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What the Cruise Lines Do Badly

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It’s difficult to assign specific things which the cruise industry universally does badly. Each of the lines seems do have varying policies on how to react to certain situations, and some handle the various situations better than others.

I believe there was a time – until the mid ’90s – when the cruise line’s customer service agents were very responsive to customer complaints. If a customer experienced even relatively minor inconveniences, and wrote a follow up letter to the cruise line on their return, they’d almost always respond quickly with “the customer is always right” mentality, and almost automatically respond with discounts offering 20%,30% or even 50 % discounts off future cruise bookings with the lines.

As word spread that it was so easy to get discount offers, one of the nasty sides of human nature came into play; greed–as people would write to the cruise lines about the most minor complaints, and even fabricate problems to write about, just to get those future cruise discounts.

No doubt the growth of cruise related internet web sites in the mid to late nineties, particularly those with message boards where people could share the “tricks they’ve learned, and vent their complaints, contributed directly to the abuse of the cruise lines customer service policies.

Suddenly more and more people were learning from others that a simple letter of complaint to the cruise lines resulted in discounts on future cruises. As a result the cruise lines, who’s onboard surveys were showing them with 95 -99 % approval ratings, were finding themselves inundated with complaints at rates which reflected much higher dissatisfaction than their own fairly detailed statistics showed.

I believe the result of this anomaly eventually led the cruise lines to take a more cynical approach when evaluating customer complaints, and in turn, began putting more restrictive customer service policies in place.

Now the question arises whether the cruise line’s response to customer complaints has gone to the other extreme, becoming too cynical, and too unresponsive to customer complaints? Are legitimate complaints now being ignored, and mishandled because of the past patterns of greedy passengers who worked the system for undeserved compensation?

Because I enjoy cruising so much I’m quite fairly labelled an advocate for the industry. But I’m an advocate who doesn’t wear blinders. I’ve heard of and even personally experienced situations going wrong, where the cruise lines have dropped the ball, even when given an opportunity to remedy the situation.

The vast majority of problems that occur onboard a ship can be dealt with the most effectively on the ship, when they occur. The onboard personnel are normally ready and willing to resolve any issues that arise. Frankly, it’s now much more difficult to get issues dealt with post cruise, dealing with the cruise lines customer service departments.

Cruise lines believe their onboard management are best equipped to resolve issues onboard as they occur. They trust their onboard management is equipped with the necessary skills and judgement on how to handle complaints.

Therefore, if a problem does come up during your cruise, it’s going to be much more effective to seek satisfactory resolution onboard. Of course, the key to finding that satisfactory resolution onboard is to notify and discuss the issues with the people onboard who can effect resolution; those are the various department heads, and/or the Hotel Director. Demanding to see the Captain because your cabin television isn’t working properly, or your hot soups are arriving cold at dinner isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Which leads me to passengers having the judgement to determine if they have a legitimate complaint. My favourite story as an example of illegitimate complaints is one told to me by a Hotel Director on a Royal Caribbean ship…. It occurred after a scheduled port visit to Labadie (which is essentially a private island stop for RCI ships) had to be cancelled because tendering is necessary for this stop. Sea conditions were so bad the Captain determined the conditions were too bad to safely transfer guests to and from the “island”, and they cancelled their scheduled stop.

A passenger came to speak to the Hotel Director, and complained vehemently that he had booked this cruise specifically for it’s stop in Labadee, because he had a very important business meeting to attend in Downtown Labadee. He insisted on a complete refund of his cruise fare because he was unable to make his scheduled business meeting. The interesting fact shared by the Hotel Director to explain to the passenger why a refund would not be in order was that there is no Downtown Labadee.

Just about every department head, Cruise Director, and Hotel Director have hundreds, if not thousands, of similar stories to share. Some of these are created by passengers arriving to their ships totally misinformed; some because their travel agents sent them away with misinformation, others because they misunderstood what their travel agents told them because they chose not to listen, and others because they did no research, and simply came onboard with preconceived expectations with no basis in fact or experience.

As I stated earlier, there is no doubt legitimate problems arise which deserve vociferous complaints, and justifiably require resolution, and in some cases real compensation. There are cases where perhaps the judgement of the onboard personnel has become too skewed and to cynical because of less than factual complaints, that they do not handle the situation appropriately.

