With a series of crises and disasters on mega-ships at sea that have happened to multiple brands but have been most noticeable on Carnival Cruise Lines ships, I have on multiple occasions discussed the need for federal laws and regulations and self-policing by cruise lines to assure the rights of passengers on ships in crisis. Cruise Lines International Association, CLIA, an association whose members are familiar to most US cruise passengers, has come forth with their recommendations for CLIA’s Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights with 10 points that they are recommending that their members adopt, live by and post on their websites.
Personally, it seems to me that they have jumped in with this list in hopes that CLIA enlisting the cooperation of the cruise lines in implementing these 10 items themselves will avert Senator Charles Schumer’s (NY) plan to introduce rules and regulations that would become laws which would carry penalties for non-performance. I’m not convinced that without laws to back up this “bill of rights for cruise passengers” it would be very easy for cruise lines to use the OOPS! defense if they miss a beat in a disastrous situation.
Here are the proposed points in CLIA’s Cruise Passengers Bill of Rights:
1) The right to disembark a docked ship if essential provisions such as food, water, restroom facilities, and access to medical care cannot adequately be provided on board, subject only to the master’s concern for passenger safety and security and customs and immigration requirements of the port.
2) The right to a full refund for a trip that is canceled due to mechanical failures, or a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early due to those failures.
3) The right to have available on board ships operating beyond rivers or coastal waters full-time, professional emergency medical attention, as needed until shore side medical care becomes available.
4) The right to timely information updates as to any adjustments in the itinerary of the ship in the event that of a mechanical failure or emergency, as well as timely updates of the status of efforts to address mechanical failures.
5) the right to a ship crew that is properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures.
6) The right to an emergency power source in the case of a main generator failure.
7) The right to transportation to the ship’s scheduled port of disembarkation or the passenger’s home city in the event a cruise is terminated early due to mechanical failures.
The right to lodging if disembarkation and an overnight stay in an unscheduled port are required when a cruise is terminated early due to mechanical failures.
9) The right to have included on each cruise line’s website a toll-free phone line that can be used for questions or information concerning any aspect of shipboard operations.
10)The right to have this Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights published on each line’s website.
Okay. So what do I think?
Firstly, there are no teeth in this list of items. Probably the best way to assure there is enough electricity back-up if the main generator goes out is to have a very long extension cord that runs from the dock to the ship! That suggestion is about as appropriate as most of the items listed. This list still doesn’t give passengers the right to disembark from the ship in a port when they’ve had enough with the “master,” which would be the captain, giving approval. The ship that was stranded in St. Maarten in port did not allow passengers who wanted to get off and just stay at a local resort and at least salvage the rest of their vacation were not permitted to do so. I don’t know about you, but I don’t do well as a captive! And if I had been stuck on that un-air-conditioned, no-toilets-flushing ship, I would have thought of every trick in the book to get off of that ship and not go back to it!
Yes, if a cruise line cancels a sailing before it happens, in general, they will offer a cruise at a later date with no potential for cash refund UNLESS you have bought travel insurance that really covers YOU! If you buy travel insurance from a tour operator or a cruise line, please note, like a pre-nup agreement, it is written to protect to cover the rich kid! In this case, the cruise line wants to make sure they don’t lose the sale just because you aren’t sailing. Often, the policies provided by cruise lines makes sure you get back the part they were paid and then expect you to go to your travel agent and ask then for the commission they earned from the sailing you’re not taking. Truly a mess! Buy your travel insurance from a travel insurance third party company in whom you have confidence. When you buy travel insurance from a cruise line or travel company, often they ’self-insure’ and don’t use a third party travel company. That means that if they have an incident big enough to bankrupt the company, you would then have an insurance policy with a company that went bust! Not so good.
