Her cruise wasn’t smooth sailing

January 18 2013 by Ellen Roseman

A cruise line loses your luggage. You get it back only when you’re ready to go home. You have almost nothing to wear and can’t find a bathing suit in your size.

Your Caribbean cruise is ruined. It’s not relaxing, as you hoped. You spend the week shopping and fuming.

When you complain, the cruise line gives you $500 to buy new clothes. Do you deserve any more compensation?

This week, the Star ran an excerpt from my new book about Debbie Boukydis’ lost luggage.

There was a lively debate in the comments section. Some people felt more compensation was warranted. Others said her $500 clothing coupon was enough.

Boukydis was successful in fighting back. When offered a small discount on a future trip, she won a voucher for two free cruises.

But her voucher has a one-year expiry date and runs out soon. She hopes to get an extension. Is it fair to give such a short window for travel?

I heard from many people who love cruises and sent suggestions for thriving on a giant ship in the ocean. I’m posting a few of their comments below.

7 comments

  1. JM

    Jan 18 2013

    I read with avid interest your article about a passenger’s suitcase being sent to the wrong ship and her inconvenience and understandable frustration with the matter.

    I have been advising people on travel for over 12 years (and even taught a course on Travel and Tourism).

    One thing that saddens me is when people travel without purchasing travel insurance. You don’t drive without auto insurance? Why take the risk?

    Had she purchased a travel insurance policy, she would have been covered for up to $500 for delay of luggage or $1,500 for loss, theft or damage.

    You can purchase an annual policy that would cover you (up to 60 years of age) for every trip (not exceeding 15 days) you take during a one-year period for $161. This would also give trip cancellation, interruption and delay.

    When flying south for a one-week cruise in our winter, what happens if your departing flight is delayed and you miss the connection to your port of embarkation (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, San Juan)? The ship leaves without you!

    With insurance, you will be reimbursed for getting onto another flight, to get to the port on time, or to the ship’s first port of call, plus your additional hotel and incidentals (meals, long distance calls, taxis, etc.)

    The premium is usually less, if one buys it for one trip only rather than an annual plan.

    But with at least one insurance provider, when two people buy the annual policy, then their dependent children will be covered without additional cost! IOW, the family is protected, for a whole year, for the price of two adults!

    Just before Christmas, I met a lady who, with her husband, was taking their children to Liverpool, England, in the cheapest way possible: Toronto to Newark, Newark to London and via train from London to Liverpool.

    She did this all online, proud that she got the cheapest rate (so she thought). Had she booked with me, I’d have gotten her to Liverpool by air with one connection only, for the same rate.

    I convinced her to buy insurance. “Do you really think I need it? It’s so much money.”

    She emailed me two days later, blessing me. Her flight from Toronto to Newark was so late that she missed the Newark to London flight.

    She incurred hotel and meal expenses and had to make long distance calls to England. She forfeited her non-refundable train tickets and had to buy new ones.

    Not to mention the aggravation, inconvenience and worry.

    Don’t you think she was happy, I ‘made’ her buy insurance? :-)

  2. RB

    Jan 18 2013

    We have never lost a bag on a cruise ship. Airlines have delayed them a few times and lost one once.

    We have cruised with Celebrity more than any other line. They have not lost a single bag.

    We have taken more than 50 cruises without a single lost bag. One certainly cannot carry on all luggage on airplanes. I would like to see statistics on who loses more bags…cruise lines or airlines. :-)

    Carrying large suitcases onboard yourself is very difficult to do. All bags must pass through X-ray machines before going on board. This includes hand baggage.

    However, checked bags are done separately using LARGER machines. The ones in the embarkation area are smaller and large cases may not fit.

    As well, you will encounter resistance from port agents, customs officials, ship personnel including security officers.

    Then, you have the issue of dragging those bags all over the ship yourself UNTIL the rooms are ready.

    It is common for ships to allow passengers to board before the rooms are ready. That makes them happier than sitting in the terminal since they can start eating and drinking almost immediately! :-) All of the above can be a bigger issue than the chance of losing a bag.

    My wife and I lost a bag in Israel once. We have been packing half and half ever since!

    We think it is better to carry all valuables in your carry-on bag, whether covered by airlines or not. I will not pack any watches, electronics or valuables in a checked bag.

    Missing from the list of “valuables” is medications. Never put them in checked bags!

    I have photos of all of my wife’s jewellery and my electronic devices. The photos are on the electronic devices I carry with me (BOTH of them). Have backup copies at home, of course.

    My advice: AVOID those giant ships.

    The Eclipse is an S class ship, one of the largest in the Celebrity fleet, carrying more than 2000 guests. Other lines such as Royal Caribbean and NCL have ships that carry 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 guests.

    Cruise on ships of reasonable size. Less than 2,000 makes a lot of sense. Our favourites are in the 600 to 1,000 passenger class.

    Embark and disembark go faster, service is superior, the food is better and the chance of lost bags is reduced with fewer people and, therefore, fewer pieces of luggage.

