Holland America "Statendam" Cruise (September 18-25, 2011)
7-Day Glacier Discovery" Cruise to Alaska5SEP11)
This was the first cruise that I had ever been on. For me, and most of the passengers I talked to, the highlight of the trip was to be the giant glaciers of Glacier Bay. The service onboard the ship by the cabin stewards and dining stewards was better than any I have had at any hotel, anywhere in the world. The food was also very good.
But the ship did not leave port for three days. High winds and rough seas were predicted for the whole trip, yet no options were given to the passengers by Holland America. Passengers were not informed that the bulk of the trip had been cancelled (including Glacier Bay) until the evening before departure, when it was too late to arrange for transportation back to the airport. The ship finally left port early on the third day, while passengers were still asleep, so they were not able to make alternate arrangements in the morning either.
I had heard nothing but good things about Holland America, so you can imagine my surprise and disappointment on the fourth day of the cruise, when the cruise director announced, "Due to the challenges we have faced on the cruise, the captain has agreed to offer each guest a complimentary glass of champagne with dinner on our formal night this Thursday." This was our consolation for the cancelled stops. In the end, virtually the entire itinerary was abandoned, with the one destination visited (out of five scheduled) being the town of Juneau, which mainly consisted of jewelry stores, many owned by Holland America.
The bypassing of the stops by the captain due to bad weather was understandable, as the protection of the passengers, crew, and ship were of utmost importance. But the decision to sail into bad weather after remaining three days in port without giving guests the option of going home was questionable. And the handling of the situation by senior staff and Holland America was deplorable. None of the ship's senior staff took ownership of the problem; the response to every passenger inquiry was, "I cannot do anything. You will need to write a letter to Holland America when you get home." It took six days before the cruise director announced that they were trying to contact Holland America's corporate office regarding some kind of compensation for the passengers. In my opinion, the best way to have handled the situation early on, would have been for the captain or someone on the senior staff to say, "I cannot solve the problem myself, but I will try to find someone who can." This was not done.
I can understand Holland America wanting each passenger to write the company individually regarding compensation, rather than Holland America making a blanket promise to all 1,250 passengers; this may be seen as the right thing to do from a business point of view, but certainly not from an ethical or public relations standpoint.
After witnessing many arguments between passengers and senior staff (including the people at the front desk, the hotel manager, the cruise director, and the captain), then hearing daily announcements from the cruise director saying how thankful and understanding the passengers have been, I began recording public meetings between staff and guests, as well as announcements. This was not done for nefarious reasons, but simply to have a record of what actually happened.
NOTE: In the following text, any direct transcriptions of public conversations or announcements are noted in brackets, referring to the specific audio file they were taken from. I have these recordings (labeled as 'Audio File #1 - #5') uploaded to a link, accessible by passengers of this cruise, but I have removed the link from this review for privacy purposes.
By the sixth day, it was clear that Holland America was not meeting the needs of its guests. But it was difficult for us to know as customers where the source of the problem was. Either Holland America saw the hurricane as an "act of God," freeing them from any legal obligations to their passengers, or the onboard staff was so concerned with keeping their jobs that the needs of their guests became secondary. For example:
9/23/11 (5 PM): The cruise director announced,"I want to thank all those folks who really came up and expressed their understanding of the difficult situation that the staff on board ship find themselves in, as we attempt to reconcile the needs, interests and hopes and wishes of our guests, against the expectations of the people who manage us back in Seattle." [Transcribed from Audio File #3 0:23]
- Rather than portraying the staff as being advocates for the passengers, this gave passengers the impression that the staff saw themselves as being in a "difficult situation" because they were having trouble getting Holland America to do something about the aborted destinations of the trip.
9/23/11 (6:15 PM): When asked on behalf of the guests to inquire if Holland America would consider a 50% refund, the hotel manager responded, "But I just mentioned three times, I cannot make that decision. And so you can ask it a fourth time, and I will say the same." [Transcribed from Audio File #4 14:23]
- This response was consistent with that of all senior staff, indicating a hesitancy to contact Seattle, and basically saying, "It is not my job."
9/23/11 (6:20 PM): When told that the perception of the passengers was that the staff was not doing enough to help them find out about compensation from Holland America, the captain responded, "If we say something, my job is not safe; if I have a big mouth." [Transcribed from Audio File #4 18:50]
- This response told us that the captain was more concerned about his job than the needs of the guests.
9/24/11 (10 AM): The cruise director gave a "pre-disembarkation lecture," in which he encouraged the guests to blame the weather for all the problems throughout the cruise, and to give the top score of "9's" on the Guest Satisfaction Survey to the crew for their hard work: "My job, the hotel manager's job, everybody's job is based on that GSS (Guest Satisfaction Survey). You know what I mean, I mean they want to make sure that we're hitting the numbers here... This GSS is not an assessment of the conditions at sea... This ship has been the leading ship in the fleet; we've had the best numbers for the last year... So you know what, a '9' is fine, an '8' is great too, but a '9" is fine... If you found something on our stage or in one of our classrooms, mission accomplished, huh?" The cruise director went on to describe how he read a previous customer's survey: "The man gave us an '8!'... I saw him on the gangway, and I was like, hey man, you gave us all these '9's' and then for overall cruise experience you gave us an '8?' And he said, 'Well, it rained in Ketchikan.'" (In other words, don't mark us down for the weather.) [Transcribed from Audio File #5 1:50]
- I was very surprised at the cruise director's not-so-subtle attempt to influence the results of the survey. I also feel that it was wrong for him to read the previous customer's survey before it was sent to the office, as he described, and then to confront the customer afterward.
