The following letter speaks for itself. It was only after their receipt of the second copy (return receipt included) that we heard from an underling offering a substantial
discount on a future cruise. More about that and our rationale for accepting it
is described here.
October 26, 2009
Alan Buckelew, President
24844 Avenue Rockefeller
Santa Clarita, CA, USA 91355
Dear Mr. Buckelew:
Although we have sailed many times on other cruise lines – Seabourn, Silversea, Holland America, Cunard, and NCL – the Transatlantic Crossing from Copenhagen to Fort Lauderdale, September 23 to October 11, was our first with Princess. We had read and heard favorable reviews of the Princess line and the Emerald Princess in particular, and indeed have found pluses on this cruise. The itinerary was paramount, with port stops at several countries we hadn't yet visited, including Denmark, Northern Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland – not many people can say they've been ashore at Qaqortoq, and fewer still can pronounce it. The value was particularly good, since we reserved our mini-suite in March. And, as usual, we met many interesting fellow passengers.
However, the beginning was a series of disasters, due to a combination of poor training, defects in the design of the ship and its infrastructure, and incomplete and inaccurate documentation, exacerbated by micromanagement from corporate headquarters. And although, as the cruise progressed we thought that our troubles had eventually subsided, the conclusion was equally dismal. In fact, on this cruise we have encountered more problems than on all others combined.
Cabin Noise. We departed from Copenhagen for Oslo September 23. Soon after we turned in at 11 PM we began to hear a banging noise, unlike anything we'd ever encountered on any previous cruise. It was obviously related to the ship's movement, but at random. We had heard that the previous day's voyage from Oslo had been very rough, and I thought that perhaps a connection had broken loose and something was swinging against an interior wall. It was coming from the end of the room towards the balcony, but although I listened at the walls and ceiling, I couldn't determine where it originated. In any case, it was too loud for sleep.
So we called Passenger Services. The phone rang many times with no answer, so we hung up. We tried several more times, the last about 11:45, with the same result. Assuming they were closed for the night, we used the earplugs we had been given on our flight, but they were of little effect. We covered our heads with extra pillows, which was not much better, but we were eventually able to get some fitful periods of sleep.
The next morning when we were in smoother seas – and the noise had ceased – we went to the Reception counter and told them of our ordeal. They were aghast – they were open 24 hours, they said! We told them that it sounded like the old joke – "Oh, not in a row!" They said nothing could be done now that there was no noise, but we said that we wanted our complaint noted and particularly that no one had answered the phone the night before.
It seems clear that when no one at Passenger Services answers after a reasonable period of time (Point 7 of The 10 Points of Princess Service suggests three rings, but perhaps five or six is more reasonable) a recording should encourage one to hold, and that someone will soon be available. While on the subject of Point 7, one of our many calls to Passenger Services was answered with a strident "Please Hold!" – not quite the "always ask if we may place customers on hold" – followed by an immediate hold. After several minutes I was disconnected. When I called back and was beginning to once again be told to "Please Hold!" I'm afraid I shouted, "No, I won't!" rather forcefully. At least it did get their attention.
The next night, around 2:30 AM, the noise returned. This time Passenger Services answered our call and dispatched the Night Manager, Carla. She said it was also unlike any sound she had heard, so she called a carpenter, Pedro. He listened a while and said it was coming from the lifeboat below our balcony! I hadn't even realized there was one there or I would have immediately suspected it as being the source. He left along with Carla, who called back several times to inquire if the noise had stopped. Eventually, around 4:15 AM, it had stopped, and we were finally able to get some sleep.
We wanted to make sure that those in charge knew of our two nights' travails, so we asked how we could contact the Passenger Services Director. (Confusingly, although Martin Ford was listed in the September 13 Princess Patter newsletter as holding that position, Danilo Portoso's picture was displayed in the Atrium as having that title.) We were told that they would write down our issue, and it would be passed to the next level manager, who would review it and decide whether to pass it higher! This was obviously unacceptable to us, and when we demanded to talk to a supervisor, they said they would have one call us.
Kusan called when we were out and left a message, we did the same, and eventually we connected – the first of many such conversations. She said that a note she received said that we had complained of a noise. When we told her that we also complained that no one had answered several calls the night before, she said that hadn't been included. I pointed out the obvious fact that there was no incentive for one to report to one's superiors a failure of service.
On September 30, this time during the day, we heard the same banging noise again. We called and left a message notifying Kusan about it. When she called back, she said she'd been assured that it was caused by something inside the ship. I told her that what we were hearing was exactly the same noise as previously, and that she or whoever thought it was something else could come by and listen. Otherwise, they should call Pedro and have him perform his earlier fix to Lifeboat 23. Some time later, we heard a series of ratcheting sounds from underneath, after which the noise once again ceased.
However, this was not to be the last of the lifeboat's noisemaking. In the early hours of October 5 we heard a new series of pinging sounds, which I once again determined were emanating from the lifeboat below. Fortunately it was infrequent and not so loud as to completely prevent sleep, so we waited until morning to leave a message for Kusan. She soon called back and said she'd send a Bosun to check. When there had been no improvement by 1 PM, we called back, and again at 2:20, leaving messages each time. We then called Passenger Services and found that Kusan would be back at 3:15, and indeed she called us at 3:10. She was surprised that it hadn't been fixed but once again said she'd have a Bosun check. Soon we heard conversation below, a clanking and the noise had stopped.
We realized that each time noise appeared, it was after the lifeboat had been deployed for use as a tender. Perhaps the particular personnel who were in charge of securing Lifeboat 23 were not sufficiently diligent in their stowage, or perhaps that mechanism has a defect.
Steward Hours. September 27, at 3:10 PM we called our steward. (The process required to do this is unnecessarily complex and confusingly described – the subject of a later comment.) Since the previous time we had called he had responded immediately, we tried again after a few minutes, then ten minutes later, then at 3:48. This time we received a prompt callback – from the Accommodations Office. Jedsada notified us that our steward was on his break, which was from 2 to 5:30 daily! Since the card in our cabin said he was available between the hours of 7 AM and 9:30 PM, and there was no further information in our cabin information booklet, we asked how we were to know that the card was incorrect. Jedsada said our steward should have told us! We told him that he was such a great steward, unobtrusively performing his work behind the scenes, that we rarely saw him. We added that, in any case, rather than requiring each steward to personally contact each of his passengers at the beginning of each cruise, that information should also be provided on the card.
Jedsada also said that during a break, the page is transferred to the Accommodations Office, which calls back immediately. When we asked why our three previous pages hadn't been returned, he told us that the computer was off! Now that it was on again, he could see the record of our calls! We said we wanted to talk to someone in charge, and José, the Deck 9 Supervisor, came by. He was surprised to hear about the computer being off, but agreed about the confusion in how to call a steward. He said many of their pages couldn't be returned because people don't know how to leave a callback, but he had no authority to make any documentation changes.
So we asked to have David Pearce, the Executive Housekeeper, contact us, and were pleasantly surprised to have him come by a few minutes later. However, he likewise revealed that even he did not the authority to perform even such a simple action as correcting the information about the stewards' hours, and providing a clearer way to contact them – it had to come from corporate headquarters! A one-size-fits-all approach is obviously unsuitable for managing a large and diverse fleet.
Complex Paging Method. A card filled with small print on the desk tells how to contact the steward. Two parts stand out, the steward's name and the number to use to call him: 637. However, when this didn't work, closer scrutiny of the fine print revealed that one also has to first append a 28 to the beginning of the number. Can there be any reasonable explanation why 28637 can't be given as the number to call? However, the complications have just begun: after a series of beeps, we're to give our cabin number – however it's not 615, or D615, or even Dolphin 615, which every staff member we dealt with used when discussing where we resided – once again one has to append a number to the beginning. This number is revealed – on the back of the card – as being our deck number; i.e., 9615 is our cabin number. Is there a logical explanation why this number isn't posted on our phone? When that still gave no results, more careful reading showed that one actually has to "enter" the number, that is, to punch in 9615. Finally, success!
One should only have to dial 28637, and hang up after the beep, with Caller ID providing the necessary cabin information – after all, Passenger Services and Room Service knew our cabin number when we called. It's no wonder that so many pages can't be returned until each new set of passengers is eventually trained to use the system. [We found on our later Alaskan cruise that this is one of the items of our advice they had taken.]
Resetting Safe Code. The morning of September 28, around 8 AM, we realized that our safe was not responding to our code. Since we needed to retrieve euros for our visit to Dublin, we paged our steward. He said he'd notify his supervisor, but after 30 minutes with no action, we called again. He said he'd try again, but we might receive a quicker response if we called Passenger Services, which we did. They asked if we would be there for the next 15 minutes, and we said we would. After another 25 minutes, we called again. In the meantime, the steward had come by to see if we had been served. A few minutes after our latest call, Carmen arrived. She showed us her pager, which displayed only the latest page and said she'd have to talk to the steward about not having notified her. However, we later learned that she had been busy escorting around some guests from Los Angeles – corporate headquarters personnel? – and no doubt had turned off, or ignored, her pager so as not to be disturbed.
While resetting the code, Carmen revealed that instead of the 66 ending which we normally use, it had been set at 99. No doubt the ship's motion had resulted in our accidentally pressing the digit directly below the one we wanted. Other cruise lines don't require you to continually enter the same code each time you close the door. The most convenient type has four thumbwheel switches on the back of the door that you set once for the entire cruise. Others have used the swipe of a credit card of choice – of course the cruise card could also be used.
In any case, we also learned that after three incorrect entries, it does not allow any new tries for five minutes; however one can then try again. If we knew that, we would have tried various combinations, including the likely mistake. This information should also be included in the cabin information handbook.
Room Service. We sometimes called Room Service when awakening to order coffee and juice. Their standard reply was that it would take 15 or 20 minutes, but it was always much quicker. September 30 at around 8:10, they said it could take 45 minutes, so we were not concerned until we realized at 9:30 that there had as yet been no delivery. When we called, they said it "was on its way" but we said it was too late; we were now leaving for breakfast. However, before we had left they called back and admitted that the phone log showed that we had called when we had claimed and asked if we were sure we hadn't received our order! We assured them that we would have known if that had happened.
Change for Laundromat. Having Laundromats on each passenger cabin deck is very convenient, much more so than on some other cruise lines that may have only one or two for the entire ship. Of course, it is a much larger ship than any we had previously known. However, the change machine wouldn't accept dollar bills – they would go partway in, then were rejected. Another passenger returned from Reception with new bills, with the same result. Reception gave us change, but that shouldn't be necessary – the machines should accept cruise cards. After all, the slot machines do! We know such appliances are available, because we own a rental condo whose laundry facilities accept such a card.
Voice Mail Operation. When Kusan first called us back regarding the noise in our cabin, we were not in, so she left a message. I thought she said to call her at 67, but when I tried that, as well as 6067, with no results, I pressed the Message Waiting button again to replay the message – to no avail. It seemed that the message had been deleted, although I hadn't pressed the 3 button to accomplish this, I had only hung up. Days later, after myriad other problems, I wished to determine whether our phone was defective in this regard, so Kusan had a Communications Officer come by. Alessandro revealed that the last 10 messages are saved unless they have been deleted. However, one had to press 131 to access them! Where was that documented, I asked. Of course, by now I knew the answer – nowhere.
Replaying the earlier message, I realized that Kusan had actually said to call 6000. When I asked what number that was, I learned it was Passenger Services, the same as the pushbutton. I asked where that was documented, and of course …
Other Problems. These problems were dealt with in a timely manner, but of course, having occurred once, should not require multiple interventions. Twice, we found ourselves ankle deep in slowly-draining water from our tub during our showers, and the drain had to be cleared. When the toilet flushing mechanism failed September 30 at approximately 10 AM, we were told that the entire section was inoperative. That evening, at 6:20 PM, it again failed, as it did October 1 at 8:20 AM and 10:30 AM.
More Widespread Shortcomings. Problems that we are not the only ones to note include:
Show Seating. This was our first voyage on such a huge ship. The theater and show lounges aren't large enough to accommodate everyone, and it seems that most people prefer to see the early performance, which is accommodated by "anytime dining." As a result, we were dismayed to discover that in order to secure a seat to see a comedian in the Explorers Lounge or a show, lecture, or other presentation in the Princess Theater, one had to arrive 40 minutes early. It's no wonder the library was so heavily patronized. Some of this congestion could be alleviated by providing live broadcasts on one of the several unused TV channels, as other cruise lines do.
Even the port lectures weren't broadcast live, but were recorded for later – sometimes much later – broadcast. Even then, several times the audio was distorted – obviously no one was monitoring it, which also is evident in that only the slides were shown, never also the presenter. Other cruise lines have a camera operator who zooms and pans as necessary. Perhaps one of the videographers featured as recording cruise events and shore excursions in promotions for DVD purchase could be pressed into such service. The expedient of several times providing a second port lecture at noon had the unintended consequence of unleashing a flood of passengers to the Da Vinci Dining Room 30 minutes before closing.
