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Archive for March, 2007

Sex and the window washer

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On March - 26 - 2007

I recently told the story of the “Lovebirds,” the couple who left their balcony curtains open during an early-morning tryst aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines’ (NCL) Norwegian Jewel. You guessed it: They were caught in the act by a window washer. The couple was outraged (they said they’d had no notice of the window washing; the cruise line said they did) and they were unhappy with the cruise line’s offer of a 25 percent discount on a future cruise. The couple wanted two free cruises.

I put the Lovebirds’ story up for reader comment, and boy did the feathers fly. My inbox was flooded with heated responses, most arguing that the Lovebirds should receive no compensation at all. Several readers suggested they should just laugh it off; others felt they were greedy. A couple of people sympathized with their plight — and a few felt bad for the window washer!

Here is a sample of the responses, edited for length and clarity.

Sympathy for the Lovebirds

* “I think they should get two free trips!” — Chris Lyons, California

* “I think they should receive one free cruise for each of them and maybe also some other compensation simply because the man was leering at them. How would you feel if someone was watching you while having sex? They are lucky it wasn’t me because I would have filed a lawsuit!” — Julie Ann Chandler

Fair is fair

* “I think the Lovebirds’ compensation was more than generous on NCL’s part.” — Anna Healey

* “They were treated fairly. Two free cruises as compensation is a bit greedy in my opinion. Good ole common sense would have prevented this situation.” — Jimmie Deal

* “I believe these people are being treated more than fair. If I was watching from shore with binoculars do I owe them also? I think they, like so many others nowadays, just want something for nothing.” — T.G.

Greedy, maybe?

* “The cruise company was reasonable. This guy is greedy and just trying for way too much. Two free cruises for a slight embarrassment, if there was any embarrassment?” — Steve Brody

* “As far as I’m concerned, they don’t deserve even the money the cruise ship has already offered them!” — Patricia Flores

* “Amazing that two free cruises solves their embarrassment.” — E.R., Georgia

You can’t get something for nothing

* “I think what they are asking for is outrageous. … Life happens. … It’s just another money-hungry person looking for a free ride.” — Shaun Miller

* “I think the Lovebirds were very fairly compensated. Our society has gotten to be one of entitlement, vs. responsibility.” — Jeanne Steinberg

* “They should be thankful they got anything at all from the cruise line. This is one more example of ‘I refuse to be responsible and accountable for my own behavior,’ and ‘It must be somebody else’s fault.’ — Jim McKenna

* “Frankly, we need more ‘I apologize’ and go on, and less financial awards to discourage this type of nonsense. I know companies give in to try to save face, but I wish companies realized that many more people side with the company, in a case like this, than with the customer. The customer looks like the bigger fool here and if the company caves in, we all lose.” — C. Koontz, Baltimore

Mad at me

* “Why did you write this? Now everyone will be trying to scam the cruise lines!” — Harry Moscovitz, New York

Reading is fundamental

* “If the couple cannot even possess the common sense to read clearly lettered notification regarding outside maintenance, they should be fined for stupidity!” — D. Ferris

Close the drapes, for heaven’s sake!

* “The Lovebirds are getting more than they deserve. If you don’t want to be seen, close the drapes.” — Ben Davis

* “They caused the problem by not taking the precaution of closing the drapes and door to the balcony. They should not get anything but an apology from the cruise line.” — C. W. Wayne

* “If the blinds are open and you are cavorting around, you have no complaint if someone sees you.” — Mike Wagner

* “Who hasn’t been caught once in their lifetime? The couple was careless … they do not deserve free cruises.” — Jeff Brown

* “They should be grateful pictures were not taken and put over the Internet.” — Jack, New Hampshire

Closet exhibitionists?

