April 2016 - 6 Night Western Caribbean (Ft. Lauderdale Roundtrip) Cruise on Navigator of the Seas
Royal Caribbean: A Hard Fall From Grace
Let me preface what I am about to convey by stating that I have been cruising since I was five years old when my grandparents (my grandmother is currently 89, still works as a travel agent, and has been on 108 cruises) first took me on the S.S. Dolphin, and since then, I have been on approximately 35 or so cruises with approximately 25 of those cruises on Royal Caribbean. I am currently a Diamond Plus member of Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor loyalty program, and cruising on Royal Caribbean’s ships has been one of the great joys of my life. I have gone on a cruise almost every year of my life, and I typically bring groups of 15 or more friends and family members with me so they can share the joy I experience.
I recently sailed on the Navigator of the Seas on April 24, 2016, but before I address this most recent cruise, I want to discuss what unbelievable path that lead up to our sailing. In October of 2013, my then partner, now husband, and I brought approximately 24 people on the Oasis of the Seas to sail an Eastern Caribbean itinerary. In the month or two prior to this sailing, my husband had been dealing with some depression issues. He consulted a physician and was prescribed several medications. Without going into too many details, the newly prescribed medications and the prescribed doses were not right for him, and they had a severely adverse effect, and on the second day of the cruise on the Oasis, my husband had a, let’s say severe nervous breakdown and was not thinking rationally, which resulted in a medical emergency that caused him to be rushed to the ship’s infirmary (and of course we take responsibility for our actions since they initiated the issue). The ships medical staff wanted to immediately disembark us in Nassau for care, but I refused because I had no idea what medical treatment would be available in the Bahamas. The ship set sail for the next port, St. Thomas, and due to the mental illness nature of the emergency, the ship’s medical and security staff determined that it would be best to remove my husband from the care of family and friends and to LOCK him in an undisclosed cabin with no telephone, take all of his possessions (including deodorant and personal effects), and place a security officer at the door to the cabin. The ship’s staff then informed us that we would no longer be able to communicate with him and that if we tried, we would be removed from the ship at the next port of call. My family, friends, and I begged and pleaded for contact with him or to at least know that he was OK, and at every request, the ship denied us any information whatsoever. This continued for 48 hours from Nassau to St. Thomas, which as you can imagine caused my family and I unbelievable amounts of stress and emotional turmoil. In the meantime, a person who just suffered from a severe nervous breakdown was confined to a room with no one to talk to and no means of even knowing what was happening, which unbelievably exacerbated the situation. The ships medical personnel only came by once to check on him, and only they offered more medication to calm him down – the source of the problem from the beginning. After two of the longest days of our lives, the ship’s staff removed my husband (and me voluntarily) as soon as the ship docked in St. Thomas. The ship's staff provided no information whatsoever and no direction as to what to do, as in the airport’s location, transportation, etc. When we finally returned home after multiple flights and thousands spent, we drafted letters and emails to all of Royal Caribbean’s senior management and customer service personnel to inform them of how we were treated, but it all fell on deaf ears. As a follow up because it is important to this most recent cruise, when we returned home, my husband found a new physician, got on the correct medications and doses, and within months was perfectly fine and no longer on any medications whatsoever. The moral of this story is that Royal Caribbean’s medical and security staff is completely ignorant and inexperienced with handling any type of mentally-related medical issues, and their actions could have made what was a bad situation tremendously worse.
