Carnival Shakes Down U.S. Military Serviceman

Carniival Cruise - U.S. ArmyA couple of years ago, I wrote a number of articles asking the rhetorical question why cruise lines have an image problem.

I discussed a number of rather outrageous cases where the cruise lines refuse to refund or credit cruise fares when their customers face a personal catastrophe, like the unexpected death of a loved one, or a customer needing emergency cancer surgery, or a father having to bury his police-officer son who had been shot and killed, or having their home destroyed by a natural disaster, or even when the cruise is to an area affected by a nuclear power plant leaking radiation and subject to a travel warning by the State Department. 

There is no shortage of ways that the cruise lines have tarnished their reputations.

Today, a reader of this blog sent me another example of a cruise line clearly doing the wrong thing.

It seems like a young man, identified as Stephen Madden, was booked to take a Carnival cruise with his wife when he received orders from the U.S. Army deploying him back to active military duty. He had the foresight to pay extra for the protection plan (titled "Carnival Fee Waiver Program"). But the insurance company (AON) sent him a letter denying his claim for a refund, saying that military deployment is not a reason stated in the insurance program. You can read about his situation on Facebook

I have never served in the Army or any other branch of the U.S. military services (although my Dad served in the U.S. Army). But I was taught to give great respect to members of the the U.S. Armed Forces, whether it be as simple as permitting active service men and women preferred boarding when I fly in airports.

I have taken a peek at Mr. Madden's facebook photos which show him in uniform, (I believe that he is a Sergeant), with the America flag on his shoulder. He is clearly a patriot. I have posted one photo above.  

Carnival professes that it takes care of our military, but it has done this several times before.

I would hope that by the time that this article is published, the Carnival claims representative have woken up and will do the right thing by reimbursing this army soldier his cruise fare.

Carnival has enough problems after the Costa Concordia deadly-debacle, or the embarrassing Triumph poop-cruise, or the recent DOJ fines of  $40,000,000 for the dumping of oil into the waters around the world for nearly a decade by its subsidiary Princess Cruises. Giving an U.S. army member a hard time like this is unconscionable. 

People may say that soldier Madden should have read the legal mumbo-jumbo in the fine print of the insurance policy more carefully. I say rubbish to that. Our servicemen and women deserve special treatment irrespective of the legal gobbledygook that the cruise giants and insurance companies place in front of their customers in order to to fatten their financial bottom lines.  

Please join the discussion on our Facebook page.

April 26, 2017 Update: Carnival sent the following statement today:  "This guest was given a full refund yesterday and it is our practice to refund service members who are called to active duty and need to cancel their cruise."

Photo credit: Stephen Madden

A Week the Cruise Industry Would Like to Forget

This week has been a public relations disaster for the cruise lines and the travel industry.

A Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) crew member from the Norwegian Pearl was gunned down in Roatan after he walked off the ship to call his wife and check on his child back in the Philippines (suspect photo below right). A Disney crew member sexually molested a 13 year old girl on the Disney Dream.  A visitor from Canada was murdered and his family terrorized in the Bahamas. A MSC cruise ship, the Magnifica, was raided by the police and labor officials in Brazil for human rights violations. Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise ships infected hundreds and hundreds of guests with norovirus aboard the Grandeur of the Seas and the Crown Princess

You can read about the stories here.

A month ago I attended the Cruise Shipping Miami (CSM) and listened to NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan Roatan Murder Suspect Cruisesay: "we are ruled by public opinion; unless we can keep our business running right we will always be on defensive." The NCL boss added: "a period of operational excellence and no media incidents are needed."

A month ago I wrote that the continuous stories about mistreatment of crew members, sexual assaults, and children victimization will continue to damage the cruise industry's image. Its like reputation death by a thousand cuts. I heard no PR plan by the cruise lines at CSM to turn things around.  I said at the time that the cruise lines were just "hanging in the balance hoping for the best."

Well the best didn't come and cruise executive Sheehan didn't get his prayer answered for "no media incidents."

This week Sheehan pulled his cruise ships out of Roatan after one of his crew members was murdered last Sunday, but the move is just temporary. His ships will again start calling on Roatan at some point. But the danger is still there. Many cruise passengers, from Carnival and Royal Caribbean, as well as other tourists, have been robbed at gunpoint or machete point in Roatan earlier this year.

Crime in Roatan will not magically stop.  Other cruise tourists will undoubtedly be robbed. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world not to mention dysfunctional police and legal systems. Where do the cruise line go instead? Belize? The Bahamas? Their crime and murder rates are also some of the worst in the world.

