We have cruised with Royal Caribbean at least 10 times in the past and never in my wildest nightmares did I imagine that I would see the side of Royal Caribbean that I saw on this recent trip. I'm sure that over the past 15 years my family has spent well over six figures on this cruise line alone; we achieved the revered status of "Diamond" members. RCI can check this in their records. Yet none of this seemed to matter last week after we boarded the ship, the Brilliance of the Seas. It was as if you've had an old loyal friend for years and you suddenly find out that he is robbing you of your life's savings along with your dignity and your humanity. Move over Bernie Madoff!
My daughter and I planned a Caribbean cruise many months ago as a special mother and daughter excursion, and we were extremely excited about it. All was in order for our embarkation on January 5th.
Unfortunately, my daughter contracted food poisoning the Thursday prior to the Saturday of the cruise and had some gastrointestinal problems until Friday afternoon; however, this seemed to be a minor inconvenience, as she felt better by Friday evening. We boarded the plane to San Juan Saturday morning with no qualms about the week ahead. When asked to fill out the "24 hour symptoms" form, since her illness had been more than 24 hours prior to the start of the cruise, we were able to truthfully answer "no". We boarded the ship, had lunch in the Windjammer, and attended the muster drill. After that my daughter felt a little warm, so she opted to go to the medical facility to see if she indeed had a fever and if they could give her something for it. Never in my wildest nightmares would I have anticipated the series of events that then transpired.
After waiting approximately Â½ hour, an employee in the facility -- not the "doctor" -- took her temperature. My daughter admitted that she had been sick the day before -- which was just outside the 24 hour clearance period requested by the cruise line -- but was now OK, just wanted to be checked. As it turned out, she had slightly over one degree fever which, quite honestly, could have been attributable to anything; the warm weather, an incorrect thermometer reading, a reaction to the previous stomach ailment, whatever. Perhaps it was even a reaction to something she ate on board. However, instead of any further check for diagnosis or symptoms or even the slightest bit of sympathy, the person who called herself a "doctor" (even though I've since discovered that many of the supposed "doctors" on the ship do not really have the credentials to practice in the U.S.) announced that we had to leave the ship. Immediately.
We were stunned. We have both traveled considerably and rarely am I at a loss for words or for a "plan B"; however, I was so stunned at the turn of events that I could barely speak.
This is where RCI's true colors began to show. I asked the "doctor" what we were supposed to do and where we were supposed to go. She coldly replied, "That's not my problem." I then asked, "Where are we supposed to stay"? and she responded "Not my concern. I guess you should go to guest services". At the same time, my daughter was told that she would be escorted to our cabin "for help with packing".
At this point I gathered that there was not much point in arguing, so off to guest services I went while my daughter was "escorted" to our cabin. When I told guest services our situation it was obvious that not only were we completely out of options, but they had absolutely no intention of assisting passengers whom they had put in this tenuous position. I asked if they could help with a hotel reservation and the person grudgingly said he could; he then asked me what hotel I would like him to call. Do they not know any hotels in Puerto Rico? Fortunately, I knew the name of the hotel that we had been planning to stay in after the cruise; he called them and handed me the phone. Again, very fortunately, they were able to accommodate us. I wonder what would have happened if all the hotels were full. I also asked if he could call a cab, and again he said he would. Had I not asked, we'd probably still be waiting by the terminal.
While I was standing at guest services another female and fairly nasty employee came by and started speaking to the first guest services employee as if I wasn't there. I asked for assurance that my daughter, who was very upset, would be kept in the cabin until I got there and she told me that she would. Since they kept talking and ignoring me, and since I was worried about my daughter, I took off to go to the cabin. I am still slightly amused when I think that the woman, who finally realized I had "escaped", started running after me yelling that she was supposed to escort me. My answer: "then you better move it"!
I ran up the 6 flights of stairs to our cabin and, when I arrived, my daughter was nowhere to be found. This is when I lost it completely. The thought of my daughter alone downstairs, upset, not knowing where I was, was more than I could stand. Some other poor employee showed up to "escort me" (I guess the aforementioned woman was not up to running up 6 flights of stairs) and I started screaming, "where is my daughter"? "What have you done with her? You lied"! The poor man, who was just doing what he was told to do, didn't know how to respond. Again, I ran down the stairs to find my daughter and found her, hysterical, at the gangplank.
At that point we were told to turn in our Seapass cards (as if were of any use to us anyway) and to walk the gangplank, literally. Fortunately we were not yet at sea. We were then "escorted" to the deserted terminal and left there to fend for ourselves. It took the cab more than Â½ hour to arrive, and they had told him we were going to the airport! Exactly what would we have done there....waited a week for our flight to arrive?
