My sister and I worked hard to find the vacation of a lifetime that our family of nine could all enjoy, including our 80 year old physically challenged mother who was gifting us this trip, our husbands, three 20-something kids and my 15 ... Read More
My sister and I worked hard to find the vacation of a lifetime that our family of nine could all enjoy, including our 80 year old physically challenged mother who was gifting us this trip, our husbands, three 20-something kids and my 15 year old daughter. A fabulous experience seemed to present itself in an NCL Spirit 11-Day Holiday Celebration leaving Rome on December 22, 2019 that would take us, together, into new ports and the New Year.
We booked our cruise and airfare directly through NCL Group Sales assuming that by doing so we would be ensured efficient and safe travel from our homes in New Jersey to meet the ship in Rome prior to sailing. When the booking information arrived, we were immediately concerned because some of our children were booked on flights different from the rest of us and horrified that we had to figure out ourselves that the flights you booked them on were not even going to put them in Rome until the day after the cruise set sail!! We called more than once as we were very concerned that there wasn't enough time between the flights in Lisbon, especially with a special needs traveler, but were assured all would work out well. We could not leave the day before, as we had hoped, since one of our college students had a final until 7PM that night! Uggh.
We were right! We did not land in Lisbon until 6:25AM, at which point there was no way possible to make our connection on the next flight which closed its door at 6:40AM, especially as we had to clear a customs and immigration entry point with an hour long line. We were dismayed to learn that there had been a 10AM flight out of Lisbon all along and, had we been booked on that from the start, it was much more likely that we would have made it to the ship before it was scheduled to depart at 5PM. Of course, the 10AM flight was full by the time we were stuck in Lisbon and could not be accommodated.
Utterly disappointed, we came to terms with the fact that we would have to wait to board the ship in Venice, missing the first few days of fun and excitement that the rest of the travellers would have at embarkation. We were rebooked on a Tuesday, December 24th flight from Lisbon to Venice.
While still in the Lisbon airport Sunday morning, we tried desperately to reach anyone at NCL to help us and we left urgent messages for our Group Sales agent Shanice, which were never returned. The call to NCL’s emergency numbers took several tries before we finally reached someone at Total Travel Marine named Tania. Tania explained that she was just at a call center but would forward our information via email to NCL and advise them that we would be meeting the ship in Venice. Tania's email, which I have a copy of, clearly states our phone number and asks for someone at NCL to call us as soon as possible. To date we have heard from no one at NCL.
We had pre-arranged for a van to pick the nine of us up at the Rome airport Sunday to transport us to the ship and since it was too late to cancel, we were charged for the missed pick up. Luckily we were able to schedule with the same company for pick up at the Venice airport on Tuesday, December 24, 2019, when our next flight was scheduled to arrive.
All of these calls and efforts to reschedule our vacation had us at the airline counter until after 1PM. Exhausted, confused and frustrated, the nine of us trudged to the Lost Baggage area of the Lisbon airport expecting to retrieve our luggage. Another two hours later, the search for our luggage began but no one could find any information on them anywhere. By 6PM we finally left, being told by TAP that “there were well over 2,000 bags in their holding” but that ours would be located and placed on our flight two days later to Venice.
On Monday, December 23rd, I tried to call our NCL group sales agent again in Florida, at an hour that I assumed the US staff would be working. While I was never able to reach her directly and left several more voice messages, I finally got to a general customer service agent. I cannot tell you how flabbergasted I was when she actually said to me, “had you purchased your travel insurance through us, we would help you but since you didn’t, once your ship left port, you are now considered a closed case”. Is this really how NCL has trained their customer support team to respond to travellers in distress?
On Tuesday morning, Christmas Eve, we left the hotel at 4:20AM and headed back to the Lisbon airport to make our 6AM flight. At the Lisbon airport we went directly to the wheelchair area to get mom assistance but were told we would have to wait. We gave it until 5:30AM but concerned at how long it would take us to get to the gate, and afraid to miss our flight, we grabbed a chair and pushed her ourselves. We finally settled into our flight to Venice, exhausted, dirty and stressed but ready to grab our bags and meet our cruise and begin our holiday together.
Two hours later, watching an empty baggage carousel spin by with no luggage in hand, we dejected made our way to the lost luggage counter at the Venice airport. We told the agent that our ship would be in Venice until 5PM on Wednesday 12/25/19 and she assured us that our nine bags would be flown to Venice in time to be delivered to the ship before we set sail again.
After dealing with this, we headed out of the baggage claim area to meet our driver. It was now just before noon and although our ship was not due into Venice port until 5PM, we figured our best option was to be dropped at the port and wait. We arrived at the gate to the port around 12:30PM only to be advised that the ship had hit bad weather between Rome and Venice and would not be arriving until after midnight and we would have to stay in another hotel overnight and meet the ship the next morning.
So Christmas Eve would not be spent celebrating on our special cruise, but instead in a cheap hotel near the port of Venice, cramped three to a room. We were now also on day three in the same clothes and we did not have anything nearly warm enough to wear, nor any toiletries and we could not board a cruise uncertain that we would ever have our necessities. We found a local mall and purchase a few necessities that we believed we would need until our luggage would be brought on board later the next day.
Later that night, I called the Lost Baggage Service to track our bags and was asked to email them a copy of our cruise itinerary, which I did.
The next morning we were finally delivered to the ship where we boarded and found our staterooms. My mother and children (a 21 year old man and 15 year old teenager) were booked to share a balcony room. Once the beds were opened at night, there was literally no room to move. The floor was nothing but bed and my son had to climb over my daughter to go to sleep! I can’t even imagine that this is not a safety hazard waiting to happen.
