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

Carnival Refuses Refund for Slain Police Officer's Family

Carnival Cruise Refund PolicyOne issue we write about often is the cruise industry's refusal to refund cruise fares when tragedy strikes their customers. 

We have seen cruise lines refuse to accommodate their guests when family members die unexpectedly, natural disasters destroy their customers' homes, and even when children develop cancer. The cruise lines pocket the fares and then often sell the ship cabins for what turns out to be a double profit for the cruise line.

Seems heartless to me. Some people think its okay because the customers didn't buy insurance (which the cruise lines also sell for additional profit). But there are exceptions to every rule. It's bad karma to obtain a double profit when your customers face the heartbreak of losing a child, especially if he's a slain police officer.   

As WKMG explains, the Carnival representative not only denied a refund to the father of slain Ocala police officer Jared Forsyth, she rubbed salt into the wound. "Well, if you want to play the dead son angle," she told the dad of the dead son.

Carnival eventually refunded most of the cruise expenses (except $1,500) only after the grieving father complained to the local news station which contacted the cruise line's public relations spokesman.

Have a thought? Leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

April 17, 2015 UpdateCruise Line Refunds Vacation to Family of Police Officer Killed at Training. It looks like Carnival was shamed into apologizing to the family and finally giving them a full refund. 

April 18, 2015 Update: The Ocala Post interviewed me regarding the story, which you can read here

Video and photo credit: WKMG

 

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Oceania Cruises Pockets Cancer Victim's Refunded Airfare

National Geographic Traveler magazine ombudsman Christopher Elliott is often asked to try and recover canceled cruise fares when passengers suffer serious illness, a death in the family or other misfortune.

All cruise passenger tickets contain draconian terms and conditions, drafted by the cruise line attorneys, which address what happens when a passenger is forced to cancel a cruise because of sickness or death. Depending on when the cruise is canceled, the cruise line will keep all or a Oceania MS Marina substantial portion of the passenger's money.   

Mr. Elliott writes about the plight of a couple from Canada who booked what they described as a cruise of a lifetime with Oceania Cruises aboard the Oceania Marina in the South Pacific for $43,000 ($29,000 for the cruise fare and $14,000 for the airfare). But the wife was diagnosed with lung cancer and they had to cancel the vacation. The couple did not buy insurance.

Oceania pocketed the entire $43,000 even though the cruise line sold the couple's cabin to another couple and even though the airline refunded the $14,000 airfare to Oceania.

A cruise line keeping a refunded airfare is clearly illegal "unjust enrichment." I find it outrageous and unconscionable.  It seems no different than theft to me, and a theft by a large rich corporation while the victim is in a weak and vulnerable position.  

Mr. Elliott was successful in convincing the cruise line to return the couple's airfare. The fact that Mr.Elliott writes a widely-read consumer blog no doubt helped.

Oceania refused to refund the cruise fare. Yes, the couple should have purchased insurance. But I find this scenario repugnant. It may be technically legal but it is still unconscionable and immoral. Oceania promptly sold the cabin to other passengers, remember. Oceania didn't lose a penny. In fact, it obtained a double profit. Cruise corporations should not be permitted to make double profits because of the death and personal suffering of their guests. 

Oceania's parent company, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), likes to do this too. NCL kept the cruise fare of a passenger whose brother died and the funeral was on the day of the cruise. NCL said "sorry, no refund." The passenger also tried to donate his cabin to a child with cancer, but the cruise line refused that too. NCL then sold the cabin on the Norwegian Sky for a double profit.

Speaking of children with cancer, NCL also refused to return the cruise fare after a family learned that their five year old child was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo emergency medical treatment. NCL pocketed the family's money and sold their cabin for more profit.

NCL also refused to either refund or credit the cruise fare to a 66 year old passenger and his wife after she was diagnosed with bladder cancer and underwent emergency surgery.

It's cruel, greedy, heartless and outrageous conduct by Oceania and NCL.  Yes, it's technically legal. All cruise lines have their lawyers write their tickets to protect only the cruise line's interests. But it's unfair and unjust.