Here is a chronological list of the problems that occurred on the Statendam, descriptions of how they were handled, and direct transcriptions of the public meetings and announcements (with references to the corresponding audio files):
Sunday, September 18, 2011:
5:00 PM - My wife and I boarded the MS Statendam in Seward, Alaska. Each passenger had a letter in their room from the captain, saying that we would be remaining in Seward harbor overnight, due to high winds. An update would be provided in the morning.
8:00 PM - At the originally scheduled departure time, the captain announced that we would not be leaving port that evening, due to high winds. He said that an itinerary update would be provided the next morning.
Monday, September 19, 2011:
8:00 AM - The captain announced that we still would not not be leaving port in the morning, due to high winds that are remaining, and are creating a "witch's brew" in the Gulf of Alaska. He said that more information would follow in the afternoon. I asked at the front desk if we were going to lose any of our destinations, and I was told that there had been no decisions or schedule changes at that time.
3:00 PM - The captain announced that we would be spending a second night in port at Seward. He said that if weather permits, we would be leaving the next morning.
6:00 PM - The captain announced that the trips to College Fjords, Glacier Bay, and Haines were now cancelled. We would be at sea for the next two days (Sep. 20-21) and would arrive in Juneau on the morning of Sep. 22. He said that he understood our disappointment, but the safety of the passengers, crew and ship were the most important. No mention was made regarding any kind of compensation for the passengers. By this time, it was too late for passengers to schedule transportation back to the airport, in order to leave the ship and return home.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011:
5:30 AM The Statendam left the port of Seward. The sea was rough and many passengers became sea sick. There was an announcement that pills for sea sickness and bags for vomiting were available to those who needed them.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011:
The Statendam continued in rough seas. Passengers continued to be sick.
10:00 AM - The cruise director announced over the PA system, "The 'Captain's Toast' has been cancelled. But due to the challenges we have faced on the cruise, the captain has agreed to offer each guest a complimentary glass of champagne with dinner on our formal night this Thursday."
The front desk was soon swarming with guests, asking for refunds, or for compensation other than a glass of champagne. Some were yelling at the front desk attendants out of frustration. Each guest was told that nothing could be done on board and that there was no way to get any more information. We were all instructed to write or e-mail our grievances to the Holland America Guest Relations Representative when we arrived home.
3:00 PM - The cruise director made an another announcement saying, "The captain and I really appreciate all of you who have been expressing your thankfulness and understanding regarding the tough choices made during the challenges of this cruise. As a gesture of good will, and to thank you for your understanding, we would like to offer each of you a future cruise credit equal to 25% of the cruise fare you paid for this trip." Later in the evening, each passenger received a letter from the captain, outlining the statements made during the announcement.
Thursday, September 22, 2011:
8:00 AM - The Statendam arrived at Juneau.
7:00 PM - The captain announced that we would be arriving at Ketchikan tomorrow at 12 noon.
Friday, September 23, 2011:
9:55 AM - My wife and I went to 'The Crow's Nest' for a dance class, before our arrival in Ketchikan. The instructor told the class, "Since Ketchikan has been cancelled, we're going to schedule another dance class in the afternoon." Unfortunately, no one had announced that Ketchikan was cancelled. I asked the instructor where she had heard that. She said, "I thought that's what they told me, maybe I'm wrong."
10:15 AM - During the dance class, the captain made an announcement that due to high winds, we would not be going to Ketchikan, but instead would be spending the next two days at sea (Sep. 23-24), arriving in Vancouver for disembarkation on the morning of Sep. 25. Many in the class left in disgust.
11:00 AM - The front desk area was jammed with even more guests than before. Now, instead of telling us to write to Holland America when we get home, they were telling us to fill out 'Let us Know' cards and hand them in to the front desk. They ran out of 'Let us Know' cards within half an hour. Unfortunately, what many guests did not realize was that these cards typically went to the onboard Guest Relations Manager, not necessarily to the corporate office.
12:00 PM - The cruise director announced that the captain would be available to answer any questions for the next hour and a half in the Lido Cafe. When my wife and I arrived there, the captain, cruise director, and hotel manager were surrounded by many guests asking if Holland America was going to do anything more about compensation for the missed ports. One man was speaking Dutch to the captain and they were yelling at each other. Once things had calmed down, I asked the captain if Holland America intended to do anything about our missed destinations. He replied, "I'm captain of the ship, that's all. Anything to do with money is CEO stuff. You need to write Holland America a letter. I asked the cruise director, "Do you know of any staff person on board who can find out for us before the cruise is over what Holland America is planning to do? The cruise director replied, "I don't know who you would talk to, I just run the entertainment here. Ask at the front desk."
At this point, the disconnect between what the cruise director was announcing throughout the day ("We want to thank you for expressing your understanding and appreciation," etc.), and what was actually happening between senior staff and passengers was so great, that I began recording the public interactions and announcements, in order to have proof of the problems.
After the captain, cruise director and hotel manager left the Lido Cafe, a group of guests began discussing how we could contact someone as a group, in order to get some sort of definitive answers from Holland America. One guest said that he had just talked to the hotel manager. The guest told me, "The hotel manager said that he was 200 percent behind us, and that he gave the corporate office an ultimatum this morning regarding compensation. He told me that he would call me with an answer within an hour."
1:30 PM - The cruise director made the following announcement:
[Transcribed from Audio File #1] "(We've listened to) each of you who are feeling your own sense of disappointment and loss over not only for today, but the other stops on our journey. I want all of you to know that we have been in touch with shoreside on a continuous basis this morning, sending out messages continuously this morning and into the afternoon, requesting that we take a look at how we compensate those people on this cruise for the challenges that we faced. I want you all to know we've done everything that we can to ensure that we make the most of a really challenging situation.
Of course, many of you have already seen the addendum to the daily program. We've added a number of events throughout the afternoon to keep the activity up, and improve on it even more as the afternoon continues. Coming up in the next couple of hours, we've got some fun activities going on; we added an opportunity to meet with your travel guide to share your greatest travel adventure. Hopefully, you've got one apart from this one to share, that'll be a lot of fun! At 2:30, we're making movies in the Microsoft Digital Workshop. Learn how to create slideshows and videos with Windows Live Moviemaker, that's with our textpert. "At 3:00 there's a Mixology class, and also at 3:00 I'm going to be doing The Marriage Game; remember The Newlywed Game that Bob Eubanks used to host on afternoon television? We're going to do the same thing with a newlywed and not-so-newlywed and an oldy-wed couple on stage. It should be a whole lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to have everybody come on in and have some fun with us for that, and we'll add another session of bingo this afternoon at 4:00.
At 4:00 we typically have Happy Hour around the ship, and we're going to go ahead and offer that! There's a Happy Hour that will start at 4:00 with buy one drink / get the second one for one dollar, but here aboard ship, the senior staff on board have had a conversation around and we've decided that we'll do something that's just here on the ship for all of you. We'd like to offer you a round of drinks on us; actually, it will be an open bar from 4:30 to 6:30, offering red wine, white wine, champagne, beer and sodas and appetizers in The Crow's Nest, Ocean Bar and Mix. So that will be red wine and champagne and beer and free sodas in The Crow's Nest, Ocean Bar and Mix, between 4:30 and 6:30. We'll make sure there are plenty of nice things circulating for you to eat, and of course we'll have live music in each one of those lounges for you all to enjoy." (The cruise director then went on to describe all of the upcoming shows.)
4:00 PM - Two and a half hours had passed without any call from the hotel manager, so guest I referred to earlier called the hotel manager to find out if he had heard anything from Holland America regarding compensation. The hotel manager replied, "Didn't you hear the announcement about the free drink at four o'clock?"
We decided to contact everyone from the group at the Lido, and to go down to the hotel manager's office to discuss realistic compensation.
4:30 PM - The group of guests gathered at the hotel manager's office door. I knocked on the door and asked him if he could come out and talk to us. Without getting up from his desk, he asked what our question was. I told him that we would prefer that he come out of his office and talk to us as a group. We explained to him that we understood how the bad weather was out of their hands, but we did not feel that it was fair for Holland America to lose nothing while the passengers lost everything. The free glass of champagne was insulting, and the offer of 25% of our cruise cost, applied to a future cruise only occurred after guests complained that a glass of champagne was not enough. This gave us all the feeling that Holland America was only willing to give us the smallest compensations they could get away with. We did not feel that Holland America had our best interests at heart.
Our complaints regarding the way the situation was handled were as follows:
1) With the captain knowing ahead of time about the impending hurricane and the amount of days it was to last, the passengers were not given any option to return home during the three days they remained in port at Seward.
2) Passengers were not told about the cancellation of College Fjords, Glacier Bay, and Haines, until the second evening at Seward, when it was too late to arrange for disembarkation and return to the airport.
3) Passengers were all told to write a letter to Holland America when they got home, instead of someone saying that they would try to quickly get a resolution to the problem.
4) All that was originally offered to passengers to make up for the aborted trip was a "complimentary glass of champagne."
5) The second offer of a future cruise discount was considered useless by many people; this required guests to pay even more to Holland America in order to get the discount.
NOTE: There was a family from South Africa that had to pay $3,000.00 per plane ticket just to get to Seward. There were also people who had flown in from Australia, England, and other far-away places. Some people were too old to go on another cruise; we talked to a man who was 98, and this cruise was his last. Some people could not afford to go on another cruise; a lady in the group was in tears because she had spent the last of her retirement money to go on this trip, and could not afford another one.
We told the hotel manager that we felt an equitable solution to the cancellations for both sides, would be to refund 50% of the trip cost to passengers. Some wanted more, but it was generally agreed that this was an equitable amount.
