Shortly after our recent trip on Royal Caribbean aboard Navigator of the Seas, I paid a visit to the RCI web site to look at some itineraries for late 2012 / early 2013. While on the site, I also pulled up our planned itinerary for this summer aboard Mariner only to find out that two of the five (40%) of our ports of call had been changed! Tunis, Tunisia had been replaced with Valencia, Spain. And, Corsica was substituted with Cannes. Given our 157×50 goal, this made the cruise far less worthwhile – frankly neither worth the time nor money involved.
Unfortunately, I’d just finished booking our nonrefundable airfare ($750 for the family) from London to Rome a couple of weeks before. So, I called Royal Caribbean to find out 1) what the deal was and 2) what they planned to do about it I immediately called for assistance / explanation. Unfortunately, neither the ‘cruise planner’ nor the ‘resolution desk’ could provide details on the when/why/how of the change. However, I was told that because this was a ‘change of itinerary’ and not a ‘redeployment’ Royal Caribbean was unwilling to do anything to cover my loss.
It’s worth noting that legally—by terms of their contract—Royal Caribbean has a right to change its itineraries at any time for any reason and that passengers (read: customers) have no recourse (read: aren’t entitled to compensation). Thus, to be fair, Royal Caribbean is/was entirely within its legal rights to f**k me over. Of course, that doesn’t mean that their decision to do so is either 1) morally right or 2) ‘good’ customer service.
You see, I agree that there are ‘legitimate’ reasons for why cruise lines ought to be able to change itineraries on short- or long-term notice without penalty (i.e., health, safety, weather, etc. – as we experienced this past February when our Antarctic visit aboard Celebrity Infinity was effectively scraped due to weather and for which I registered no complaints… as ‘things’ happen). However, I’m fairly certain (at least the timeline of geo-political events would suggest) that the decision to make this change had mostly to do with improving the salability and profitability of RCI’s product offering.
Anyway, back to the story — pissed off, I asked to speak to a supervisor/manager at Royal Caribbean’s ‘resolution desk.’ I was told that I’d have to wait for a callback. In the meantime, I wrote a comment to RCI’s CEO on his blog in response to a recent post of his about ‘brand loyalty’ (which, to my amazement and RCI’s credit was actually posted!). After a handful of phone calls with the resolution desk manager, RCI ultimately agreed to provide us (solely as a gesture of ‘goodwill’) with $200 in onboard credit for our upcoming cruise, as well as some sort of wine/cheese platter thing (let’s call that worth an extra $50).
This still left me holding the AMEX bill for $500. Thanks Royal Caribbean!
Happily, after some research and persistence, I was able to get Cheaptickets.com (I must say, I was impressed by their customer service) to get Alitalia to refund the unused taxes on our tickets: worth ~$390. So, now I’m only out $110. Of course, I also won’t be spending thousands of dollars on the cruise with Royal Caribbean. And our new itinerary (including five new countries: Luxembourg, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Slovakia, and Poland), which will involve renting a car in much lower-cost Germany rather than Italy (the rate differences are crazy!) and using some hotel points (like my seemingly lifetime supply of Radisson points!), will actually end up being a good deal cheaper than the cruise too. So, net-net, I’m a winner.
Thus, our travel lemons have been squeezed into lemonade!
That said, I’m still–if not ticked off at–at least disappointed in RCI, who I feel has betrayed our trust. I think that we’ll stick with them for Dubai (though, I’m exploring strictly independent travel options there too). However, while I won’t swear them off indefinitely (as I have American Airlines for the past 18 years), we will not be rushing back to sail with them again soon. And, I offer this story as a caveat emptor to my fellow travelers.