There is a story in the Naples Daily News about Disney deciding to kick a 4 month old baby off one of its cruise ships that leaves me scratching my head. When the parents booked the cruise, Disney permitted infants 12 weeks or older to cruise but it later changed its policy to 6 months or older effective January 1, 2015.
The newspaper says that the extended family sailed out of Miami on December 30th with 31 family members. The baby's grandmother is sick with cancer and the cruise was part of her "bucket list."
But when the parents took their baby to the infirmary and the ship doctor treated the infant for seasickness, the cruise took a turn for the worst. The ship doctor said that the child was too young to be on the cruise and had to immediately leave the ship along with the parents, notwithstanding a Disney representative's assurances that all parents who had existing reservations would not be affected by the changes in Disney's policy's about the permitted age of infants.
The parents were sent into Nassau (a port I named the most dangerous port in the world) and forced to stay in what the parent's say was a “fleabag motel” after paying a $1,200 bill from the local public hospital.
The Naples Daily News quotes the father saying:
“No one would care if they took us off the ship and we were in complete safety in comparable accommodations and brought home,” he said. “They were deceitful about it. No one can believe that Disney would send a 4-month-old baby off into the dark in a foreign country that they say in their brochures is dangerous.”
It seems inexplicable to me that a cruise line which says that it caters to families with kids can send a 4 month old and his parents into Nassau under these circumstances.
I posted the story on the Cruise Law News Facebook page and received several dozen comments, ranging from criticism of the cruise line to blaming the parents.
My take on the issue is to simply ask, is it any surprise that the cruise industry has an image problem?
It's been a while since I awarded my "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award. Quite frankly, I became tired of giving it to Carnival and Royal Caribbean every month. But a reader of Cruise Law News just sent me a story of little Nicolas Colucci, age 5, who underwent emergency surgery after doctors found a "a large cancerous tumor growing inside his liver." He is now undergoing chemotherapy.
The Lil' Mama website explains that the Colucci family bought a family cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) that was scheduled for June 1, 2014. The family asked NCL to reschedule their cruise to another date. NCL refused. NCL wouldn't bend their corporate policies regarding medical emergencies - not even for a child battling cancer. You can read about the dreadful story here.
This is not the first time that NCL has acted in such a heartless manner.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about a man from Key Largo who purchased a NCL cruise on the Norwegian Sky leaving from Miami. But his brother died, and the funeral was in Georgia on the day the cruise ship sailed. So he notified NCL, asking for a credit on a future cruise. NCL said no. He asked for his cruise to be donated to charity (Make-A-Wish). NCL said no.
Now comes the sick part. NCL then re-sold the cabin to someone else. Yep. NCL got a double profit due to the death of a guest's brother. Really sick.
NCL is active on Twitter @CruiseNorwegian, so I tweeted a reference to the article.
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!"
NCL should have permitted a child with cancer and parents go on a once-in-a-lifetime cruise. Or make a small donation in memory of their customer's brother. But to double sell the cabin under these circumstances? It's cruel, greedy and outrageous.
Last year, I wrote again about NCL. A grandmother who drives disabled kids to school booked a cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel for her family and grandkids at the cost of over $4,000. Then Superstorm Sandy struck, submerging her home under four feet of water. The storm ravaged her home, leaving her with nothing. She asked NCL to reschedule or refund her cruise. NCL said no way.
She appealed to NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan but the cruise line and its CEO wouldn't make an exception. Absolutely no refund or rescheduling. Heartless.
Yesterday, I attended a hearing before Senator Jay Rockefeller entitled "Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers." Cruise passengers testified regarding all types of harsh conduct by cruise lines who hide behind the unreadable fine print in their one-sided, passenger tickets. At one point during the hearing, Senator Rockefeller exclaimed that he was "fed up" with the cruise lines and their "callousness."
NCL is all smiles when it sells a family a "cruise of a lifetime." But when death, disaster or a medical emergency strikes, it shows its true colors.
NCL may have a great marketing image, but it can be your worse enemy in a time of true need.
July 26 2014 Update: According to a FOX NEWS station today, a "CEO of a popular cruise line reached out to the Colucci family to offer them a free cruise. The CEO asked that his cruise line not be named because he said he was genuinely touched by their story and didn't want any publicity for his gesture."
So who was the CEO? Which cruise line did the right thing?
Different cruise lines have different policies when it comes to when a pregnant woman is no longer welcome on a cruise ship. Some cruise lines prohibit women who are 24 weeks pregnant to cruise. The theory, I suppose, is that the risk of something going wrong with the pregnancy, such as premature birth, increases once the pregnancy enters her third trimester?
As Mr. Elliott points out, just two weeks a go a pregnant woman aboard a Disney cruise ship had to be medevaced after developing complications shortly after the ship left Galveston. You can watch the dramatic hoisting of the passenger up to the Coast Guard helicopter here.
Of course neither cruise lines nor pregnant passengers want to have to summons the Coast Guard to conduct a rescue on the high seas late at night. Once the ship is a few hundred miles away from port, no helicopter will arrive to save the day.
So everyone seems to be on the same page that cruise pregnancy policies are a good idea. But the problem is - what happens when a pregnant customer does not read the fine print buried in the cruise ticket and is a few days past the cruise line's deadline? What rights does the cruise consumer have in this situation?
None, it seems. The Washington Post article correctly points out that the terms of the ticket control. Unfortunately, the cruise line is likely to block a "too pregnant" passenger from boarding while keeping the passenger's cruise fare. No refund. No exceptions. No future credit.
That's a harsh approach, particularly because some people buy cruises up to a eight months to a year in advance. If a baby is conceived after the cruise is purchased, you'd think that the cruise lines would say congratulations and be reasonable. They're not. Cruise lines seem to take advantage of the situation.
Mr. Elliott writes that it is almost like the cruise lines want to make an example by barring pregnant women who don't comply with the policy as a motivation for the public to purchase travel insurance which, not coincidentally, is also sold by many of the cruise lines.
The newspaper quoted me, for what that's worth; Here's my take:
"I don't think it's unreasonable for the cruise lines to adopt pregnancy policies, particularly given the limited nature of the medical facilities on cruise ships and the absence of doctors who are experienced in obstetrics and gynecology," says James Walker . . . specializing in maritime law. "The problem arises when there is a good-faith misunderstanding by the pregnant passenger, and the cruise line takes a rigid attitude and pockets the consumer's money."
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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