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? 

  • P Convery

    Is there any travel insurance that covers situations like this? I think there would be many people willing to insure against these types of risks.

  • Dave Launtz

    I WAS on the Adventure last week at was given no help to reschedule missed flights or book a hotel other than give me a phone number and let me do itmyself at my expense.

  • francois clermont
  • Craig Treadwell

    Excellent article Jim! My wife is contracted staff as a sign language interpreter and she currently on the Navigator in Galveston awaiting an announcement of when Coast Guard will give green light to leave port…you are absolutely correct about lack of communication…her deaf passenger wants to be informed just like everyone else…but without top-down commmunication, she cannot inform her client…how frustrating that must be…Royal absolutely has the best reputation in the cruise industry, and yet their silence is not helping passengers nor their own marketing…perhaps they are afraid of “bad publicity” however, ignoring passengers who have paid a lot of money is creating worse publicity than CNN ever could…so really they are shooting themselves in the foot…if nothing else, there should be regular updates posted on the front page of their main website…that is probably the first place family of passengers and staff go…

  • John

    I have never seen a Cruise Company FAIL so badly has RCCL had done over the last 4 years. NOT ONE Word from them from any form of media. The Princess ship advised their guest after they boarded since the Channel was closed after. Carnival Ships informed their waiting and current guest (at the time) via all three media streams, as well as direct on ship.
    I even posted a question to RCCL on their 3 Facebook Pages with still no response as of today. It’s time to Sue them for endangering All Guest.
    AS of this post the Adventure of the Sea has not left San Juan and my friends has not been given any word if they can get a refund or even if it will sail at all.

  • Steve

    Captain just announced not leaving until Tuesday at 4pm.

  • David McDowell

    Craig, umm, really? Other lines such as Carnival may have had their mechanical issues but I will continue to sail on them. I’m platinumno on Carnival; been on seven Royal cruises – never ever sailing with Royal again. They strand thousands of people in PR with no help; Carnival PAID to fly EVERYONE to the next port when they had no legal obligation to do so, Royal leaves everyone on their own. Now these two situations arise, you’d think they had learned by now! Plus Carnival is more fun and Royal’s food sucks IMHO. I was in Nassau last week; Carnival Sensation and Triumph looking great! Rust streaks running down the sides of the two Royal ships in port. They just don’t give a crap, Craig! I honestly can’t think of any other line that has a WORSE reputation than Royal!

  • Stephanie Martinez

    First cruise … Extremely disappointed. Everyone is being kept in the dark. We all should of has the option on Sunday by to board. No communication or update since 10pm yesterday. Royal Caribbean should not of had anyone board the ship Sunday.

  • gabe

    I was on the cruise ship this past weekend and RCL did an excellent job keeping us informed of the delays the entire time. Not sure what folks are crying about.

  • M. Allen

    Why on earth would royal Caribbean not notify passengers for the march 23rd day cruise of problems? Just because it is ships last cruise before dry dock doesn’t mean you should not have. They could have prevented this! Cancelled this trip! They knew the ship could not be repaired in that short period! Carnival I heard is owned by them? I worked on a carnival ship and thank goodness the health dept. shut them down in early 80’s. Sewage back up, filthy quarters etc. etc. but they are still bad!

  • Dilek Cumrali

    We are booked on Adventure of the Seas for Transatlantic crossing leaving from Miami to southampton. This is the first time I came across this problem. Am I in trouble? I took an insurance but what happens when the cruise ship is in trouble and does not notify me? I am in the US with a six months visa and my visa will run out and I will be in trouble with the authorities. I cannot overstay my visa. I am afraid that the boat may not leave for europe on the 20th of April…

  • Brittany E

    This is ridiculous. I was on the ship and they gave us probably for updates every day. The only reason they didn’t email us for every update is because they wouldn’t email unless it was a final decision. They had bigger things to do than post on twitter and Facebook when everyone on the ship had cell phone service to alert their loved ones as to what was happening. They kept us updated with what the Coast Guard told us-nothing more, nothing less. And true, they didn’t tell us about the delay before we got there, but they didn’t know whether or not they would be able to come into port that day. Can you imagine what a disaster it would have been if even half of the passengers didn’t show up to the ship even if it was cleared to leave on time? I’m off now, but they rebooked our flight (they originally booked it for us so they kind of had to do this one as well), called us a taxi, and refunded us all of our money. I have absolutely zero complaints for the way they handled this situation.

  • VinmanInc

    Wednesday morning, haven’t left San Juan. Supposed to leave now at 10 am, not holding my breath.

  • Richard

    I was on the Bad Adventure of the seas. The problen actually started Tuesday at St. Kitts infact the people who live on the island knew the ship was broken before the passengers did! we lost out on Aruba and Curacao and were given story after story. this was my first time crusing and I spent a lot of money. They diverted the ship to Antigua with a 2 day stop at st. Maarten which sucked but good news in those 2 days we fixed the ship! (oh wait no we didn’t) so the st. Croix stop we promised won’t happen and then when promised we would make Pureto Rico at 6am we were then told no we will arrive at noon. So many people missed flights and we had booked an extra day to see Puerto Rico with an excursion which had to be cancelled so we then missed out on that island as well. I am disgusted that they even let the next group on telling them the ship would be fixed with only a few hour delay. I will never cruise with this company again as they clearly lack the honesty with the passengers they just wanted the cash.

  • Wendy Roepke

    My husband and two boys (age 15 and 12) were part of the weekend fiasco on Navigator of the Seas. We will be refunded our cruise, but we are $3,500 out for airfare. We were trying to be patient but when they announced cancellation at 8:30 pm on Monday the passengers were left to fend for themselves to get off the ship. After we paid $200 pp to change our flights, we were welcomed home in Mpls with an email announcement that the ship sailed! They never communicated that this was even a possibility! We are so sad. 25% off a future cruise will not begin to help with the airfare. We can’t afford to fly all four of us again.