Now with that said, I’ll discuss the Navigator of the Seas sailing 2016. We booked the Navigator of the Seas with a large group in order to celebrate my 35th birthday around January of 2015 - a full 15 months prior to sailing. My husband and I were hesitant in booking in another Royal Caribbean cruise, but because of my longstanding love and enjoyment with the cruise line, we booked along with twelve other friends and family members. Throughout the time leading up to the sailing, Royal Caribbean made no mention of the Oasis incident – there was never any letter or correspondence sent related to it, they sent the normal pre-cruise correspondence related to tours, etc., and even allowed my husband to do the online pre-check in. Then, the worst possible thing that could have happened, happened. TWO WEEKS prior to sailing, my husband gets a call from Royal Caribbean informing him that his reservation has been cancelled effective immediately (not my reservation). The associate, Nicki, was unhelpful, rude, and provided no answers other than it related to the Oasis of the Seas sailing and that their Global Security Team is prohibiting him from boarding the ship. I called Nicki after his conversation concluded with her, and I had the exact same experience. Nicki said she was the end of the line and that there was no possible way to have this decision reversed – even after tears and begging and pleading just to even talk to someone else (apparently she does not have a supervisor, according to her). Yes, you could say we should have expected this possibility, but we honestly and sincerely thought that with my husband’s name and personal information in Royal Caribbean’s system for a full 15 months prior to sailing and without ever having received any notice related to being blacklisted that enough time had passed – 2.5 years – and that booking this sailing would be fine. This outcome caused significant strife in our relationship seeing that now, 2 weeks prior to sailing, I was faced with making a decision of either staying home with my husband or screwing over the other family and friends that had taken time off work, spent money, and planned a vacation at my behest. At the end of the day, Royal Caribbean’s unexpected, last-minute decision forced us to relive one of the darkest moments in our lives and forced us into a desperately terrible situation. My husband and I for the week after we were notified, emailed, called, and did everything humanly possible to beg Royal Caribbean to let us speak to them, present our case, convey that my husband had not been on medication in 2 years and that he was perfectly fine, get letters from our doctor, etc. etc. etc. All of our requests were forwarded to Nicki’s group, where we would receive a call from a representative stating that the decision would unequivocally not be reversed. I was even told by one representative that we were LUCKY to get two-weeks notice… that some people are not informed until they get to the port that their reservation has been cancelled for whatever reason. Ultimately, we made the difficult, but unavoidable decision that I would go and he would stay home, crushed from disappointment. To alleviate the situation as much as possible, we ended up purchasing plane tickets and hotel stays so that my husband could at least fly to Grand Cayman and Jamaica to spend time with me and the group. Not an ideal outcome, but better than nothing. Truly unbelievable that Royal Caribbean would cause this much commotion over one person… especially when it jeopardized the lives of 4,500 passengers back in February 2016 by sailing the Anthem of the Seas right into a near hurricane force storm, which nearly capsized the vessel (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/02/08/anthem-cruise-ship-storm/79997114/). Seems like this would be a bigger security concern… Thank you for bearing with me to this point, but I thought it was important that you have the all of the background information.
I’ll now discuss our actual cruise on the Navigator of the Seas, April 24, 2016. Just to mention, I actually sailed on the Navigator 3 or 4 times back when it was relatively new, and the ship, as I understand, recently went through renovations in 2014. To make this easy and clear, here is what was GREAT:
• The boarding and disembarking processes are very smooth and quick. Even with long lines, we were able to board the ship with no more than 15 minutes of wait time. Disembarking was similarly easy. I am glad Royal Caribbean seems to have put in place a system that truly works. • The entertainment on Royal Caribbean is outstanding. The performers are amazing, the show storylines, direction, etc. are bar none. The ice show, Ice Dancin’, is my particular favorite. It is essentially the same story as when the ship was new in the early 2000’s, but the ice skaters and production staff put so much liveliness and energy into the show that it doesn’t feel as dated as it is. • The excursions and the employees who coordinate them are amazing. We were running behind for our Stingray City tour (due to an issue with the tenders) in Grand Cayman, and the ship staff rushed us to the next available tender, called the tour operators, and made sure we made the tour. • The pool band and pool entertainment were top notch as always. They have even found new ways, in addition to the traditional belly flop contest and sexy man contest, to keep everyone excited and energized. • The food in the Windjammer Café has also improved. On this trip, I found more options and even better (more flavorful) food than on previous trips. Royal Caribbean is clearly stepping up its game for the people who choose to dine outside of the dining room. • Aesthetically, the ship looks beautiful. Royal Caribbean did a phenomenal with the renovations, and the ship looks clean and brand new.
