Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 6, 2011

Royal Caribbean Re-Thinks Policies in Hurricane Irene’s Wake

150 Royal Caribbean passengers got this view of Serenade of the Seas as it left San Juan 8/21 without them - stranding them as Hurricane Irene approached.

Royal Caribbean International is re-thinking some of its customer service policies, in the wake of a decision that left 150 of its passengers stranded as Hurricane Irene approached Puerto Rico on August 21.

“I apologize on behalf of Royal Caribbean that our ‘situation awarenees’ was not at its customary high level,” wrote RCI President and CEO Adam Goldstein on his company blog this week. “We have learned some valuable lessons for the future.”

As Hurricane Irene bore down on Puerto Rico on that Sunday, 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.

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

What happened next? Of the 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 135 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 rest had made their own airfare arrangements.

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).

“While we had no control over the order to depart earlier than scheduled (we did succeed in negotiating a few hours extra to allow more guests to reach the ship – which saved hundreds of cruises), we initially adopted the normal position in our business,” Mr. Goldstein wrote. “This norm says Royal Caribbean will make alternative arrangements for guests who have made their travel arrangements through us and have had their travel disrupted. But guests who have made independent travel arrangements retain full responsibility for making it to the ship.”

He continued, “We should have recognized immediately that the forced departure of the ship, albeit out of our control, created an out of the norm situation.”

Mr. Goldstein said RCI should have recognized this situation earlier, and should have provided more support for hotel and other arrangements for stranded passengers.

“All guests who missed Serenade of the Seas in San Juan received compensation, equivalent to the number of days they missed of that voyage,” he said. Complete refunds were not offered. “We have heard from very few of the affected guests.”

Mr. Goldstein reiterated, however, that “normal policy” of not compensating guests who make their own travel arrangements – and who subsequently miss a sailing – would remain in effect, for anything less than a hurricane-caliber emergency.

Hurricane Irene wound up disrupting the schedules of seven RCI ships, in all, Mr. Goldstein said, and causing damage to RCI’s private destinations of Labadee, Haiti, and Coco Cay in The Bahamas.

Jerry Garrett

September 6, 2011


  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] Royal caribbean re-thinks policies in hurricane irene’s […]

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