The same effect can be seen in today’s customer service departments at the cruise line’s home offices. Therefore it does require some diligence and patience by those with legitimate complaints which they were unable to resolve onboard, to get what they feel are appropriate responses from the cruise lines. Unfortunately it can take months to get response to written complaints from the cruise lines (either email or snail mail), as their systems require them investigate and go through a myriad of reports and communications with the ship involved.

I believe the very best system for seeking resolution to a complaint that you were unable to get resolved onboard is to have your Travel Agent advocated on your behalf. That is most certainly a part of what they are paid to do. They should have avenues for contact available to them that you as a passenger do not.

If, on the other hand, you feel forced to deal with the issue yourself, keep your communications to the cruise line succinct, to the point, and quickly state what you feel would be satisfactory compensation for your situation. And know, sadly, you may have to wait months before receiving a response from the cruise line. This should most certainly not be the case, but unfortunately this does seem to be the reality of the current state of the cruise lines land based customer service departments.

Have any of you found better ways to achieve quick resolution of problems than I’ve mentioned here? If so, we’d certainly appreciate you sharing them with us!

Do any of you believe that the cruise line’s Customer Service departments are now acting as a barrier to insulate the cruise line executives from those who file complaints?

What are your thoughts regarding the issues I’ve raised with this blog, that passengers presenting illegitimate complaints have had a negative affect on how cruise line’s policies are set now to react to these situations?

– A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising –

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Comment from Kathy
Time December 17, 2008 at 6:57 am

We have now cruised 8 times; 3 with Carnival, 1 with Princess, 2 with NCL. I have to agree that these cruiselines have most likely been taken advantage of over the years as we’ve had two situations with Carnival that were not resolved in our favor. The first was 2004 on the Legend in July when the ship was delayed by a medical emergency. We took our issue up with corporate offices after the cruise because our fellow cruise passengers packed the purser’s desk all cruise demanding money back, refusing to pay gratuties, etc. I asked them for one day’s worth of money to be refunded to my husband and myself as we lost one complete day of the cruise. They offered us 15% off our next cruise which I did not want. Our TA was also unsuccessful in trying to get us some money back. We did not cruise with Carnival for another 4 years after that. I have to honestly say that this mess with the medical delay and nasty passengers was both a carnival issue and a passenger issue. Carnival put us in a nearby terminal building that was over 80 degrees. There were no chairs. We were misinformed about carrying luggage on board. I was unable to find help for my husband who was standing on a broken foot (we were told boarding would be at 8 p.m. didn’t figure he’d need help) We were not even offered some bottled water. We did not board until after midnight. Passengers to the point of mutiny screaming at the purser’s desk made it worse. We kept trying to tell people “wouldn’t you want the line to do everything possible for you if you were suddenly ill?” It didn’t help. We went ahead and enjoyed the days we had knowing we couldn’t get a refund from the pursers desk. If Carnival had given us some money back we would have booked with them the following year.

I booked with them this past September. Two weeks out our friends (for whom we paid passage for) were unable to go because she had a blood clot. I tried to put our neice and her husband in the room as we had planned renewing our vows for our 25th and had big plans scheduled on board. They told me they could only change out 1 person. I spend 3 hours on the phone with various departments, some of whom told me they could do this change for us. I lost my patience at the 3rd hour. I overnighted a letter to Gerry Cahill explaining everything and asking for an exception or even a clarification of how you could change out one person but not two (is this a new way for couples to be separated?) Never heard from him. I really wanted to cancel the cruise- we laid out $385 for the renewal before the cruise as well as $199 for the videotaping as well as the cruise fare for 4 people in two cabins but we went anyway. The employees on board made the cruise a spectacular event for us. The cruise line made an additional $795 from us on a photo album spread as well. We paid for dinner for 4 ($120) at Nick and Nora’s for supper for our event, not counting buying alcohol drinks all week. I wrote a letter to Carnival after we got back applauding the employees. I did mention the situation prior to leaving and I mentioned their inadquacies again at efficiently boarding people at the Manhattan pier. I got a thank you for your comments letter back with a “we’d love to give you a free gift from the bon voyage dept on your next cruise with us”. Was the gesture nice? Yes it was as I was not looking for anything from the cruiseline. I have to say a small part of me wanted an apology for the mess amongst departments prior to our departure and a reason why they will not change out a couple in a cabin. Will I sail with them again? yes, we booked next September again.

Do I feel they’ve been tainted by bad passengers? yes.

