Friday, September 5, 2008

How to Handle...And Not Handle...A Hurricane

With hurricane season well and truly upon us (Thanks to Fay, Gustav, Hanna, Ike and...) there are a few things which need to be mentioned; highlighted by the USA Today report about the Mutiny on the Carnival Miracle.

First, any passenger traveling to the Caribbean between August and October must (that is "must") understand that ship happens during hurricane season. If you have saved up for your one and only trip to St. Thomas or you have finally decided to "now or never" swim with the stingrays in Grand Cayman this is not the season to book your cruise to do it. Fly to the destination and do a land-based holiday. You may get wet, but you only have to deal with problems if the hurricane is going to be over the top of you...rather than blocking the ship's path back to port.

Second, be flexible. Even if your itinerary isn't what it was supposed to be remember that First and Foremost, you wanted to be on a cruise. You spent how much time selecting the ship, which cabin, avoiding which airports, etc.? You think (or post) endlessly about your favorite waiters, the "secrets" of enjoying the ship more, how the entertainers are going to be, whether there will be new towel animals and have pre-booked the spas and specialty dining areas. Even if you don't get to go to a port, you have the ship...and that is THE major destination for most Caribbean cruises.

Third, hope and pray the cruise line handles it well. Here I can give you too great recent examples...one Excellent and one, apparently, terrible.

A. Excellent - During my recent cruise on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas we dodged Fay, but had to deal with Gustav. As a result our 4 port cruise (Labadee, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman and Cozumel) became only 2 ports (St. Thomas and St. Maarten). Captain Johnny gave a very detailed explanation over the ship's PA system (which was great for those that could not understand his very enthusiastic and upbeat Norwegian accent!). BUT RCCL DID MORE: The Cruise Director and Captain broadcast a detailed explanation over the television system using charts, weather tracking information, travel distances, etc. leaving absolutely no question in any reasonable mind that every option was taken into account (even, "Well we could have sneaked into Labadee and then changed course, but you would have been met with a cold, rainy and windy beach along with rough seas, so we opted for a sea day with sunny skies and smooth seas")...and then they explained it again; confirming the difference in port charges would be added to everyone's onboard account. Yes, there was disappointment for many with less ports and more sea days...and being in St. Thomas again (though there were happy shoppers) and being in St. Maarten with 10,000+ cruise passengers, but most everyone understood. (There were a few out of control passengers, but they were far and very few between). All in all it was handled extremely well by the cruise line and the passengers.

B. Terrible - In today's USA Today online there is a blog about there being a virtual Mutiny on the Carnival Miracle not only because of the change in itinerary caused by Hanna (including a non-Caribbean port call in Newport, Rhode Island...which I personally love), but because of the way the captain has purportedly handled it. USA Today reports that one CruiseCritic poster claims "The attitude of the captain has caused passengers to (go) ballistic" and that the passengers are shouting "Refund! Refund!" while threatening to penalize the innocent crew by reducing their gratuities to "zero". Now, I have been around long enough to know that not every CruiseCritic poster portrays things as accurately as they might and that some have agendas which are not totally honorable, but where there is smoke there is a good chance of fire. Quite possibly an understanding and warm explanation that there as no way to cross Hanna's path safely (which should be obvious) either on the way and/or the way back coupled with an explanation that because of the size of the Miracle, Bermuda was not an option (I am assuming here), Carnival might have avoided the Mutiny.

Alas, there is a reason my motto/business plan is very simple: Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard! I expect to be treated exceptionally well. If I do not believe I will be, I will not board the ship and will not suggest such a ship to my clients. (Ironically, I have 8 clients sailing on the Carnival Miracle tomorrow! I will be able to let you know how Carnival response to Ike with more direct info!)

Personally, no matter how arrogant the captain may be, no matter how bad the ports may be, no matter how disappointed you may be, you are still on a cruise...on the ship of your choosing...and the ship has lots of good things to do. Why ruin the entirety of your cruise while you are on it? Make the best of it and, if ultimately appropriate, complain when you return. BUT REMEMBER, you chose to cruise during hurricane season. (Did you like the discounted price offered on your cruise? You could have taken the same cruise Christmas for lots more money. First ask yourself, "Why was the cruise discounted so much?" and then write your letter.)