Is this enough compensation? A broken toilet, a busted shower — and you’re offering a voucher?

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By Christopher Elliott

It was Alicia and Dean Winicks’ first cruise — a seven-day sailing from from San Juan to Dominica, Grenada, Aruba, and back again on the Caribbean Princess last month.

It looks like it will be their last cruise, too.

The Winicks encountered a series of troubles at sea, from plumbing problems to stained sheets. Princess has offered to compensate the couple, but the first-time guests aren’t impressed.

Right to their grievance

“Our time aboard the Caribbean Princess was a complete disaster, and we left feeling like we had completely wasted our time and money,” says Dean Winick.

First, the toilet in their bathroom didn’t flush.

Or rather, flushed only when it felt like it — sometimes thirty minutes to an hour after it had been flushed originally and sometimes not at all. On the last day of the cruise, it did not flush at all.

Due to the concern that the toilet would not flush, we would have to leave the room every time we had to use the bathroom. We could not relax in our room knowing that if we had to use the bathroom we would have to leave the room.

For an average person, this would be a problem. For us, it was a health concern. One of us has a gastrointestinal disease which requires a working toilet nearby at all times.

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Despite repeated efforts to get the toilet fixed, no one bothered to repair the Winicks’ WC.

The shower didn’t work, either. (Related: Did Princess ship ignore a vessel asking for help?)

I was only in the shower for two minutes before the water was up to the level of the side of the shower and about to overflow on the floor of the bathroom. We called the front desk, and they sent a maintenance person to deal with the issue.

The maintenance person solved the problem by plunging the shower drain. When we saw what came out of the shower drain, it was completely disgusting. From that moment on, we could not feel clean in the bathroom.

It is understandable that a ship bathroom has been used in the past and would have stuff in the drain; however, it is completely unacceptable for a guest to have to see that. It should have been checked before we checked in to see if the shower drained. Then it could have been cleaned prior to arrival. Instead, it was not and we had to suffer the consequences.

The problem cruise didn’t end there.

I wish that even those two items would have been our only problem with our room. After dealing with the toilet and shower on our first day, we were finally able to get into bed around 1 a.m. We were exhausted from the travel and from the room mishaps. We just wanted to get into bed and go to sleep.

However, when we pulled down the comforter, there was a large stain on the sheets. It was unbelievable that someone could have put sheets on a bed that had such a stain or that the sheets would not have been changed in between cruises. We called the front desk again and complained. They said they would send someone but we were so exhausted from the day that we told them to wait and change them in the morning. We just wanted to sleep.

Four days later, someone changed the sheets.

Our last major concern with our room was the minibar. Our minibar was not cleaned and restocked prior to our arrival. There was an open bottle of water that had been partially drunk still in the fridge at our arrival.

This is disgusting.

Initially, we were charged for this water. Again to the credit of the staff, when we told them about the issue – that it was already opened and partially drunk – they did remove it from our bill. However, this does not change the fact that it still appeared that our room was not cleaned prior to our arrival. It did not change the uneasy feeling we had throughout the whole trip of uncleanliness.

OK, that’s just gross.

Our room was substandard with inhumane conditions. When we complained, we felt as though our complaints were not heard. This was not what we paid for when we booked the cruise. Based on the disrespect and inhumane conditions we received aboard the ship, we feel that it would only be right for Princess to refund our room expense.

The Winicks sent a polite letter to Princess, asking it to address their grievances. The company sent them a response, asking them to call. So they did.

The response was completely unsatisfactory.

We were told that Princess was sorry for the inconvenience and would give us two $175 credits to use on a future cruise before March 2012. The person was very abrupt and would not entertain my husband’s questions or alternative suggestions.

This is unacceptable on multiple fronts. For one, their “compensation” requires us to spend more money and book another cruise with Princess which at this point we are strongly hesitant to do after our last experience. They are in essence forcing us to give them more money as compensation for our terrible experience.

Secondly, in order to use their “compensation”, we are required to take another vacation within the next year. We have no plans to cruise within that time frame. The credits are nontransferable so we cannot give them to someone else who would be traveling.

When I look at the Winicks’ grievance through the eyes of a customer-service representative, I see the dreaded “laundry list” complaint. Unfortunately, those are quickly dismissed as whiners, even when they sometimes aren’t.

For example, I think the non-working toilet was inexcusable. The shower? I might have let that slide. I would have probably dismissed the stain and the half-drunk bottle of water, and just focused on the fact that there was no working toilet in my cabin. (Here’s our guide to taking a cruise.)

The other issues, oddly, don’t strengthen the complaint — they invalidate it, at least in the eyes of many companies.

I agree with the Winicks that they shouldn’t have to spend more money in order to be compensated for their substandard accommodations. But a full refund of the cruise might be a tall order.

What do you think?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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