Turkeys at Sea: 10 of the Worst Ideas in the History of Cruise Travel
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The Turkey: Carnival Bans Hair Dryers, Women Revolt
One thing female cruisers -- and, yes, some men -- really need in a cabin is a hairdryer. And something with real power. So when 700-watt hairdryers found their way on Carnival's prohibited items list in early 2010, the blowback was nothing short of gale-force. We understand why irons and candles can't be taken onboard, fire being the single greatest safety threat at sea, but a hairdryer? Uh uh. Before the frizzy-haired masses took to the sea, however, Carnival pulled the plug on the restriction.
The Turkey: Asking Passengers to Pay for Fuel...
First came the burgeoning barrel in 2007. That was followed by pain at the pump. And shortly thereafter, cruise lines began passing on ballooning oil expenditures to passengers in the form of surcharges. Cruisers grumbled about the new fees ... but they screamed foul when lines started retroactively collecting money for sailings on which deposits had already been made. The Florida attorney general's office was deluged with complaints, and an investigation ensured. Celebrity and Royal Caribbean volunteered to refund retroactive fuel surcharges in anticipation of the AG's decision, and a few weeks later, Carnival caved and complied with its ruling. At the time, the AG estimated $40 million would be returned to more than 1.1 million Carnival bookers.
The Turkey: Royal's Hurricane Blunder
With Hurricane Irene swirling like a maniac toward San Juan, the city's port authority ordered Carnival Victory and Splendour of the Seas to leave -- minus hundreds of guests. What followed was a tale of two responses. One hundred thirty "stranded" RCI-ers were given information on local hotels and left to book and pay for arrangements. Royal further infuriated passengers by stating it was unable to communicate with them about the early departure. And it held firm that no refunds would be offered for those who missed the cruise. Adding insult, arch-rival Carnival, confronted with the same thankless situation, garnered endless thanks for its response. The line offered 300 guests hotel stay and a flight to meet the ship at the next port -- for free. A week later, RCI caved and agreed to issue refunds to those who missed the boat.
The Turkey: NCL America's Trio of Hawaii-Based Ships
It was a bold idea, but one that seemed cursed from the start: three American-crewed mega-ships would offer year-round, intra-island Hawaii cruises from Honolulu. With the U.S. flag flying from the bow, the ships could sail between the isles free from the time-sapping Jones Act requirement of visiting a foreign port. What followed were canceled cruises (some for the unprecedented reason of "crew exhaustion"), the most ferocious complaints about service we've ever seen and a ledger hemorrhaging red. Thankfully, NCL has righted the ship, renaming and reassigning two of the three vessels and working out the kinks on Pride of America, which is now a stalwart in Hawaii cruising. Better news still: NCL America is now a profitable venture.
The Turkey: Calling a Ship "Unsinkable"
In hindsight, it's startlingly apparent that the Titanic Marketing Team should have steered clear of this one; however, it's still not known who actually coined the infamous slogan. Many people at the time believed the Titanic was "unsinkable" -- or at least "virtually unsinkable" -- including the ship's owners and investors, many passengers, the media, and even the captain, or so it's said. Most famously, when the head of White Star Line, Vice President P.A.S. Franklin, heard the ship was in trouble he said, "We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe the boat is unsinkable." Of course, he was proved wrong almost immediately -- the unthinkable had happened to the unsinkable.
The Turkey: The Bottled Water Ban
In 2007 Carnival tested a policy that prevented passengers from bringing non-alcoholic beverages onboard, prompting a flood of negative feedback. Carnival's explanation? The line claimed that its previous policy was being abused. With no further explanation, cruisers were left to believe it was just another tactic for the line to squeeze more revenue out of each sailing. Within a month the ban was repealed, but the line didn't learn its lesson -- in 2010, several similar restrictions were tested, and subsequently cast overboard.
The Turkey: The Invention of Air Travel
"Undoubtedly," writes member Alcarondas on the message boards, "the biggest turkey in the history of ocean travel was the invention of the jet airplane. Things just haven't been the same since." The golden age of cruise travel was indeed decimated by the mid-century arrival of long-haul air travel, culminating with the introduction of the Boeing 747 in 1970. Fast, cheap(er) and sweet new technology? The choice was easy for many one-time cruise passengers looking to traverse the Atlantic. Still, while the setback lasted a couple decades, we like to think the industry rebounded nicely.