If cruise lines can't apply compassion to situations where their guests are stricken with cancer, and companies like NCL and Oceania are motivated only by money, legislation should be passed to protect consumers when they are in a time of crisis. Cancer victims shouldn't be victimized a second time by a greedy cruise line. They should be entitled to a full refund so they can pay their medical bills and try and beat cancer.   

Have a comment? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

 

Photo Credit: M/S Marina - Jordandkatz - licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A Sick Ship? Adventure of the Seas Can't Shake the Bug

Earlier this month, we were contacted by passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas because of back-to-back norovirus outbreaks requiring "deep cleaning" of the cruise ship.You can read our article about the situation here

A number of passengers complained of some pretty gross conditions:

One lady said "i was swimming and had to go round feces, which was also in the jacuzzi...it was reported but nothing was said . . . "

Another man said "the most serious issue on board the ship was the failure of its sewage system, a point admitted by its officers during the Q and A session. The ship stank like a Royal Caribbean Cruise Norovirussewage farm throughout the 14 days. We we also found the bed linen in our cabin filthy (pillows were brown and needed to be replaced) . . . This ship has problems!"

And then there was the inevitable debate whether the virus outbreak was caused by the failure of some passengers to wash their hands versus noro-contaminated food or water versus a virus-laden ship itself.

Passengers are now telling us that the norovirus outbreak continues on the third consecutive sailing of the Adventure which is scheduled for yet another so-called "deep cleaning" this weekend. Passengers received an email from the company explaining the the ship will undergo the enhanced cleaning before it leaves Southampton on Sunday, October 26th. Will the next cruise become the fourth consecutive "Norovirus on the High Seas?"

Some of the people who contacted us have small children, elderly parents, elderly grandparents or they are recovering from cancer, or have suppressed immune systems. They are asking whether they can cancel and obtain a refund or reschedule. They are asking us what to do.

Unfortunately the cruise line holds all of the cards in this situation. Royal Caribbean will certainly keep your money if you don't show up for the cruise and it will absolutely not issue you a refund. The only issue is whether the cruise line will permit a few people to reschedule on a case-by-case basis. 

Royal Caribbean just announced yesterday that it made almost $500,000,000 in profits for the third quarter of this year (and pays no U.S. taxes on that loot) so you might think that it has sufficient money to be understanding and reasonable under this circumstances. After all, its ship is sick. Who on earth wants to voluntarily subject their family to disease? But Royal Caribbean has a strict attitude against permitting fearful customers to reschedule even if there's something wrong with its ship. 

One person who contacted us said he was nervous about his family "catching the bug" but fell that he has no chance to reschedule. He said he "will let you know how it went!"

Customers should not become human guinea pigs like this. A good vacation should not depend on the success of another last minute "deep cleaning" of a sick ship which repeatedly failed.

The ship is enormous - 15 decks, 10 pools and whirlpools, 15 bars, clubs and lounges, and thousands and thousands of cabins packed into its 1,000 plus feet. Its an enormous undertaking to clean a ship like this. The chance of a 100% eradication of the nasty bug is slim, no matter how hard the crew is pressed into working overtime.  It takes only a few microbes of noro to sicken the next round of guests. The norovirus could be hidden under the commode seat cover or in the fabric of the duvet covers where the prior passengers were blasting millions of microbes of noro-infected vomit and diarrhea into the bathroom's and cabin's crooks and crannies. 

There are few laws protecting consumers on the high seas. There should be a norovirus policy where a passenger can obtain a hassle-free refund whenever there is a consecutive disease outbreak.  

If you get sick on the upcoming cruise, consider hiring a lawyer. No, not me. There's a good firm in the U.K. which has successfully handled cases this like. You can contact them here.

The cruise line is counting on the hundreds of its customers who fall victim to the pukefest not knowing what to do. After all, you and your family are really not guinea pigs, even if the cruise line treats you like one.   

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Royal PR #FAIL: Royal Caribbean Keeps Adventure & Navigator Passengers in the Dark

This weekend saw the epic failure of Royal Caribbean's corporate communications department after two of its cruise ships, the Adventure of the Seas and the Navigator of the Seas, encountered difficulties returning to their respective ports. 

