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Old December 31st, 2004, 10:42 AM
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Default Holiday problems

Ship problems mar New Year's cruise on Carnival's Holiday.

Barry Jones and his wife, Elizabeth, drove seven hours from Athens, Ga., to Mobile's cruise-ship terminal. He was anticipating a walk among the Mayan ruins near Cozumel, and she was looking forward to basking in the warm Caribbean rays aboard Carnival's cruise ship Holiday.

But Thursday afternoon, cruise-line officials told the Joneses and some 1,700 others that the Holiday, slowed by mechanical problems, couldn't reach Cozumel and instead would simply motor around in the Gulf of Mexico until Monday.

In an effort to put a good face on the situation, Carnival officials dubbed the four-day voyage the "Cruise-To-Nowhere."

"They told us it might only go 30 or 40 miles south of here," said Jones, in explaining why he and his wife chose to get their money back rather than stay aboard.

"We're just going to float about in the water?" said another man, upon arriving at the terminal gate and hearing the news.

Those who proceeded with the voyage are receiving a $100-per-passenger credit on their Sail & Sign shipboard account, which can be used for drinks, spa treatments, gift shop items and virtually anything for sale on the ship, said Carnival public relations manager Vance Gullikson.

"Believe me, we apologize for this," Gullikson said. "This is not something we plan on. We feel terrible about disrupting people's plans, especially on New Year's when it's a very popular time for vacation."

About 5 percent of the passengers canceled after learning the news, Gullikson said.

"Obviously, the vast majority opted to go on this cruise," he said.

Because of security, it was not possible for reporters to board the ship to interview passengers. As a result, most of those who could be reached for comment were departing, including Jim Thornton of Nashville.

"I'll tell you, to drive all the way down here, it puts a very sour taste in your mouth," Thornton said. "They're just going to go out in the Gulf and circle around. I don't need to spend $1,500 cruising around in the Gulf of Mexico."

Thornton and his wife, Margaret, arrived in the morning and spent most of the day on the Holiday, first preparing to enjoy their trip and the last two hours waiting for staff to locate their luggage.

"There were an awful lot of sour people onboard," Jim Thornton said. "We saw children crying. There were people who'd come down from places like Ohio and Wisconsin."

A couple with two children had no time to talk about their decision to cancel because -- as the man hurriedly said from the back seat of a taxi -- they had to be in Pensacola in an hour for a flight back to Massachusetts.

Originally, passengers were to spend Thursday night and today at sea and arrive at Cozumel, the Mexican island resort, at 8 a.m. Saturday. They were to spend nine hours in port and cruise back to Mobile, arriving at 8 a.m. Monday.

The Holiday's condition not only puts a damper on this weekend's trip but also raises concerns about the ship's next venture, a five-day cruise scheduled to depart late Monday afternoon.

As soon as the Holiday concludes the Cruise-To-Nowhere, company technicians will board the ship in an effort to fix the problem in time for that afternoon's departure.

"The only thing we can tell them (passengers on Monday's trip) is that we're still assessing this and will have more information as we get closer to the departure date," Gullikson said.

The Holiday, the only cruise ship that operates out of Mobile, is the smallest and oldest vessel in Carnival's fleet.

The company's inaugural voyage from Mobile left for Mexico on Oct. 16 from Mobile Landing, site of the $20 million cruise terminal built for Carnival's use.

On Thursday afternoon, incoming passengers arriving at the terminal parking garage were handed written notices of the ship's problems. The flier explained why the Holiday wouldn't be going to Cozumel and informed passengers that they could get a refund or, if they chose to sail, receive the $100 spending credit.

One couple, Elwood Hogan and Elizabeth Hogan of Gulf Shores, said they were disappointed with the news but chose to go anyway.

Their main purpose was to be aboard at midnight to celebrate New Year's, and that's where they'd be regardless of the change in plans.

Unlike Jim Thornton, Elwood Hogan -- who left the ship and was returning to board -- said he hadn't heard many complaints, and "I'm a little surprised," he said.

Thornton and his wife also criticized Carnival for not providing something in addition to a straight refund, as airlines often do when they bump passengers from a flight.

"There were no decent apologies, and the ones who were most helpful finding our luggage were the dock workers," Jim Thornton said.

As of late Thursday, Gullikson was unable to say how far south the boat would sail. He said he believed the ship would "take a slow sail around the ocean, just a nice relaxing sail and then come back into port" on Monday

Post Edited (12-31-04 10:44)
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