The guest reminded the hotel manager that he had said he was going to call him almost three hours ago. The hotel manager said that he had not been able to reach Holland America's corporate office since this morning because the Internet connection from the ship was down and there was no cell phone signal. The guest said that he had not been having any problems with signal, and that the cruise director had just announced that they had been sending out messages continuously this morning and into the afternoon. The guest then pulled out two cellphones and showed teh hotel manager that each had a strong signal. The guest said, "The compensation offered to the passengers so far has not been adequate or fair. We are being told that you guys are communicating our requests to Holland America, but so far we haven't gotten any kind of response from the main office, or the staff, or anything. I mean, a 'no' would at least be a starting point..."
The following is the hotel manager's response, transcribed from a recording of the public meeting in the Deck 6 lobby:
[Transcribed from Audio File #2]
Hotel Manager: "Yeah, well, I told everybody that this has been insufficient. So you need to give me a chance to contact my office. Believe me, I've been trying. I've been working since eight o'clock this morning. So it's not like we are all sitting here, hoping that this cruise gets over."
Guest: "Believe me, we don't think this is... this is the last thing you want to be doing right now, I am positive of that. I am absolutely one-hundred percent positive of that. All 1,200 of us are not dumb. There are those among us who are highly-qualified in professions that we have, we've been around the block, and we know when we're getting kissed-off, and I'm telling you, I think Seattle's kissing us off. And it would be a terrible thing. And as you hear this thing blinking and beeping (The guest shows the hotel manager that he is having no problem getting a signal on his cell phone), I'm getting all kind of information from the outside world."
Hotel Manager: "Maybe my signal is back up then."
Female Passenger 1: "Well then maybe in an hour we can come back and find out what they said?"
Hotel Manager: "Uh... Maybe in an hour we'll see what we can do. But as soon as we have an answer, I'm going to ask the cruise director to let you know about it on the PA system. That's where we stand at the moment."
Guest: "So normally, what we would do is the response would be disseminated by the cruise director over the PA system..."
Hotel Manager: "As soon as I have an answer, absolutely."
Guest: "Well that's better than the answer the captain gave to the people up in the Lido earlier, that "My responsibility is to steer the ship, talk to the hotel manager." That's not a very good answer.
Hotel Manager: "No, I agree. Alright, so why don't we have a little bit of more time, and hopefully I'll have something in an hour."
Guest: "I think that's fair."
The group agreed to meet with the hotel manager in one hour (5:30 PM) to see what the corporate office had told him. After the meeting, the hotel manager left his office and walked upstairs. A half-hour later, we heard the following message on the PA system...
5:00 PM - [Transcribed from Audio File #3] "Hi everybody. As you already know, we've made the decisions that we've made to ensure the safety of the ship. And, we felt that it was important that we touch base with shoreside to get some guidance; well actually, they needed to tell us exactly what they wanted us to do. But we certainly had an opportunity to talk with them about what your expectations have been. I want to thank all of you for all of your input. I want to thank all those folks who really came up and expressed their understanding of the difficult situation that the staff on board ship find themselves in, as we attempt to reconcile the needs, interests and hopes and wishes of our guests, against the expectations of the people who manage us back in Seattle.
To that end, I wanted to let you all know that we've had some feedback from Seattle regarding just exactly how we would compensate you, the guests onboard the Statendam, for the inconvenience and the frustration caused by missing and changing the itinerary in the way that we have to accommodate the weather. I wanted to read to you directly from a note from the captain, so that you can get an inkling of this whole thing. I'll just start it in the middle here, that part that you all really, I know you're excited about, I'll give you the whole letter in your staterooms this afternoon, but here's the part that I think is most important; it says:
In light of the unavoidable itinerary revisions, we would like to increase our previous offer of future cruise credit from 25% to 50% of the cruise fare you paid for this 7-day Alaska sailing. This credit carries the same expiration date and terms and conditions as noted on our earlier offer. We also want to provide a refund equal to 25% of your cruise fare for this 7-day sailing. This will be refunded per the method of payment you used to purchase your cruise.'
So folks, once again, it's 50% off your next Holland America Line Cruise, 50% off of the fare that you paid for this 7-day Alaskan sailing applied to your next Holland America Line cruise, and 25% refunded to your account - 25% of this Holland America Line cruise fare for the 7-day sailing refunded according to the amount that you used to pay. I also want to mention that any cancelled shore excursions you booked through Holland America Line will be refunded to you, along with government taxes and and the fees of $15.63.
Ladies and gentlemen, the captain and our excellent hotel manager, have asked me to please communicate to all of you our sincerest interest in making sure that you know how committed we've been to making sure you had as good a time as we could make for you while you've been on board ship. We've done everything that we can to change the program, so that you had an opportunity to enjoy the ship's entertainment, food, and beverage onboard. And, we want you again to know that we appreciate your patronage and your patience with the unpleasant weather that we encountered, and the necessary precautions that we've taken to safeguard both guests and crew. We remain, as always, at your service. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention. For captain, and for our hotel manager, this is your cruise director, and we'll see you all out and about."
5:30 PM - The group of guests gathered once again at the hotel manager's office door, but he was not there. More people began to come down the stairs and join the group. We talked about how we asked for what we thought was an equitable 50% refund, even though we only got to go to one of our destinations. In the cruise director's announcement, Holland America only offered to give up 25% of the cost, still leaving the passengers to pay 75%. After 15 minutes, the hotel manager had still not shown up, but the captain came by and walked over to the group. Oddly, he was not wearing any shoes (socks only).