* “Personally, I think they want something for nothing. He was looking for an excuse to get a free cruise or he wanted to be seen, it was an ego boost.” — Ellen Hawley

* “I personally feel the Lovebirds got what they deserved. I think they wanted someone to see them! I don’t think they should have been compensated when they asked for everything they got! Stupid! — P.J., Fort Valley, Virginia

Lighten up

* “A very similar thing happened on our honeymoon cruise. Of course we didn’t feel ‘violated’ and didn’t ask for any compensation, nor did it ruin the cruise. We just ended up with a funny story.” — Barbara, Maryland

* “I think that these ‘lovebirds’ should have filed their complaint and then laughed it off between themselves and their friends. The trouble with people today is that they want something for nothing. This is why so many people are studying law today. Wouldn’t it be so much better if everyone could just laugh at themselves and just go on?” — Ken Nutter, Wyoming

* “If the Lovebirds had a better sense of humor, their vacation would have been enhanced by a funny story to tell. Instead, they ‘ruined’ the cruise for themselves.” — C. Wallace

Jealous of the Lovebirds

* “I’ll bet he’ll find the 25 percent off a future cruise to be a bargain. Since the discovery happened ‘after they were intimate,’ he got the best of both worlds. Wish it were me.” — Dan Jestic

* “We would have loved their experience!” — Keith Christensen

Get real

* “I think the couple is being unreasonable. Especially since they are to blame for not closing the drapes. What is done is done, and customer service has offered a discount to them. Asking for two free cruises is out of the question in my opinion.” — Dorothy, Texas

* “They are asking for a piece of real estate on the moon, instead of being more realistic. They should thank the cruise line and take the offer.” — Alex, Texas

* “I think the man is trying to take advantage of the situation. Does he think he is the only one who has romantic interludes and is caught in the act?” — Connie D.

* “How ridiculous to expect two free cruises! Take some responsibility for yourself. I’m sure the maintenance man was just as offended.” — Jeanette Myers

* “They are out of their minds asking for two free cruises. We were on the Princess ship that caught fire. Our room was just at the edge of it and the only damage done was by the firemen that had to go through our room. Princess made up for our losses very quickly and gave us a 25 percent discount on our next cruise. I couldn’t be more pleased.” — Penny, Tampa

Creative solutions

* “I believe that the ship’s captain should have had the authority to solve the issue immediately with the couple signing a release on the spot. Gave them too much time to seek advice good or bad.” — Larry Dowd

* Two free cruises is a little excessive. The 25 percent credit was nice, although if they don’t take another cruise, the credit won’t do them any good. A full refund or a partial refund on the current cruise may have been a good suggestion.” — C. Müller

Sympathy for the window washer

* “I think it is inconsiderate for any couple to engage intimately in front of an open window and completely ridiculous that they think they should have any rights to privacy while doing so.” — L. White

* “I feel for the maintenance worker who had to witness this display of pasty, middle-age canoodling. What about his rights?” — Garth McGlasson

* “The couple should be sent a bill for traumatizing the worker.” — Rod, Texas

Last words

* “Freedom comes at a price. If I leave my blinds or curtains open, I can see out and others can see in. If I make a choice, I must take responsibility for the consequences. I believe they made their bed, and now must lie in it.” — Sandy, Boston

Me? I’m done with this story. I wish the Lovebirds the best. May they enjoy many cruises, keep up the morning exercise — and remember to pull the drapes!

Filled Under Ombudsman

Europe draws the cruise crowd

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On March - 19 - 2007

“The Mediterranean is the new Caribbean.”

That’s the news out of the annual Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention, held last week in Miami. The remark was made by Bob Dickinson, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, at a “State of the Industry” session for cruise executives, and it was received with knowing nods all around the room. Indeed, the cruise industry is bullish on Europe and particularly on the Mediterranean region.

“European cruising isn’t just doing well, it’s doing phenomenally well,” notes Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA, whose company is rapidly expanding in Europe. Sasso joked that the tide had turned since Columbus’ voyage to the New World; now the ships are returning to the Old World in search of new riches, led this time by the Carnival Nina, the Pinta of the Seas, and the MSC Santa Maria. But it’s no joke. In fact, cruise lines are putting their newest and most expensive assets into the region.

New ships after new money

Not long ago, European cruising was largely a backwater for old and dated ships that were no longer considered good enough for the hot Caribbean market. That’s no longer the case as both Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Lines are debuting their newest ships in Europe.

The shift isn’t just about deploying new ships; cruise lines are also repositioning ships, changing their calendars and tweaking their itineraries to appeal to a broad market of passengers. For example, Disney Cruise Line is deploying its first-ever ship in Europe for the summer, catering to families. And, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a cruise-industry trade group, many cruise operators are stretching their stays in Europe this year, with some ships sailing European waters from March clear through to November. Some lines are also offering short European cruises for travelers with limited vacation days.

