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A Bad Cruise

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To companies: bad service costs big money. In the case of the story told here, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises likely won't ever see the $100K-plus that my wife and I were prepared to spend on one of our mutual lifetime dreams--a sea cruise around the world.

Our story is in the format of the letter my wife composed and we sent to the CEO of the cruise line in question. We'll post any response we get from the company. Click on the "read more" link below to read the whole sorry affair.

Update 1/12/06: We just received a call from Debra Richards of RSSC who said that they've received our letter and are looking into it. She said we should expect a response in the next couple of weeks. Thanks, Debra.

Update 2/2/06: We received a letter of apology from Radisson. We'll post the text here when we return home.

Mr. Mark Conroy

CEO, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises
600 Corporate Drive, Suite 410
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334

Mr. Conroy:

My husband and I were on the December 5, 2005 RSSC Voyager for its 7 day cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale. My 80-year old parents traveled with us on the cruise since my father uses a wheelchair which is difficult for my mother to deal with on her own. This is my fifteenth cruise, but the first on RSSC.

In November, 2005, my husband and I completed a cruise on Holland America’s Amsterdam since we were trying out both ships in anticipation of booking a 2007 world cruise (100+ days) on either RSSC or HAL. Our experiences on the Voyager ranged from irritating to appalling, as documented in this letter.

Four months prior to sailing, I filled out Guest Information Forms for our parents and us and faxed them to RSSC as well as using the US mail. I also went online about two months before sailing and filled out the online forms. I was very explicit in our beverage choices of three different flavors of diet soda in our suite and when I called RSSC two weeks before sailing, the agent read exactly what I had written (or typed) so I was satisfied that the sodas would be waiting for us. They weren’t. We got to our suite and there were Diet Coke, sugared root beer and sugared 7-Up. Our room stewardess said that she was told to put in these three flavors per our request. We do NOT drink sugared sodas which was why I had gone to the trouble of filling out the forms in advance multiple times. My husband and I found diet sodas in the Internet café/DVD room and took those to our room and then used room service after that to re-order the diet sodas that we needed since our stewardess was unable to stock our refrigerator with a variety of diet sodas.

Two weeks prior to sailing I realized that my parents didn’t have any paperwork on the Guest Protection Program yet they paid for it. I called RSSC and was told to print it from the Internet. Why doesn’t this documentation get included with the other documents that RSSC sent to their home address 3 weeks prior to the cruise? With ALL other cruise lines that I have sailed, I have received insurance documents with my cruise documents and have NEVER been told to print them from the Internet. What do people without Internet access do? How do they get the Guest Protection Program papers?

On 12/5, my husband decided that he wanted to get USA Today delivered to our suite every day. The newspaper order form had two payment options – $4.95 for each day or a “value” package of around $25 for six days. Unfortunately, on a seven-day cruise, there are NOT six days that you can receive a paper (you can’t get one on the first day or on the last day so there are only five available newspaper days). Plus, USA Today does not publish on weekends which meant there were only four possible days of USA Today delivery. When I took the form to the front desk, it took the woman a few minutes to verify that the form was incorrect and she said that we would have to do four days of the $4.95 price. Why offer a “value” package when it’s not applicable?

My parents were in a penthouse suite and were entitled to have complimentary pressing of two garments for the first night’s dinner. On 12/5 my mother got to her suite around 3:00 and asked the butler to press two garments. She asked him twice more on 12/6 and they were finally pressed in time for the second night’s dinner. She had to wear something different on the first night since the pressing wasn’t done. Don’t offer complimentary pressing for the first night if it’s not going to be done.

On 12/6 the four of us had dinner at Compass Rose Restaurant (our normal dining location for dinner). My mother placed her order and when one of the appetizers was placed in front of her, she said it wasn’t hers and the waiter took it back with some hesitation. My mother looked at the menu and realized it was hers and told the waiter it was hers. He placed it in front of her while rolling his eyes in a very exaggerated and noticeable manner. Surely Radisson does not have a corporate policy of obviously expressing disdain when an 80-year-old woman makes a mistake?

On 12/7, the daily Passages newsletter listed that hot chocolate and pastries would be served in the Atrium on 4 from 10 AM until noon. My husband and I went there at 11:45 and found nothing. A staff member was passing by and told us to talk to the Compass Rose maitre d’. We told the maitre d’ that Passages said it would be served until noon and he informed us that he filled out a form for 10 AM – 11:30 AM and that he didn’t know it was supposed to be there until noon since he had specified 11:30 AM. He finally asked if we wanted hot chocolate (which was why we were there!) and brought some to us. But, the fact that his first response was that the form that he filled out was for 10 AM – 11:30 AM was really not something that we cared about. We had been told to look at Passages for all the information we needed for the daily events.