The Turkey: Taking Perks From Your Most Loyal Pax
In troubled economic times, how do you thank your loyal passengers, the ones who've spent thousands of dollars on 10 or more cruises? If you're Royal Caribbean, you take away their favorite perks. In a move that outraged longtime RCI fans in 2009, the cruise line told Diamond-level passengers (10 to 25 cruises) that they would no longer have access to the concierge lounges on all but three Freedom-class ships, keeping the perk only for Diamond-Plus members (25-plus cruises) and suite guests. That's right -- no more free cocktails, morning coffee drinks or concierge service. As once-loyal fans canceled cruises and complained bitterly, the line was forced to restore some perks, scheduling breakfasts and cocktail parties to replace lounge access. (For the latest on the loyalty scheme, check out our feature on Cruise Line Past-Passenger Programs.)
The Turkey: Launching a Ship Before It's, Um, Ready
Even after years chronicling the process of shipbuilding and refurbishment, we've never really gotten used to the fact that the most visible changes happen at the last minute. Up until the moment the ship is delivered, there'll be wires hanging from ceilings, uncarpeted hallways, cabins without beds. But it always comes together. Well, not always. When Azamara Journey debuted in 2007, we arrived for its maiden voyage to find bar stools stacked, still in boxes, on the dock. Dumpsters full of trash sat by the pool. And furnishing discards from its pre-refurb days -- couches, a piano -- littered the decks. The cruise was delayed, and it took weeks for the ship to get it together. A memorable debut, perhaps, but for all the wrong reasons.
The Turkey: A Non-Smoking Mega-Ship
For non-smokers, the 2,054-passenger Carnival Paradise truly lived up to its name as the industry's only smoke-free ship when it entered service in 1998. The no-butts-about-it policy was so strict that even the crew couldn't light up, and anybody caught breaking the rule was fined and put off at the next port. The one thing Carnival forgot? Smokers drink and gamble more, so when the ship began burning a hole on the balance sheet, the company reversed course. In 2003, the policy went up in smoke.
The Turkey: Oasis of the Seas Missing Blimp
From zip-line to carousel, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is full of at-sea firsts. But one crazy onboard attraction never made it past the testing phase before it was axed -- er, rather, before it axed itself. A strange, goldfish-cracker-shaped blimp was spotted hovering above Oasis during sea trials, and RCI officials later verified it was to be a hot-air balloon ride of sorts. It sounded like a fun innovation -- until the tether snapped and the capsule floated away over the open ocean. It was later found in (and not above) the Baltic Sea, and the idea went the way of celery-flavored Jell-O, the mullet haircut and history's other "it seemed like a good idea at the time" brainchildren.
The Turkey: Royal Caribbean's Great Mis-Steak
Beef: It's what passengers had with Royal Caribbean after the line introduced for-fee steak in the main dining room on two of its ships. Naturally, there was debate about whether the $14.95 New York strip was an unsavory attempt to drum up dollars or a welcome addition to the always-available "free" steak. Next up: a stampede of confusion following its debut. Royal Caribbean proclaimed that the steak was organic, then rescinded the claim. The description oscillated from Black Angus to not Black Angus back to Black Angus. Menus didn't make sense. Chaos ensued. Eventually, RCI got its act together -- and the test apparently went well. You'll now find and pay for this ("natural" but not organic Black Angus) steak in main dining rooms fleetwide.
Turkey: NCL's See-Through Bathrooms
The hotel industry powered the trend toward funky, see-through bathrooms that you now find at hostelries ranging from trendy boutique properties to airport Hiltons, but a cruise line’s effort to add that panache misfired. When NCL introduced Norwegian Epic in 2010, it featured bathroom designs that split up the traditional sink-toilet-shower combo. The commode was in a cubicle, the shower was across the foyer, and the sink, inexplicably, was in the cabin. But what really riled folks were the smoked-glass doors for both shower and toilet that left little to the imagination. The oddest irony? See-through bathrooms are probably just fine for solo travelers without privacy issues, but the ship’s much-praised solo cabins actually have toilets hidden behind solid doors.
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Turkey Reading List
Ultimate Guide to Cruise Ship Tipping
Cruise Line Past-Passenger Programs
Ultimate Guide to Drinking at Sea
Cruise Line Smoking Policies
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