(10 a.m. EDT) -- Bill Kaiser booked a dream cabin for his first-ever Alaska cruise -- almost a year in advance. Then Royal Caribbean let someone else move in instead.
Kaiser, who goes by Papa Kaiser on the Cruise Critic message boards, was uprooted in February from a highly desirable "corner aft" Junior Suite (8588) on Rhapsody of the Seas' May 18 Alaska cruise -- a cabin he booked through his travel agent in April 2011. Seasoned cruisers know that these accommodations sell out quickly thanks to their huge wraparound balconies with unobstructed views of the trailing wake and any starboard-side scenery. What's more, Papa Kaiser's cabin cost the same as other "standard" Junior Suites in the category, which feature smaller, uni-directional balconies. He was moved into one of these standard Juniors.
How'd it happen?
During a March 2012 refurbishment, Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas gained 21 cabins, spread across Decks 7 and 8, which resulted in the renumbering of some accommodations on those decks. Cruises based on the renumbered deck plans were sold to the public beginning in late February 2012, before many already-booked passengers discovered the change on their own (Royal Caribbean did not alert them to it, passengers say) and were given the opportunity to retain their original cabin.
As a result, many passengers -- mostly those staying in coveted "aft" or "corner aft" Junior Suites -- discovered through the grapevine that their assigned cabins on upcoming cruises had been relocated. When they became aware and attempted to rebook their original, albeit newly numbered, accommodations, some found that it was too late. Other would-be cruisers had already jumped in and snapped them up. And despite crying foul to Royal Caribbean, many have failed to re-claim their original rooms.
Relocated passengers have been taking to the message boards ever since -- while Royal Caribbean remains mum on the subject, declining to respond to multiple requests for comment.
Back to Papa Kaiser: When new deck plans surfaced in late February 2012 -- almost a year after he booked -- he found that 8588, formerly a corner aft, had shifted four cabins forward to a less desirable starboard-side location. Papa made his final deposit on February 12, roughly two weeks before his cabin was reassigned.
By the time he discovered the change, someone else had snapped up 8596, the "new" corner aft cabin. (Pictured right are the before and after deck plans. Click on the image to see a larger version.)
"I contacted corporate guest relations in Miami the following day," he said in an e-mail to Cruise Critic. "The only concession I could get after an hour on the phone was that since the 'new' occupants of the corner aft cabins had refused to move from the cabins they booked, RCI said they would block the room in such a way that IF the new occupants cancelled, we would have first crack at it.
"RCI's story was they simply released the new cabin numbers prematurely," said Papa, "without following instructions to contact existing bookings first, to see if they would want to retain their originally booked location."
He was given a take-it-or-leave it offer of $200 onboard credit or the chance to cancel the cruise. He took it, explaining that "cancellation would have cost [him] $1,000 in airfare, as well as vacation time from work that [his] wife could not reschedule."
"To say that those of us that have been affected are disappointed is a large understatement," said Kaiser. "And $200 onboard credit doesn't repair the trust that RCI has broken."
While it is unclear how many upcoming Rhapsody passengers were impacted by the renumbering, Papa was certainly not alone. Reader Royal Diamond had a nearly identical experience -- though his cabin shift had a better outcome.
On his Rhapsody Alaska cruise, where he'd originally snagged a similar corner-aft Junior Suite, he was able to claim the newly numbered cabin in the same location before someone else did.
Bigcat47, Beezy961, Petunia1950, chookie65 and desertpilot posted eerily similar Rhapsody relocation stories on the Cruise Critic message boards, with varying degrees of success in restoring their original cabins. Those who could not get back what they had lost have been offered onboard credit, according to their posts.
In yet another case in which you must be aware of cruise line contract stipulations, Royal Caribbean can "bump" passengers at any time, for any reason. Section 6 of its cruise ticket contract states: "Carrier may for any reason at any time and without prior notice, cancel, advance, postpone or deviate from any scheduled sailing, port of call, destination, lodging or any activity on or off the Vessel, or substitute another vessel or port of call, destination, lodging or activity." The line would not respond to requests for clarification of how or if this contract language applies to cabin swaps, but this "substitution" verbiage is not uncommon in the industry. Section 7 of Carnival Cruise Lines' contract states that it "reserves the right to move Guests to a comparable stateroom for any reason." (Italics added by editor.)
Your turn: If you were in a similar situation, would you cancel your cruise or take the line up on its offer? What else would you do? Enter the debate.
--by Dan Askin, Senior Editor