Elevator Markings. There is no visual distinction between the Up and Down arrows when an elevator arrives – each is illuminated red. The distance between elevators at opposite ends of the lobby is as much as 40', requiring keener eyesight to distinguish which arrow is illuminated than is possessed by many of the passengers in your ship's demographic. Obviously, different colors should be used to illuminate the Up and Down arrows.
Hand Sanitizers. These are only available at the buffet restaurants. Other cruise lines provide them at
the entry to each dining room, as well as at the gangway for returning passengers. In fact, many station a crewmember
there to assure that everyone uses them before entering the ship. Posting signs in rest rooms encouraging people to wash
their hands is no substitute. A ship with 3,200 passengers is courting a Norovirus, or worse, public relations
disaster with such lax sanitation measures. [And, based on
a recent Time Magazine article
that the large Princess ships hosted 5 of the worst 13 Norovirus outbreaks to date, it seems that my concerns were
Incorrect Billing. Since our arrival in Ft. Lauderdale was early October 11, the preceding evening we asked for a copy of our on-board charges. Finding a charge earlier that evening at the Outrigger Bar at 18:37 – when we were enjoying the Farewell Dinner at our assigned early seating table in the Botticelli Dining Room – we asked Luciana to show us a copy of that receipt. She said it had not yet been forwarded but called the Outrigger Bar. After a long wait, she reported that the person who had taken the charge was not there, but would be back shortly. Luciana said she'd check in 5 minutes and call me back. This was shortly after 9 PM.
Having heard nothing by 9:44, I called Passenger Services and was told that Luciana was busy but the responder would have her call me. At 9:51, Luciana did call – she had completely forgotten about her previous assurances, but said she'd check with the Outrigger Bar. However, when she did call back, she said they couldn't find the charge, and asked if I might have ordered a Chardonnay at dinner – sometimes they have to send it from another location. We assured her that we were enjoying the remainder of the bottle of Cabernet we had purchased the night before, and in any case it seemed unlikely that a glass of Chardonnay would be sent from 9 decks away, that it seemed more likely that someone had transposed some numbers on the original charge.
I told her that since we were disembarking by Express Walk-Off we wouldn't be able to spend another hour after 4 AM trying to clarify what had happened. She said she'd check the charge when the receipt came in. Based on "action" to that point I found it unlikely, and indeed the final statement (attached) stubbornly showed the charge still in place. Perhaps you have the authority to have someone check the receipt and, if it actually includes our signature, what the charge was for, or if, as expected, it is not ours, to refund our credit card. [We were later pleasantly surprised to find that the charge actually was refunded. Of course, such a small amount is of little consequence, but the continuing breakdown in expected service is.]
"Express" Walk-Off. In over 40 years of foreign travel, we have learned how to travel light. Even for this 18-day cruise, including formal wear, and preceded by ten days in London and four in Copenhagen, we only required one wheeled carry-on bag each. Therefore, we have always been able to take advantage of early disembarkation. Admittedly, the Emerald Princess is a larger ship than any previous ones we've sailed, but you have had several years to perfect the technique. However, this procedure was chaos.
Shortly before our scheduled departure time of 7 AM, we approached the Botticelli Dining Room, which we had previously entered for dinner each night. However, an officer with a radio stopped us and told us to go back past the elevators and down another corridor to a rear entrance. For the next hour, this was the last time we saw any of your vaunted 1,189 crewmembers that might have been able to explain why we were being delayed or what would be the departure procedure. With so many tables, chairs, serving stations, and other impediments, there was little remaining room for passengers and their luggage, and the entry line soon stretched down the corridor out of sight. Of course, by now I shouldn't have to note that there also were no PA announcements providing any information.
Finally, still with no announcement, we noticed a movement away from the lounge in the line that had been waiting to enter, so we joined it. Eventually, across the connecting corridor, we could detect in the distance that some passengers seemed to be slowly progressing in the direction of the gangway and finally we approached near enough to hear the "ching" of cruise cards being read. By then, other groups that were scheduled to be departing by this time, but had been given no notification to the contrary, were streaming down the stairways to the connecting corridor, and, unencumbered by luggage – by now theirs was being deposited in port – squeezed ahead of us.
In the past, we have been “Secret Shoppers” evaluating a rival cruise line. On that voyage, we were directed to check all aspects of the ship’s offerings, and our ratings were sufficiently favorable that we later paid our own way to cruise the same ship. On other voyages before and after, we have been able to relax and enjoy ourselves, but the problems on this one have searched us out. As you must realize by now, if we had been scoring this cruise, there would have been a long list of unsatisfactory ratings.