Alexandria knowing the weather conditions. Captain Erik Tengelsen had made numerous announcements that we would hit 50-60 knots which is contrary to the press releases and interviews where he states he was expecting 30 knots and that double that amount was a complete surprise.

Chronicle of Events (Based on my experience as I was apart of all of this)

Saturday December 11:
Approximately 5:30
Captain makes announcement over the PA System that we would take another course due to the weather conditions. He estimates that we will get thru the rough weather at around 4:00am

Approximately 6:30PM
During my dining session, the boat tilted a bit and the plates by the waiter staff fell and crashed.

Sunday, December 12:

Impossible to sleep with the ship moving so much and I wake up to check the clock, wanting to see how much longer till the 4:00AM time the captain indicated as when we will pass the rough sea.

Approximately 2:35AM
Ship rocks violently and I grab my wife and sit down on the only thing stable in the room, the sofa (we were on the 8th floor) and watch the boat sway back and forth a few times. Everything on the table falls off to the floor and as the ship continues to sway, the objects keeps pounding into the door and glasses break. The beds and the tables next to them all move back and fourth and anyone caught standing would have been hit by the objects or thrown against the walls. (Pictures posted by other people on board can be found at

We receive announcement from captain on the incident, the first time he had communicated to us since 5:30 previous day. Over the span of 30 minutes, we hear captain giving, I believe 2 more updates.

Monday December 13:

Between 11:00 – 12:00AM
Crowd gathers around central lobby protesting the 200 dollar refund Royal Caribbean mentions in letter placed at guest rooms in the morning. Hans C. G Bratt, the hotel director comes out and promises to address all questions by arranging a meeting at the Pacifica Theater in the afternoon.

At 3:55AM
Over the loudspeaker, where all announcements are generally conducted first in English and then translated in Spanish by the International Ambassador, an announcement is made only in Spanish. As I had been waiting for the Q&A session, I found it strange that it was done in Spanish and could only make out the words “Pacifica” and “Cuatro”. I quickly went to the Pacifica Theater and there a spanish speaking crowd was already seated but there was a bunch of other people that headed down like me to see if this was the Q&A meeting we were waiting for.

Lady greeted us and told us this was for the Spanish speaking crowd on disembarkation (mind you disembarkation wasn’t for another 5 days) and said this was planned in advance and listed on the Cruise Compass (I checked and it was not listed).

We asked when the session would be and they called security to escort us out of the theater.

Around 4:20 4:50 PM

Approximately 5 people including myself went to the central lobby to the guest services area and spoke to Julianne asking her when the Q&A meeting would take place. She calls the hotel director and can’t reach him and calls his assistance and is also not reachable. She then asks us for our room number and specific questions and as we start listing the info on paper, we hear an announcement that the Hotel Director would meet us at 5:00 pm in Pacifica Theater.


Crowd gathers in theater and the Spanish Disembarkation session is still underway and a Japanese man not understanding it yells out, “English” please…

Hans Bratt walks on stage and reads a prepared speech, about 1 minute in length indicating the captain would have an announcement at 7:00pm about the incident and that they would exceed our expectations. International Ambassador then makes the same speech in Spanish.

One of the 5 people that were leading the protest as we positioned ourselves in the front right section tries to get the microphone from the International Ambassador but she quickly leaves stage. Crowd sits in disbelief believing this was a Q&A session and even now not a single question we have has been answered or has anyone bothered to listen to them.

Announcement about full refund comes over the PA System, crowd cheers, I wasn’t happy since there is more to meet the eye. Remember nothing in life is free.

Other events (I found out after speaking directly to people involved)

• A guest letter was circulated criticizing the 200 dollar refund from Royal Caribbean. The lady who created the letter and her husband were pulled into a room with the hotel director and told they would be escorted off the ship at the next port due to solicitation. I along with the other five people who was helping lead the protest made sure to follow-up with them to see if RC did in fact escort them off the boat which they didn’t do in Malta.

• Initial injury reported from speaking to the dining staff was 300 injured with 31 serious. Royal Caribbean had issued a press release as well as on our paper about the 200 rebate, that there were only “minor injuries”. I believe this number is now higher based on further press updates.

• Doctor’s office was closed from 11:00AM to 4:00PM as this was their normal time of closure even thought a long line of people were waiting to see the doctor (Absolutely inexcusable). The nurse in attendant was extremely rude and quite a few complaint letters were written on her.

• In addition, doctor would not release medical report even though people requested and were promised one. This repeated itself for a few days before I spoke to Julianne directly who contacted the doctor and finally got the medical report on Wednesday December 15. Was this done deliberately to not hold RC liable for injuries? I saw people with neck braces, broken arms and the couple I was close to, the lady had injuries to her sternum area.

• Taking the elevator up, I did not notice the Hotel Director was inside the elevator and there was a group of people including one man on crutches. Elevator door opens, man on crutches leaves and someone asks Hotel Director about the guy’s injuries, and in his snobbish response, he replies, that’s minor and quickly leaves the elevator.

What I have found so far:

• Friday December 10: Depart Rhodes, Greece at 6:00PM heading to Alexandria, Egypt with expected arrival Sunday December 12 at 7:00AM

Egyptian authorities closed ten ports on the Red and the Mediterranean seas Saturday due to sandstorms and high waves as rainy weather, accompanied by low temperatures, lashed the northern areas of the country, maritime and meteorological officials said

Meteorological Authority had warned on Thursday against this bad weather

What needs to be answered?

(1) Did Royal Caribbean know when we were leaving Rhodes that the port of Alexandria was already closed? If yes, why did we sail when Alexandria was expecting bad weather to continue for a few more days, with 28 buildings collapsing at one point.

What I found so far:
• Friday December 10: Depart Rhodes, Greece at 6:00PM heading to Alexandria, Egypt with expected arrival Sunday December 12 at 7:00AM

Egyptian authorities closed ten ports on the Red and the Mediterranean seas Saturday due to sandstorms and high waves as rainy weather, accompanied by low temperatures, lashed the northern areas of the country, maritime and meteorological officials said

Meteorological Authority had warned on Thursday against this bad weather

(2) Was there any other ships that was heading to Alexandria as the reason we ‘list’ was due to slowing down the ship due to traffic at the port? This was the reason provided to us by the captain.

Mark Blackwell - December 28, 2010 3:47 PM

I was on the ill fated BOTS cruise to Alexandria.

You failed to mention, not that your story suffers for it, that we went from "30 mild injuries" to over a hundred by the time people got honest.

It's also worth noting that for a time there was a passenger's video that surfaced during the heeling event on our cruise. Somehow, a woman had the presence of mind to grab her camera while the ship was listing to 10 degrees port and starboard for several minutes. All I could think about was whether the sea water was going to be colder than the bucket of stateroom ice water I'd just been awoken by.

Days later, that video virtually disappeared. Now all the comes up on a google search are the two news reports and one or two uninteresting local news clones of the reports. But the live, as it happened video is gone.

Any bets as to whether RCL paid a pretty penny to make that vid disappear?

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