Cruise lines are also increasing their tour infrastructure in Europe. Last summer, for example, Royal Caribbean bought Spanish cruise and tour operator Pullmantur to tap into the Spanish cruise market, and Carnival recently announced a joint venture with Spanish airline Iberojet to boost its cruise operations in Spain.

What’s driving the change of focus from the Caribbean to Europe? Executives say it’s the large, untapped market of affluent and middle-class travelers in Europe.

“Europe is experiencing growth similar to the U.S. some 15 to 20 years ago,” says Royal Caribbean chairman and CEO Richard Fain.

”The European cruise market is under-penetrated compared with North America,” says Sasso, who adds that Europe is a big “drive-to” market (by which he means that it is easy for Europeans to find a ship close by). “We’re simply shifting the supply to where the demand is,” he says.

Vacation value for the buck

The other part of the equation (literally) is the dollar-to-euro exchange rate. The strength of the euro is drawing many Europeans to cruising. According to Colin Veitch, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, “Fares are much lower now for consumers paying in euros. Five years ago, a seven-day cruise cost 875 euros, today it is 540 euros.”

It’s no secret that the exchange rate has been a huge deterrent for many Americans wanting to travel to Europe, but cruising is quickly becoming a more viable option for travelers with limited vacation budgets. Cruises offer good value because they are paid for in dollars and include lodging, meals and transportation throughout the region. According to travel agents, a similar European land-based vacation experience can cost twice that of a cruise.

Look for more ships to sail European waters in the coming cruise seasons, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself coming under the spell of “Euro-phoria.”

Filled Under Advice

Ships happen

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On March - 12 - 2007

Janice Parker describes her most recent port stop in St. Thomas as sheer bedlam. She ventured off the ship with her two small children in tow, but quickly turned back as mobs of tourists from eight other cruise ships jostled and swarmed over the docks. Hoping to see some of the island away from the crowds, she later hailed a cab. But then she spent more than half the day fighting traffic trying get to the popular spots on the island.

St. Thomas is a regular stop on most eastern Caribbean cruise itineraries, and in recent years it has become a very popular port of call — too popular, if you ask cruise regulars and island residents. And St. Thomas is not alone. St. Maarten, Grand Cayman and Cozumel all regularly see more than 20 ships a week in winter. The problem is the glut of cruise ships in the Caribbean, where cruise bargains are abundant and ships usually sail full. On top of that, cruise ships have gotten bigger in the last decade, whereas most ports and their infrastructures have remained pretty much the same size; that disparity can lead to some noticeable crowding on busy days, when half a dozen cruise ships can offload their passengers for shore leave — all within three or four hours of each other.

Such experiences leave cruise passengers frustrated and angry, and some swear off cruising for good. Is there anything you can do to avoid the crush?

Yes. Three things.

First, consult the monthly cruise ship arrival calendars posted online at CruiseCal.com. These calendars show the expected arrival and departure times for most cruise ships at most ports of call worldwide. Say you have your heart set on Grand Cayman but you don’t really want 12,000 fellow cruisers hogging up all the tours and prime beach spots. A quick glance at the calendar will tell you to avoid arriving on April 10, when there will be seven ships in port; just three days later, aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, you would have the port to yourself. Another option is to consider booking cruises that call on smaller islands like Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Barts and St. Kitts.

Second, if you can’t avoid a crowded port day, be sure to book your shore excursions prior to your arrival in port. Most cruise lines allow you to book shore excursions on their Web sites up to one week prior to sailing. Another option is to book through companies that specialize in planning tours for cruise passengers. Port Promotions and ShoreTrips, for example, allow you to book your shore excursions before you leave home.

Third, if you see that the port is going to be a madhouse, and you have already visited this port before, consider staying aboard the ship. Port days are very relaxing onboard. Because the crowds have moved ashore, there are no lines at the buffet, no dash for the loungers at the pool — you’ll even find discount appointments in the spa.

As for Janice Parker, she and her family haven’t given up on cruising, but she says she plans to look real close at the ports of call and what other cruise ships will be there before planning her next voyage.

Filled Under Ombudsman