"Why don’t you write something positive for a change?" is the number one criticism I hear from readers of Cruise Law News. Few people contact a maritime lawyer when they experience a wonderful time on a vacation cruise. So it was my good luck to be contacted by a passenger who ended up, after a couple of tries, having a perfect cruise.
Last month, Ms. Orly Shamir sailed on the Celebrity Eclipse with her husband. She now tells the cruising world about her experiences as a visually impaired cruiser. Thanks Ms. Orly for letting Cruise Law News be the first to talk about your positive cruising experience. And a special thank you for teaching us the lessons which we all can learn when passengers and the cruise lines work together to make a dream vacation come true:
"Sitting here unpacked from my most recent of three cruise vacations with Celebrity, I’m reflecting on my experiences on board as a visually impaired guest I feel compelled to share them.
My story with Celebrity began four years ago in December 2006. I have a knack for making arrangements and always plan all the vacations that my husband and I take. I called Celebrity to inquire about upcoming cruises for my husband and I and after much consideration, I settled on the Celebrity Constellation ten-day New Years cruise. Prior to departing, I was unaware that my husband was planning to propose to me on-board. I contacted Celebrity’s Access Department to better understand their role in assisting passengers with disabilities and how they would best be able to assist me in making my cruise experience the best possible. I was pleasantly surprised to find such a department exists and furthermore that the primary purpose of the Access Department is to put in place any accommodation that will assist me in being as independent as possible. I was to receive a tour of the ship in order to adjust to my new surroundings. It was also to be arranged that all menus and daily communications would be available to me in Braille, and that our room would be situated in such a location that would offer ease to move about the ship independently.
When my husband and I boarded our new temporary home, we were crushed to learn that none of the prior arrangements made by the Access Department had been received. I felt all my efforts to make arrangements was for nothing. All calls emails and forms I had to complete, had been for nothing. This truly negatively impacted my entire cruising experience.
When returning home I contacted the Access Department and Corporate Guest Relations to discuss what had just happened and why. I was advised to record my experiences in a letter for investigation. My letter outlined all my efforts made to assure accommodations would be in place. The goal of my letter was to make an impact in assuring a more positive experience for passengers with disabilities in the future. My concern was that a large corporation such as Celebrity had gone to the trouble of creating a department specifically designed to assist those with disabilities; and I knew my feedback was crucial in moving towards improvement. There were serious issues with processing requests, most noticeably in communication breakdown between head office and the crew on-board. After many letters and phone calls with Corporate Guest Relations, I was offered compensation . I was very clear to communicate that things had to change. I am a strong believer that any errors made in life by anyone, is an open door for moving forward towards change. I love Celebrity, but I was unwilling to just walk away never to return because of my experiences.
This was a great learning opportunity for Celebrity and a perfect time to make the necessary improvements moving forward.
Last year January 2010, I booked a second cruise for my husband and I. A seven-night Southern Caribbean cruise onboard the Celebrity Summit. Since our first cruise in 2006, several years had passed. When booking this trip I re-iterated our past experiences with the booking agent. I also called the Access Department and explained everything that had happened on my previous cruise. I went into great detail about all of my needs for my upcoming cruise and was assured that nothing like my previous experience would be repeated. I made several calls and many notes were made on my file. I felt quite certain that changes had been made and my passed concerns were taken seriously.
On boarding the Celebrity Summit, much to my dismay, I learned that once again nothing had been done. The onboard crew knew nothing of my needs. I could not believe my first cruise experience was repeating itself. I called one morning to ask for the Daily Compass to be read to me and the agent replied, “I’m too busy, you’re with your husband; Can’t he read it to you?” At each impasse I was met with resistance. Having no choice, I did what the Guest Relations agent suggested and totally relied on my husband. I was left feeling completely dependent. I wasn’t being treated with respect and dignity . I then requested that the ship staff contact Corporate Guest Relations for me and conference the call into my room. Again, I was taking time out of my vacation trying to be heard. The Corporate Guest Relations agent from head office was very patient and listened to the story. He informed me he couldn’t do anything for the cruise I was already on, but to call him when getting back home.
Returning home, I explained to Guest Relations that I had had a repeat of my experiences as a Celebrity Cruise passenger. I made sure to speak with the same agent I had spoken to when on-board. He did assure me that the message would reach their Access Department with high priority. I was refunded my cruise fees and assured that if I were to travel with Celebrity, things would be different. My goal the first time and now second, was to get the message across that changes could be made and not just pushed aside. Everyone has a choice of where and with whom to travel. It’s an important decision as unfortunately travel opportunities are not as frequent as we all would like. Having my needs met as a disabled person isn’t asking for too much. Especially if Celebrity Cruises has a designated Access Department who made arrangements on my behalf and promises to that effect, but sadly didn’t follow through.
In December 2010, I booked our third cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse for our wedding anniversary. This was truly different. This time, when speaking with the Access Department, the agent took it upon herself to email the Hotel Director directly. The Hotel Director provided menus and daily calendars in both Braille and in PDF format, so that I could hear the information on my laptop. He connected me with the concierge Nicolas onboard as well. We all emailed back and forth prior to sailing. The guest Relations agent, Medea, at head office, really worked hard on making sure the past wasn’t going to repeat itself. When onboard I felt like I was the only passenger with how special I was treated. Damien’s team really made the difference with every passing day. The concierge, Nicolas, helped organize the PDF daily calendars. He assisted me when I needed to get from place to place. He even helped me get assistance with my make up on formal nights. I did request that he apply the make up himself. To this he replied; “If I did your make up, you’d look like a crazy person.” I opted to get it done by someone who knew what they were doing. Nicolas was there assisting me with many of my needs. He is a kind, funny person who truly cares about his guests. We were also invited by Damien to sit at the captains table for the second formal night and I felt like a princess! Definitely a highlight of our trip! Alex and Christophe, Damien’s right and left hand men, were such true gentleman and went out of their way to make sure I was well taken care of. During evening dining time in the main dining room and at specialty restaurants, I was promptly greeted with a Braille copy of the menu. Our beautiful cabin suite was situated in the perfect location, allowed me to come and go independently. Of course I did spend time with my husband, but there were times I went off on my own especially on Sea Days. So many incredible experiences and incredible people that truly care. THAT is the Celebrity I have believed in all along. The promises I knew Celebrity would uphold. I felt like I mattered and I was treated with the utmost respect and dignity. I felt like I was the only traveler onboard, that’s how special the crew on the Celebrity Eclipse made me feel!!! We had a completely polar experience. That was a true vacation for both my husband and I.
I finely felt heard, even though it took sometime and many efforts. But I believed it could happen. I came home and contacted Guest Relations. Medea was so excited to hear of my experiences. I knew she’d be waiting for a full report. As a joke, I started off by saying that I demanded full compensation. I heard dead silence on the other end. I told Medea that my experience on the Eclipse was absolutely perfect.
So the moral of my story is to never give up even when it seems hopeless. When you believe in something or someone, guide and persist them through the growing pains. Celebrity, I believe in you and everything you stand for. Thank you all for your efforts in making the difference. Everyone at Celebrity thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for caring enough to make the changes happen for me and everyone out there who love your cruises."
Have other passengers with special needs had a great vacation experience where a cruise line met your needs and exceeded your expectations? Let us hear from you. Please leave a comment below.