I am not rescinding the beaming endorsement I gave last fall to cruise vacations on this here blog, and implicitly, the beaming endorsement of Carnival Cruise Lines. We have had seven pretty wonderful cruises with them.
But then on the last sea day of our cruise last month, something perplexing happened: they appeared to forget themselves. Allow my correspondence with Carnival to speak for itself.
From: Micah McCoin <my email address>
Subject: Incident aboard Carnival Fantasy
Date: April 29, 2017 at 1:35:08 PM EDT
To: <Director of Guest Services email address>
I debarked from a cruise aboard the Carnival Fantasy two days ago. My very first cruise was three and a half years ago aboard the same ship, and I was hooked. The combination of hospitality, value, and fun have brought me back multiple times—my and my partner’s eighth cruise together on Carnival is booked for September.
However, an incident aboard the ship on the last sea day of our cruise (Wednesday, April 26) has caused me to question my loyalty to Carnival. After so much talk about being part of the “Carnival family” and our cruise director Mikey “having your back” (and other variations on that theme among our other cruise directors), I thought that we were actually sailing among friends, or at least with a staff that was well-trained to respond to our actual needs as opposed to just the easy, inconsequential ones.
My partner Hasahn and I were planning on a relaxing final afternoon aboard the ship. We had just finished lunch and went to lounge in one of the hot tubs on the Serenity Deck. Upon my legs entering the water, I immediately felt some discomfort, which I attributed to the water temperature being high. Soon, a spot on my foot began to burn, so within minutes, I propped one foot up out of the water. After another few minutes, I was distinctly uncomfortable and decided I was not going to be able to relax there.
I went to sit down in a lounge chair on the deck and soon noticed that the skin on my legs was tight, shiny and leathery. I thought it was odd but assumed I just needed some moisturizing. I left Hasahn in the hot tub to go to the room and lotion up. I spent almost an hour in the room rubbing lotion on my legs, finally noticing that my skin was lightly peeling. I also saw some of my leg hair had curled up and matted, as if I had spilled something sticky on them. Overall, my legs felt better, so I was ready to go back out.
When I returned to the Serenity Deck, Hasahn was gone and there was a net over the hot tub. It took me over half an hour to track him down and discover that he had been to Guest Services twice and the medical center to get treatment for chemical burns. Clearly and unmistakably there was something wrong with the water, but Guest Services, who are always eager to hand out coupons and credits when something inconsequential goes “wrong” (like we didn’t get our VIFP pin), was stone-faced and unsympathetic.
We went back to Guest Services one last time at 8pm and spoke to the Guest Services manager (Hasahn will be sending his own email and has all the names of the staff we spoke to, along with the medical records from the ship and photo evidence of his injuries) who was bewildered and appeared unable to do anything but repeat what appears to be a scripted response to avoid saying anything which would admit liability on the part of Carnival.
I say this was scripted because it was so oddly out-of-character for a team that is usually jumping out of its skin trying to please passengers, and because everyone said exactly the same two things: 1) there is a sign on the hot tub saying that you shouldn’t stay in longer than 15 minutes; 2) the water was tested and it was within acceptable levels of chlorine. I have issues with both these statements. As a Guest Services team, your job is not to quote numbers and regulations to the guests—it is to understand guest issues and resolve them. That being said, both of these statements are inherently problematic.
As a bit of background, I’m an accountant and a very thorough, analytical, by-the-book type of person. I read everything. In seven cruises, I have never taken the time to identify and read this “sign” about the time limit for hot tubs, and that could be my oversight. However, if I haven’t seen it, I can guarantee that thousands of other guests haven’t seen it. I suspect it’s buried in a list of 10 or more rules that are posted inconspicuously on the side of the pool. If so, that doesn’t count as a “sign.” A sign would be something like, “>15MIN” and an X through it. Further, it’s very disingenuous to quote this rule to guests (especially injured guests) when the staff is aware of and encourages long soaks in the hot tub by taking drink orders at the hot tub and taking longer than 15 minutes to come back with the drinks.
The most unbelievable part of being told this over and over again was that no one actually ever asked Hasahn how long he had been in the hot tub. They immediately shifted the blame for his injuries on him. For my part, I was certainly not in the hot tub over 15 minutes and I received a brisk chemical peel and several bleached leg hairs (and some fell out). I was never in any severe discomfort, but there’s no way that any reasonable standard of “acceptable levels” of chlorine would involve me being in there just a few minutes and coming out with leathery, cracked skin.