Roatan, Belize, and the Bahamas are all beautiful but they are all dangerous places to visit. What families want to save up all year and go on a Caribbean vacation to get away from the stresses of their lives just to end up in some of the most dangerous countries in the world?

A new Harris Poll revealed that the cruise industry's image is sinking. The poll says that the U.S. public questions the safety and reliability of cruising. The poll cited the numerous norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships as one reason for the lack of confidence in the cruise industry. The poll was taken before the Roatan shooting or the Disney child molestation case this week.

Crime, Crew Member Treatment & Environmental Practices - Not "Wow" Gadgets - Will Shape the Millennials' View of Cruising in the Future

This week I have read a couple of articles about the Cruise Lines International Association's (CLIA) "Cruise 3 Sixty" conference in Fort Lauderdale. I read an article in the Sun Sentinel (Cruise Execs Talk About Industry's Future) and an article in Travel Weekly (CEOs Say Cruise Lines Must Wow Travelers).

CLIA's Christine Duffy moderated the conference attended by the travel agent loyals. She discussed the future of cruising with the executives of the major cruise lines like Richard Fain (Royal Caribbean), Arnold Donald (Carnival), Kevin Sheehan (NCL) and Pierfrancesco Vaga (MSC Cruises).

"The Millennials"

To attract more first-time cruisers, CLIA is targeting the "Millennials" (consumers born between 1980 & Millennials2000).  

The Sun Sentinel quotes Ms. Duffy saying: "This demographic group offers a window into the next generation of travelers and provides opportunity for serious growth. They have a strong desire to travel and to share experiences."

In simple terms Ms. Duffy is talking about the next generation of young people from age 14 to 34 (like my children and nieces) who CLIA is targeting as the next wave of 25 to 55 year-old cruisers. 

Who are these "Millennials?" What will they be interested in for their vacations?

Selling cruises to the the "Millennials" will not be an easy task. 

First, they are poorer than prior generations. They have more debt and student loans. And it won't be difficult to sell them cruises just because they will have lower incomes and less wealth. It's because there will be a disconnect between what the Millennials are interested in and what the cruise lines are offering, and because the Millennials will have a greater social consciousness than the current cruisers.  

Wow Gadgets Won't Wow the Millennials

The articles report that the cruise industry is trying to attract more first time cruisers by offering the public "more innovative ships with 'wow' features."

A recent publication correctly called the Millennials "digital wizards." Like my kids, they have grown up with high tech gaming toys seemingly before they could walk or talk. I don't see the Millennials being impressed by the "gee-whizz" and so-called "wow" gadgets being touted by Royal Caribbean (virtual balconies & the "North Star" device) or Princess (the "SeaWalk"). The Millennials are smart and their taste for technology is sophisticated. My kids have been mastering Apple products for 15 years. They Royal Caribbean Bumper Carsare not easily impressed with what I or the 60 and 70 year old cruise executives think are "cool." 

Some of the new attractions touted by the cruise lines are hardly wow gadgets in the first place. The bumper cars projected to appear on Royal Caribbean's next ship are a silly, old-school idea.  The Travel Weekly article even talks about "bowling alleys and self-leveling pool tables" and quotes Royal Caribbean's Chairman Richard Fain saying: "All of that conveys what cruising has to offer. It says something about what the industry stands for.”  Circa 1950 bumper cars, bowling alleys, pool tables for the Millennials? You have to be kidding me.   

The Millennials are less privileged, more diverse, and more liberal than today's cruisers. 4 out of 10 will not be white. They will be more sensitive to the plight of workers in the international community being over-worked and underpaid. They will be more attuned to environmental issues. They will have a greater understanding of the fragility of the air and water ecosystems that the cruise lines routinely abuse.

Human Rights, Not Bumper Cars

In the last three months, one cruise line in particular, MSC Cruises, has repeatedly made the news in the worst sort of way. Just this year, passengers and crew members have accused it of dumping garbage bags at seas in marine sanctuaries. The police and labor authorities raided one of MSC's ship to investigate allegations of the cruise line abusing crew members. MSC has drawn the ire of environmentalists by sailing through the San Marco basin and damaging the port in Venice.  

The traditional newspapers, like the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, and travel publications like Celebrity Crew MemberTravel Weekly, have given little attention to these type of horror stories.

The image of the cruise industry will be shaped by issues like crime on cruise ships (a Disney crew member allegedly molested a 13 year old girl yesterday), crime in ports of call (a NCL crew member was shot and killed this week in Roatan), treatment of crew members from around the world (Carnival & Royal Caribbean seem to be competing to see who can best screw the crew members), and the cruise industry's pollution of the air and sea (have you seen the videos of MSC dumping trash?)

