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So About That (Now Infamous) Cruise....

 Where do I begin? I'm not even sure at this point, because what began as a minor issue prior to embarking on this 21 day cruise through Asia and Australia has quickly turned into a huge media fiasco. I'd like to take this time to address a lot of the questions that I've been fielding for the last two days in one shot.

 In December, I was notified via email from Norwegian that due to a mechanical problem with the Azipod System, that we would be losing Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, Thailand from our scheduled itinerary. While this was a blow (I was really looking forward to Ho Chi Minh in particular), things do happen. We were compensated a total of $200 for the schedule change per stateroom. I was traveling with a friend, which means we each received a $100 on board credit. I wasn't particularly thrilled with only being compensated $100 for losing what was at the time 20% of our ports, but I let it go. We flew out there, boarded, and were on our way.

We arrived at our first port, Nha Trang, Vietnam on time and without issue. Everything went off without a hitch. After Nha Trang, we headed to Singapore (where we were docked an additional night for repairs), and from there, we were Bali bound, unaware of any issues. We docked in Bali, and everyone did their excursions.

Things started to go south immediately upon our departure from Bali. I've read in several news articles today that the Azipod System was damaged leaving port in Hong Kong on January 16th. If this is true, we were unaware of any issues because it was business as usual. After we sailed away from Bali, we left our stateroom to find a letter outside of our door informing us of the new damage to the Azipod System. The letter stated that it was unrelated to the previous damage to the system (from December 2015), and that as a result, we would also be losing the ports of Komodo Island, Indonesia and Brisbane and Airlie Beach, Australia. To compensate us for what was now a 50% loss of ports, they upped the onboard credit to $500 a person, with a cap of $1000 per stateroom. For us, that meant that we each received an additional $400 onboard credit. If you had more than two people per stateroom, you were taking a big loss.

Once people got back onto the ship and found the letters is when the insanity started. It seems that everyone had a different opinion as to what they considered "fair compensation", and what was being offered definitely was not it. For many people, especially the older crowd, this was a once in a lifetime trip. Losing the port that visited the Great Barrier Reef was a huge dealbreaker for many. Even with our modest inside cabin, $500 per person was nowhere near equal to losing 50% of our ports. For those with balcony rooms or Haven Suites, the loss would have been even greater. And then when you factor in having to split the small amount of compensation being offered with more than two people, it's easy to see why many passengers considered it to be a slap in the face.

Since our stateroom was midship, as soon as we opened the door, we could hear the commotion coming from the Grand Atrium, and headed down to see what we could find out. Customer service informed us that we could file a formal complaint, and then speak to the corporate office in Miami after the trip was complete to discuss further compensation, and so we did just that and filed our complaint.

In a matter of a few minutes, the entire atrium filled up with angry guests. Yes, many people were rude to the crew and employees. I won't defend them and say that they needed someone to take their anger out on, because none of this was their fault. Screaming at customer service until some of them were on the verge of tears was NOT going to magically repair the ship and salvage their trip. I witnessed a grown woman actually stomp her foot like a three year old throwing a temper tantrum while screaming to get her someone who would say "yes" to a full refund this instant. The crew remained calm and professional and friendly at all times, doing the best that they could. By the next day, it was obvious that many of them had not slept just from looking at them.

People began chanting, everything from "We want justice" to "We want refunds" to "We want the captain". When the captain ventured out, he couldn't get a word in with all of the booing and hissing going on. We didn't see much of him after that. Slowly, a large group of people began to organize with the help of a microphone that came from where the band usually plays. Someone in the crowd told us to add our names and email addresses to the papers which were being passed around. Before fighting my way towards the papers, I asked a crew member if this was something being done by the ship, or something that a disgruntled passenger was trying to organize, and it was the latter. Never the less, they managed to collect over 2,000 signatures.

By the next day, people were still angry, upset, and chanting. An announcement was made that upon our arrival in Darwin, the ship was to be met by a high-ranking official from Norwegian's Miami Headquarters. We were told that the plan was to hold a "town hall" style meeting, and that we would be given more information once we got closer.

A majority of excursions for a cruise leave fairly early in the morning since a ship typically stays in port for a short amount of time (depending on the itinerary of course). On the morning that we arrived in Darwin, most of the ship headed off to meet their excursion groups. I had booked something privately, and wasn't in such a rush to get off of the ship. At breakfast, I asked one of the servers if they had heard anything as far as what time the meeting would be taking place, and nobody seemed to know anything. After breakfast, I headed down to customer service to inquire, and no one behind the desk knew the answer to that question either. It took one of them picking up the phone and making a call to get an answer-and that was that the "meeting" was already in progress in the theatre.

This is where myself in particular have a problem with the way the "meeting" was handled. To start, rather than receiving a higher up from the Miami HQ's as promised, we were sent a regional VP from the Sydney office who had no authority to make any decisions at all. The meeting was held practically in secret, while almost everyone on the ship was on shore on excursions. As I mentioned, even customer service didn't know when the meeting was taking place! Once I was told, I checked my watch and decided to run to the meeting, but was only able to stay for 15 minutes before I had to depart for my own excursion.

The meeting began with the same scripted song and dance excuse that we were originally given. Once that crowd became unruly, they opened it up to questions, and sent the nominated "leader" of the mutiny up there to skewer the rep. You can watch the mess in the video below. One thing that had been previously mentioned was that they would be replaying the "meeting" for anyone unable to attend. 

