Carnival 1 – Royal Caribbean 0
Written by: Kuki
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?
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Posted: August 30th, 2011 under Kuki.