5:45 PM - [Transcribed from Audio File #4]
Captain: "Hello, how are you?"
Female Passenger 1: "Not good."
Captain: (to me) "Oh, I talked to you earlier..."
Me: "We talked to the hotel manager earlier..."
Male Passenger: "Please don't cancel one more port."
Captain: "I'm going home as well in Vancouver, so definitely."
Me: "So the hotel manager said he was going to meet us at 5:30, is he not available?"
Captain: "I don't know, I don't live with him."
Me: "Anyway, we had talked to him about an hour ago, before he talked to you, and then they made the announcement about the compensation; obviously, it would have been nice if they had offered that ahead of time, then we wouldn't have to fight for it. But I think what a lot of us feel is that, OK, we understand the weather thing; you can't help that, we can't help that, safety is the most important thing. No problem there. What we had a problem with, was that originally we were taking the brunt of paying everything, and Holland America wasn't losing a penny. And then it started with, 'OK, we'll give you a champagne, or we'll give you a free drink.'"
Captain: "That's what they do in the airlines as well. That makes me glad sometimes, and sometimes it makes me pissed off. I do understand your reaction."
Me: "So what I'm thinking, and I think a lot of these other people are thinking is that we lost so much of the trip, and some of these people spent $3,000 a plane ticket from South Africa, people from Australia... a discount for a future cruise is not going to mean a lot to them. And if you've lost almost 100% of the places you want to go - the glaciers, Haines, 25% just doesn't seem to be enough. Now, some people are saying 75% would do it for them..."
Male Passenger: "Well we got one out of five places, so we should get an 80% discount, and then if they want to offer something for a future cruise, that's fine, but as of now, I wouldn't go again on Holland America."
Captain: "Now why not Holland America, because of the bad weather sir?"
(At this point, the crowd begins arguing back and forth with the captain.)
Me: "So I think what we're saying is, we've got the conversation going here, which is great. I think..."
Captain: "Not too long, because I didn't sleep for three days, you know, to look after you guys..."
Me: "I understand."
Captain: "I'm used to this attack from my children and my wife; but it's in a nice way."
Me: "We're not attacking anyone, we're saying we agree with the weather thing, you can't help that. All we're saying is that it's not fair that Holland America doesn't end up losing anything, and we lose everything."
Captain: "Sir, I do understand you completely. But how can I do something here in this case? I do not have a bank here.
Me: "But that is why we were wanting to talk to the hotel manager, because we feel that we lost almost 100% of the trip; we should get like 50%, not 25%."
Captain: "It's your right to feel like that, you know? And I respect that."
Me: "Who do we talk to?"
Captain: "You should get the name of someone at the office where you can go directly deal with, because we cannot..."
Me: "The hotel manager was going to do that for us, and now he's gone."
(Just then, the hotel manager walked into his office, behind the group of people.)
My Wife: "He's in the back."
Me: "Is he here?"
My Wife: "He's here, yeah."
Me: "Help your captain..."
Captain: "We are in a position that we can't do anything; you have to understand that as well. We are here pure for the well-being of our guests, and if you have complaints, we pass it on, which we did. That's why the letter, we did our utmost, we made several calls today, and if you're not happy then you have to show that to... I can't do anything."
Me: "We did show it, and all of a sudden we got 25%, which is nice, but I don't think we're being greedy in saying that we lost almost 100% of our destinations, and therefore, I think a lot of us feel that 50% would be much more fair."
Male Passenger: "Can you listen to this lady for one second?"
Hotel Manager: "But did you already listen to the sentence? Because you're talking about 25%. But it has been increased to 50%."
Me: "No, we're talking about cash. A future cruise is meaningless to people from Australia, Southern Africa..."
Female Passenger 2: "This is our retirement cruise. We saved up, and of course, on a retiree's salary, we can't book another cruise. Why were we not given the option in Seward to opt out of this? Because y'all had to know that the weather probably was going to be like this. And I spent the first two days of the cruise throwing up."
Captain: "Ya, but even if we know that the weather is like this ma'am, we can't deny you onboard. There is always an improvement in weather. Guys, I can see that you're all landlubbers. You don't know about deep..."
Female Passenger 2: "But you knew that it was bad enough to keep in port that first night..."
Captain: "Of course, I'm not putting you in jeopardy..."
Female Passenger 2: "I'm saying that I think y'all knew more than a day or two out that this was going to be a really rough cruise."
Captain: "And what did you want us to do then, ma'am?"
Female Passenger 2: "Before we left Seward, you should have said, 'This is going to be a really rough cruise..."
Female Passenger 1: "'How many of you want to leave the ship and get your money back?' That's the option we would have wanted."
Captain: "OK, but why didn't you bring that forward then?"
Me: "But that's past. No one knew that was an option."
Captain: "Everyone has the right to speak!"
Female Passenger 2: "But you are meant to speak for everyone."
Captain: "I do speak for everyone. You're disappointed, I know that. And you know what, I am disappointed as well; more than everyone, because I'm here to give my guests a good time. I am very disappointed."
Female Passenger 2: "So are you going to speak to your boss on our behalf, and say these customers have had a really rough ride?"
Captain: "We did already today! And more we can't do."
