Celebrity Cruises Misses Boat on Access and Customer Service

Some days I just don’t like my job very much. Today is one of those days. It pains me to have to write this post, because it involves a company that previously did a great job with access. Unfortunately over the past year, I’ve gotten more and more complaints about them.

The company in question is Celebrity Cruises. But since they share an access department (and this issue involves the access department) with Royal Caribbean, it applies to them too. Now don’t get me wrong, both lines have some very nice accessible ships. What they apparently lack are employees who can provide potential passengers with accurate access information in a timely manner.

I’ve been hearing the same complaint for almost a year now. “I e-mailed (or called) the access department and it’s been three months and they haven’t replied.” At first I thought it might just be a fluke, but when I kept hearing the same thing over and over, I realized this was now standard operating procedure.

And then there was a recent e-mail from a passenger who wanted to book an 11-day Southern Caribbean cruise on Celebrity’s Millennium. Now this passenger (I’ll call her Jane, as usual) was an experienced cruiser and she wanted to be able to get off and explore all the ports. The reservation agent confidently touted, “We pride ourselves on having excursions in all ports that can accommodate our handicapped guests.” Jane was then told that she could e-mail the access department for a complete list of accessible shore excursions, so she booked her cruise.

Two e-mails to the access department went unanswered. The deadline for Jane’s final payment came, and still she didn’t have any information about the accessible shore excursions. So she called the reservation department and explained her problem. Later that day she was contacted by a woman who was identified as the head of the access department. I said “was identified” because Royal Caribbean hasn’t had a female in that position for over 5 years. In any case, the woman told her that the ship was fully accessible and that it even has a pool and whirlpool lift (it does not). And then she transferred her to the head of the shore excursion department.

The lady in the shore excursion department reassured Jane that they have reliable accessible shore excursion providers, but since the contracts wouldn’t be signed until September 1 (60 days before the cruise), she couldn’t give her specifics. Jane informed her that she needed lift-equipped or ramped transportation and told her how much she and her scooter weighed. The shore excursion head assured her that it wouldn’t be a problem. Jane figured that since she was talking to the head of the department, she probably knew what she was talking about, so she went ahead and made her final payment.

When September 1 rolled around, Jane received a list of 8 “accessible” shore excursions. Unfortunately none of them would work for Jane, because the van lifts could only accommodate 250 pounds. Jane was livid. Her cruise was all paid for, but she had nothing to do in the ports.

The story has a happy ending though, as Jane was able to arrange for her own accessible shore excursions. And I’m happy to say that she did it with the help of my book.

Still there are a number of things that bother me about this whole incident.

  1. The reservation agent gave Jane incorrect information. In truth very few ship sponsored shore excursions are accessible.
  2. The access department just plain ignored Jane’s e-mail inquiries.
  3. The person representing herself as the head of the access department lied about her position; and then proceeded to give Jane incorrect access information.
  4. The head of the shore excursion department gave Jane incorrect information about the availability of accessible shore excursions. Jane relied upon that information and went ahead and made her final payment.
  5. I don’t quite buy the fact that the contracts weren’t signed in August for a November cruise. They were obviously signed for the non-accessible shore excursions, as 79 of them were listed on the cruise line’s website.
  6. Subsequently I learned from a travel agent that it’s the cruise line’s policy to not give out information about accessible shore excursions until 60 days prior to sailing. Considering that final payments are usually due 70-90 days prior to sailing, you’re basically buying a pig-in-the-poke. You won’t know if you’ll even have any accessible shore excursion choices until after you’ve paid in full — and then it’s too late.

So what’s a traveler to do? Well first and foremost, if a cruise line won’t give you detailed information about their accessible shore excursions before you have to make your final payment, take your business elsewhere. Shore excursions are an important part of a cruise, and disabled travelers have the right to know what’s available. After all, able-bodied passengers can look at the available shore excursions before they book, and disabled travelers should have this same right.

And travel agents, remember you can run into this same problem too. So insist on getting details about accessible shore excursions before those final payments come due. It’s really in the best interest of your clients.

Hopefully with a little pressure, this situation will improve. Because as it stands now, it’s completely unacceptable.