Here is what was NOT SO GREAT:
• While the ship’s appearance was for the most part flawless, there were odors throughout the hallways. The odors were pervasive and put simply, smelled like sewage. • We ate in the main dining room every night of the week. It is clear that Royal Caribbean has implemented drastic cost cutting measures. Whereas in the past, a server would have two or three tables max, the servers now seemed to have 4 or more tables. As you can imagine, this greatly slowed down dinner service. The issue was the same with the dining room bar server. Instead of formerly having 5 or 6 tables, now there would be 1 person assigned to vast areas of the dining room. On some nights, we would not receive our cocktail until the entrée was served – and it was to no fault of the bar server, he was great and working as efficiently as possible. This increased workload for the servers resulted in a complete lack of relationship building that normally happens with your dining room waiter. In the past, the servers would know everyone’s name, engage with everyone, and even know some of your personal likes and dislikes by the end of the cruise. This is no longer the case. Additionally, our busboy, who was splendid, seemed so frazzled trying to handle all of the tables that he even dropped my butter knife on the floor and just put it back on my plate – unheard of on a Royal Caribbean ship in the past. I think the ship’s automatic gratuities, while convenient, do not encourage the dining room staff to outperform the bare minimum. On a side note, the other half of our group had a different server and busboy, and their experience was the exact same, so I do not believe our experience is isolated. • Speaking of bar service, now that the ship offers unlimited drink packages, bar service and bar availability have noticeably deteriorated. I think now that the bartenders no longer receive per-drink gratuities, they no longer seem interested in providing top-notch service. Every drink ordered seemed like a chore instead of a chance to bond and enjoy the exchange as it used to be. In previous years, the pool would have cocktail servers roaming around, offering the day’s frozen drink in a souvenir cup – all of that is gone. For example, on a previous cruise, we had a pool bar server named affably “Dr. Feel Good.” Talking to him and ordering drinks from him was one of highlights from that trip. He always made everyone laugh and kept everyone happy. Again, gone are those days. • The ship’s WIFI is a joke. Do not spend the $20 per day on it unless you absolutely have to. The internet hardly worked anywhere on the boat. Unless your entire cruise was going to be spent on the Promenade, the Windjammer, or parts of the casino, it is a complete waste of money. The signal constantly had to be reset to work, and IF it did work, it was incredibly slow. I understand the technology limitations while being at sea, but don’t sell a $20/day product that is mediocre on its best day. • I was also surprised to see that the nightclub, formerly on Deck 3 by the showroom, has been turned into cabins. On previous trips, some of our best memories were in that nightclub. Now, the only place to dance and listen to music after 12:00-12:30 AM is the Cosmopolitan Lounge (the top deck, surrounded by glass). While this venue is nice, it does not offer the same experience by any stretch of the imagination. On a side note and interestingly enough, the casino (and all ship bars except the one lounge) closed by 1:15-1:30 almost every night of the week, and it wasn’t because the casino was empty, the casino staff actually shut down and asked everyone to leave. Maybe this is how the ship casinos are operated now, but it was certainly a surprise to me based on my previous cruise casino experiences. • With a handful of exceptions, the ship’s crew and staff generally seemed tired and disinterested. In the past, all crew and staff would smile, wave, engage with you, etc., and now, the ship employees couldn’t seem to even bother. For a person who has sailed with Royal Caribbean so many times, this was truly surprising. I do not know what Royal Caribbean’s business objectives are, but lack of customer loyalty, disregard for passenger experience, and cost cutting are clearly on the list. All of the little touches and attention to detail that made Royal Caribbean so special to me over the years seem to be completely gone. Based on what Royal Caribbean did to me and my husband alone, I will never sail with them again, but even had that not happened, I am deeply stunned and disappointed. Royal Caribbean always positioned itself way above the likes of Carnival and NCL, and now I would say there is no difference, except that Royal Caribbean is more expensive… and for nothing. At least with those other two cruise lines, you know what you are getting ahead of time and you are paying a fare commensurate with that expectation. I am and will always be an avid proponent of cruising, and it is now clearly time to partner with a company that I know will treat me and my family right, care for passengers, and provide the ultimate vacation experience. Adios RCCL