Comment from Kuki
Time December 17, 2008 at 8:19 am


Every case is differnt, but though it had to be a “pain” to deal with, regarding the two events you describe above, I personally believe the cruise lines aren’t entirely at fault, and their reaction was not that out of line.

In the first case you wanted a one day refund, and were offered a 15% credit…. on a 7 day cruise that’s the equivalent of about what you were asking. The medical emergency delay was not Carnival’s fault! Don’t know where the cruise was out of, so not sure why the delayed guests weren’t put in a terminal.

Situation two.. the cancellations. Travel insurance would have taken care of the problem if you had purchased it. It would have reimbursed the cost of the passengers cancelling, and then you could have simply rebooked the paying passengers.

I’d imagine the policy on the single name change is to allow one replacement in cases where someone in the party can’t go, but to prevent people from simply changing their minds, and selling their upcoming cruises to anyone on ebay or whatever.

To my “kuki view” the situations were handled “relatively” reasonably. We can’t expect the cruise lines to be totally responsible to every passenger to cover the costs for everything and anything that can happen to any passenger, both before and during a cruise.

As adults we have to assume some responsibilities…. like the purchase of travel insurance.


Comment from Paul Motter
Time December 18, 2008 at 9:56 am


As I just completed my first group cruise as a gruop leader, I knew there would be a few things I would not know how to do on my first trip. Fortunately, I only had one mishap that I did not resolve successfully.

The thing is – I only learned about my problem on the last night of the cruise after dinner, and it had to do with people getting bad table assignments for dinner.

I spoke to the Maitre D’ and he naturally informed me that it was too late to do anything. Now, I will say I did not care for his attitude at all, but tthat is beside the point – I did not have enough information to register a valid complaint.

My conclusion is this – the BEST place to resolve an issue is on the ship. The question is this: Are the cruise lines, indeed, undertaking an effort to train cruisers to “complain” onboard, and that “after the fact” complaints will be considered “too late” to do anything about them?

If so – in the long run this actually makes a lot of sense. If you have a bad seating in the dining room, if you have a bad stateroom, etc. then it should be fixed on the ship. Once the cruise is over it is TOO LATE.

Now, if that is where is where the cruise lines are going then they must DOUBLE-UP their efforts to resolve problems while onboard.

Let’s assume they do. In that case, there is absolutely no point in anyone ever registering a post-cruise complaint unless they can document they did everything they could to resolve it during the cruise.

If they can prove they tried, then YES, post-cruise compensation must continue. However, anyone who complains after the fact about something on their cruise which they did not mention while onboard should be ignored. It is only right.

I still believe the cruise will try to rectify disputes that had an actual monetary damage to the customer according to the cruise contract. But missed ports is not one of them. Cruise Lines do NOT guarantee ports. If they choose to give any compensation for it then they do so purely in an altruistic fashion.

Comment from LHP
Time December 18, 2008 at 11:37 am

Well…I can only speak about Carnival (since that is all we have sailed).

Fortunately, we have only had minor infractions and very few of those (considering how much we cruise).

One of the things that Carnival does “badly” (pretty consistantly) is
VIP Self Assist.

This has been a perk since they started the Platinum benefits 3 years ago and they should have it down pat by now…but they don’t.

Of our 8 cruises this year was handled properly and one another one came close.

But on 6 of the 8 this year alone….we were completely forgotten.

So they definately need to get on the ball with this. These are your most loyal cruisers that they are messing up on.

Now my question is…..

How to you contact Carnival when you really just want to give them input to make your next cruise better….and not for anything in return?

When I wrote about this issue and another issue …. I specifically said that I did not want anything….no 45 day letter…no discount…nothing…I just wanted an avenue to critique things that need correcting.

They sent me 15% discount off a future cruise anyway.

Now I feel funny contacting them when I don’t want anything… I just want to give them my input.



Comment from Paul Motter
Time December 18, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Yes – use the comment cards to register complaints you don’t need or want compensation for.

Another one is to use our message boards – we know they read them.