These are important issues that the Millennials will focus on. In the next 10 to 20 years, we will see the continued rise of social media and the presence of more contemporary publications focusing on issues of relevance to the Millennials.

Old school newspapers, which often blindly cater to the cruise industry, will continue to decline in readership and relevance.  

The bumper-car-and-pool-table and gadget-promoting cruise lines will lose the Millennials as customers unless they understand what the future really holds and begin to address issues of crime, crew member rights and environmental problems.  

Trending Now: Carnival Cruise Line's Reputation Circles the Drain

One of the interesting things about social media is that there are numerous services which track "what's tending now." Certain applications can also track words or phrases which are dominating the news.

I like to use TweetDeck as well as Monitter to follow trends involving the cruise industry.

"Carnival cruise" has been trending all week at a frantic pace. And the news is not good.

Carnival Cruise ship NightmareThe cumulative effect of the recent cruise ship fires, power failures and images of passengers on disabled cruise ships complaining about toilets over-flowing has turned Carnival's reputation into a joke.

Carnival's "fun ships" have been ridiculed on Saturday Night Live, David Letterman & Jay Leno, and featured in MAD Magazine (see below). 

Consider some of the comments which are twirling on Twitter right now:

Packing for my Carnival cruise: tent, sleeping bag for deck, iodine pills, generator, Cipro.

We all lose if CBS doesn't film the next Survivor aboard a Carnival Cruise Ship

Maybe we should shut down Abu Ghraib prison and send the terrorists on a Carnival Cruise

I wouldn't go on a Carnival cruise right now even if it were free

One of the secrets to Carnival Cruise’s unsinkable business model: free Coast Guard rescues

They have so many cruise commercials because Carnival is just sinking

Even with the 50% discount from Carnival it will be difficult to go on that cruise line again

Carnival cruise boats are shit LOL dont know why ppl go on them...

Decisions. Decisions. Trying to decide whether to take a Carnival Cruise or just stay at home and shit my pants

My new punishment for my 12 year old daughter: Do your chores or I'll send you on a Carnival Cruise

if its a carnival, there's a 96.13% chance something will go wrong and youll get a free cruise out of it... Have fun!

Last week I posed a question on Twitter whether Carnival was the Wal-Mart of the high seas? Several people said no way - don't insult Wal-Mart, Carnival is more like K-Mart.

What's the funniest comment about Carnival you have heard on Twitter this week? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.

MAD Magazine - Carnival Cruise Ship

Costa to Re-Float the Concordia, But Can the Cruise Industry Salvage Its Reputation?

Friday the 13th was the 6 month anniversary of the January the 13th Costa Concordia disaster.

This weekend, I read through several dozen articles which looked back over the last 6 months since the Costa cruise ship killed 32 people and terrorized thousands.  I watched the recent specials on NBC and CNN about dangers inherent in cruising, including rapes as well as ship fires and sinkings.

I am struck by just how badly all of the articles and videos portray the cruise industry.

The Miami Herald recently published an article Cruise Industry Still in Troubled Waters Six Months After Costa Concordia, written by tourism reporter Hannah B. Sampson, who I have criticized for writing puff pieces supporting the cruise lines. Ms. Sampson seems to have had a moment of insight.  She writes " Costa Concordia Salvage. . . the cruise industry is treading water, faced with depressed fares in key markets, continuing negative headlines and would-be cruisers still spooked by the deadly disaster." 

The article continues: " . . . lawsuits related to the Jan. 13 catastrophe are piling up. The captain blamed for the accident — still being investigated but no longer on house arrest — is making new headlines in television interviews. And the larger question of safety on cruise ships is earning greater scrutiny as longtime critics gain a wider audience."

This time, the Miami Herald has the story exactly right. Things are indeed tough when the Miami Herald - a huge supporter of the cruise lines - delivers a message that the cruise industry is struggling.

The Miami Herald interviewed the usual cruise lines fans and industry representatives. Carolyn Spencer Brown, the editor of the popular online cruise community Cruise Critic, and an unabashed cruise supporter, is quoted saying “It was horrific, the ship’s still in the water, we’re still hearing about it.”  She predicted that  " . . . we won’t see the new normal until we get past the year’s anniversary."  I agree, assuming the doomed ship is not still lying on its side in the little port of Giglio next year.

Salvage operations are finally starting in an effort to float the dead cruise ship out of sight to a scrap yard where it will be disemboweled, cut up and eventually melted.  The salvage operations seem to be painfully slow to me, although I suppose it is a massive undertaking with a ship that big.

Will the salvage be done by January 13th of next year?  It will be a PR disaster if not. The cruise industry doesn't want the ship to still be there when the families of the dead return for another vigil.  I would not doubt it if the salvage contract contains incentives to complete the job before January 13, 2013.      