When we boarded, NCL staff did provide us each with a bag that contained a tee shirt, a tiny toiletries bag and one ticket each for free laundry service (the best part of the bag!). However, the shirts were all one size (XL) which were too big for most of the women and too small for two of the men. Christmas evening dinner in the dining room was very nice, although we thought it would have been even nicer if we had the special outfits we had purchased and packed to wear for pictures since we had a 20 Picture Package that we had chosen as our on-board promotion. That did not seem to be much of an issue, however, since no photographer ever came into a public space we were in the entire time we were on the ship. The two times we had pictures taken were when we got off the ship in a port or if we found the photographer and their backdrop in the main lobby.
This too had been a disappointment as we had first been advised that we could choose the Soda Package in our room as our on-board promotion since we do not drink alcohol. I was even quoted that we would be charged $17.49 per person for the 11 days in service charges, to which I had agreed. When I did not see that package on my itinerary closer to sailing, I was then informed that this was not actually a choice I could have made, that the only choice would have been to choose the “free alcohol package” that would have cost me $400 for the stateroom in service charges. REALLY?? Clearly this package was made available to some travellers, why not to us?
Of course, by the time we sailed out of Venice on Wednesday evening, our luggage had not been delivered as promised. We were assured it would be flown to Dubrovnik and would meet our ship the next day, Thursday, 12/26/19.
On Thursday morning, 12/26/19, we headed into Dubrovnik for a day of sightseeing. Freezing cold without our warm clothes, we bought some more warm things to wear for the day. Upon arrival back on board at 5:00PM, we were advised that two pieces of our family’s luggage had arrive on board, but the remaining 7 bags were hopefully going to be found and brought on board before we left port at 10PM. By 9:30PM the ship had already started moving and no luggage had been delivered.
The next day we tendered into Kotor. By now it had been six days without our belongings and little more than a change of underwear and a toothbrush. Our first stop that morning was to a pharmacy because, by now, my husband had a headcold and needed medication which I would have had if I had any luggage. As soon as we got near a local restaurant with free WIFI I checked my email to discover I had received a notice from the Lost Luggage company stating that our bags had been delivered and the case was considered closed. Since we had only received two of our bags by that point, we were quite concerned and immediately had to tender back to the ship, missing any opportunity for real sightseeing in Kotor.
Back aboard, we called Lost Luggage again and were advised that all of our bags had been sent to Venice but that seven of them had then been re-routed to Munich for some unknown reason rather than delivered to the ship with the first two! Almost an hour more was spent on the phone with the agent from the Lost Luggage company before he advised me that our bags would be flown from Munich to Pisa where they would be sent by courier to meet the ship when we arrived in Livorno on 12/29/19. So, on top of everything else we had missed already, we missed Kotor as well.
We spent the next day, Saturday, 12/28/19 on board the ship in our barest clothing while having our bits and pieces washed at the laundry so that we had clean clothes again to wear when we arrived in Livorno on Sunday, 12/29/19.
We spent the day Sunday with a tour of Lucca and Pisa and returned to the ship at 6:30PM, initially excited to hear that our bags were finally waiting for us at our stateroom, then utterly dejected to discover that one bag had been completely destroyed and was being held together with packing tape. Two others had been damaged to the point of having to be replaced as well. We spent part of our day in Barcelona purchasing new luggage in order to repack for the trip back home.
We began this trip with the highest of hopes for an unforgettable family vacation. Unforgettable is certainly what we got. We are BRONZE level NCL cruisers who would have been one day short of reaching SILVER level when we disembarked at the end of this trip and couldn’t wait to begin thinking about where that next adventure would be. As of today, because meeting the ship in Rome had been taken away from us, we only got credit for 8 days on the ship and although I assume that we will be financially compensated for the missed days, the cost to my Latitudes account is just one more way we are feeling let down by NCL.
Fruthermore, had we known at booking that the Spirit was going into dry dock at the end of our trip for a complete refurbishment, we would very likely have made other vacation plans from the start. What a difference this ship was from the NCL Gem, a previous NCL ship that we sailed on. While their staff, as always, was courteous and professional, we noticed the little touches that were missing. As I mentioned, no photographer throughout the ship. No towel animals ever appeared in any of our rooms on any night. My daughter’s dinner order placed the night before (she has a life-threating nut allergy) was forgotten one evening so that she had to wait for her dinner while everyone else was served. Even the chocolates put out at the dining hall on Christmas were old and stale (they had already turned white inside the wrappers!). We were on the Norwegien GEM from Christmas to New Years Eve so we had a reasonable expectation that the Spirit would be a similar experience. We could not believe that after the hubub of midnight passed on New Years Eve, there was not a morsel of food available to ship full of drinking passengers! Truly not a cracker or a cookie, the buffet room was locked up tight.
While the lost luggage fiasco was technically not NCL's fault, the bottom line is that we spent a great deal of money booking our trip as a whole unit directly with NCL because it was our belief that NCL would be best qualified to ensure we were safely and reasonably delivered from our home to their ship. Had we realized how “hands-off” their group sales and travel departments would be as soon as our check cleared, we not only would have booked our own flights, and now know to do so for the future, but we probably would have booked either through a separate travel agent or with a different cruise line altogether. Travel insurance will cover the cost of a hotel or new piece of luggage, but when we were scared and stranded in a foreign country in the middle of a voyage that a company scheduled and booked for us, it is hard to believe that NCL's customer care policy is to "not care".
We found out after returning home that NOT taking the cruise line's insurance policy was one of the smartest thing we could have done for ourselves.
Frankly, although it saddens me to feel like this, it is very likely good-bye from our family to the NCL family. There are just too many other cruise lines we can choose from who we hope will treat us like we matter. I only hope that when I share this story, it will save other families from making the mistake we made. Read Less