We frequently receive letters from consumers complaining that their cabins on their cruise ship “stink.” This is the first time that someone meant exactly what they said.
Delores and John Klingberg have taken many cruises, but they say this one was the worst.
The Klingbergs chose this particular cruise because the itinerary seemed to cover the Rhine and Mosel Rivers in greater depth than other river cruise lines. This was their fiftieth cruise with various cruise lines — a combination of ocean, river, adventure, etc. — and their third trip booking with Vantage Deluxe World Travel.
Based on their most recent experience, they said it will also be their last trip with Vantage, not just because this cruise was “totally ruined” for them, but also because they were treated with a complete lack of respect and poor customer service after their return. They expected better treatment since they supposedly are “valued” President’s Club members with Vantage.
But is that really what happened? Vantage’s account, which you’ll see in a moment, contradicts parts of their story. And if nothing else, it’s a reminder that there’s more than one valid perspective when it comes to a consumer dispute.
The cruise was canceled twice. When they finally embarked, their cabin was not the specific one they had reserved. To make matters worse, Delores Klingberg says their cabin was “just above the ship’s sewer vent, causing an unbearable stench.” Other parts of the cruise also did not meet their expectations. They asked Vantage to provide them with a full refund, but the company declined. Despite our advocate’s many attempts to get some compensation for the Klingbergs, Vantage stuck to its original compensation offer — a $550 refund, an on-board credit of $250 per person for the future and a free riverboat cruise.
The Klingbergs explained that they had originally booked Vantage’s “Switzerland and the Heart of the Rhine and Mosel” river cruise on the Navigator, sailing Oct. 5, 2015. They were assigned cabin 306, and they also booked a three-night pre-cruise extension in Lucerne. Vantage canceled this sailing, and so the Klingbergs agreed to rebook it on the River Splendor. They were promised the same cabin and the same pre-cruise extension in Lucerne. But Vantage canceled again, and so they had to agree to rebook. Again they were promised the same cabin, although the itinerary was reversed, making the Lucerne stay into a post-cruise extension.
They checked their cruise Portfolio multiple times, but the cabin was always shown as “TBD.” They repeatedly called Vantage and were assured by numerous agents that there was no problem as “cabins were not assigned yet.” The cruise line then promised them cabin 329, which was also acceptable. However, their Portfolio continued to show “TBD.” After a few more calls, they were told that being “President’s Club” members would ensure they would be upgraded.
The Klingbergs stressed that their major concern was with the terrible cabin they were ultimately assigned aboard the River Splendor.
Two days prior to departure, the Portfolio finally showed them assigned to cabin 337, which was also not acceptable. The Klingbergs are not novice cruisers, and so they paid attention to ship layouts and cabin locations. They did not like the location of this cabin because it was above the engines and below the Captain’s Club. But they were given no choice at this point, so they hoped to make the best of the situation until they discovered cabin 337 has an “unbearable stench” as it is located directly next to and above the ship’s sewer vent. And even though they paid for a “French balcony,” they could not use it because of the odor that persisted daily, and even permeated the room with the door closed. The Klingbergs said, “Perhaps it should be reclassified as a ‘Stench Balcony!'”
They added, “In addition to the constant lies we received from Vantage throughout this booking process and the unacceptable cabin which entirely ruined our cruise experience and destroyed our faith in Vantage, there were major changes to the original itinerary throughout the course of time. Keep in mind, Vantage had our full payment for almost two years!”
The Klingbergs’ original paperwork shows the cruise beginning in Amsterdam (it did not mention they ultimately would need to be bused to Arnhem to embark), and an Amsterdam canal boat tour, as well as a tour of Cologne (where they never even went). The itinerary had included a tour of Luxembourg (which they now paid extra for as an optional tour), and the Lucerne extension somehow became two nights instead of three. The itinerary skipped the tour of Bern with the included lunch (which was supposed to take place on the portion of the route from Basel to Lucerne), and it skipped the included farewell dinner.
The Klingbergs also noted that because the Bern excursion was omitted, they arrived in Lucerne well before noon, only to discover they could not check in to the hotel until 3 p.m. Therefore, to their dismay, everyone wound up sitting in the lobby for hours after the Lucerne walking tour.
The Klingbergs claimed that in view of the various problems and disappointments they experienced in booking this trip, the sewage smell in their cabin, and the stress this situation has caused, they view compensation of no less than half of what they paid for the journey is fair. According to their invoice, they had paid a total of $5,249. (They were not asking for any airfare compensation.) While the hotel manager aboard the River Splendor seemed very conscientious, understanding and genuinely concerned about the matter, he had no authority beyond the ship to rectify the situation or to compensate them in any way, as his hands were effectively tied by the company headquarters in Boston.
Since returning home they have tried to deal with the matter through the director of customer service, to no avail. The Klingbergs reminded us that the director did not return their repeated phone calls, and basically has blown them off. As a last resort, they reached out via email to Vantage’s president, Henry Lewis, who also did not respond.
The Klingbergs agree that there is not much of a paper trail regarding this dispute. It is evident that Vantage does not want to put anything in writing, so most contact has unfortunately been verbal. According to the Klingbergs, it is obvious that Vantage is willing to make reservations and take people’s money but is not willing to deal with problems. The Klingbergs said that they had some contact with one person at the company, but they mostly just got his voicemail, and he usually did not return calls. They emailed him saying, “In light of the fact that it is obvious that we have been playing phone tag for the past several weeks, we are sending an email so that you can review the facts involved as it is also obvious at this point that you have not been properly informed of the enormity of this issue and have not been conveyed all the facts.” It is possible that the Klingbergs’ emails were somewhat aggressive in nature, and this may have contributed to them being ignored.
Vantage offered them a “free cruise” as compensation — a one-week “Dutch Waterways” cruise in early March of 2017. They turned it down because they have already done a Dutch tour, and early spring is not the best season to visit Holland. Also, since the offer was for the cruise only, they would still have had to pay the port charges and international airfare, which would amount to more than the cruise was worth.
A subsequent offer was a mere $250 voucher for future travel within a year, which the Klingbergs had no intention of using as they would rather receive a check. The Klingbergs said, “Although we realize we will probably never get half back for the original trip as suggested, we do think that they definitely owe us the difference in the cost of a French balcony which we paid for and what they consider a standard stateroom with windows on the deck below…”
The Klingbergs said, “At this point, we feel our only recourse is to have you let other travelers know of our dilemma and how Vantage treats their clients so that they might avoid having similar disappointments by not booking with Vantage.”
We continue to see that cruise operators generally do not seem to respond positively to requests for refunds or any other compensation. They generally will offer only small on-board credits for future cruises. Their terms of travel often cover them in a variety of situations such as itinerary changes. It is possible that because the Klingbergs have cruised so many times, their expectations were higher than those of most passengers. One could argue that if a customer pays over $5,000 for a detailed trip, they should get expert level service, especially if they have achieved some level of status with the company. But we must never let how we complain when things go wrong become part of the reason why a company might decide to ignore our plight.
Expert travelers and seasoned cruisers or not, they picked apart so many components of this cruise that the cabin issue was just the icing on the already stale cake that no one was willing to touch again. And neither should you.