Here are a few things which I did not understand:
  • We were told that the rep would be boarding in Darwin, and remaining on board until Sydney. Why the big rush to have this meeting that the whole ship was eager for when nobody was available? People were essentially made to have to pick between losing $100+ on their excursion and staying for this meeting to hear the outcome.
  • Why couldn't the meeting been held after everyone was back on board for the night (or the next day) if the rep was staying put, therefor giving everyone the chance to attend?
  • As to why it was never replayed on TV as promised...well, that's easy to see from the video. These passengers had ammo, records of issues and repairs and crucified this rep (even I felt bad).

This whole meeting left a bad taste in my mouth. In my opinion, the manner in which it was held was sneaky and shady. Every point that was brought up was met with an "I was just told this" or "I just now found out". There is question as to when the Azipod was damaged. Some articles that I read state it happened pulling out of Hong Kong, and we were lead to believe it was much closer to our departure from Bali. They remained adamant that the two issues were completely unrelated until the very end.

What was the end result of this mess? Norwegian issued all passengers a future cruise credit worth the full value that they paid for this cruise, which was good for five years, in addition to the already given $500 onboard credit. Most people were satisfied with this, and skipped down to the Grand Atrium to book another cruise.

There were also quite a few people who were unhappy with the outcome. They weren't interested in a future cruise credit as they were adamant that they would never sail with the cruise line again, and so they wanted a refund. The "leader" of the mutiny continued to push for the refund, and was eventually removed from the boat (along with his wife) because he ignored multiple verbal and written requests to stop disturbing the peace. He even went as far as using a whistle (which most likely came from a life jacket) to rally his troops and keep the protests alive.

Where do I come into this whole mess? Since I have this adorable little blog, I was doing a lot of posting on social media, including Instagram and Twitter. A few passengers who were getting onto the ship in Sydney for the New Zealand portion of the sailing had reached out to me via Twitter to ask some questions about what was going on. A media outlet found the tweets, which were then inserted into several news articles, and then the fielding of the questions began.

We disembarked in Sydney after 21 days. I had considered staying on and using my credit towards the New Zealand portion of the sailing, and I'm glad that I decided otherwise. I am, however, booked on the same boat for the end of March and most of April for a cruise through the Middle East, ending in Italy. It will be interesting to see if they fix everything on time like they are claiming to be able to do.

The two of us still had a blast. You make the best out of the situation you have. We slept in. We brunched. We drank our way around the ship and ate our way through the specialty restaurants. We hit the spa. We had a blast on the remaining excursions. For us, it wasn't a total loss. And walking away with another 3 week cruise to look forward to was nice.

Before I finish up, I will add in one thing, which I'm sure that not everyone on the ship was aware of (most likely for fear of more rioting). The day before we were scheduled to arrive into Cairns, I received a letter in my door which stated that since I was one of the earliest people to book the excursion to the Great Barrier Reef, that I was being offered a spot on a very limited excursion out there (which I took them up on). I ate my other (third party) booked excursion because I can go bungy jumping anywhere in the world-when will I get to see the Great Barrier Reef again? The excursion had about 75 people, and to me, that was the saving grace of the trip. I do know that it was not advertised, and a lot of people will not be happy to hear that.

 Now that the second Azipod has malfunctioned, the ship is being towed to Melbourne, and almost all ports with the exception of the final stop in Auckland have been dropped. We heard through the grapevine before we left the ship that a few ports had already been dropped, and that passengers could choose to cancel for a credit. If they boarded anyway, they were told to expect a 25% future cruise credit. Now that they've lost everything, 
it's time for Norwegian to pony up fair compensation like they did for our leg of the trip. There were so many people that we met who were staying on at Sydney and continuing-some were even taking part in an "around the world" cruise with 10-15 back to back cruises. They've had to essentially watch their trip of a lifetime circle the drain, and deal with poor communication and shady Norwegian reps on top of it. It's time to step up to the plate Norwegian-properly fix your ship (dry dock it if needed) or retire it, because you're bleeding loyal customers like crazy.

I've been a loyal NCL cruiser, having sailed several times on the Breakaway out of NYC, and have not cruised with another line. Despite this fiasco, I still have my three week Middle East & Europe cruise booked on the Star, as well as a family Bermuda cruise in May. We also won a free Caribbean cruise on the doomed cruise above during bingo. I'm not planning on jumping ship at the moment because I understand that things go wrong, especially when that "thing" is a 14 story cruise ship with millions of intricate, moving parts. I disagree with how CORPORATE handled the situation. The crew and staff are all amazing people from all over the world. They're friendly-you begin to form bonds with them. And despite the absolute crap position that they were left to face from 2300 angry customers, they put on a brave face and show went on. For this reason, I plan on sticking firmly with Norwegian. As far as I'm concerned, they should thank their lucky stars that they have the employees that they do, because in the end, when everyone is able to calm down and take a step back to objectively evaluate the situation, I believe that most (if not all) will agree with me on this one topic.

If anyone has further questions, please direct them to Larissa@thetravelingmortician.com and I will get back to you as soon as possible. 
If reproducing anything from this blog post, including the videos, please be sure to give proper credit.

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