I also take issue with a range of “acceptable levels” of chlorine that would allow us to stay in the water for well over 15 minutes (as we did on the first sea day) with absolutely no ill effects and then, three days later, almost immediately singed the hairs off our legs (and several other guests who were treated by the medical center on Wednesday). This is a dangerously large range of “acceptable,” and needs to be recalibrated.
But this email is, more than anything else, about the customer service angle of this situation. Running a cruise ship is a complicated operation, and mistakes are made. Sometimes these mistakes even injure people. But there has to be a better way to communicate and resolve these issues with your customers than what we experienced. Our guest experience on the last day of the cruise was severely compromised and almost entirely ruined. (It was almost midnight before I started having fun again after the distress from that afternoon, and Hasahn continues to deal with pain, itching, peeling and discomfort three days later.)
Finally, it must be noted that as much goodwill as I’ve spread among my friends and family about Carnival over the past three years, I feel it is even more important to let them know (and others, as well) exactly where they stand when they find themselves in our situation. To this point, it seems clear that Carnival has no interest in resolving this issue for us individually or improving its procedures going forward. We were not and have not been contacted by anyone the morning of debarkation or since, even though the manager we spoke to said that her supervisor would be available at that time. Under that assumption, we will continue to share this anecdote as an open-ended warning to anyone who might feel tempted to buy into the “Carnival family.” After our September cruise (already booked and partially paid), our plans to continue cruising with Carnival are much less certain.
I look forward to your response. Thanks for your time and attention.
So… we had already been through a bit of an ordeal and a lot of indifference. Then, this reply came through:
On May 3, 2017, at 3:24 PM, Carnival Cruise Lines <iCare@carnival.com> wrote:
Thank you for writing to Ms. Marichal regarding your recent cruise aboard the Carnival Fantasy. Your email has been forwarded to my attention and I appreciate the opportunity to respond.
I would first like to take this opportunity to thank you and your partner for your continued support. Carnival’s success depends on solid repeat business and we certainly appreciate your choosing to sail with us once again.
Carnival sets the stage for high standard in the quality of services that we provide to our guests and it is with much regret that we read the details of your email outlining your disappointment.
As loyal guests, we’re extremely sorry to hear about the experience you and Hasahn had this time around. We sincerely hope that by receipt of this email, you have both fully recovered and are no longer experiencing the symptoms you have described. The safety and wellbeing of our guests are at the forefront of our mind on all cruises, with making sure you have a fun and memorable vacation coming close second.
We hope that you will both accept our sincere apologies for the disappointment you experienced with the demeanor of the Guest Services staff members you encountered on board. Please know that the behavior you described is not the norm and definitely not what we expect of our staff.
That being said, we would like to address some of the specific concerns outlined in your email to Ms. Marichal. We sincerely apologize if you missed it, but there is a large, circular sign by the whirlpool in question that indicates “Serenity – Adult Only Retreat – Whirlpool Rules…Use of the whirlpool should not exceed 15 minutes…” There are, however, several rules and guidelines listed on the same sign. Additionally, according to our records, although all whirlpools on board undergo strictly scheduled maintenance and testing, a reading was taken within minutes of receiving Hasahn’s complaint, and all chemical levels were found to be within acceptable range. While we sincerely apologize for your discomfort, there is no indication of abnormal chemical levels in the Serenity whirlpool at the time Hasahn’s complaint was received.
Micah, Carnival Cruise Line depends on insightful comments from our valued guests to improve our service and ensure relaxing, FUN-filled cruises for all sailing guests in the future. We sincerely thank you for sharing your experience with us, and assure you we will do everything possible to prevent similar occurrences in the future. As a gesture of goodwill, we’d like to offer you and Mr. Hasahn Aiken a 15% discount on a future 2 to 5 day Carnival cruise.
While there are a few restrictions like, holiday departures, cruises to Alaska, Australia, Europe, Hawaii and chartered sailings, etc., the offer is combinable with most fares. Additionally, our offer is limited to one per booking, is non-transferable, and applied to the cruise fare only, after you’ve paid the deposit. You’ll need to sail by May 3, 2019. After you have booked your cruise, please use the link below to provide us with the new booking information so we can process your cruise credit.
