When 36 passengers from Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas were injured when the bus they were on crashed while on a shore excursion on St. Marten, questions about Royal Caribbean’s responsibility were raised.
As we reported in our follow-up, there’s some disagreement about the incident, which Royal Caribbean dismissed as a “traffic accident” while passengers affected say was an irresponsibly planned outing. Our questions aren’t of a legal nature (it’s well known that cruise lines include disclaimer language in their terms and conditions to protect them from liability) – so we’ll let the lawyers hash those out.
But there is this: Cruise lines, including but not limited to Royal Caribbean, explain that the higher costs of their company-organized shore tours are justified because the line has vetted the excursions and provides an added level of support. For instance, if a ship-sponsored shore excursion is delayed and misses the ship’s departure, the line ensures the passengers have a place to spend the night and are returned to the ship at the next port of call.
But what about other types of support? Did Freedom of the Seas’ shore tour passengers get any extra level of support after their bus crashed? Several, who were on the bus when it crashed and have written to us, say no.
“No one came to the site, let alone met us on our return bus,” Erin Hill wrote to Cruise Critic in an e-mail. “There were no phone messages left for us.”
Matthew Steed told a similar tale. “After the collision, we were stranded at the site for two to three hours talking to police and emergency personnel (all French-speaking only) as we waited for transportation back to the ship. During this time none of the staff aboard the Freedom of the Seas deemed it necessary to travel to the site of the incident or contacted us in any way… Upon arrival back to the port at Phillipsburg, we were further shocked and dismayed to find none of the crew waiting for us to arrive. We all wandered our way back to the ship.”
Royal Caribbean told us that while the ship’s doctor and an onboard care team associate were sent to the hospital to be with those passengers most seriously injured, no one was sent to the site of the accident “because by the time they would have arrived, the guests would no longer be there.” (Note that Steed told us they were stranded for two to three hours there before the tour company sent another bus to get them).
Personally, I find this so surprising. If a group of my “guests” were involved in an accident I’d be out the door in a second to go help them. If I couldn’t get to them, I’d certainly be waiting at the door for their arrival to make sure they were okay, escort them to where they needed to go and just generally be there to support them.
That Royal Caribbean did not do this is distressing to me. Isn’t that simply the right cause of action?
And the lack of special attention — and in my mind compassion — continued once the passengers were back on ship.
In our contact with Royal Caribbean’s spokesperson to discuss the input from passengers involved, we were told that all affected “received follow-up calls from a member of our Care Team, as well as complimentary care in our onboard medical facility, if they felt it was necessary.”
Again, Royal Caribbean’s sympathetic portrayal of its own response to the scary accident doesn’t jibe with those who went through the traumatic event.
According to passengers who were involved in the bus crash, they did not receive follow-up calls until much later in the day — and after lots of complaining at the guest services desk. One woman, whose 17-year old and 20-year old sons were on the bus, told me her request for trauma counseling was ignored.
To Royal’s credit, Steed told Cruise Critic that the crew did set up a gathering area for people to have lunch and fill out incident reports.
“But even this was done after people had started a steady stream of complaints at the customer service counter,” Steed wrote in an e-mail. “It also felt like the sole purpose of them setting up this get together was for them to get statements to send to corporate, rather than to help us discuss and cope with our nearly orphaning our children.”
This gathering would have been a perfect opportunity to have a ship doctor walking around checking in with people, holding their hands, letting them cry on a shoulders, basically just letting them know that Royal Caribbean cared about them.
Hill said she felt the crew were so “unwilling to do anything that made them look even remotely responsible that they lost the human component, minimizing our experience and refusing to validate our feelings.”
Was Royal Caribbean so afraid of legal responsibility that it consciously ignored a more humanistic response?