Comment from fran wells
Time December 18, 2008 at 5:28 pm

So many people now are wanting to get something for nothing that the luxury of cruising has gone down the tubes over the last 20 years. Many people are rude, don’t know how to act in many social situations and have dumbed down the elegance of the cruising lifestyle. They won’t dress for dinner – and regard formal nights as a inconvenience rather than an opportunity to have a lovely dining experience. People themselves have caused the problems with the industry. I have been cruising for 45 years and many of the passengers, rather than being kind, considerate and thoughtful have become pushy, arrogant, disrepectful, rude. impolite, unrefined and hateful. Because of their hideous attitude, it has ruined the lovely cruising lifestyle. I say, these people need to learn manners and everyone and everything will be better. If people behaved better, the cruise lines wouldn’t have to be protecting themselves from these unscrupulous individuals. Being in the midst of these people makes you wonder how the cruise industry even puts up with them. I think they do a marvelous job, despite what they have to put up with.

Comment from Kuki
Time December 18, 2008 at 7:01 pm


Not an answer to your question, and off topic for this particular blog I suppose……
but I think the entire self assist bebarkation program should be scrapped.

The cruise lines have always seemed to struggle for an efficient bebarkation process, and the self assist just made more of a mess out of it than it was normally was.
Particularly in ports (like Miami) where the customs and immigration’s system always backs up.

Self assist creates instant lines at customs and immigration with many of those folks truly being unable to handle all their own luggage.

Without self assist your Platinum priority debarkation benefit might actually be deliverable.


Comment from Jolly
Time December 18, 2008 at 8:59 pm

THE COFFEE! They all do coffee wrong. Bad coffee and cruising go hand in hand. Get rid of that syrup garbage…and brew some coffee!

Comment from Paul Motter
Time December 18, 2008 at 9:37 pm

I totally agree with the coffee. I gave Princess one little thumbs down in my Emerald review because they actually take Jamaica Blue Mountain at their special coffee klatch and roast it to a dark, almost espresso roast.

I am sorry, but ANY coffee expert will tell you that you don’t over-roast beans when you really want to really taste the flavor. You can make espresso-style coffee out of the cheapest coffee there is, any beans at all, and it all tastes the same. But if you want to taste the special flavor of any coffee bean you must to do an American roast – which is the light roast we used to getting in restaurants here in America. Everyone thinks coffee is a European art, but it isn’t. We Americans perfected it.

The Europeans don’t “get” coffee roasting, but you would think with all the chefs onboard at least a few of them would have taken at least one course on how to do it. But in general, they don’t because they never think about doing coffee any way different from what they have been taught.

And this is the special coffee place on Emerald where they charge by the cup – no need to say how bad it can be at the buffet. Sometimes the dining room is decent, but please, Jamaica Blue Mountain roasted even to a French Roast is a travesty. JBM is a great coffee for the taste and the smooth effect, but when you over-roast it it could be anything and you wouldn’t know the difference.

Comment from Kuki
Time December 19, 2008 at 11:44 am

I have to agree on the coffee, though I am not a coffee conniseur. As a non-afficianado I refuse to pay for coffee.

The free stuff is all bagged syrup…. similar to what they use they use for fountain sodas.

On our last NCL cruise, on the Jewel, our suite had a coffee/espresso maker in the cabin, and it was without a doubt the best coffee on the ship.

The beans are ground in the machine, and the coffee produce one cup at a time, and what a cup it is! The free coffee throughout the rest of the ship was just muddy crud.

Comment from kyman
Time January 2, 2009 at 10:22 am

The part the cruise-line’s response to guest complains may be true except for one thing. You should hear some of the complains they get. And how some cruisers (not the first time cruisers, by the way) find something to complain about just to get a cheap bottle of wine on a plate of chocolate strawberries. Lately there are people complaining so they have a reason to “adjust” their gratuities.

Comment from Acme4108
Time October 18, 2009 at 12:04 pm

I took a cruise this summer on Carnival and had a number of problems. I strongly urge people to avoid Carnival. One rater remarked it is like the WallMart of Cruise lines. For us it was that we were dropped at the airport after our flight left. Because Carnival had arranged our flights, we had to work through them to get home. It was Sunday and there was no one who could help at their 800 number, no one at the airport as the 800 number people promised and the the customer service desk on the ship was working on loading the ship for the next cruise so we had to work it out with the airline on our own. Alaska was amazingly gracious. After several letters back and forth, Carnival refused to reimburse us for the meals we had during our layover or the baggage costs which we shouldn’t have had to pay because Carnival insisted all our money be paid six months before the baggage fee went into effect. The letter denying us any return for our trouble was a long time in coming, brief and cold. As the saying goes, the customer is always right, except when the business no longer sees you as a customer – i.e. the moment they started departure.

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