Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene Spawns Two Tales of Cruise Ship Customer Service

Hurricane Irene, as it hammered Puerto Rico 8/21

As Hurricane Irene bore down on Puerto Rico on Sunday, August 21, officials of the Port of San Juan advised cruise ships scheduled to leave the port by 11 p.m. to instead leave several hours earlier. (The rationale being that large ships can weather hurricanes better in open sea than in port.)

Two lines were affected: Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International. The differing ways each line handled the unexpected situation is instructive – and perhaps worth remembering, for those weighing choices for the purchase of a Caribbean cruise.

Serenade of the Seas

RCI’s Serenade of the Seas left at 5:30 p.m., instead of 10 p.m., as it had originally told passengers. Some 145 passengers failed to get on board by the time of the earlier sailing. Most of the stranded passengers reported getting no notification from RCI of the earlier departure time. An RCI spokeswoman said, “There was no time” to notify passengers.

Carnival’s Victory left at 6 p.m., instead of 11 p.m., as its passengers had been originally advised.

Carnival's Victory

In this instance, some 300 passengers failed to get on board.

Okay, now we have a situation where 445 people have been unexpectedly left in a quasi-foreign port (Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico is a “commonwealth” or “free state” that is also unincorporated territory of the U.S.). Some had already checked in on their cruises; then, they went into town for a little sightseeing – leaving many of their belongings on board. Some had not yet arrived from the airport, to check in for the cruises (Both cruises were originating in San Juan, btw). Either way, you have a large number of people unprepared for this situation – and they’ve been left in harm’s way, as a hurricane is approaching.

What happened next? Of the 145 passengers Serenade of the Seas left behind, RCI offered to accommodate only 15 of them (with hotels in San Juan, and a flight to the next port of call, Aruba); the other 130 were told they were on their own. What was special about the “lucky 15”? They had purchased airfare to and from their hometowns to San Juan through Royal Caribbean. The other 130 had made their own airfare arrangements.

Getting to Aruba reportedly was tricky (at best) for those passengers who did not have their passports with them; Puerto Rico does not require passports for U.S. citizens, but Aruba does. (The passengers would have already missed stops in the Virgin Islands and St. Kitts, on their 7-day southern Caribbean itinerary, by the time they would have arrived in Aruba.)

Refunds were not offered.

Meanwhile, Carnival accommodated all 300 of its stranded passengers, with two hotel nights in San Juan, and air tickets to Victory’s next stop in Barbados on Wednesday (the passengers would have missed only a stop in St. Thomas). Only about half of the 300, however, took advantage of the offer to rejoin the cruise in Barbados; lack of a passport was said to be the main reason why not.

But Carnival’s passengers said they were generally satisfied and grateful for the accommodations made for them (irrespective of who had made their original airline reservations). RCI’s 130 “un-accommodated” customers were, understandably, less than satisfied.

Hurricane Irene made life in San Juan miserable 8/21 (WAPA-TV)

But all 445 stranded passengers had to ride out Hurricane Irene, which hit the island hard Sunday night (knocking out power to more than 800,000).

The way this incident was handled raises an interesting question, regarding a cruise ship line’s ethical obligations to its passengers: It is enough to meet merely the company’s contractual obligations with its customers, or is there a higher moral obligation to insure the highest possible level of passenger safety – at all costs?

(UPDATE: On September 6, RCI apologized for its handling of the stranded passengers, and promised to re-think some of its customer service policies in emergency situations such as this.)

Jerry Garrett

August 25, 2011

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Responses

  1. […] Hurricane Irene Spawns Two Tales of Cruise Ship Customer Service … As Hurricane Irene bore down on Puerto Rico on Sunday, August 21, officials of the Port of San Juan advised cruise ships scheduled to leave the port by 11 p.m. to instead leave several hours earlier. (The rationale being that …http://jerrygarrett.wordpress. .. […]

  2. […] Hurricane Irene Spawns Two Tales of Cruise Ship Customer Service … As Hurricane Irene bore down on Puerto Rico on Sunday, August 21, officials of the Port of San Juan advised cruise ships scheduled to leave the port by 11 p.m. to instead leave several hours earlier. (The rationale being that …http://jerrygarrett.wordpress. .. […]

  3. […] Serenade of the Seas left at 5:30 p.m., instead of 10 p.m., as it had originally told passengers. It was reported 145 passengers (RCI now says the number was 150) failed to get on board by the time of the earlier […]


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