  • steve whalen

    Me and my family waited 8 plus hours at airport and port to board ship; we were given very little info, no offers of water or any other services. My seven year old son had an emotional breakdown due to the circumstances. While on ship again very little info, Monday night informed the ship will be in port all week and sailing has been cancelled. So we leave ship and fly back to Chicago, only to find out the sailed out anyway after telling us they were not. Very disappointing and customer service told us nobody forced you off ship, ha.

  • Emily Whalen

    My family was part of the Navigator of the Seas mess. We never received any notifications from Royal about the oil spill until we arrived at the airport in Houston. We sat for 5 12 in airport and another 2 12 in their warehouses. They never offered us anything to eat or drink, my son 7yr old son had an emotional melt down from hunger and exhaustion from only having one meal and being up since 4am. I got very sick day 2 for 18hrs. We also decided to leave b/c of not having sufficient clothing for 50 degrees all week to find out on cruise critic the next morning our ship left anyway for Mexico after it “canceled sailing to all ports” 24hr prior. Very mad and feel we should now get a complimentary free 5 day cruise on top of our refund and 25% voucher since we never got the notification of re-sailing and even if we did we would not have been able to afford another round trip air fair or get back to the ship in time.

  • J West

    Francois Clermont, really? THIS is your comment? You are so far off base it’s not even funny. These people paid good money to receive a service. They did NOT get the service they paid for. Yes, booking a cruise ship is at your own risk, so is flying on a plane, riding a bike, or walking across the street. Go to your local professional ball field and stand in line at the concession for 16 hours for a hot dog and see if you feel the same way. Wait 4 hours to be seated at a restaurant and see if you feel the same way. Oh wait, you have the option of walking out there, but spend thousands of dollars on a cruise and tell me you’d do the same! Royal sucks and these passengers deserved communication and honesty as to what was going on. I was on Adventure of the Seas the week before and will spend every minute possible to get them to be accountable for their actions.

  • Cheryl

    We were suppose to cruise on the Missed-Adventure of the Seas as I call it for the 3-23 sailing. We sat on that ship for 3 days with little info on when we would leave San Juan, finally at 4pm on Tuesday we were told that repairs to the ship were again delayed & they were not sure when we would leave & if we departed by 9pm on Tuesday we would receive a full cruise refund. My husband & I scrambled to book a hotel & re-book a new flight before 9pm fearing that if they ever left port we would be stranded at sea do to the fact that they were only partially repairing the propulsion problem. The ship did finally leave port Wednesday afternoon, but we are out flight & hotel $$$

  • ken

    It was an adventure on the seas that started on march 16th. It was my first cruise with RC and right from the start I noticed less then other lines. I was not the only one, many people I talked to The first two days commented on the lack of service and disarray of the ship. Then the fun began. Things break, but that is no reason to treat people so poorly. RC(I now call them royal C suckers)seems to be very disorganized, giving out no information to anyone, including the crew. When they finally say something, its not worth listening because its lies. Over my 2 week misadventure(yes 1 was not enough) I asked many people many questions. The boat has been having troubles with its centre pod for some time and has been using only its other two pods. It looks like it has been leaking oil for some time also. The company knew this and hoped they could drift by till dry dock. There was no plan B, or any thought of one. So when problems with the leaking seals arose they looked to the sky. that didn’t work, so they put up smoke and mirrors. This company is a joke. I would not hire them to push a wheel barrow. I will never pay another cent to be treated so disrespectfuly.

  • Sara

    If anyone is interested contact Bill O’Reilly on facebook. He is a reporter for Fox News he may be doing a story on the Adventure of the Sea March 16 cruisers and also the March 23 cruises.

  • Marlene

    I was on the March 16 sailing. Agree with other posted comments – the Adventure of the Seas was not up to the standards of past sailings I have been on. Supposedly RCI knew of the pulpsion problems on the cruise the week before. RCI gambled the system would work but it failed. Valuable information was not forthcoming from RCI. It was after midnight Saturday/Sunday morning that the Captain findly confirmed that the ship would not make port until 10am! The disembarkation was a disaster. It felt like the staff disappeared. Disabled passsengers were left to fend for themselves. What mess. To further damage their reputation, the promised $300.00 per stateroom credit towards your onboard account has not been extended. I was charged the full amount to my credit card. I guess a letter signed by the captain and placed in every stateroom does not mean anything to corporate RCI. Additionally getting off the ship and seeing another group of passngers lining up to board. How low can a company sink until they realize they have a problem. I am a Diamond member and I will not be sailing on RCI again.

  • Linda Terry
  • Mark Smith

    Just came back from a two week cruise with Royal Caribbean on the Adventure of the seas, this is the first and last time with this company we usually go with Princess and have been on several of their ships.
    I was very disappointed the ship looked old and dirty the room was ok but not at its best the room attendant was lazy we put a hand print on the mirror in the room on the second day and it was still there on the last day, the carpet looked like it never had a hover on it the windows to the balcony and the glass on the balcony was dirty you could not see through it so after three days I cleaned it myself.
    The food in the main dining room was nothing special the menu was nearly the same every night and the food was like going to one of these pubs that serve food badly, in the windjammers most of the food was inedible and cold, the only meal I enjoyed was the breakfast in the dining room, all the waiters was very helpful and pleasant.
    The other main issue was we was not told by the agent we booked with or the cruise company we would have to pay VAT on all purchases we made on the ship and all the duty free shop on shore would not sell certain items to us, I could go on and on but I won’t.
    I will not be booking with this cruise liner again and I will go back to Princess a much better company.