    Smile broadly and hand the pier porter a few dollars. Then politely say, “Hello, would you please ensure that my bags get on the ‘name of ship’. I really appreciate your service. Thanks.”

    Not absolutely necessary, but if you are going on a cruise vacation that cost thousands of dollars, why not invest a few dollars more if it has the potential to save your vacation experience?

  3. PJ

    Jan 18 2013

    I offer this basic recommendation to ensure that your bag is properly looked after — tip the baggage handler.

    My wife and I have taken 27 cruises and have paid careful attention to our baggage.

    We have learned through the mistakes of others who did not tip the baggage handlers.

    This is particularly important when you arrive at the pier. If a baggage handler is ignored, it’s very easy for him to misdirect some of your luggage or hold it back for late delivery to your cabin.

    In today’s cruise industry, if you want any kind of service, tipping is expected.

    Even on board ships where the cruise line includes tips on a daily charge per person to your cabin, extra tipping is the “norm” if you expect good service.

    So, when you are on a cruise, keep a lot of U.S. dollars in your handbag or pocket and tip, tip, tip.

  4. KK

    Jan 18 2013

    Your article reminded me of the poor experience my wife and had on our very first cruise in January 2010.

    We purchased the total package from Celebrity (air/cruise) for a cruise leaving from Buenos Aires. We had to fly from Toronto to Dulles ( Washington DC) and change planes to fly to Buenos Aires.

    When I received our itinerary from Celebrity, I noticed that the time allowed to change planes at Dulles was very tight.

    Furthermore, the possibility of our flight being delayed from Toronto – middle of winter – was not out of the question.

    So I called our travel agent and requested a different flight from Toronto to allow more time between arrival/departure.

    Our travel agent advised that Celebrity would not change the flight. I called the airline (United), but they would not do anything as the flight had been booked by Celebrity.

    Sure enough – our flight from Toronto was delayed and we missed our connection! We had to spend a night and a day at Dulles (United did provide a hotel voucher).

    I called Celebrity and they promised we would be met at Buenos Aires airport and transported to the ship, but nobody from Celebrity showed up and we had to take a taxi.

    Getting on the ship was a major hassle – we were not expected! We missed the first day of our itinerary – a tour of Buenos Aires.

    On our return home, I wrote to Celebrity and the response was “sorry but hope to see you again on another cruise.”

    I was not satisfied so, like Ms. Boukydis, I wrote to Mr. Hanrahan (the CEO) but that was a waste. I gave up.

    I was left with the impression that Celebrity was not particularly concerned with a single complaint. They must carry thousands of passengers each year, so why bother with a few complaints!

    I doubt that Celebrity has any direct representatives here in Canada and it is unlikely that they will see your article. Pity!

    Keep up the good work.

  5. JE

    Jan 18 2013

    Clearly the cruise line made a mistake… they happen. Own up and do the right thing.

    Their customer had to go to “Def Con” 3 before she got any reply. I am sure her brand experience is not great.

    Indeed, social media has helped a ton advocating on behalf of the little guy. But stories like yours help reinforce that some companies just need to think about how they handle these situations.

    At the end of this saga, it’s Celebrity that is left with a negative brand experience that is on Google forever. When new customers are researching a cruise trip, this story will pop up and become part of the decision making process when choosing a company.

    Our family recently returned from a Christmas cruise with Disney, simply the best trip we ever have taken.

    It was a totally 100% excellent brand experience, expensive and worth every penny. And I will tell everyone I know that it was our best trip.

    I wonder what Debbie Boukydis will be saying to her friends? I hope the cruise line will make them feel like kings and queens on their “take 2″ trip; if Celebrity were smart they would.

    It’s very hard to turn around a negative brand experience. How do companies let themselves get to the tipping point when the customer turns on the brand?

    Apple manages to have people line up for hours to get the latest product and follow through with every aspect of their brand experience. Customers first!

    Our flight home from our cruise with Air Canada was a disaster. Total opposite ends of the consumer experience from Disney.

    When I got home, I wrote a letter to Air Canada and I have yet to get a reply.

    I also spent a great deal of time online researching other unsatisfied Air Canada customers. I was blown away.

    Websites are dedicated to bad experiences. Even their Facebook page is loaded with unhappy campers.

    Customers have even invented a new corporate tag line for them “We are not happy until you’re not happy”.

    Air Canada must be aware of this! Either they don’t care or they are ignorant to the social vibe of their company.

  6. JL

    Jan 18 2013

    Hi Ellen, I have learned from you the best strategy for addressing a problem with a company.

    Hold your temper….Emphasize your loyalty.. and if necessary, escalate to a higher level.

    I believe I have done this with my initial email below and a follow up to the President. I am still waiting for an apology for our inconvenience and an offer of some compensation.

    We are booking two more cruises with Holland America, Alaska in May and Western Carbibean in December. I believe good customers like us deserve to be treated with more respect.

