|Two Royal Caribbean officials inspect the damage to Grandeur of the Seas' Deck 6. L: Adam Goldstein, president and CEO and R: Anders Aasen, AVP Technical Services. // Photo by Royal Caribbean|
Royal Caribbean International has cancelled more cruises and said the fire-damaged Grandeur of the Seas won’t go back into service until July 12, as repairs will take that long.
The ship is moving from the Freeport Cruise Terminal to Grand Bahama Shipyard for the repair work. The ship was damaged in a fire on May 26, in the midst of a seven-night cruise from Baltimore.
Grandeur of the Seas was en route to CocoCay, The Bahamas, when the ship experienced a fire in the aft mooring area at approximately 2:50 a.m. The fire was extinguished at 4:58 a.m.
The ship sailed under its own power to Freeport. Guests were transported home with air/ferry/train arrangements organized by the cruise line.
On Thursday, the line cancelled these additional cruises: June 7, June 14, June 21, June 28 and July 5. Guests on those cancelled sailings will receive a full refund and a 25 percent discount on a future cruise.
For the previously cancelled cruise slated to depart May 31, guests will receive a full refund and a 50 percent discount on a future cruise. And those on the ill-fated cruise last week when the fire occurred will get a full refund plus a free future cruise.
“We have had a few clients call to see if their sailings were affected,” said Mike King, owner of Travel Leaders, Fredericksburg, VA. “Everyone has rebooked that was affected and everyone has had nothing but praise for the way Royal Caribbean has handled the situation.”
King said his agency books Baltimore cruises often, given the geographic locale. He says the agency also books clients regularly on this particular ship and he has "no concerns about continuing to book the Grandeur of the Seas.”
While other agents too have praised the line for its handling of the incident, not surprisingly, some guests on those most recently cancelled cruises appeared satisfied, others not.
At the line’s official @Royal Carib PR Twitter account, one tweeter complained about getting a 25 percent versus 50 percent credit. Another wrote: “I feel like we were let down some here. Yea full refund due to unable to cruise. Then 25% towards next cruise. Wow hurt me.”
Others on the cancelled cruises were vocal about not getting reimbursed for their own air arrangements or change ticket fees. A few said the dilemma now is that they’ve taken time off from work and they can’t change those arrangements.
Royal Caribbean attracts a good number of first timers. For some of those travelers, a first cruise often is an emotional investment – a once-in-a-lifetime dream. One customer wrote on the Twitter feed: “just want to cry, so much for my first cruise and 25% you can keep it.”
What’s the impact been on bookings for agents? Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO of Cruise Planners said she was watching the news last weekend and when she heard about the Grandeur of the Seas fire, she gasped and thought: “Oh no, how will this effect summer sales?”
But she cited a proactive posture by Royal Caribbean to get out in front on the issue as very helpful. Because no one was hurt and the fire fully contained, she says the booking results look different than one might have expected.
In response to Travel Agent’s request, “I ran “sales” for the last five days and was pleasantly surprised that we were up year over year, and our Royal Caribbean sales were double,” said Fee, who also noted that the opening of bookings for Quantum of the Seas also hit at the right time.
We asked John Lovell, president of Vacation.com if the industry is effectively “learning” from previous incidents? “Certainly Royal Caribbean and the crew aboard the Grandeur of the Seas demonstrated that they had a plan in place, followed procedures, and did everything possible to ensure the personal safety of all passengers onboard,” said John Lovell, president of Vacation.com.
Many agents cite sizable differences in the onboard situation on Grandeur of the Seas versus the Carnival Triumph earlier this year. Carnival’s tasks were far more challenging.
Grandeur of the Seas was relatively close to a Bahamian port, the Carnival ship was off the coast of Mexico and then – without propulsion – drifted even further.
The Royal Caribbean ship arrived in Freeport under its own power, while the Carnival Triumph had a much more difficult transit into port – pulled by tugs over a period of days over a far greater distance.
Grandeur could cook food (as power hadn’t failed and the time between the fire being extinguished and the ship's arrival in port was only about five hours); it also had working toilets.
Carnival’s situation went on for an agonizing number of days. Yet, getting guests off that ship in the middle of the ocean wasn’t an option, safety-wise, and even taking them to Progreso would have had other challenges, particularly for guests without U.S. passports.
So acknowledging that the situations were quite different, what do agents think Royal Caribbean did well during the incident?
Agents said President Adam Goldstein’s appearance onboard the Grandeur of the Seas in Freeport on Sunday was a plus, as was the decision to put up photos of company officials inspecting the damage.
Royal Caribbean also quickly arranged for air charters to Baltimore. It even accommodated 25 guests who did not want to take flights by arranging a high-speed ferry ride to Fort Lauderdale and then provided them with Amtrak tickets for the trip back to Baltimore.
Perhaps the most stunning “plus” for the line, though, was its effective use of Twitter, showing the new social environment can help sway public opinion. Royal Caribbean got out in front of the situation – putting out not only regular updates, but even photos of the damage – adding a level of transparency to the situation.
“Where Royal Caribbean excelled was in communicating what the situation was and how it was being handled,” said Lovell, who believes “they were very upfront and proactive in this situation.” He said both the agency community and clients reacted positively to that approach.
Lovell added: “I strongly believe that Royal Caribbean’s response to the fire aboard Grandeur of the Seas has helped them in the short-term and will help them in the long-term as well.”
Another industry leader put it this way: "Whenever industries have to experience unfortunate events, lessons are learned providing an opportunity to improve upon products and services," said Brad Tolkin, co-chairman/CEO, World Travel Holdings.
Tolkin believes most travelers understand that there are circumstances out of the cruise lines' control, but if agents and the industry are there for the customer to offer support and a meaningful resolution, a customer will come back.
"I am optimistic that the cruise industry will learn from these events, share best practices and come out even stronger," Tolkin said.
On the front line with Travel Leaders in Tyler, TX, Elaine Goad reported that the Grandeur of the Seas incident has not affected customer purchases nor her Royal Caribbean sales.
“The reason is that Royal Caribbean handled the situation quickly and calmly,” Goad said. “That has resulted in customers and agents still holding Royal Caribbean in high regard."