It’s been a few weeks since we returned from our Norwegian Star cruise to the Mexican Riviera and we still have lots of great memories and have enjoyed looking at the over 800 photos we took between the four of us who had cameras. If you haven’t read my previous articles, I encourage you to start there before you read this one, however: Part I: Our Cruise to Mexico and Part II: Food, Norovirus and Excursions.
This time I am going to write about by far the worst part of the entire cruise, an experience that so marred our holiday that we’ll really have to think carefully before we take another cruise, our experience getting onto the ship and, far worse, our experience getting off the ship when we returned to port.
I can best explain by sharing the letter I’ve sent to Colin Veitch, President and CEO of NCL Corporation and Andrew Stuart, Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Passenger Services… The photograph I have of the embarkation mess was not included in what I sent to NCL, however.
Dear Mr. Veitch and Mr. Stuart,
We recently enjoyed our first cruise, to the Mexican Riviera on the Norwegian Star, departing from San Pedro, California on Sunday, February 18th, 2007. To be more precise, however, we enjoyed the cruise while we were on the ship, but found both the process of embarking poor and disembarking downright appalling, a complete chaos and shambles. Disembarking was in fact sufficiently poor that I can only quote my wife in saying “if this is what it’s like to get off a cruise, I’ll never go on another in my life.”
I’ll start with embarking. We arrived at the port approximately three hours before scheduled departure to find a line snaking through the entire reception area and outside, at least 600-750 people long. There were far too few Norwegian employees explaining what was going on or helping with the elderly, infirm, or, like us, families with small children who weren’t prepared to wait almost two hours to get on the ship. The weather turned cold and blustery while we waited and by the time we did get on the ship, my wife had picked up a bit of a bug and was subsequently sick for half of the cruise with a cold.
I spoke with the few Norwegian employees I could find and the general consensus seemed to be that there was an argument with the local longshoreman’s union and that they had sent fewer people than needed to the ship. If that is indeed true, I would like to strongly suggest that your union issues are not something that should ever affect passengers. If there was another explanation, my complaint remains: there were too few staff and the embarkation process was far too inefficient. We wanted to have our first experience with Norwegian be a positive, fun, exciting one and instead it was a relief to finally get onto the ship. We sailed 30 minutes late that afternoon.
But nothing could have prepared me for the utter shambles of when we disembarked in San Pedro on Monday, the 26th of February. We were scheduled to arrive at approximately 7:00am that morning, but the evening before were informed that there was some sort of propulsion issue and would be arriving closer to 9:00am. Since people had carefully synchronized their flights home with the anticipated arrival time, many passengers were quite upset. As is doubtless typical, the staff of the Star came up with color-coded tags that specified at what time you wanted to have your bags available on the dock, post-disembarkation.
The problem was, we didn’t actually dock until 10:30am and by then not only were all the color zones completely worthless, but hundreds and hundreds of us “freestyle disembarking” passengers had queued up on Deck 6, luggage in tow, with the line snaking up the stairs and continuing along the hallways of Deck 7. Throughout the entire time we were in line, at least two hours, we saw not a single Norwegian employee, and even when people started to get quite upset, raising their voices and trying to circumvent portions of the line, we were all left to our own devices, like some sort of modern recreation of Lord of the Flies. It was not a pleasant scene and certainly my young children were exposed to the kind of language that we never expected to hear on a family-friendly cruise line.
To make matters quite a bit worse, Archie Archbold, the cruise director, came on the PA system more than once and directed the people who hadn’t yet lined up to go to the wrong place given the line that had formed. The line was through Deck 6 and up to Deck 7, but Archie told passengers to just take the elevator to Deck 6 and join the line, which meant that these people who hadn’t yet joined the line effectively were given permission to cut in front of those already lined up on Deck 7. Completely unacceptable.
What baffles me is that the ship has an extensive array of video cameras and monitors and it’s impossible to understand why Archie and the rest of the staff, including the security personnel, weren’t closely monitoring the situation to at least minimize difficulties, if not to actually make disembarkation pleasant.
The topper to the entire situation was when my sister and her husband finally did get to the front of the disembarkation line, they found themselves herded past the customs officers directly into the line to turn in stamped customs forms. They, of course, didn’t have their form stamped, but when they tried to go directly back to the customs officials, they were blocked and forced to rejoin the line. At that point they’d already been in line two hours and they then had to wait an additional 20 minutes before they finally disembarked. My brother in law said afterwards: “Forget it, I’m not going on another cruise”.
Between us, we had four cabins on this ship and paid for a total of nine passengers in those four cabins. It was a significant investment and while we did have a good time on the cruise, the experience of getting onto the ship and the ghastly experience of disembarkation has profoundly influenced our opinion of cruises as vacations. I can only hope that what we experienced was atypical of cruising, but nonetheless I felt you needed to know what had transpired on our cruise and wanted to give your firm a chance to offer up some sort of resolution.
Please note that I have also published this letter in its entirety on the Internet, on my weblog. You can read it – and post a response if you’d like – at http://www.APparenting.com/