    ——————————————————————————–

    To: guestrelations@hollandamerica.com
    Subject: RECENT CRUISE, DEC 10 TO DEC 21 ON MS MAASDAM

    Dear Guest Relations,

    As a retired Marketing/Sales Manager, I have the time to provide the feedback that you say is appreciated.

    My wife and I have been on several cruises with Princess, Royal Caribbean and also with Holland America.

    We chose this one because it visited several ports we had not yet visited and the itinerary was ideal.

    Airport transfer to our overnight hotel was perfect. The hotel was fine and the transfer next day to the ship was efficient. Embarkation was the quickest and easiest we have ever experienced.

    We were indeed looking forward to this cruise, the ship was spotless and the crew very friendly.

    Problems arose the first night at sea. There was an intermittent banging noise at the head of our bed and we would just get to sleep when it would wake us up again.

    I thought it was a loose widow. We did not get a good night’s sleep.

    When this happened again the next night, my wife said it wasn’t the window but something next door.

    I checked and indeed, we were next to a room used for storage and a huge steel outside door on the Port Side.

    Apparently this was called a BREAKDOOR, and it hadn’t been secured properly with the cleats, and that was making the intermittent banging noise RIGHT NEXT TO OUR HEADS !!

    The next day, Caroline offered to move us to another ocean-view room, but that was right next to an outside exit to the promenade deck.

    I showed her that every time the outside doors were opened, they closed with a loud slam, also right next to where our heads would be when we slept, and these doors could be in use constantly…DAY AND NIGHT.

    We had to move all our belongings to an inside room 590 in order to get some quiet restful sleep.

    The next day, Caroline called to offer us another Oceanview room, but my wife was so upset from lack of sleep and having to move all our unpacked belongings, she refused to even consider moving AGAIN.

    In conclusion, we spent two terrible nights in a noisy oceanview room and 9 nights in a quiet inside cabin.

    She really missed her nightly bath because there was only a shower in cabin 590, not nice, and no ocean view.

    The only other time we heard from Caroline was when she had the nerve to ask me to sign a document stating I would not ask for any compensation for our INCONVENIENCE! I was insulted and refused.

    I await the response from Holland America’s Guest Relations Department. I have heard from others that Holland America’s Customer Service is second to none.

    I hope to be able to confirm that to the dozens of fellow passengers and cruising friends I have told this sad tale.

    Problems occur even with the very best of companies, but what distinguishes the truly great companies from those that are not so great, is what they do to make things right.

    ———————————————————–

    Dear Special Advisor, Office of the President:

    I received your letter today, explaining the delay in response was due to the President’s travel schedule.

    I am very disappointed in his offer of compensation. I doubt that he would have been so cheap!

    Since we paid for UNOBSTRUCTED OCEAN VIEW and only were able to use it for two sleepless nights, it is insulting that you are offering as compensation an upgrade to accommodations that we had already paid for and never gotten to use.

    The addition of a $100 per person room credit is barely compensation for two nights’ lost sleep, plus having to repack all our clothes and toiletries and move them to an inside room where we stayed for the rest of the cruise.

    I suggest you send our file to Mr. Kruse personally because if he actually reviews it, I am sure he will find your offer as unacceptable as we do.

    As a retired Marketing Manager, I am truly shocked that a company of your stature would consider this adequate compensation for what we have been through.

    We truly love Holland America and have plans to cruise with you again to Alaska in May and to the Southern Caribbean in December. We have never had a problem before, and can understand this was not the norm.

    That is why we were so shocked that you would offer loyal customers like us such meager compensation.

  7. DR

    Jan 18 2013

    Several years ago, my wife and i cruised for 2 weeks on the Sea Princess from Southhampton, UK, to Rome and back.

    On the voyage back, our last port of call was Gibraltar, where the ship developed engine problems.

    As we could not be assured of catching our return flight from Heathrow to Pearson in Toronto and, as our flights had been booked with points, I used the ship’s satellite phone to contact Air Canada and book whatever flight was available to return to Toronto.

    I am a family physician and I had to be back in my office as scheduled. Please note that there were NO economy seats available.

    The only flights available were business class, costing one way, per person, $5,600 (yes, that is correct), for a total of $11,200!

    Once back, I contacted my travel insurance company, TD Meloche Monhex, which reimbursed us the costs of two economy seats for a total of $3,600. We were still out of pocket a considerable amount.

    What followed next were phone calls, faxes, emails and letters to the TD Ombudsman, Air Canada and Princess Cruises, based in California.

    Air Canada was extremely helpful in providing documentation, especially confirming that no economy seats were available.

    The ombudsman was rather dismissive, even though our policy stated reimbursement up to $5,000/person for travel disruption.

    I sent many letters to Princess Cruises’ CEO/president, where I appealed to his sense of business fairness and practice ethics (the ship was late and we could not be faulted for missing our scheduled flight).

    I also sent a “warning” that we had many years of cruising ahead of us in which we would not use Princess.

    About four months later, I received a phone call from Princess’ head office and within one week we received a cheque for about $8,600.

    We are now CCL shareholders and have cruised on Princess four times since then.

    Sometimes, sticking to your guns really works.

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