Me: "And the only reason you did that sir, is that we had to fight for it. Holland America should have done this initially. We shouldn't have to fight for that. The only reason we are being angry is because we were offered a 'free drink'. We were offered a free drink; come on, we're not dumb."
Captain: "Put your griefs towards the office. We have addresses here."
Me: "I know, we're all told, 'Go away - Talk to the office.'"
Captain: "No, no, no, no, no, it's not go away, it's not go away. It's not. Everyone who has griefs can do that."
Me: (to hotel manager) "So do you have the cards?"
Hotel Manager: "I have a business card for everyone who wants a business card."
Me: "Could you ask them... because what I'm getting from a lot of folks is that the portion for future cruises is meaningless to them. So what they're talking about is reversing it; instead of 25% refund / 50% towards a cruise, they're talking about 50% refund / 25% towards a cruise. If you could ask that, that's what we are..."
Hotel Manager: "But I don't expect an answer back now."
Hotel Manager: "Because, I mean, these things take time. Like this decision that they had to make this morning."
Me: "But this took half an hour, right?"
Hotel Manager: "No, no, no, because we have been communicating since eight o'clock this morning. So..."
Male Passenger: (Explaining to the hotel manager why we should have been given options.)
"... they should give you an option; either 'You want 50% off of a future cruise?', or 'You want a cash refund of X percent?'. They shouldn't force you to take another cruise on something you've been uncomfortable on from the beginning. And they know hurricanes... ten days in advance they knew that Katrina was coming. They knew these were coming. Don't tell me that nobody knew that this was going to be a rough, rough cruise, and that people wouldn't have been given an option to take another cruise at another time, or to get their credit back without boarding the ship or whatever. That should have been done."
Female Passenger 2: "That should have been offered."
Hotel Manager: "Does anyone else needs ah, business cards?"
Female Passenger 2 : "He's not even listening."
Female Passenger 1: "You're not even listening. He's not listening; he's just giving out cards."
Female Passenger 2: "They don't care."
Female Passenger 2: "If they had even offered in Seward a cancellation, I wouldn't have even gotten on the boat."
Female Passenger 1: "Me too."
My Wife: "They had several chances to make things right."
Female Passenger 2: "If they had said that chances are we're not going to hit a port, I would have cancelled the cruise and I would have made my way down to Vancouver on my own."
Female Passenger 1: "Me too, let me off this ship."
Female Passenger 2: "I'm miserable; I'm walking around like a caged animal."
(More people discussing options they should have had...)
Me: "Could I get a few more cards?"
Captain: "Are you satisfied with this, that you get the cards? Please..."
Me: "Well, I understand, you can't keep calling them..."
Captain: "Look, I have respect for you sir, and your job, and everything that you do, and your disappointments, and I know and feel that you have a point to get something extra. But we can't anymore. We are tired."
Me: "I think just for the future, if this kind of thing happens again - this is just my opinion - is that the way it was handled, it was kind of brushed under the rug, expecting that people were coming to see, maybe the only chance in their life, to see glaciers... To think that it all would be OK if they got a free drink or an extra knitting class at 3:30... I think maybe it should have been a little more up front, a little more like, 'If you have any questions, bla bla bla...' and what happens - I know they said you can talk to the captain if you have any questions - but to be honest, everyone that we ask questions says the same thing: 'It's not my job, call the office...'"
Captain: "Oh no, I don't do that, I don't do that."
Me: "Yes you told me that; I asked you in the lunch room. You said, 'I just drive the ship, that's CEO stuff!' That's exactly what you said."
Captain: "No, I am purely a captain of a ship, and I'm listed on here as the captain. And further more, financial things, I cannot handle."
Me: "That's what I mean. But I'm saying - and I told the hotel manager - that the problem is if there was just one person, maybe, I don't know, what's her name, the Guest Relations person, if there was just one person that just sort of took ownership of the problem, and said, 'Give me your grievances, and I'll submit them...' But no one really said that..."
Captain: "But that's what I ask you now."
Me: "Yeah, NOW, but I mean look at the way things are, it's awful. It would have been nice to do that ahead of time."
My Wife: "Did you tell them what other people said about the voucher? To them, a voucher is useless, so we are here to ask for 50% cash back, 25% voucher, versus the other way around."
Hotel Manager: "But I just mentioned three times, I cannot make that decision. And so you can ask it a fourth time, and I will say the same."
Me: "But you made the decision a half-hour ago when they made the announcement. That decision had not been made before."
Hotel Manager: "No, no, that wasn't my decision; that was a decision from our corporate office. That was a decision, we submitted this this morning at eight o'clock, and we just got an answer back..."
Me: "It's interesting, just the timing; I mean, a half-hour after we talked to you, and then BOOM - all of a sudden it happened."
Hotel Manager: "Because of the Internet, we decided to alternate course to get a better Internet signal, and so that's why I told you and I told the gentleman in 14, I'm expecting a letter, but I don't have Internet. I'd have even showed it to you. So it's not a coincidence that half an hour after you talked to us... it just happened that we changed course and downloaded the things that we were expecting from our office."
(Here, I say that the service has been awesome, and the captain says, thank you, it's my best crew.)
Captain: "But there is one thing that, all these things, you have your grievances and things; we cannot handle them, only write them down, but you have to finally... we tell the office, but they have fifteen other ships, so they don't respond right away."
