March 2, 2011
On the message boards, passengers are posting that they were kept in the dark about the shifting departure times and that they were forced to scramble to make hotel and parking arrangements to wait out the indeterminate delay.
"Carnival cannot control the weather or the port; however, they can control their reactions to it," wrote Raven Days. In a lengthy post, she described the lack of communication from the line, the impossible-to-find updates on Carnival's Web site (buried in the FAQ section, where readers had to type "fog" in the search box) and a lack of knowledgable onsite staff.
"If Carnival can send e-mails to me to try to sell excursions and gifts packs, then they can keep me updated," said Golfing Dan, who also endured two days of waiting before boarding the ship.
"Had Carnival not continued to string everyone along, folks could've secured hotels," added Cardinala.
In response to the comments, Carnival said last week's fog created a challenging and fluid situation. "Given that unpredictability, we did our best to keep all guests apprised of what was happening," Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen told Cruise Critic via e-mail.
"We emailed both Carnival Ecstasy guests the night prior to advise the possibility of fog delaying the arrival of the ship," Gulliksen continued. "We also provided hourly updates both at the cruise terminal and at the Galveston convention center where guests were waiting, as well as posted updates on carnival.com, Tweeted links to the latest updates, and distributed a total of five letters to all guests. Our call center agents were also briefed to provide updates, however, as mentioned previously there was a great deal of uncertainty when the fog would eventually dissipate."
Gulliksen added that the line provided passengers with a list of local hotels -- though that list may not have provided much comfort. "We realize that given it was a holiday weekend, hotel space was limited and we do apologize that some of our guests had difficulty to booking rooms," he wrote. Indeed, several Cruise Critic readers acknowledged how fortunate they were to find a room to wait out the delay.
There was little furor, however, over Carnival's compensation offer. Passengers who canceled received a full refund, a 25 percent discount off a future two- to five-day voyage and a $45-per-person meal allowance. Those who sailed on the modified three-day cruise received a 50 percent refund of fare paid, a 50 percent discount on a future two- to five-day cruise, and $45 per person meal allowance in the form of a shipboard credit.
Golfing Dan, who chose to sail on the shortened cruise, wrote that he was already looking to use his 50 percent off voucher on an upcoming departure.
"I think under the circumstances Carnival came through as far as the compensation," added Raven Days, who also sailed. "I will be sailing again on Carnival. Soon."
Gulliksen told us that the line is in the process of reviewing communications with various departments and will make changes as needed. "We sincerely apologize to our guests for this disruption to their vacation plans, however, please understand that the fog was entirely out of our control."
So, if you find yourself in a similar circumstance (say, next February in Galveston), what can be done?
This is where it pays to have a travel agent or someone who can help provide updates and plot a contingency plan. Additional coverage should also be a consideration. "It's a good example of how travel insurance can help," said Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Access America, a popular provider. "Folks who have a policy with a travel delay benefit, which kicks in if your cruise is pushed back by six hours or more, will get help with incidental lodging, transportation and meals." Carnival provided each guest with a $45 meal voucher and a list of hotels to book at their own expense -- insurance could cover the difference.
Now it's your turn. Put yourself in an Ecstasy cruiser's shoes. What would you do? Take the refund and head home to start planning your next cruise or wait out the fog? Tell us below.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor