“This mistake falls directly at the feet of Carnival”

By | January 19th, 2017

Stacy Benton expected her recent Carnival cruise to be filled with memories that would last a lifetime. And it was — just not the good kind.

When Benton’s father-in-law asked her to plan a New Year’s cruise last year for 22 extended family members, she agreed. Both of Benton’s in-laws have mobility challenges; her father-in-law uses a scooter and her mother-in-law, a wheelchair.

Benton factored those limitations into her planning. Carnival didn’t.

Benton told us that she spoke to Carnival representatives “many times” before the cruise to be certain that her in-laws had the correct accommodations. Despite her efforts, when the Benton clan arrived on-board the ship, it was clear that her in-laws’ cabin was not wheelchair accessible.

Benton describes what happened next:

The accessible suite that I booked for my in-laws was not bathroom accessible. There was a thin hallway that led to it that would not accommodate a wheelchair and then a step up to the facilities.

When we brought this to the attention of Carnival, they said I should have booked a “modified” room. After much back and forth, the only option that was available was a bedside potty. So she had no access to a bathroom for five days.

No access to a bathroom for five days? You’re kidding.

Benton explains that because the cruise was fully booked, Carnival could not move her in-laws to an appropriate cabin.

When she returned, Benton began writing letters to various Carnival executives asking for a complete refund for her in-laws.

When we initially reviewed her paperwork, this seemed like a reasonable request.

Of course, there is more to the story.

Part of the problem with researching this case and attempting to get a satisfactory resolution for the elder Bentons is that they did not contact us. We only have Stacy Benton’s version of the story and, as far as we can tell, her in-laws (who paid for the entire group) never made a formal complaint.

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And Benton was a little murky with some of the details of her in-laws’ experience. For instance, she didn’t know how they bathed for the five days and offered, “Maybe their nurse gave them sponge baths.”

And this is the problem with advocating third-party complaints. It is always more compelling and accurate to have a first-person accounting of an experience.

Benton showed us her post-cruise correspondence with Carnival. Regrettably, her approach left something to be desired, and she invoked the always inadvisable position of “We will never again” go on a Carnival Cruise.

This tactic almost never works when attempting to resolve an issue with any company. If you tell a company you will never use them again, they have no incentive to help you.

Benton’s story did sound unbelievable, and so we went to Carnival to get some answers.

And so begins the “he said, she said” portion of our story.

Carnival furnished us with information that contradicted Benton’s accounting of her booking. Although Carnival does offer two types of specialized rooms for mobility-challenged passengers; Modified and Accessible, Benton booked all the rooms in her party as “Standard State Rooms.” But she did request extra assistance for her in-laws to board the ship, noting their mobility issues. Carnival explains that many of their guests use wheelchairs/scooters on board, but do not require or want accessible/modified rooms.

Carnival notes on their website that they are “dedicated to providing the finest cruising experience for our guests with disabilities.” To this end, they have designated a special division to serve their special-needs passengers. This is called the Guest Access Services Team.

It seems that when Benton requested assistance for her in-laws to board the ship; the involvement of the Guest Access Services Team was activated. Several months before the cruise, the team began attempting to garner more information about the extent of the elder Benton’s needs. The following is an excerpt from Carnival’s response to Benton’s letter of complaint:

Stacy, we are truly sorry for any misunderstanding. To confirm, all booking confirmations, including your in-laws’ and yours, state “Carnival Cruise Lines must be advised of any guest medical or physical requirement at least 14 days prior to departure by contacting Carnival’s Guest Access Services desk at specialneeds@carnival.com

Additionally, our Guest Access Services Team emailed our medical package on August 5, 2015 to stacyBenton@XXXX. This package offered their department’s contact information and requested additional information from Mr. and Mrs. Benton in order to ensure their comfort while on board.

Carnival told us that it made multiple attempts to clarify the extent of the elder Bentons’ needs, but Stacy Benton did not respond. Benton says she did receive “two voice mails” from this team before the cruise, but the office was closed for the day when she returned their call. She doesn’t believe that she ever received the email containing the medical packet.

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Unfortunately, once the Bentons boarded the ship, all the modified and accessible cabins were occupied. But, there was one other option for the Bentons at this point. The executive I spoke to said that if the cabin was completely unacceptable to the Bentons, “they were entitled to invoke Carnival’s Great Vacation Guarantee which allows the guests to end their voyage early and receive a 110 percent refund plus complimentary transportation home, along with a $100 shipboard credit for a future cruise, should they be dissatisfied with their cruise for any reason. Guests need simply to notify Carnival’s guest services desk within 24 hours of departure.”

Presumably, every member of the Benton clan could have invoked this guarantee if the elder Bentons’ cabin was intolerable. But we assume that they evaluated the situation and decided to continue with the cruise.

Our advocates are always disappointed when we hear about a negative travel experience that could have been avoided. This case does highlight a few things that both sides could have done better.

First, Benton was under the mistaken impression that because she had informed Carnival that her in-laws had mobility issues, that they were booked into a special room. Despite Benton’s assertion that “This mistake falls directly at the feet of Carnival,” the written contract shows that the Bentons received the exact room that she booked for them.