After the hot chocolate debacle, I decided to go to the Guest Services Desk on Deck 5 to explain what had just happened. The woman at the front desk said “Sorry” but didn’t seem to care at all. I then saw the Comment Cards box on the front desk and asked her for a comment card. Her response was that Housekeeping would distribute them to each suite mid-cruise. I then asked her again for one and she re-iterated that Housekeeping would distribute them mid-cruise. Then I saw the very large Voyager postcards and decided to use those for my comments. If you have a comment card box, you should have comment cards readily available.

On 12/7, my husband ordered the cheese and port for his dessert. This was the second night in a row that he ordered cheese and port for dessert. The previous evening, he was simply given a plate of cheese (the trolley was not brought to him) and had to ask for port three times. On 12/7, the trolley was brought to him and he was allowed to choose the types of cheese he wanted. We all saw the bottle of port on the bottom shelf and assumed the waiter would serve it with the cheese. Well, after asking a second time for port, my husband got it. This was just one example of the poor service we received in Compass Rose. Water glasses and coffee cups were often empty for long periods of time. I think this is a result of the no tipping policy as well as not having the same waiter for every dinner.

On 12/8, we had the most serious negative incident of the entire cruise, one which went far beyond bad service to actually posing a threat to our health and safety. I awoke at 1:45 AM to fumes that smelled like paint or varnish. My eyes were watering and I was getting nauseous. I woke my husband and he smelled them, too. We called the front desk and asked for someone to come to our room, then sat out on the dark, windy, cool balcony. We called again around 2 AM and were told that the Fire Patrol walked by our room but did not come in to check it. We asked AGAIN for someone to come to our room since the fumes were making me physically ill. After a third call, someone came at 2:30 AM and told us we could move to an “emergency cabin,” but only for that night, after which we would have to return to our assigned cabin. Having no choice, we put on our robes, packed my husband's CPAP breathing machine into a suitcase, and went to the emergency cabin.

We returned to our suite around 9 AM to find that fumes were still as strong as they were the previous evening. We again called the front desk and demanded to be moved to another suite. We were then moved to another suite for the remainder of the cruise.

This was the single worst experience I have had in nineteen years of traveling the world, both for pleasure and as a consultant for a global consulting company. It should NOT take 45 minutes for a crewmember to come to the aid a guest that is having an emergency since this is what was happening. It was an emergency – I was having difficulty breathing and no staff person checked on me (or my husband) for 45 minutes! The safety of your guests should be your primary focus. Since neither safety nor service seemed to be of any urgent importance to the crew of the Voyager and RSSC, I am forced to wonder what is important to you?

We were later told that due to the high seas, routine varnishing was being done without any windows or vents open, apparently forcing the fumes into the air conditioning ducts. This is also dangerous to your crew that was doing the varnishing and is probably an OSHA violation. On 12/10, 36 hours after meeting with Theresa, we did get an apology note from “Steph” with a bottle of champagne and chocolates. This paled in comparison to the way the noxious fumes incident was handled on 12/8. And on a cruise that offered complimentary alcohol, and supposedly featured chocolate, the apology gift was ironic at best.

On 12/9 all guests had to go to the Constellation Theatre for passport control. My husband and I cleared early as we had an off-ship excursion scheduled that morning. My mother and father were called somewhat later. The Constellation Theatre has a fairly steep incline at the entry to the theater. My mother struggled to push my father in his wheelchair up the walkway to the theatre. When she finally made it to the top of the ramp, my mother commented to a staff member that it would have been nice if one of the many staff members standing around would have helped her. The staff member told my mother that if she had telephoned for help, someone would have helped push my father into the Constellation Theatre. How was she supposed to know that she would need help pushing my father up the ramp? I am in excellent physical condition, and I had to get a running start to push my father’s wheelchair up the steep ramp at the entrance of the theatre. Surely the ramp was not unknown to the Voyager crew, nor was it unknown to them that they had guests in wheelchairs on board. Why was there not a single a crewmember available to help in this mandatory exercise?

My mother felt like she and my father in his wheelchair were ignored most of the time while she struggled to get him over various thresholds (especially the ones on Deck 11 leading outside) and up the steep walkway to the Constellation Theatre. She has been on many cruises with him in his wheelchair and felt that the Voyager crew was not very helpful to the needs of the disabled and elderly. Their wheelchair accessible suite had a 3-inch tall sill at the junction of the suite and the balcony that was inaccessible to my father’s wheelchair. Another general comment dealing with wheelchair use on Voyager is that the housekeeping carts seemed to be in the halls most of the day. This makes it very difficult for wheelchairs to squeeze by. On other ships, the carts are never seen since the stewards store their cleaning items in closets and storage areas that are hidden from the guests.

My husband and I were invited to meet with Theresa (Guest Relations Manager) on 12/9 to discuss our comment card comments (i.e. the two post cards I wrote on 12/7). After spending 45 minutes with her letting her know that the level of service on RSSC was unacceptable and was sub-par compared to ANY cruise I had been on, she apologized and told us to get in touch with her if we ever had another issue on board. After this meeting our fervent hope was that the remainder of the cruise would proceed without any more service disappointments. Sadly, that would not be the case.

