April 12, 2011 Updated April 13, 2011
(1:23 p.m. EDT) -- A wheelchair-bound passenger was ordered to debark a charter cruise in February on Celebrity Century after declining to hire a nurse. The story -- which was first reported in yesterday's Oakland Press, a Detroit area news outlet -- ignited a 150-plus-post thread on the Cruise Critic Message Boards.
According to the Oakland Press report, 66-year-old James Keskeny -- a Pinckney, Michigan, resident who has multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair -- was ordered off a Bare Necessities Tour & Travel nude charter cruise on February 18 in Guadeloupe, where he had to pay $1,500 for travel arrangements home.
In a statement, Celebrity Cruises confirmed that Keskeny was ordered off the vessel after he turned down the option of hiring a private duty nurse, which the line determined he needed to continue the 10-night Southern Caribbean sailing. The statement called the debarkation "regrettable," but it added that it was necessary because Keskeny was unable to care for himself. "While we provide extensive assistance to our disabled guests, such as boarding and departure assistance, and lifts for pools and whirlpools," said the line, "we do not provide help with feeding, personal hygiene or using the lavatory." (Editor's note: Richard Bernstein, Keskeny's attorney, told Cruise Critic that his client does not have issues feeding himself.)
The Oakland Press reported that Keskeny, who was traveling alone and staying in an accessible Sky Suite, thought that his butler would be able to provide him with the care he needed. Nancy Tiemann, founder of Bare Necessities Tour & Travel, confirmed this information for Cruise Critic in a phone interview this morning.
According to the Oakland Press story, "when he asked the butler to help him get his wheelchair over a non-compliant ADA lip going into the bathroom, the butler refused." (For the record, Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez told us there was no "lip" to go into the bathroom in Keskeny's suite.) Keskeny told the publication that crewmembers "wouldn't touch me. I felt like a leper." He noted that, at one point, he had a problem in the bathroom and slipped off the toilet. "Not one of the workers would help me get back in my chair," he said, adding that fellow passengers ended up coming to his assistance.
"His needs were very extensive," Teimann told Cruise Critic. "He needed help every time he had to get out of bed and go to the bathroom, every time he needed to take a bath. These tasks aren't something that the cruise lines avail themselves of beyond their normal duties. He really needed someone 24/7, and we had to go by cruise line policy when we were made aware of the situation."
Keskeny said he never got the memo that a butler wouldn't suffice. "Before I got onboard, nobody raised any issue about my disability," he told the Oakland Press. Cruise Critic is attempting to contact Keskeny.
According to both Celebrity Cruises and Bare Necessities, Keskeny never indicated -- beyond booking an accessible suite -- that he would require significant aid.
"He made his cruise booking directly with the charter company, and Celebrity Cruises was unaware of his additional needs until he was onboard the ship," said the line's statement. Likewise, Tiemann, who called the event "terribly unfortunate," said Keskeny had also not made Bare Necessities aware of his special situation. Tiemann noted that it was her understanding that Keskeny's wife, Nancy, was supposed to be on the cruise, but became ill at the last minute. "He chose not to tell anybody. Had I known ahead of time what was going on, I would have told him not to come alone."
Celebrity's policy requires passengers with special needs to be self-sufficient and, if need be, to travel with a companion to provide assistance with eating, dressing, toileting or lifting, as cruise line personnel are not required to perform these tasks. Additionally, the cruise line requires all passengers booking an accessible cabin to complete a special-needs-guest form. Based on responses from Celebrity and Tiemann, it is unclear if he filled out such a form. Tiemann noted, however, that Keskeny and his wife did fill out a standard passenger information form, and both were sent tickets. Again, at the last minute, Nancy decided not to make the trip.
Tiemann stated her company did its best to accommodate Keskeny given the situation. When word surfaced that he was unable to take care of his basic needs, she suggested to Celebrity that a private nurse be brought onboard in St. Barth's, the first port of call. Some Bare Necessities staff could be moved around, doubled up in cabins, so that cabin space could be opened up near Keskeny's suite. The line acquiesced, but Keskeny ultimately declined to hire the nurse, and he was first ordered to debark the vessel in St. Barth's. (Tiemann said she did not know the cost of hiring the nurse.)
Given the fact that St. Barth's is a tender port with somewhat limited travel options (small airport), Tiemann persuaded Celebrity to allow Keskeny to stay on for an additional night. He debarked in Guadeloupe the following day.
The ordeal was not without its more positive moments. Tiemann said many passengers had taken efforts to help Mr. Keskeny, and when he debarked, he asked that one of his helpers get his suite. She complied with his wishes.
According to the Oakland Press piece, Mr. Keskeny is taking action against Celebrity's parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., and is being represented by the aforementioned Richard Bernstein. Bernstein told us over the phone that all he is seeking for his client is a refund of the cruise, which has yet to be issued, and the $1,500 in travel expenses.
--by Dan Askin, News Editor