In this type of complicated, multi-cabin reservation it would most likely have been very beneficial for Benton to engage an experienced travel agent who specializes in cruises. Not only during the booking process, but should a problem arise, a travel agent can offer invaluable assistance.

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Carnival’s Special Needs team could have done better in this case, too. By their own documentation, they had the Bentons’ reservation flagged for some time before the cruise. They unsuccessfully attempted to contact Benton many times, and the medical package was not returned. Carnival should have been more forceful in their pursuit of this important information. Perhaps, a certified letter would have been prudent here.

Of course, ultimately, it is up to the passenger to make sure that they have booked a room that suits their needs. It is imperative to read the contract carefully and, often, these types of unpleasant surprises can be avoided.

So in the end, we can’t help Benton recoup any of her in-laws’ money. We don’t know the extent of the elder Bentons’ discomfort in their cabin during their cruise, but we sincerely hope that, despite this debacle, that they were able to create fond memories with their extended family.

  • Sue Smith

    By not initially requesting and booking a handicapped room, which would have accommodated all of the in-laws needs, she has no room to complain for the way Carnival handled it on their end. They are not psychic and would have no idea what their needs were. Also, by not returning the medical forms the cruise line sent, the cruise line would have no idea the extend of their disabilities. Stacy dropped the ball on this one and needs to suck it up.

  • Fishplate

    “Benton says she did receive “two voice mails” from this team before the cruise, but the office was closed for the day when she returned their call.” And she never was curious enough to call the next day, when they might be open, to find out what they wanted?

    Email can go astray – I get that. But this? Of course you can’t help this person. They aren’t concerned enough to need help.

  • Annie M

    I thought I read this story on the forums and if so, this is a very different story than what Ms. Benton stated on the forums.

    Next time she should use a travel agent – they know how to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

  • yellowbird73

    Please do not use the word “handicapped.” I know it’s an innocent error, but it’s an offensive term to a lot of people with disabilities and special needs.

  • DChamp56

    “Carnival should have been more forceful in their pursuit of this important information.” I highly disagree with this. They made multiple attempts to contact her. The “they were closed when I called” is baloney.
    She had to have known it was about the mobility issue, which should have been a high priority BEFORE the cruise, not after it had begun.
    Sorry, sometimes the customer is wrong.

  • Annie M

    But that is what the cruise lines call it – handicapped accessible.

  • Dutchess

    Oh this is definitively on Carnival. They only called twice, left two voice mails, and sent an email with instructions. The LW tried calling once, on a day they were closed, what else could they have done!!?

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I assume you are being sarcastic (and I agree with you, if you are), but I bet someone would assume otherwise.

  • Rebecca

    This stood out for me too. Carnival obviously made reasonable efforts here. They called and left voicemails. They sent emails. If it was THAT important, why in the world would you not respond?

    I’d go a step further here too. The fact that Carnival sent a detailed, reasonable reply speaks volumes. I have a feeling that the customer isn’t only wrong, she’s an entitled whiner. That was not a form letter. Reading between the lines (I wrote/approved these), they don’t want her business again.

  • Kristiana Lee

    If I remember correctly, lots of people tried to help her but like you said, this is a very different story. I feel like everyone who tried to help her in the forum wasted their time since they didn’t know that Carnival tried to contact her multiple times to ensure that they got the cabins they needed.

  • Helene Apper

    Nice to see everyone agreeing with Carnival for a change :) This is not their fault. And had a party of 22 used a qualified travel agent, they probably would have received a better deal on top of it. A travel agent would have known to ask the important questions and would have received the emails with the important questions. No…this falls squarely on Stacy Benton’s feet. The sad part is a travel agent would not have cost her a penny and she would have gotten what she really needed.

  • Bill___A

    Carnival shouldn’t have to “babysit” them. I wouldn’t touch this one with a 10 foot pole.

  • Doctor Now

    I’m handicapped. I don’t find the term offensive. Of course, I know several people who believe special needs is an offensive term. If we discard every word somebody found offensive, we would have to stop communicating!

  • sirwired

    I strongly disagree with the statement that Carnival should have done more here. I’d say their efforts were pretty darn extensive… None of this “we sent one email and that was it.” This is 100% on her.

  • joycexyz

    Exactly. She “doesn’t believe” she received the medical packet. Not good enough. The cruise line is under no obligation to continue reaching out. And she should have been very clear about her parents’ needs in the first place. As you say, they are not psychic.

  • joycexyz

    Good for you! Why is that some people think others need to be “protected” from terms that don’t fit the narrow confines of PC?

  • Dutchess

    Obvious sarcasm is obvious (or so I thought!)

  • Journeyman

    This past May on the NCL Star, I was assigned an large handicapped cabin for a seven night cruise (I am not handicapped). As soon as I saw that this was a room for someone with needs, I contacted the Pursers desk several times that I was not in need of this type of room. Finely at about 10pm on the first night, my room was given to someone that would that could use it and I moved to their room. Problem solved!!!

