A Caribbean cruise minus the royal


Q: My husband and I sailed on Royal Caribbean’s “Brilliance of the Seas” Panama Canal cruise late last year. It was our first cruise on Royal Caribbean, and we anticipated a fun trip with wonderful food and great service.

We were disappointed in every way.

The food was average – certainly not the quality that you expect on a cruise ship. This was especially true of the food in the Windjammer Cafe, although the same can be said for the food in the dinning room and room service. Our room was noisy and uncomfortable, especially when the ocean was rough. We asked to change rooms, but it couldn’t be done.

The seating placement for dinner was a bad experience. We requested late seating when we made our reservations. When we got our tickets and saw that we had early seating. Our travel agent tried to change it, but could not. I e-mailed Royal Caribbean customer service stating our need to have late seating. I received an answer to the message the last week in January – almost a month after our cruise – saying that they were too busy to reply.

One night while we were eating, the leg on my husband’s chair broke. The assistant headwaiter and a female employee came to ask if he was alright. No one ever expressed that they were sorry that it happened, nor was there a goodwill gesture to make amends.

The service on the ship was poor. The employees that we encountered, with a few exceptions, appeared to be merely doing a job, and not there to help those who were sailing. For example, when I asked an employee in the Windjammer Cafe to wipe off a table, and she gave a sneer.

While the ship was docked in Aruba, I fell in the island’s shopping area and broke my arm. Because it is my only good arm, I was practically helpless. We received very little help from the ship’s employees. The ship’s doctor did not want to do an X-ray, and when I insisted, his reply was, “All Americans want X-rays.”

Because of the hardship, we considered flying home while we were docked in Panama. The staff made no effort to help, and made it clear that we would be on our own in doing so. I could not feed myself, so my husband and I had to eat in our room. Instead of the dining room attendants offering and making arrangements to send food to our room, we had to go and request that food be sent each night. It was always an effort to get the food sent to our room.

Although we had been on other cruise lines, our Royal Caribbean cruise turned us against cruising. We are advising our friends of our experience.

Now, the cruise line isn’t even answering our letters. Can you help us?

— Lynda Woodall

A: Travel companies ignore complaints such as yours for any number of reasons. Maybe they’re frivolous, or whiny, or the company is just too darned busy to pay any attention to them. But the most common explanation for why a gripe gets overlooked is that there’s no possible resolution to it.

I think that’s what happened to you. Although your original letter to Royal Caribbean was articulate and fairly level-headed, it didn’t offer the cruise line a way out – something it could do to make things right.

Instead, you wrote that you would basically never take another cruise. What incentive does Royal Caribbean have to make it up to you?

Let’s also separate what the cruise line is and isn’t responsible for. It’s OK to blame it for the uncomfortable cabin, mishandling your dinner reservations, and snippy service. But it wasn’t guilty of breaking your arm in Aruba, nor was it under any obligation to fly you back home. Although the service was slow and lacking, give Royal Caribbean credit for bringing food to your room while you were recovering from your fall. It didn’t have to do that.

There’s no doubt that you had an awful cruise – certainly, nothing “royal” about it. Royal Caribbean apparently agreed, because it apologized to you and sent you a $250 certificate toward your next cruise.

Assuming, of course, that there is a next cruise.

Next time you have a terrible cruise, or hotel stay, or flight, don’t wait until you get home to tell someone about your discomfort. Politely, but persistently, take your grievance up the chain of command until someone says “I can fix it.” A cruise line is far more likely to try to make you happy while you’re still a passenger than after you’ve disembarked.

If you have to write a letter, remember to keep is short and polite – and always tell the travel company how it could make things better. Making threats will only ensure that your gripe gets sent to the circular file.