I don’t like the idea that the proposal is to pro-rate the passengers refund based on how many days they got and how many days were cancelled. May I tell you that if you go on a one-week cruise that is interrupted in the middle, the concept that refunding the 3 days you didn’t get would be a fair solution is not fair to my way of thinking! If you bought a one-week cruise which ended abruptly with inconvenience and basically unraveled the week of relaxation you bought, you ought to get back 100% of what you spent for a week-long trip. Even though you have 12 meals, 4 nights at sea, a few shows, and you spent plenty of money in their bars, casino, gift shops and buying excursions from their cruise office, all of which they profited from, it seems to me that when you don’t get the slice of heaven you expected as the result of this week, for the aggravation alone that unwinds any sense of peace you may have accrued in the first few day, you are not leaving with the glow you expected and should be entitled to a full refund. But that’s what you do when you really care about the passengers!
I love the toll-free number referenced in item #9! I can see it now. . . one toll-free line with one person there to answer the phone so you’ll get a busy signal for weeks! You’ll be home before you ever get through to that “helpless desk!” Have you ever tried to call an airline’s toll-free line when there are horrible weather conditions or other situations where you need to get through to the airline to find out what’s going on and find someone to help you? Good luck!
You’d think you wouldn’t need a passengers’ bill of rights to get cruise lines to acknowledge the need to have trained staff knowledgeable in evacuation practices!Save me! Or better still, save yourself!
May I suggest, much as the purser’s office may frown on in, that once your have cleared entry into a port that you ask for your passport back. DO NOT let them keep if for the whole voyage in their office. Promise you will return it to them so they have it to clear customs in the next port and then go get it back. If they need a reason why, tell them that you use travelers checks and everyone wants to see your passport to use them. Tell them that you’ll need it to have the VAT (value added tax) removed from purchases you are buying (particularly in European ports). Tell them you have ” Singraphus Perditiophobia,” loosely translated from Latin: Fear of Losing Your Passport, and that it runs in your family so you need the passports of all in your traveling party. That way, if they let you ashore to do some shopping and, based on conditions aboard, you determine it is not in your best interest to return to the ship, go on your merry way and get a message to the cruise line, maybe using that toll-free number they plan to provide for such emergencies, and let them know you had other plans.
Years ago, in 1988, when I was second in command of a huge travel company, then about $200,000,000 in sales, a gentleman came to visit me in my NYC office. He had with him diagrams, architectural renderings, of massive cruise ships. They looked like apartment houses build on barges. He was sent to ask my opinion on these cruise ship designs because some company had hired him to get input from key executives in travel. Aside from all the ridiculous features of these designs, I remember asking him how many passengers these “projects” were supposed to be carrying. At that time, most ships carried 600 to 800 passengers with newer ones on the horizon carrying up to 1000-1200. When he told me they would be planned to carry 2000-3500 passengers, then add crew which used to be at a ratio of 2:1, passenger: crew, my answer then, which I vividly remember, was, “Wait until they have the first disaster at sea!” That’s an awful lot of people to safely rescue.
All of the passenger rights listed are focused on creature comforts and assistants for those surviving inconvenience and discomfort. How about rights for people who suffer serious damage like loss of life! How about cruise contracts, which is what you are agreeing to when you buy a cruise and before you get on a ship, giving up all of your rights to sue the *@#!&%@! (fill in with your favorite expletive) both individually and in a class-action suit. . . not that I’m a fan of class action suits because the lawyers get 50% of the settlement or award and the victims each get 12cents or a voucher good for buying more of the product that assaulted them.
I’ve done an amazing amount of cruising. I’ve sailed over 150 days on one cruise line alone. When you put all my days at sea together the sum is probably around 1000 days. And what you find with experienced cruisers is that the more they cruise the smaller they want the ship to be. There’s intimacy on board, more personalized service and attention, you can get into smaller ports that huge ships cannot, and it doesn’t take 4 hours to disembark in each port! But I’ve reached the point, given that a building doesn’t have to fall on my head to realize that far too many mishaps have happened at sea to be “random” statistically and, for me, river cruising is the only way I’m getting on a ship again! There’s something lovely about seeing both shores while you sail on quiet waters and coming into port right in the downtown area of a city or town so you don’t have to spend half the day getting off and back on the ship and 2 hours getting to the places of interest to visit! If you haven’t tried river cruising, give it a shot! And if something were to happen on board, you could probably walk to the shoreline! That’s my kind of cruising. . . at least that’s where my opinion has drifted to in the sea of disastrous sailings that keep rolling in with the tide!