  • Lindabator

    actually, falls directly at HER feet. she booked a standard cabin, only asked for wheelchair assistance at the pier, failed to fill out the documents and ignored calls till the end. I book handicapped cabins for my clients all the time – you need to call in to ensure the cabin is locked in, get paperwork to fill out for their medical needs, and all is well and good. Have handicapped rooms, oxygen needs, etc – cannot expect them to know HOW much assistance they needed when they had a standard cabin.

  • Lindabator

    true – those rooms will be assigned, but they clearly state they may move you if it is needed – HOWEVER, if you know you need it, not that it would be nice to have it so you are not inconvenienced, BOOK IT that way from the get-go. She didn’t, so NOT Carnival’s fault

  • jsn55

    Seriously good job on this article, Michelle! It’s almost incomprehensible that people book complex trips like this without expert assistance. What are they thinking? Do they believe they know it all and don’t need help? Do they think a cruise is just a simple kind of travel so little expertise is needed? How could she not talk with the right department about BOTH passengers being non-ambulatory?

    I’ve booked and managed travel for 30 years and no way would I put together a cruise like this without the best travel agent I could find … fortunately I know a TA who specializes in cruising. I’m glad you got the facts from both sides in this case, and I admire the way you communicated those facts in this article. Well done!

  • jsn55

    I work with athletes who have disabilities. We have always taken the path that people with disabilities were people first. It’s not “the handicapped”, it’s Susie with a handicap. She has one, she’s not the handicap, she’s Susie first. Adjective should describe the person, not be the noun that defines them. In other words, you use a wheelchair, you request an accessible room, you deal with cerebral palsy.

  • jsn55

    Y’all are right … on the forum, this seemed like a really awful mess that Carnival had caused by being lax. We did spend lots of time figuring out the best way to rectify the situation.

    But that’s OK, Kristiana, our role is to give people advice on how to help themselves. We never feel that our time is wasted … the OP might not benefit from our advice, but lots of other readers may. We ask lots of questions (really annoying some OPs!) but we take their word for the story and march on from there.

  • yellowbird73

    Thank you. I wish people would understand this rather than being so backwards-thinking.

  • yellowbird73

    No. Maybe 30 years ago. They are simply accessible rooms.

  • yellowbird73

    Just because you don’t find it offensive doesn’t mean that you speak for all people with disabilities. I’m sure there are people of color who are fine with racist terms as well, e.g. And I also do not like my concerns being dismissed.

    The federal government stopped using “handicapped” in its literature in 1992—25 years ago. Here is a decent document explaining why: http://www.onestops.info/article.php?article_id=14. It isn’t “PC” and it’s not made-up stuff. It’s about treating people with respect.

    All I asked was that people with disabilities be referred to with respect. I even went so far as to assume there was no ill will in the mistake. If I had made the error, I would have thanked the person who had informed me that the term was offensive and apologized for any unintentional harm I had done.

    Is that so difficult? Or is it easier to persist in using outdated, insulting, and offensive terms that actually hurt people? I realize that not everyone cares. But do you seriously not have compassion for those who do?

  • Doctor Now

    I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you do speak for all people with disabilities. Your way or the highway, I suppose.

    Of course, you better tell the federal government about not using that term, as I recently had to fill out a Standard Form 256, Self Identification of Handicap. (https://www.gsa.gov/portal/forms/download/117182)

    Instead of throwing up straw man arguments, maybe consider your own treatment of people.

  • yellowbird73

    I never said I spoke for ALL people, did I?

    Nor do I think you know what a straw man argument means. Or the difference between the term “handicapped” and “identification of handicap”—there is a not insignificant one, but it’s not my job to explain it to you.

    I’m not treating you badly. I’m not insulting you. I’m not calling you names. I’m sorry your feelings are hurt for being told you’re old-fashioned, but I’m sure a lot of people feel that way when they realize they are doing something that has gone out of style (I have that experience all the time with my teenage/early adult sons).

    I’m glad you don’t care how others refer to you. But lots of other people do. Just like some women care if men call them “doll” or “honey” or “babe” in the workplace, and other women (and men) see it a compliment and nothing to get worked up over—but it *is* actually a form of sexual harassment no matter what the second group of people *feel* about the matter.

    I acknowledge that you don’t *feel* this is a big deal or something necessary. That’s great. I’m asking you to show some respect for those who do without belittling them or making fun of them for being too sensitive or telling them to just grow up and get over it. That’s disrespectful and it has no place on this site, just as sexism and racism don’t. My initial comment was meant to enlighten and educate people about this matter, as a number of people (usually those over 45 or 50; I’m 43, so I find it’s people around my age just over my age group who weren’t educated about this) simply aren’t aware.

    I’ve never been defensive about learning new information about how to treat people with respect and dignity unless I was resistant to doing so or simply didn’t care to so. Please stop responding to my posts if you’ll persist in the nasty comments about this idea and the people who believe in it. I’ve explained why it’s a thing, as have others. You’ll either understand it or you won’t, so there’s nothing else to talk about. My only goal in the beginning was to ask people not to use the word “handicapped,” and I was met with unfair derision, which I believe the moderators should have shut down. The end. Have a great day!

  • Doctor Now

    Great social justice warrior response. Have a nice day now, you hear! :)

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