The Adventure of the Seas encountered propulsion problems last week and, eventually, a total failure on Saturday night, after the cruise ship's "fixipod" leaked oil and the ship lost propulsion. The ship limped back to San Juan on Sunday with great uncertainty whether it could possibly be repaired in time for it to sail. The ship is scheduled for a drydock at the end of the month, but it appears that Royal Caribbean decided to try and do a quick-fix of the damaged "fixipod" and squeeze in one more cruise to avoid having to refund their several thousands of passengers millions of dollars in refunds. Families Port of Galveston - Navigator of the Seas - Oil Spillwho had flown to San Juan to board the Adventure were not told of the propulsion issues and found themselves standing in a long line in the hot sun while the cruise line's public relations department said nothing. As of this morning (Monday), the ship has still not sailed.

While the Adventure of the Seas saga was unfolding, the Navigator of the Seas was delayed returning to port by an oil spill caused by a collision between a ship and a barge. Families who had driven and flown into Houston to make the cruise where not advised of the oil spill or the delay embarking the ship while the Royal Caribbean department remained quite. Meanwhile the Carnival PR department was routinely posting updates on Twitter and Facebook about the problem which its ship, the Magic, faced with the oil spill. Carnival maintained a centralized "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)" on its website.  It timely notified its guests that the cruise aboard the Carnival Magic would be delayed until Monday and that they should locate a hotel and get a good night's sleep. 

By early Sunday afternoon, the Royal Caribbean passengers began openly complaining on Twitter and Facebook about the cruise line's refusal to keep them up to date. A public relations nightmare was unfolding.

Numerous passengers and family members began bitterly complaining that Royal Caribbean was not notifying them via email, test messaging or telephone, and the cruise line was not utilizing its Twitter or Facebook feeds. Royal Caribbean has a public relations account of Twitter, called @RoyalCaribPR, San Juan Long Lines Adventure of the Seasbut it had remained silent for the psst 48 hours. People calling the cruise line were placed on hold, or the service representatives didn't know what was going on. It was as if the entire customer relations department has outsourced to a distant village in India. 

The passengers in San Juan were congregating in long lines in the hot son without water or food (photo left, via @_DanielnPearson). There was reportedly a single restroom with long lines. People were suffering, particularly the elderly. One passenger sent me a photo of the long lines via Twitter. 

One passenger commented on Cruise Critic that Royal Caribbean "is refusing water and people are leaving in ambulances." Some passengers reportedly collapsed due to the heat and lack of water. And @It'sYourWorld tweeted a photo (photo below right) of a San Juan ambulance which arrived at the port to attend to one of the passenger trying to board the ship.  

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean's Facebook page said nothing about either the Adventure or the Navigator. While people began demanding an update on Twitter, Royal Caribbean posted a photograph of a beautiful tropical port of call (photo bottom left). At a time of crisis with customers begging for information, Royal Caribbean was clueless. It was trying to sell cruises with images of paradise when people in the sun needed water. 

As the afternoon dragged on into the evening and night, the passenger attempting to board these Royal Caribbean ships were kept in the dark. When Royal Caribbean finally began to tweet, its tweets were meaningless. One tweet it made over and over said: " We will provide more information . . . as information is available." 

Hundreds of passengers and the usual "Loyal-to-Royal" cruise fans began tweeting every few seconds. Of the hundreds of tweets, here are a few.

A cruise social media expert said: 'Hey @CCLSupport any way you can help out @RoyalCaribbean on their updates? They don't seem to be taking your lead :)"  He added another tweet: "@RoyalCaribbean's last tweet was promo for Ibiza & @RoyalCaribPR's last tweet was Friday. #FAIL"

A woman concerned for her elderly parents tweeted: "@RoyalCaribbean when can incoming guests check luggage? Senior parents (one disabled) have been up since 4am. They are exhausted."

Another woman from Texas tweeted: "My mom received no email or call updates. Found all the update info on Twitter. Pathetic!"

A man from Ohio tweeted: "@RoyalCaribbean why are your offices closed when you have 1000s of passengers waiting for information about boarding the Navigator of Seas?"

A cruise fan from Denver tweeted: "@RoyalCaribbean I understand the oil spill is out of your control but do you know how to use technology to communicate with your passengers?"

He added: "@RoyalCaribbean = confusion."

