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Carnival 1 – Royal Caribbean 0

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As millions of people spent the past weekend preparing and then dealing with Hurricane Irene up and down the east coast of the United States, the impact  of Irene on cruising began earlier in the week in San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas, and Carnival Victory were docked pier side in Puerto Rico, waiting for passsengers to arrive to check in and embark on their next cruises. By late afternoon, as Hurricane Irene swirled toward San Juan, the Port Authority of San Juan ordered both ships to untie and head out to sea. This decision was not made by the cruise lines; rather it was made for them, and they were required to follow the directive set out by the San Juan authorities.

The Carnival Victory was forced to leave the port knowing over 300 registered passengers were not yet onboard; Serenade of the Seas had slightly less than half as many who were still scheduled to board.

“Cruise contracts” are written to allow cruise lines to deviate from scheduled itineraries in emergency conditions,  so neither cruise line was contractually obligated to do anything for passengers who unfortunately did not board the ship prior to departure, and in some cases were literally left standing at the pier.

No doubt it was very bewildering and tense for the passengers  arriving at the pier and anticipating boarding for a wonderful cruise, only to find no ship at the pier.

Once Carnival was made aware of the situation, the company attempted to set out to notify as many affected passengers as possible of the change in departure time. Royal Caribbean, on the other hand,  inexplicibly simply decided it would be impossible to reach their passengers. In this era of instaneous communication, smart phones, and social media this can be viewed as a very significant misstep.

This was the beginning of a tale of two company’s paths to making decisions on how they should respond in a crisis situation.

Royal Caribbean was there to arrange hotel accomodations and flights to the next port of call (to meet the ship) for those passengers who had booked thwie airfare through the cruise line’s air/sea program – “Choice Air.”  The remaining passengers who had purchased “cruise only” fares, were given a list of hotels with available accomodations. Those passengers had to pay their own additional expenses, including airfare to meet the ship in it’s next port of call, or return to their homes. Royal Caribbean also made the decision that not only would there be no financial assistance offered to passengers having to deal with the situation, there would be no refunds or future credits offered to those who decided to head home without completing the cruise.

It’s important to note again that neither cruise line was contractually obligated to do more than what Royal Caribbean did. And it’s also important to note that those passengers who had purchased travel insurance, in most cases would at least not suffer the financial loss that those without travel insurance faced. In fact, the 15 passengers to whom Royal Caribbean gave accomodations and flights paid for by the cruise line, were done a favor, since this is not normally a part of the $15 add-on “Choice Air” program. But 135 other people essentially got nothing.

Carnival cruise line scored points, not only with those passengers directly affected, but in the eyes of all industry watchers, and cruisers who follow industry developments, by putting their contractual obligations aside to come up with a plan they thought fair and helpful to their passengers affected by the port authorities decision.

They arranged for hotel accomodations for all the passengers involved, whether they had booked the companie’s air/sea package or were “cruise only” passengers. They also arranged and paid for flights for people who were carrying passports to fly to meet the ship in its next port of call, as well as for those who weren’t carrying passports or simply chose to fly home, and skip the cruise.

The requirement for a passport to fly in or out of a country outside of the United States is a law, not a policy decison of the cruise line.

Carnival also made the decision to offer everyone who missed the cruise because of circumstances or personal decision a full future cruise credit for the full value of their cruise fare.

Royal Caribbean met their contractual obligations, and helped direct people to hotels with available rooms. Carnival seemingly made the decision to do everything they could to “make it right” for their passengers. Despite the hundreds of thousands of real dollars it cost Carnival,  they certainly shone a very bright PR light on their handling of the situation, in direct contrast to the manner with which Royal Caribbean dealt with the identical situation.

It’s not uncommon for fans of Royal Caribbean to refer to RCI ships as more classy than Carnival ships. In this situation Carnival’s class was displayed quite vividly in it’s actions. And I suspect many cruisers will appreciate their actions more than  the admittedly more beautiful decor of Royal Caribbean’s ships.

What do cruisers think? Will the way both cruise lines handled this situation make you look at Carnival in a different way? Will it lead to you considering a cruise on Carnival as opposed to Royal Caribbean?

– A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising –

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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time August 31, 2011 at 4:37 am

HMMMMM-veddy interesting—-

Over the years one cruise line, as well as some others, has made a major impact on what is proper etiquette in dealing with their passengers, and that is Carnival, not just the cruise line, but Carnival as the major cruise operator with a TON of ships and many major cruise lines under its belt.

Carnival has usually = mostly = pleased its passengers with above and beyond service in difficult situations, and that has trickled down to ts subsiduary cruise lines.

You don’t get to be numero uno by slacking off and treating you clientele like cattle, as RCI seemingly always does, has and will.

Comment from Kuki
Time August 31, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Coincidence?? This afternoon Royal Caribbean changed their policy and will reimburse their passengers affected by the Irene situation.

Comment from Sam
Time September 2, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Because of the way that Carnival handled this situation, I will ALWAYS sail with them instead of RCI. I was lucky enough to be on board the Carnival Victory in time to sail and we heard about the people who were left behind.

Comment from jolo
Time September 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I totally agree…RCI is much more expensive to cruise with , although there is some more of a luxury to their boats but it all comes down to service, that is number one to all of us. So from this day forward I ban RCI on my cruise lists and will go to Carnival for the simple fact that they treated their customers respectfully. Way to go Carnival….you’ve gained a faithful customer and I will spread the word.

Comment from Ann
Time September 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm

In the past, my husband and I always sailed RCI (16 cruises). We were very disappointed with the level of service on the last few cruises with RCI so we decided to try Carnival and we were pleasantly surprised. We will definitely sail Carnival again, better price and better service than RCI.

Comment from Alexandra
Time November 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm

IF people are so stupid to go on a cruise without an insurance then let them pay for everything. Welcome to the real world. How stupid can people be to go on a cruise or any vacations without an insurance.
Carnival to RCI! I would never put my legs onboard a carnival ship what so ever! Atleast RCI have still some class and elegance on their ships! not like the carnival mass market products. No thank you. Carnival probably had to help out the poor people because they probably had only payed 300 dollar for a cruise.

Pingback from The Royal Attitude | Cruise Law News
Time March 21, 2013 at 11:05 am

[…] The other popular cruise community Cruisemates wrote a blog criticizing Royal Caribbean entitled "Carnival 1 – Royal Caribbean 0." […]

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