Poor experience out of Galveston
3655 N. W. 87TH AVENUE, MIAMI, FLORIDA -- A letter to public relations of Carnival Cruise Line is below:
March 5th, 2011
We recently had a cruise on the Carnival boat Ecstasy which was originally scheduled to depart Galveston Port on February 19th 2011. As you must be aware, this cruise was delayed over 36 hours due to fog conditions in Galveston and also due to queuing circumstances in the Port behind two other scheduled cruises.
We purchased a Grande Suite for this cruise at a cost of a little over $1800 through American Express Platinum Travel services. This package included VIP boarding privileges. While the fog conditions were certainly no fault of Carnival Cruise line, and we well understood the challenges you faced in dealing with this weather event, almost every other aspect of the problems, including misinformation, lack of information, discourteousness, boarding confusion and near riot at the terminal were entirely the fault of your staff at the Port of Galveston and personnel at your phone center.
I will try to be brief. (Saturday the 19th)
We drove down Friday night from Austin and arrived in dense fog. The next morning, upon arrival for our schedule 12 noon boarding, we were told that our cruise ship was delayed but would nonetheless be in port by 6:00 PM. Having checked our luggage into the holding area we were told to leave and come back around 6:30 for boarding. With no hotel room, we walked around the Galveston Strand carrying hand helds for around six hours, and had lunch. We attempted numerous times to get updates from the Carnival website but there no such information. We even called the 1-800 call center to inquire and were told that the boat was confirmed to arrive that evening no later than eight PM. We found this highly unlikely as the fog had not lifted. We were also told that updates were posted on the website. This was simply not true. We attempted to get information from the Port of Galveston Authority, but it seems they are closed on the weekend and only have an automated answering cascade which eventually leads back to no information. Their so called â24 hour information lineâ offered no timely information either. At seven PM with the fog becoming even heavier again, we purchased dinner and returned to the port embarkation. We waited until around 9:30 PM to be told, finally, that the ship would not dock that evening, but would be in âfirst thing in the morning and to return after 7:30 AMâ. Meanwhile we were told we would have to retrieve our baggage from the Port Terminal warehouse.
This process was nearly a disaster! They asked the thousands of passengers to line up at an overhead door. After a forty five minute delay, it was announced that access would be at another overhead door which was approximately 140 ft. down the sidewalk. Of course this resulted in a mad dash by elements of the crowd to the new location. This created a fairly dangerous situation in which people were at risk of falling and getting stepped on. Amazingly, after another twenty minute wait, it was again announced that access had again been changed to another location about a 100 ft. away, which caused a repeat of the last mad dash, only worse. At this point the crowd was caused to wait about thirty minutes more for access. Individuals began banging on the overhead door with fists and shouting. Eventually many of the passengers started chanting and yelling for access.
Finally the doors were opened and there were around three or four Port Authority security officers to greet us. They immediately began yelling at the crowd to back up and attempted to admit a couple hundred at a time. At this time the officer in the front physically manhandled several people including a woman who was stopped and separated from her husband who had already entered the warehouse. I myself became separated from my wife and party. During the next wait, with people completely out of patience, the Port Officers were literally screaming and threatening the passengers waiting for the next group to be released. At this point I would point out that the mistakes made by Carnival staff and the Port security officers was obvious. There was no announcement made about procedure to enter, size of groups to be admitted, caution against running, method of bag retrieval and so forth. It was a free for all and quite reckless. The changing of entry locations was seemingly arbitrary and the worst example of crowd management I have ever seen this side of the Egyptian uprising. Frankly this situation was on the brink of descending into a riot.
Inside the building the bags were arrayed by decks, but no one explained this, unless you personally approached a staff person for an explanation. Additionally the bags were in long rows, sometimes stacked atop one another with very narrow aisles between them. By the time I entered, I estimate 600 to 900 people were simultaneously trying to retrieve their bags without assistance, causing bags to be flung into the aisle area and generally jumbled. I finally found my bags in three different aisles and spent close to thirty minutes just to locate them. Of course there was no ownership verification going on. People were tripping and falling over one another, and it was generally chaos. I saw perhaps two or three Carnival Cruise personnel in their red coats and they were standing well away, trying to avoid interaction with your passenger/clients. In other words they were useless.