<hyperlink inserted here for this anemic, heavily restricted discount>
Micah, please don’t let this tarnish your opinion of us. We send our best wishes, and would love to welcome you and Hasahn back aboard another Fun Ship in the future.
Guest Care Specialist
Carnival Cruise Lines | 3655 NW 87th Avenue | Miami, FL 33178 |
In case you missed it, that’s nine lines of “we’re sorry for how they treated you” and ten lines of “but they were right so we’re going to repeat what they said back to you again.” So, on May 6, I sent the below reply:
Thanks for your prompt response.
I am extremely disappointed in the content on the response. If the intent here was to restore our confidence in Carnival’s customer service, it did not succeed.
I find it unconscionable that a customer response team would STILL spend more time re-explaining to me how Carnival was not at fault than in addressing the customer service failure. Furthermore, the largest part of the customer service failure was the fact that that we had these same two points (chemical levels in the water & sign by the hot tub) re-explained to us twice onboard the ship. You apologize for the customer service failure, and then repeat that failure yourself.
Let me be clear. I already explained in my complaint that we were told (at least three times) that there was a sign on the whirlpool. I am not, nor have I ever, argued that a “sign” (or notice) was not posted on the whirlpool, so the continued inclusion of this already established fact in your response to me is irrelevant. My points are 1) I personally was not in the whirlpool over 15 minutes, and I also suffered mild burns; 2) no one asked Hasahn how long he had been in the hot tub before referencing the sign; and 3) Carnival’s own staff disregards this rule and encourages customers to disregard this rule by taking drink orders, fetching towels, etc., with the clear understanding that the guests will be in the whirlpool over 15 minutes.
Let me be clear on the other point. You write, “there is no indication of abnormal chemical levels in the Serenity whirlpool at the time Hasahn’s complaint was received.” Allow me to correct that statement: “There is no indication of abnormal chemical levels in the Serenity whirlpool at the time Hasahn’s complaint was received that Carnival is willing to acknowledge.”
Let me list some indications of abnormal chemical levels:
- Hasahn’s medical report indicating treatment for chemical burns.
- A line of customers at the medical center onboard the ship, all of whom were in the same whirlpool.
- Numerous men (including Hasahn and me) with the hairs singed off of our legs or bleached.
- The fact that we were in the same whirlpool three days earlier with no discomfort or ill effects.
Again, I have never contested the test results from the water, primarily because you haven’t disclosed them and I have no basis for disputing them because of lack of information. So having this repeated to us a third time is irrelevant and insulting. I am telling you, however, that an “indication of abnormal chemical levels” is not limited to a reading taken by a Carnival employee. All of the items listed above are clear indications that have been communicated to numerous members of your staff multiple times. Your failure to acknowledge them does not make them not indications. Therefore, I dispute your statement.
In light of all this, I find your gesture of “goodwill” condescending and inadequate. A cruise credit with a paragraph of limitations and special instructions on how to redeem, all worth about $100, is equal to what I could save by navigating the Carnival site for deals on my own (we booked with a $100 onboard credit for our upcoming cruise in September, as a point of reference).
I am copying and distributing this email to various quarters in hopes that someone will restore our faith in Carnival. I really want to give you guys every opportunity to repair the damage done. As a reliably low-maintenance, easy-to-please cruiser, I expect a little more than this on the rare occasion when I have an issue.
Now it’s almost two weeks later and there has been no further response. I copied several executives at Carnival on the last email, and not one of them or any of the members of their administrative/email-screening teams has seen fit to address our concerns. I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot and start booking more expensive cruises when Carnival continues to give the best value. As I stated to them, however, I think it’s only fair that people know exactly what they are paying for. And as soon as I can afford it, I’ll be shopping around vigorously with other cruise lines.
This isn’t the type of newsworthy anecdote that has even the remotest chance of going viral, but it’s now been made public, so I’ve fulfilled my end of the bargain and will return to my life. I am not a litigious person and do not believe it is ethical or moral to pursue damages in a case such as this, even though it may be doable. It’s just sad that Carnival would sacrifice their customer service commitment to avoid a liability issue.
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