A member of Cruise Critic left this comment:

" . . . I am appalled by the lack of communication. Problems happen, (like busted ships and oil spills) but this is a problem that they knew they would have today given that it started Wednesday. There absolutely should have been a corporate plan in place to communicate with extra staff at port (3 days to fly staff from MIA to SJ is plenty of time) even if the only thing they would be able to communicate was that they don't know anything yet. Despite what anyone thinks, in corporate America today if you are Ambulance Stressed and Exhausted Cruise Passengers - San Juannot ahead of the news cycle you are behind...tweets, FB etc are required, and certainly emails, phone calls, texts, to passengers sailing are required, not 'optional.'

If as reported, no water or accommodations for elderly and special needs passengers were made while waiting to board; that's another major failure given the huge amount of time the company had to prepare for what they knew would be a problem. A hotel ballroom and shuttle could have been arranged cheaply.

This is completely unacceptable and another huge black eye for the Royal and the cruise industry."

You can read the Cruise Critic comments here.

Throughout Sunday afternoon, we received emails and comments on our blog and Facebook page asking for basic information about these two Royal Caribbean cruises from passengers at the ports, travel agents and concerned family members at home. A cruise line has a major PR problem when guests and travel agents are ignored and have to seek information from a maritime lawyer rather than a cruise representative. We directed a number of people calling us to the Carnival updates about the Galveston situation and also sent the link to the webcam at the port of Galveston so that they could see when the Navigator finally arrived in port (photo top right).

It still remains uncertain whether the Adventure of the Seas will sail today. The Royal Caribbean PR Twitter feed @RoyalCaribPR remains silent. The Royal Caribbean main Twitter page @RoyalCaribbean has offered no updates for 14 hours. The page claims that it offers "inspiration and information from the official sponsor of WOW. Living the #cruiselife 24/7." Hardly.

The problem here is that cruise lines like Royal Caribbean try and squeeze their ships (and employees) to make every dime possible.  It could have decided to take its crippled Adventure of the Seas out of service a week early for dry-dock but instead loaded the new round of passengers aboard to avoid paying a hotel for the night or refunds for the missed cruise. 

This is not Royal Caribbean's first PR blunder in San Juan. In August 2011 as a hurricane headed to the island, Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas sailed 6 hours early. But Royal Caribbean did not contact its guests via the emergency contact information about the new itinerary.  It didn't provide the passengers, who arrived in San Juan to find that the ship had left, with hotel rooms. It abandoned its guests in the middle of a hurricane and didn't bother to tell them.

Super cruise fan Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic, expressed outrage in her blog Bad Royal Caribbean Fantasy VacationsWeather Blunder: A Lesson in Cruise Crisis Control? "This takes my breath away. And it’s not about the fact that it didn’t offer to pay for hotels and flights . . . . It’s about dropping the ball in a risky situation. Clearly, I’m not the only one who is shocked at Royal Caribbean’s lack of responsibility to its customers. On Cruise Critic’s forums, its blog, and its Facebook page, travelers are incredulous." 

One of the continuing criticisms of the cruise industry is that it may be skilled at marketing fantasy images of idyllic cruise vacations but it is not prepared when disaster strikes one of its increasingly gigantic cruise ships. It's clear that Royal Caribbean has not invested into the infrastructure of its crisis management department and developed policies and procedures to effectively communicate meaningful information in real time. If Royal Caribbean can't handle a weekend when two cruise ships are delayed, one for an oil slick and another for a known propulsion issue, do you think that it can communicate effectively when a fire strands either the Oasis or the Allure on the high seas in rough weather or, God forbid, a huge ship sinks at sea? 

Norovirus on the Explorer of the Seas: Why No Compensation for Crew Members?

Crew members work hard on cruise ships. Waiters and cabin attendants earn wages from Royal Caribbean of only $50 a month. That's right. $50 a month. That's something like $1.67 a day. They depend almost exclusively on tips from the passengers to support their families back home.

Utility cleaners are not entitled to tips, and they earn around only $545 a month. That's around $18.30 a day. 

Crew members work a minimum of 12 hours a day, sometimes more.

Norovirus Explorer of the Seas - Royal CaribbeanThey work 7 days a week. Every single day of the month. For 8 months.