My Wife: "And speaking of responding, I think from a passenger's point of view, that communication between you, the hotel manager, and the other people below you should have made attempts to give us communication more frequently. And as an example, for good PR, you tell us that we cannot go to Ketchikan - and at that time, that was the second time that you really deflated our balloon - and immediately after that announcement, there should have been 'Compensation to follow.' That's how PR works."
Captain: "Yeah, but I cannot do that right away."
My Wife: "But you don't get on the intercom until those are set."
Captain: "Ma'am, listen, I'm steering the ship, I'm navigating the ship."
My Wife: "Well, you can delegate to someone."
Captain: "There are people in Asia at the office. They cannot respond right away. I've been sitting here today in my time that I could make off, calling the head office."
My Wife: "Well, whatever it is, the system is not working."
Captain: "OK, please say that to the office, that the system is not working. Thank you. OK. For me, it's working here, because I'm the leader of the ship, I'm the captain."
My Wife: "I also realize that you too have to answer to somebody else. That's just the way things work. but look at the passengers today, and see how unhappy they are. And it's been brewing for the last few days. So there's lack of communication."
Me: "Because the perception is, not that you're working on something to help us, the perception is that you're not offering anything, unless people really, really fight for it. because then you won't have to offer it unless they really ask. That's the perception."
Captain: "We've said enough to the office today... we said that to the office. And what else can we do here? We cannot give you cash money, sir."
My Wife: "Well, we're just making these suggestions..."
Captain: "No, but we did a lot. Don't think that we drop you. No, we did a lot. We did a lot, I tell you."
My Wife: "But the perception out there is, 'Not enough.'"
Captain: "Please forward this to the office, because we have to listen to them. If we say something, my job is not safe; if I have a big mouth."
Male Passenger: (to me) "What's the bottom line?"
Me: "Call this guy (Guest Relations Representative - on business card)."
Male Passenger: "That's it?"
Me: "He said he can't do anything."
Female Passenger 2 : "Are we safe and secure if the captain hasn't slept for three days?"
(The remaining conversations are amongst the group, talking about how to contact the Holland America Guest Relations Representative when they get home.)
Saturday, September 24, 2011:
10:00 AM - 'Pre-disembarkation Lecture by the Cruise Director' -
[Transcribed from Audio File #5] "...I have to say that this cruise was equally challenging for all of us because we were equally interested in getting off this ship. We all wanted to make sure that we could get off and have a little time in port. And, instead of doing that, a lot of folks really pushed it to the gunnel there to make sure that there were extra activities going on around on the ship, that the ship remained clean in spite of some of the challenges that were produced by the sea days that we had that were pretty rough, and that we just generally were comfortable, you know, enjoying all the beverages, the food, and all the good stuff that the ship has to offer. If you feel similarly that the experience you had on board from the CREW was really exceptional, folks, I'd like to ask ya to please take a look at your Guest Survey, which you're going to be given this afternoon.
This Guest Satisfaction Survey is the way that you tell the folks back home how we did here on the ship in handling the challenges that we experienced over this last week. Now, I gotta tell ya, I'm gonna be honest with ya; earlier this week - this is stone cold truth, OK - Earlier this week, the first thing that came to my mind was, 'Oh no, I gotta ask these people to fill out a Guest Satisfaction Survey.' How embarrassing is that, huh? You know, that is really tough. And then it got to be yesterday, and I'm telling you I was sweating bullets because I sent a message and I told the hotel manager and I told everybody, 'Hey man, I don't think it's fair that you give us, make the crew, responsible on this Guest Satisfaction Survey, because there are a number of things that are out of our hands; I don't think it's fair that you judge us that way. I mean a lot of our... you know, my job, the hotel manager's job, everybody's job is based on that GSS (Guest Satisfaction Survey). You know what I mean, I mean they want to make sure that we're hitting the numbers here, we're doing a good job.
Well, yesterday, after doing a lot of hand-wringing and tossing nights, I was laying in bed going, 'Ah, GSS, GSS...', I just decided that, you know what, after all this, I do want you to fill out this GSS, and I just decided I would embrace it. Because you know what? This GSS is not an assessment of the conditions at sea. This is us asking you to tell us how the service was, and how the people on the ship performed to make sure that we made the best out of a very challenging situation; that's what this thing is about."
(The cruise director then explained the point system.)
"And I have to say this ship has been the leading ship in the fleet; we've had the best numbers for the last year. I'm not patting myself on the back, I'm just saying that that's the quality of the people that we have onboard. So you know what, a '9' is fine, an '8' is great too, but a '9" is fine."
(The cruise director then explained that we should not give the crew a bad rating for one cup of cold soup, etc.)
"And this cruise in particular, we were like, OK, well now what do we do? Because they're not going off the ship, you know? Now what do we do, we gotta figure out how to make everybody happy in spite of that, so we had to add a bunch of stuff on top of what we ordinarily do. So if you were looking around for something that suits ya, I want you to please consider that if you found something on our stage or in one of our classrooms, mission accomplished, huh?"
