For a week now, we’ve watched Hurricane Irene upturn itineraries, blow off thatched roofs on private islands and put cruise line crisis control centers to the test. Along the way, readers have provided a steady surge of feedback, posting first-hand reports from choppy seas, weighing in on the debacle in San Juan and scrutinizing how well your favorite operator danced with Irene. Literally thousands of comments and conversations later — on the message boards, Facebook, via reader e-mails — we know who you felt provided shelter and who left you out in the rain.
Hero: Carnival Salvages Cruise in San Juan
When the port authority of San Juan orders you to leave early, you leave early — even if it means “stranding” 300 Carnival Victory passengers. The forced departure? Out of the line’s control. But the response was within its jurisdiction, and the masterful way Carnival swooped in elicited near-unanimous approval. The line offered the 300 passengers two nights’ hotel stay and a flight to meet the ship in Barbados, the next scheduled port … for free. About half took the line up on its offer, and those who didn’t were given a full refund. While Carnival was under no obligation to provide such assistance for the weather-related incident, you loved the line for doing so.
“It doesn’t matter what the cruise contract says, it’s just makes good PR sense to handle things the way Carnival did,” posted Judy Galliher, one of hundreds of virtual back-patters, on Cruise Critic’s Facebook page. “You can’t buy this kind of good publicity.” Which leads us to…
Zero: Royal Caribbean Not Assisting 130 People in San Juan
Same situation, different response: Serenade of the Seas also had to bolt early, leaving 145 passengers in its wake. The 15 who booked air through the line were accommodated in hotels and flown to meet the ship in Aruba; the 130 others were given information on San Juan hotels and left to book and pay for any arrangements. There were two things that angered readers.
First, many were shocked when Royal Caribbean stated it was unable to communicate with missing passengers about the early departure. Echoing a common sentiment, mysparky called the excuse bogus. “Just as an airline can send out a text message and/or leave a voicemail on flight changes or cancellations,” he wrote on the message boards, “RCCL could have absolutely done the same. This wouldn’t have helped everyone, but there are some, no doubt, that it would have helped.”
Especially in light of Carnival’s response, not providing any compensation — no refunds would be offered for those who missed the cruise, said the company — left us speechless. But not you: “RCCL did not do enough in this case and now it needs to step up and make it right,” said bbbearden on the boards. “They did not even try.” The line has been mum since (despite several attempts to further question reps), and readers have noticed. “Sticking your head in the sand is no way to deal with this,” wrote Toshay Jones on Facebook. “They need to man up and admit they made a big mistake.”
Editor’s Note: After a week of saying it would not compensate passengers who missed the cruise, Royal Caribbean has just changed its mind.
Hero: Carnival, Celebrity Offerings “Refunds” for Missed Days
As Irene was swirling toward the Northeast, a number of lines had to delay Mid-Atlantic cruise departures by a day to avoid the storm. Celebrity Summit, for instance, arrived in its Bayonne, New Jersey, homeport on Monday, a day later than scheduled. (The cruise was extended while the ship waited for Irene to pass.) As a result, Summit’s week-long Bermuda sailing became a six-nighter. Carnival Pride returned to Baltimore a day early, on Saturday, and guests were required to disembark early. The ship was then moved to an alternate location as directed by the U.S. Coast Guard, and the next departure delayed to Monday. Both lines immediately issued statements saying passengers would be compensated in some fashion. (Carnival offered refund of one-seventh the fare; Celebrity offered $200 to $400 in onboard credit, depending on accommodation.) Neither were obligated to do so given contract stipulations on weather-related itinerary changes.
Many of you thought the lines had done their duty. “A responsible company that desires to maintain a decent reputation and satisfied repeat customers will refund a portion of the cruise cost to customers who lose a day of their cruise for whatever reason,” wrote DocF on a forum thread. “Nothing else matters and nothing else needs to be said,” he added, which was followed by 110 replies.
Zero and Hero: Delayed Refunds From NCL?
Again, context is everything. While the lines claim they’re not obliged to serve up any compensation for Mother Nature’s fickle tricks, you felt it would be a great PR move to do so. But NCL, which found itself in the same situation as Carnival and Celebrity, waffled while a 230-plus-post thread materialized, on which readers heatedly debated the merits of compensation. Forum poster Tbag124 summed up the emotions of impacted passengers: “NCL owes us nothing, that it’s in the contract, that the weather is out of NCL’s control, that they make decisions to keep us all safe … All that said, and especially given that Celebrity has already announced a credit for the SAME EXACT situation…..I really believe they should throw us an OBC.”
Many others, like Njhorseman, agreed. “I think would be a very short-sighted ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ decision to not provide an onboard credit as compensation for the missed day. The loss of customer good will in the long run is far more expensive than the cost of an OBC,” he posted. It took them a few days, but the onboard credit did eventually come. But … the line is not disclosing how much.
Hero: Cruise Ship Captains
The safety of passengers and hardware is the highest priority for a line, and many of you who were onboard during the storm commended the captains for keeping passengers in the know. “Captain Henrik ordered full speed the moment we left San Juan at 1 p.m. on Wednesday,” wrote Adrian Chinellato on our Facebook page. “They continuously updated everyone on the situation and weather reports and where the vessel was heading.” Well done to the captains.
Hero and Zero: Hurricane Season Cruising
The final casualty count shows that some 30 cruises were impacted — more than many of us are likely to take in a lifetime. On Facebook, we asked first-timers and old salts alike if Irene’s disregard for vacations would sour their taste for hurricane season cruising.
“Never again,” posted Gabriella Sciarrillo-Siegel on Facebook. “Got off the NCL Sky from Bahamas last Monday and had almost gone on a seven-day cruise to San Juan … one rocky boat ride and I’m done with cruising, trust me.” Lara Deke was just as blunt. “Heck no. I have only so many vacation days a year and can’t risk using them up in case of hurricane delays!” But many of you argued that it was worth the risk. But why, Angie McCullough Gonzalez? “Prices are just too low not to cruise this time.” Gonzalez also reminded us that the “ships sail AWAY from the storms.” Carolyn Arkell Terlouw agreed that some hurricane season deals are too good to pass up. “We sail quite a bit during the hurricane season. As a matter of fact we are leaving this week-end on Carnival Victory.” We’ll jump in here: If you want to cruise during hurricane season, here’s what you need to know.
Until the next storm….
When a hurricane threatens to disrupt your cruise, there’s one place to go for updates: Cruise Critic’s Hurricane Zone.
Don’t expect a cruise line to save your vacation from a hurricane. Here’s what you need to know about travel insurance.
So what’s hurricane season cruising all about? Check out our guide.
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