When we finally retrieved our bags, took a shuttle back to parking and reloaded our cars, it was 11:30 PM. Needless to say there were no hotels available on the island by this time and with great resourcefulness we finally located a room in Clear Lake, approximately 40 minutes away. By the time we checked into our room it was almost one AM.
At this point we have been unbelievably inconvenienced, been yelled at, shoved and misinformed or left uninformed every step of the way. Besides being exhausted, we were also out of pocket for lunch, dinner breakfast, hotel room, travel and incidentals. On Sunday we were told the compensation would be $35 for meals and some credit from Carnival for a future cruise.
(Sunday the 20th)
The next day we slept in, knowing full well that despite what we were being told by Carnival 1-800 information, that we would not likely be aboard before mid-afternoon. We spent countless hours on hold trying to talk to Carnival and when we eventually got through to a live person. We were told to go to the Convention Center in Galveston to await boarding which they estimated to be at 1 PM. They even told us around noon that the boat had arrived at the dock. This was a bald faced lie. We finally got to the truth of the matter by reaching a Galveston Port Authority executive through the automated personnel directory and randomly calling their personal cell phones. He graciously checked the situation out for us, and confirmed, that our cruise ship was not in port, the pilot had not gone after it yet, and that when the Ecstasy did arrive in port it would be queued behind two other ships, (Holland America and your ship, the Conquest, as they were still on schedule and had priority over the Ecstasy. In his estimate, we might board around 8 PM. We drove back to Galveston for another day of aimless wandering around and expenses out of pocket.
I will say at this point I wished to cancel, but our traveling companions, who, like us, had scheduled time off from work and already expensed two hotels rooms, and meals, were more determined to complete the vacation.
We arrived back at the Port at around 7 PM Sunday evening. Indeed the fog had lifted during the afternoon and all three ships had reached port, but the Ecstasy had been consigned to a remote dock which had no boarding facilities and would have to wait until last for service, baggage and boarding. By ten PM my wife and I became extremely frustrated and walked back to the Strand, with hand luggage in tow, to try to find something to eat and sit down. We had already spent two hours in 50 degree weather and mist on the sidewalk. There were close to 2500 people sitting on cold concrete and clamoring for any information. We personally spent hours on several cell phones trying to get honest information about our prospects for boarding and our so called VIP status.
At this point you might not think it could get worse, but it did, much worse.
The only Carnival representative at the port embarkation door was a clearly low level employee who looked to be around 19 years old, and clearly so far down on the totem pole as to have no information let alone authority. He was doing the best he could, but he was overwhelmed. Our attempts to get useful information by phone were equally unproductive. In fact I was told, after 45 minutes on hold, then another 40 minutes waiting for a âsupervisorâ to speak to, âthat there was nothing he could doâ. I pointed out that only one flunky Carnival staff person was at the door trying to deal with over 2000 increasing angry passengers and that no one of any authority had attempted to clarify the situation. I pointed out that inside the mbarkation facility was empty of any passengers and there must surely be 50 or more Carnival employees of various seniorities upstairs to deal more competently with the situation. After about a ten minute hold he informed me that no one would answer the phone at the Galveston port and that I would need to speak to a supervisor at the door. I pointed out no such individual would make themselves available despite repeated requests to the 19 year old, an older woman or the security guards. This situation went on for hours on end in the same manner. He eventually stated he could do nothing about the situation on the ground and we would have to make the best of it with the personnel at the door. (Presumably the 19 year old.)
For a brief moment an older woman with Carnival (Linda) came out and ordered those of at the door who foolishly thought we had paid for VIP check in, to go to the end of line of nearly 3000 people, approximately 400 feet down the sidewalk. She then instructed the security officers to enforce this. At this point I have to point out that there were about 18 or so individuals trying to get their VIP boarding privilege acknowledged, two of whom were in wheel chairs, two on walkers, a man on oxygen, and another suffering a diabetic attack. To her credit she did not discriminate (sic), but ordered everyone to the back of the line. She left and was not to be seen again. Finally a Port security officer allowed a mother and infant and one person on a walker to go in and sit down, but after an hour sent them back out on the sidewalk in the fifty degree weather.