(The cruise director then went on to describe how he read a previous customer's Guest Satisfaction Survey):
"...The man gave us an '8!' Now I'm not a MENSA member, but I know that all those '9's' don't add up to an '8.' And so I saw him on the gangway, and I was like, hey man, you gave us all these '9's' and then for overall cruise experience you gave us an '8.' And he said, Well, it rained in Ketchikan. So, in this instance, you know, again, I know under the circumstances, it would be easy to go, 'Hey, you know what, you guys didn't show up.' But I gotta tell ya, we really worked hard though it appeared to you that we were just having a good time. We really, really did, and I'm really proud of us and I've had a lot of feedback from all of you saying that you understand the circumstances here.
And the other thing I wanted to say is that I really think the corporation showed up. I have to tell you that yesterday morning, I was worried because I knew that 25% weren't nothin', you know? It really wasn't, relative to the whole experience. Now you know, in the contract it says that we're not responsible for acts of God. But you know what? On the ship, we feel like, hey, we're responsible for showing you a good time.
So yesterday morning, there was a flood of e-mails going out. Why I was up at six o'clock, the captain was up at six o'clock, the hotel manager was up, we were all standing around, you know, having a prayer meeting, really, hoping that the wind would improve. And yesterday we had lots of interactions with all the guests talking about what was going on around the ship and what the game plan was, and we started firing off e-mails. Now, we're a corporation with 15-16 ships spread out all over the world, in different time zones. The chief executive officer, our big boss, he was off in Asia somewhere in a way different time zone. The senior VP was in Europe somewhere. We had everybody all over the place.
We started sending e-mails and saying, 'Hey, we gotta do something.' And so when I finally got that letter yesterday, I think it was about 4:30 we got that, when I finally got that and read that, I have to tel you that not only was I relieved, but I have to say I was really proud of them, because everybody, when we were sitting in the meetings, I was like, look, we gotta do something big. We gotta go big, and I was making all these suggestions, and they were like, 'Do you know how much money that is? Anthony, do you know how much money that is? You gotta be realistic.' But our CEO, our chief executive, and all the folks, all the guys who are responsible for making sure that we take care of all of our guests and give them an excellent guest experience, from the perspective of managing a great corporation, realized the importance of doing something significant for all of you. And I personally just want to thank you guys for looking out for us out here on the ship, and I hope that we'll see you all on another 'dam' ship, OK?"
(The cruise director then explained how they were going to do a raffle to make sure the guests filled out the surveys.)
While I in no way can give you hard figures related to the percentage of passengers unhappy with Holland America's response (or lack of) to the problems, I can tell you from my own experience, that with each passing day, I heard more people describing their dissatisfaction in hallways, in the bars, and during meal times.
Some of the more elderly passengers that I talked to either were not bothered by the cancellations because they were not going ashore anyway, or they just did not want to get involved because they felt uncomfortable challenging authority. However, this certainly was not the majority, in my opinion.
The "Guest Satisfaction Survey" that we all were instructed to fill out is not a good barometer of the problem, because it was mainly used for rating the service and crew (not senior staff or Holland America itself). A better indicator would be the "Let us Know" cards, which the front desk ran out of on the sixth day. But since the cards were only intended to go to the Guest Relations Manager, it is possible that these cards never made it to the corporate office. I hope they did.
If the weather was bad enough to keep the ship in port for the first three days of a seven-day cruise, passengers should have been told about the possible cancellations beforehand, so they could make an informed decision.
After many complaints from guests over four days, we were offered 25% of our cruise cost, applied to a future cruise. This was an insult, because it was only offered when guests complained that a glass of champagne was not enough. Additionally, the idea that we would have to purchase another cruise in order to get the 25% compensation was unacceptable to many guests. Even the cruise director said in his pre-disembarkation lecture, "I was worried because I knew that 25% weren't nothin', you know? It really wasn't, relative to the whole experience." [Transcribed from Audio File #5 6:38]
It took six days before Holland America made their last offer of compensation: 25% refund and 50% applied to a future cruise. But to most guests, 25% was not enough, and "compensation" did not mean something they would have to pay for, like a discount on a future cruise. Indeed, many could not take advantage of this discount due to lack of funds, advanced age, or living in far-away countries (expressed by passengers in 'Audio File #4').
It is hard to believe that after 138 years in the business, Holland America did not have some sort of protocol in place for cancellations due to bad weather. Senior staff obviously did not have the resources they needed from Holland America to address the issues that came up. Upon the first announcement of delay, it would have been nice just to have someone say, "We will contact Holland America to find out what can be done for compensation of the cancelled itinerary." In the end, we as guests were left with the impression that there was no such protocol in place, and that Holland America chose to offer its passengers the least they felt they had to, instead of stepping up and making them a fair and equitable offer early-on.
I sent a letter to the CEO of Holland America, as well as the Guest Relations Representative, requesting a 50% refund, which I consider fair, and more than reasonable, considering what we had to go through with the staff on the cruise.
Almost a month later, I finally received a letter from Holland America, in which was written, "We are very sorry if the compensation offered to you did not meet your expectations. Although we are unable to offer additional compensation as you have requested, once again, we want to extend our sincere apologies for any resulting disappointment."
As far as Holland America's "future cruise credit of 50%" (off of the cruise fare we paid for the Alaska cruise) goes, I have to date not been able to obtain or receive any information regarding how to get this. Neither have any of my fellow passengers that I have remained in contact with.