When our traveling party checked in on 12/5 for the cruise, I requested that my credit card be used for both my parent's suite as well the suite my husband and I would be in. I have done this on the other cruises I have taken with my parents so that they don’t have to fumble for their credit card (and potentially lose it) while juggling carry–on luggage. This had always worked well for everyone concerned—the cruise line, my parents and me. Since I had successfully done it on seven other cruises and since the card was swiped two different times (during each suite’s check-in process), I didn’t give it another thought.

After our meeting with Theresa on 12/9, I went to the front desk to check on our balances. Jeffery told me that both suites were on one account and that if I wanted to have them separated I would have to bring the credit card back to the front desk. I explained that the card had already been swiped two times and that at a minimum, the card information was correctly associated with our current suite, so the card data was there and could be copied to our parent's suite. Jeffery insisted I would have to bring the card back to the front desk. I summoned Theresa and she agreed that since the card had already been swiped two times, I would not have to return to the front desk and everything would be fine with the separate accounts. (More on this issue later.)

On 12/9, my husband ordered room service around 4 PM. We then went to dinner. When we returned to our suite around 10 PM, we found that the suite had been cleaned but the empty plates were still on the room service tray on the table. I’ve never been on a cruise where the room steward didn’t handle the dirty room service dishes while cleaning the room. (Or at least I assume stewards on the other cruises dealt with the dirty dishes. I just know that when I returned to my cabin late at night after the night’s turn-down/cleaning, the dirty dishes were gone.)

On 12/10 when we returned to our suite after dinner, we had TWO items on our bed addressed to a“Mr.&Mrs. Grace” in our new suite. One of the items was the Guest Questionnaire. We didn’t know who these people were but we had received correctly addressed literature to our suite since having been relocated there on 12/8. We figured that if you didn’t know our names, you really didn’t care about our Guest Questionnaire comments. However, I went to the front desk and got a correctly printed form for us to fill out and informed the front desk that we were not Mr. and Mrs. Grace.

On 12/11, there was a knock on the door. My husband was surprised when he saw a steward with a cake and two glasses of champagne and the steward asked “Mr. Grace, is it someone’s birthday?” My husband explained that we weren’t the Graces and the steward sheepishly departed.

On 12/11, I turned in two forms to the Boutique for liquor and even spoke to the woman behind the counter and she wrote a note on my liquor order form requesting a cardboard box that would hold four bottles. One form was for my parents and one was for us. When we returned to our suite after dinner, I realized that we didn’t have our alcohol so I called the Boutique and was informed that I needed to come and sign the form. I requested that the Boutique worker come to my suite. A few minutes later, she did. When I looked at the original form (the one that I filled out and was told that I goofed by not signing), I realized WHY I didn’t sign it. The form clearly required the guest to sign upon receipt of the alcohol. Well, since I turned in the forms early that morning and did NOT receive the alcohol at that time, I did NOT sign the forms. I explained this to the woman and she said that she knew that the duty free liquor order forms were labeled incorrectly, but that’s how it was. I signed and got my alcohol and then called my mother. She had the same situation but she had already gone down to the Boutique to take care of the Boutique’s error.

When we met my parents in their suite on 8:30 AM on disembarkation (12/12), my mother was laughing at the last Radisson screw-up of this cruise. She had received a phone call at 8 AM asking her to come to the front desk since there was no credit card on file for their suite and they owed $1. She knew about the credit card hassle I had on 12/9 and she just couldn’t get over the ineptitude of RSSC. However, she interrupted her final packing and went downstairs and gave them $1 in cash. When she told me this, I went to see Theresa about this and her reply was “Well, Radisson probably didn’t want to charge the card $1.” When I explained that my mother had been told that Radisson had no credit card on file, Theresa just said “Sorry.” That expression,“Sorry”, pretty much sums up Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, the Voyager, and our entire cruise experience.

On a positive note, Anna, the maitre d' at La Veranda, was always very friendly and was especially helpful to my parents. The food at Signatures was outstanding and the library had a great selection. Many of the staff we encountered actually did do their jobs with competence and cheer, but as you have read, there were many whom did not.

Except for the appalling incident with the fumes, any of these items on its own wouldn’t have made for a sub-par cruise. The Voyager crew's performance during the fume incident, especially the failure for any crewmember to check on us for nearly an hour after we first reported the problem, is inexcusable. Setting that one episode aside, the sheer length of the list of sub-standard service experiences we had on what was supposed to be an ultra-luxury cruise experience left us very disappointed. Needless to say, we will not be booking the 2007 World Cruise, or any other cruise for that matter, with RSSC in the future. We will also be discussing this cruise experience at length with our friends, colleagues and acquaintances as well as posting on our blog, www.medary.com. Needless to say we can not recommend to anyone an RSSC cruise based on our experience as documented here. We look forward to hearing from you regarding these issues and we will post your reply on www.medary.com.