As I previously mentioned, my wife I left to try to find a warm place to sit down and grab a bite. Turns out Galveston restaurants roll up the sidewalk on Sunday at around 9:30 PM. We found a small grimy bar and sat there for two hours, then returned at around 11:30 PM. The personnel at the door had changed. The 19 year old was gone and in his place were three large Port security officers. All Carnival staff had left the sidewalk. Most of the 2000 plus people remained on the cold sidewalk for what I estimate to have been four or five hours.
Finally we entered the boarding facility around midnight. I want to emphasize that at no time did anyone from Carnival try to inform the crowd of the estimated time we would be waiting or how soon we could enter. No attempt to get people off the cold sidewalk was ever made, even though the facility was clearly empty of all passengers for several hours. At no time was any updated information available on your web sites. At no time was anyone on the Carnival toll free phone center able to offer any help or even current information about the status of the cruise, and in fact acted as though the entire situation was out of their hands and their control, which it clearly was. In fact over forty hours the only information we could get by phone was incorrect, evasive or factual lies.
We entered the terminal only find out we would be walking back down stairs to take busses over to another dock. At a capacity of 42 people to a bus, loading two busses at a time, you can only imagine how long this process took. We were lucky, we got on the second bus, as we crowded in early. I estimate many people didnât get into their cabins until after 3 AM without dinner. We got to ours after eating dinner around 2 AM.
(Monday the 21st)
We finally departed and were informed by loud speaker that there would be no ports of call. We sailed South for perhaps two hundred to two hundred fifty miles never really reaching warm weather or completely clear skies. We returned Wednesday night and waited outside the Port during the night, reaching port around 10 AM the next morning.
This was not brief after all. I apologize. The Carnival employees we encountered on the ground at the Port of Galveston never missed an opportunity to offend and mishandle the situation. They were uninformed or unwilling to inform. They evaded all responsibility to their passengers in every way. They disappeared and deferred to security officers after antagonizing the crowd. In short they were more than incompetent; they were nearly criminal in their handling of the crowd.
Carnival (on the phone) was evasive, misinforming, and at times lied outright, for which it required infinite patience and cell batteries just to reach. The cruise itself had pleasant staff, but no acknowledgement or effort was made to ameliorate the inconvenience and abuse the passengers had endured. (Except we didnât see our room steward for the first 30 hours and had to call repeatedly to get our room made up the second evening) The lame 250 mile South track merely illustrated how little concern Carnival had for their passenger/clients.
While the 50% credit for a future cruise and 50% rebate is appreciated, it begs the question; who in their right mind would ever book another cruise with Carnival again after having gone through this sort of mistreatment and inconvenience. After all, a vacation is something people strive to save for and make time for, and once frittered away in miserable experience, cannot simply be retrieved with a concession to offer a future discount. Your company seriously abused the passengers who were trying to take their vacations. In fact it was appalling.
I myself am a stock trader and Real-estate investor and can be more flexible. I also avoided some of the catastrophic waits by simply ignoring what Carnival was telling me on the phone. Otherwise I might well have spent all of Sunday either sitting around at the Galveston Convention Center or on a cold sidewalk at the dock. We might have well been standing around awaiting a bus to the ship for two more hours had we been more gullible. I feel sympathy for the ones who had to give up altogether or drive even further for a hotel, who could not afford all the added expenses of waiting around for essentially two days, and especially for those silly enough to listen to Carnival and actually arrived back in the morning on Sunday or sat on sidewalks many more hours than we did. Your company and CEO, and especially you supervisory staff should be ashamed of themselves. In fact your supervisors at Galveston should all be summarily fired.
I look forward to a meaningful response. I am an active user of social network outlets such as Face book and Linked-in. I frequently write reviews to Trip Advisor, and to my local newspaper. I am also a contributor to the Seeking Alpha stock market portal. In other words I blog research commentary and reviews frequently.
Quite honestly I cannot comprehend how your company can succeed after the experience my wife and I and our companions had.
Austin Texas, 78759