When a norovirus outbreak occurs, they are pressed into duty to try and sanitize the huge ship. That involves hours and hours of extra spraying and wiping and scrubbing everything in sight.

I cannot imagine the extra work required of the cabin attendants who clean as many as 18 cabins and bathrooms a day. I don't know how these men and women clean so many cabins and bathroom when there's no gastrointestinal illness outbreak. But when noro virus strikes and the puking and diarrhea starts, there are literally millions and millions of noro infected microbes floating around in an aerosolized form. The microbes can fall into the fabric of the furniture, the duvet covers on the bed, into the carpet fibers, and all the tiny nooks and crannies of the bathroom tiles.  

When the passengers leave the cruise ship at the last day of this cruise from hell, will they tip these hardworking crew members?  Many passengers are mad and feel ripped off. They didn't obtain the vacations which they paid for with their family. They want their money back from the cruise line. Are they going to track down the public bathroom cleaners responsible for sanitizing all of the public restrooms and give them a $50 tip?

Today Royal Caribbean announced "compensation" for the passengers: a 50% refund and a 50% future credit. Is that fair? Some will accept it. Others will think that they are being mistreated again. Some people were sailing on the Explorer as a replacement cruise after the Grandeur of the Seas caught on fire last year. Are they interested in testing their luck one more time? 

Whatever you think of the cruise line's offer of compensation, remember one thing. The crew is not getting a nickel extra from the cruise line. So if you are a passenger and want to bitch, whine, moan and complain, don't forget about all of those crew members you left behind. Remember that they were the ones cleaning up all of your vomit and removing your bio-hazard bags. They are not receiving any compensation at all.  They are busy trying to get the cruise ship in shape for the next 3,000 guests who will soon board.

Explorer of the Seas Norovirus

Photo Credit: Top - Getty Images

Are Cruise Passengers Entitled to Refunds When Crew Members Go Overboard? No, and Why Should They?

An article this morning in the Chicago Tribune caught my attention - "Compensation Doesn't Float After Cruise Ship Skips Port."   The article involved a family's request for a refund after a cruise ship missed one of the scheduled ports of call.   Instead, the cruise line issued a $500 credit toward a future cruise - $200 for each parent and $100 for their child.

After returning home, the family appealed to the cruise line's customer service department and its corporate offices in Miami.  The mother is quoted as saying "I've been in customer service my whole life and I've never seen people so adept at giving the runaround .  .  .  They were wonderful at it."

I agree that the cruise lines' "service" departments are often of little service at all, and are regularly used as front line defenses to the passengers' claims.  But it is hard to feel sorry for the family upon taking a harder look at the story.  First of all, cruise lines have every legal right to limit their liability in instances of missed ports.  This family is lucky that the cruise line offered $500 under these circumstances. 

But how can anyone complain about a refund when the reason for the missed port was that a Royal Caribbean crew member jumped overboard as the Oasis of the Seas sailed toward St. Thomas - a fact that the article discusses only in passing.  This is a story which we followed closely last May - Another Overboard From A Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship? - Oasis of the Seas 

We received sixty-seven (67) comments to the story.  Most of the passengers focused on the tragedy of a crew member deciding to end his life in this manner.  But a few other passengers focused on themselves.  They either complained of the "inconvenience" of delaying their cruise to search for the crew member or not being refunded a portion of their cruise fare.  Most of these complainers were called out for whining when another human being had just perished.

The crew member who died was from the little island of St. Vincent.  Crew members from this island who work as cleaners on cruise ships earn as little as $550 a month working 80 - 90 hours a week.  It makes me grimace to think of any U.S. passenger complaining about a $500 credit. 

So its was strange to be drinking my coffee this morning and see that one of the passengers was still complaining about a missed port and the Chicago Tribune had chosen to write about it five months later.   

Get over it people.  Count your blessings that you still have your family alive and well, and you can enjoy many family vacations in the future. 

Updated: Cruise West Cancellations and Refund Options

The Federal Maritime Commission just issued the folowing update regarding Cruise West cancelations and refund options:

The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) has announced on its website that consumers should be aware that partial or full reimbursement of lost payments and/or deposits for Cruise West products made prior to September 11, 2010, may be protected under the USTOA's Travelers Assistance Program. 

Please click on the update for further information.