There is another operation underway - to try and salvage the cruise industry's reputation.  This is a far more difficult task.      

The Concordia disaster brought the world's attention not only on the outrageous conduct of the captain but on the manner in which the cruise industry treats its customers after disaster strikes. Part of the discussion today involves the onerous terms of the passenger tickets which the cruise lines draft to protect themselves against all legal claims.  It is shameful for a cruise industry, which collects over $35,000,000,000 a year and pays no taxes, to offer 11,000 Euros on a take-it-or-leave-it basis to traumatized passengers.

There is also the pesky business of cruise ship crimes (particularly rape) and accusations that the industry covers crime up. The debate whether cruising is a perfect place to commit a crime has resurfaced and reached a much broader audience.   

The cruise line's trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), doesn't have much to say to compete with the images of the panic and terror aboard the Concordia or the spectacle of a rape victim explaining how a family vacation turned into a nightmare.  CLIA's talking points are old.  This is an industry that promises cruising is safe, but works overtime to conceal crimes from the public.

The public must feel uneasy when CLIA's favorite PR statement “the number one priority of the cruise industry is the safety of its passengers” is juxtaposed against a 15 year old girl on CNN's Anderson Cooper's program discussing how a crew member raped her.

CLIA was under siege at a Senate hearing into the Concordia last March when Senator Rockefeller characterized CLIA President Christine Duffy as dishonest and the cruise industry being more interesting in avoiding U.S. taxes than the passenger's safety.

Add to this the recent revelation that the FBI and the cruise lines scuttled the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act in a concerted effort to prevent the U.S. public from learning about the hundreds of crimes which occur each year on CLIA cruise ships.    

CLIA tries to portray the cruise industry as proactive and interested in regulating itself.  But many think this is more publicity than substance. Consider how little the cruise lines have done since January to actually improve cruise ship safety. 

The Herald article outlines only a handful of steps the cruise lines have discussed in an effort to convince the public to spend their vacation dollars cruising:

Costa Concordia Evacuation - Confusion(1) more life vests on the ships; (2) no unnecessary people in the bridge; (3) pre-approved ship routes shared with all members of bridge; (4) twelve uniform emergency instructions; and (5) evacuation drills before a ship leaves port.

But these are such basic procedures that it is shocking to think that they were not in place 100 years ago, after the Titanic sank. 

It's like having an aviation industry where there are no mandatory safety instructions before take-off, girlfriends of the captain are permitted to enter the cockpit during an emergency landing, and the captain is the first one off the plane and down the emergency slide.

Even uber cruise fan Carolyn Spencer Brown admits: "Many of those changes should have already been in place before the incident."

My prediction is that the salvage efforts will have the Concordia out of sight before the one year anniversary of the disaster.  

But the cruise line's reputation?  If the cruise industry doesn't develop transparency, its battered reputation will sink further below the waves. 

 

Photos credits:

Top - AP / Pier Paola Cito

Bottom Sky News

And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem . . . (continued)

My article on Wednesday "And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem . . ." contained the "usual suspects" - Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Carnival subsidiary Princess Cruises - whose shenanigans have been featured in Cruise Law News over the past year.

But right after publishing the article, I read a story in the Miami Herald's "Action Line" - "Funeral Disrupts Cruise Plans" - which involved another Miami cruise line, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).

The story is straight forward.  A couple from Key Largo, Ms. Boland and Mr. Samuel, purchased a NCL - Norwegian Cruise LineNCL cruise on the Sky leaving from Miami with three other couples.  But Mr. Samuel's brother died, and his funeral was in Georgia on the day the ship sailed.  So the couple notified NCL, asking for a credit on a future cruise.  NCL said no. They then asked for their cruise to be donated to charity (Make-A-Wish).  NCL said no.

Then comes the sick part.  NCL then re-sold the cabin to another couple.  Yep.  NCL got a double profit due to the death of Mr. Samuel's brother.  Really sick.

NCL is active on Twitter @NCLFreestyle, so I tweeted a reference to the Miami Herald article. 

NCL - Andy Stuart - Norwegian Cruise Line No response. 

NCL's "Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Passenger Services," Andy Stuart, is also active on Twitter @nclandy .  So I tweeted him "Double cruise profit for death? Say it aint so Andy!" 

No response. 

NCL should have permitted a child with cancer and his or her parent go on a once-in-a-lifetime cruise.  Or make a small donation in memory of Mr. Samuel's brother.  But to double sell the cabin under these circumstances?

And cruise lines wonder why they have an image problem .  .  . 

 

Credits:

Photographs     Twitter