Crippled Carnival Splendor Adrift – A View from Inside and Outside – Part II

Carnival Splendor. Long Beach. Photo (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

November 11, 2010

Dry Land, California – When things beyond Carnival’s control happen to their ships, you would not believe what they have to go through to make the best of the situation while salvaging a vacation for their guests. Most of the time they get no thanks. This is on top of the daily complaints they get. (Check out John Heald’s blog for a look behind the scenes at life on board a cruise ship. Just from his 3 months on the Splendor alone John has had to respond to – and I am not making any of this up – a lady who complained that she saw a spider on a shore excursion in PV (Puerto Vallarta); a man who voluntarily participated in one of the shipboard shows, then verbally abused the staff and John demanding that the entire video of that show be taken down and not shown on the ship’s television; a man who demanded to have use of a lounge so he could give a lecture to passengers warning them that the world was going to end in 2012; a woman who berated the staff for paging her over the ship’s PA system one morning (her young kids had called security because she did not return to her cabin the night before. She answered the page from another guest’s cabin); the numerous people who complain that the food in the steakhouse was the worst they’ve ever tasted and demand a full refund…after, of course, they had eaten every bite and never said a word to the staff in the restaurant that they were unhappy with anything; a woman who yelled at the Camp Carnival staff because they allowed her son (whom she dropped off at Camp Carnival) to watch television. And on it goes).

You’ve most likely faced a travel delay where a plane was diverted to another airport or even taken out of service due to a mechanical problem. You probably know that the airline has to scramble resources to handle a plane that is at a gate where it wasn’t supposed to be, or to find a gate when a plane is at an airport it wasn’t planned to land at. They have to hustle to make sure that all of the passengers’ luggage gets where it was tagged to go. Larger airlines may have a standby plane that can be pressed into service if need be. Cruise lines don’t have that option. They don’t have spare ocean liners sitting at a dock somewhere.

Carnival Splendor. Cabo San Lucas. Photo (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsOn the other hand, cruise lines are like airlines when it comes to securing an alternate port. Last year when the Splendor diverted from her original schedule, Captain Giorgio Pagano had to make some quick decisions. If the weather doesn’t improve, is there another port within range that could be substituted? Can it accommodate a vessel as large as Splendor? Can the port accommodate 3,300 guests going ashore at the same time? Are there shore excursions available for the guests? Does the port have provisions to re-supply a ship of Splendor’s size? If the itinerary is changed, can Splendor get back to Long Beach by 8:00am Sunday? The decision was made and we sailed to Cabo and Mazatlan in reverse of the planned itinerary, and steamed hard up to Ensenada. Carnival could have easily said, “Sorry. Weather problems are preventing us from completing our schedule.” (By the way, in Ensendada we ended up at a small hole-in-the-wall place that served the best fish tacos we’ve ever tasted. Right across the lot was a shack that made the best churros we’ve ever tasted).

It is fortunate that there were no injuries to the guests or crew. For the most part, passengers understand the situation and have made the best of it. Several reports have the guests praising the staff for how they handled the incident. Of course there are a few passengers who are disgruntled beyond appeasement. Those are probably the ones you’ll see being interviewed when the passengers finally get off the ship.

How is Carnival handling this nightmare? A quote from their website:

Regular announcements apprising guests of the situation began at approximately 6.30 am (Monday). Guests were initially asked to move from their cabins to the ship’s upper open deck areas. At this time, guests have access to their cabins and are able to move about the ship. Bottled water and cold food items are being provided.

You also heard that the Navy is providing assistance:

A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier resupplied the cruise ship Tuesday evening. Sailors stood on the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan in 50-yard lines, handing off boxes of water, frozen bread, sandwich meats, granola bars, paper plates and more for the Splendor.

So the guests do have more to eat than the Spam (Spam Musubi, anyone?), crabmeat and Pop-Tarts® the media has led us to believe is all that is available. Carnival further announced that all drinks are free. They are warm drinks but at least guests would not have to pay for them.

Since Splendor is effectively disabled, the captain cannot substitute another port. So for this cruise,

Guests on the current voyage will be receiving a full refund along with reimbursement for transportation costs. Additionally, they will receive a complimentary future cruise equal to the amount paid for this voyage.

Apparently it’s going to take a while for repairs to be completed and the ship made, um, ship-shape again:

Carnival has also cancelled the Nov. 14 seven-day cruise from Long Beach. Guests scheduled to sail on this voyage will receive a full refund of their cruise fare and air transportation costs, along with a 25 percent discount on a future cruise.

Splendor is 952 feet long. She weighs in at over 113,000 tons. This massive floating hotel is transporting one shy of 3,300 guests with a crew compliment of 1,167 on this sailing. This is what the tugs are contending with…slowly.

Splendor is being towed back the US – San Diego to be exact – at the breath-taking speed of 4 knots. She is capable is cruising at 21 knots. To get an idea of the difference in speed, imagine you are driving from LA to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before you reach Kingman, Arizona, a fan belt breaks. You and you car now have to continue the trip being towed by someone riding a mountain bike (must be a very strong person) at 12 miles per hour, with no air conditioning in the car.

Once Splendor reaches San Diego, there is still the issue of getting the guests back to Long Beach. Carnival has stepped up once again:

A large Carnival team continues to work on hotel, flight and transportation arrangements for the guests and will be on the ground in San Diego when the ship arrives.

Carnival says they have over 100 people dedicated to that effort.

By the time you read this post, the crippled Splendor will have made it to San Diego and safely docked. The passengers will have happily disembarked, no doubt thankful to be back on dry land with real food and functioning toilets. The engineers and crew of the Splendor will have begun the tedious task of repairing her. All things considered, it’s a good thing Splendor is on a Mexican Riviera itinerary that keeps her relatively close to shore. Imagine if this had happened mid-way through a trans-Atlantic voyage.

Writers note: If any guests who were on board Splendor’s ill-fated trip are reading this and do not want to use their complimentary free cruise voucher, I am shamelessly suggesting you donate it to this very appreciative writer.

Photo credit © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Update – November 15, 2010: John Heald, Carnival’s senior cruise director, is able to post updates to his blog again. He has posted a candid report of his (and Splendor’s) experience which he called “Smoke on the Water”. Here are Part 4, Part 5 , and The Final Chapter.

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