This experience caused unnecessary trauma due to the way it was mishandled by Royal Caribbean. Were they right to put us off the ship? I'm sure many people would say that they did so to protect the other passengers and, if I believed that, I would not disagree. However, they could also have protected the other passengers -- and saved us a considerable amount of grief -- by either examining my daughter more thoroughly to see that she was really was not ill, or by putting us in quarantine for a day. Due to the way they handled the event I am convinced that they acted only to cover their own **s. I'm not sure, but I believe that if we had left the port they would have to have reported to the CDC that they had a case of gastrointestinal illness on board; if they threw us off, they could report the cases as "0". Again, I'm not 100 % sure of this, but I suspect this is the case.
What Royal Caribbean should do:
1. If you are so quick to throw someone off the ship due to illness, make sure you employ medical personnel who are qualified to determine whether the passenger is, in fact, ill. I'm not a "doctor," but an examination, even a cursory one, would probably have been the first step. By the time we arrived at the hotel an hour later my daughter's temperature was 98.6 and she was 100% fine all week. I'm not sure what the "doctor's" credentials were in this case, but it was obvious that she had little experience and was afraid of doing anything that might jeopardize her position with Royal Caribbean. The Hippocratic oath be damned, she was interested in saving her own skin and not that of the patient. She did nothing to examine or test my daughter for any illness; the temperature, taken by another employee (who might have been the cook for all we know) was sufficient. One degree of temperature in a 25-year-old woman who currently is exhibiting no other symptoms does not a case of Noro virus make. A more humane option that still would have protected the other passengers would have been to quarantine us for 24 hours.
2. If quarantining is not an option and you are so quick to ruin someone's vacation, a touch of kindness and some very simple procedures would go a long way toward remediating the situation and preserving RCI's reputation as a humane corporate citizen, which they obviously are not. Putting two women who are traveling alone out in a deserted terminal in a strange place with no resources and nowhere to stay may be your way of seemingly protecting your other cruisers, but by doing so you put the "sick" cruisers at considerable risk of life and limb. If my daughter had really been ill it would have put us in an even more tenuous situation, and I shudder to think what would have happened.
3. Develop a "Plan B". Something as simple as a list of hotels and phone numbers, a kind offer to call a cab and arrange for a hotel (even at our expense), and so on would have eliminated much of the trauma we experienced. Furthermore, apprise "ill" passengers of their options rather than letting them stumble upon them on their own. Could we have taken another cruise later from that port or another? Could we have met the ship somewhere? If neither option is a possibility, will we receive compensation for the danger to our lives, the trauma we experienced and our ruined vacation? Or are these, again, "not your problem"?
What Passengers can do:
1. Before booking a cruise, investigate the cruise line thoroughly. I wish I had done this beforehand to bring myself up-to-date on how RCI has changed. The cruise business has become very competitive and there are many choices out there. I can't vouch for whether those cruise lines are more sympathetic toward their guests or have better medical facilities, but I can't imagine they could be any worse. And don't take my word for it; a simple Google search for "cruise line complaints" will yield results that will put you in a much better position to judge for yourself.
2. Be sure to take maximum travel insurance. Hopefully the travel insurance companies will have a little more sympathy and humanity than the cruise line does.
3. Even if you ignore #1 and #2, unless you are having a really serious medical event, such as a heart attack, or unless you are losing your cookies all over the ship, don't ever, ever put your health in the hands of the supposed medical personnel on the ships. Remember, they exist only to cover the cruise line's **s and are not there to remediate any medical condition or assist the passengers. In fact, they may be completely incapable of doing so.
After settling in the hotel and doing some research for phone numbers, etc., I called RCI on the Sunday following our Saturday cruise to see if we could be placed on the Adventure of the Seas, which had a similar itinerary. We were told that we could not board another cruise until 48 hours had passed and we received a clean bill of health (what happened to the 24 hours RCI asks for on their form)?
I then called their Emergency Travel Assistance line to ask if we could join the Brilliance at the next port; we were told that we could but that, since RCI had no contract with the airline that flies to that port, we would have to make our own arrangements. I was willing to foot the expense but I was not about to be put in a situation where RCI was again not responsible and where we could again be denied boarding on a whim, in which case we would be in an even worse predicament on a more remote island.
I called RCI customer service to see if we would at least be offered a refund; after being put on hold for more than a half hour it was clear that no one could answer that question. I'm still waiting to find out. One thing I was told was that RCI had us listed as "no-shows"! As previously stated, I believe this is a way for them to avoid reporting to the CDC but it's also a gross misrepresentation as we were, in fact, on the ship for several hours.
I finally called Choice Air (RCI's air travel partner) to see if we could arrange for an earlier flight home and was told that, since we booked through them, changing our flight would cost $100 more than it would if we had booked it directly with the airline!
My daughter and I spent the next five days in San Juan; this would have been a very nice vacation had it been what we were anticipating in the first place. All of this was at our expense -- an estimated $3,000 over the cost of the cruise that we still don't know if we're getting back. Although we arrived home safely, we are both extremely traumatized by the event and will certainly be a lot wiser in the future. Hopefully our horrendous experience will help others make better choices as well.