If you want help from your cruise line, you need to ask

If you need help from your cruise line, you have to ask.

What if you need special help from your cruise line? What should you do?

That’s the situation posed to the Elliott Advocacy team today. The Benton family expected the Carnival cruise they planned for their family to be wonderful. But something went wrong. Stacy Benton, the designated family trip planner, says her wheelchair-bound mother-in-law had no access to a bathroom during the entire 5-day cruise!

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And now she wants the Elliott Advocacy team to ask for a refund for this cruise fiasco.

A cruise to celebrate with family. What went wrong?

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. She says she factored those limitations into her planning.

According to Benton, Carnival Cruise line didn’t.

Benton says she spoke to Carnival representatives “many times” before the cruise to be sure 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.

This “accessible” cruise cabin is not accessible to the bathroom!

Benton describes what happened next:

The accessible cabin 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 my mother-in-law had no access to a bathroom for five days.

No access to a bathroom for five days on this cruise?

No access to a bathroom for five days? That certainly sounds like a nightmare cruise.

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

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

After Carnival did not respond in the way she had hoped, Benton contacted the Elliott Advocacy team and asked for help.

When I initially reviewed her paperwork, her refund request seemed like a reasonable one.

But wait, there is more to this cruise fiasco

There was 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 our team. We only have Stacy Benton’s version of the events and, as far as we can tell, her in-laws (who paid for the entire group) never made a formal complaint.

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.”

Lack of factual details is the number one problem with advocating third-party complaints. It’s always more compelling and accurate to have a first-person accounting of an experience.

Benton forwarded her post-cruise correspondence with Carnival Cruise Line. Regrettably, she had not reviewed Christopher’s article about resolving your own consumer problem before she launched her problem-solving mission. Benton’s approach left something to be desired, invoking the always inadvisable position of “We will never again” take a Carnival cruise.

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

Carnival Cruise Line explains: no help was requested

When I read through Benton’s cruise fiasco story, it sounded unbelievable. So I went straight to Carnival to get some answers.

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

Carnival furnished me with information that contradicted Benton’s accounting of her booking. Although Carnival does offer several types of specialized rooms for mobility-challenged passengers, Benton booked all the rooms in her party as “Standard State Rooms.” She did request extra assistance for her in-laws to board the ship, noting their mobility issues. But this alone would not have resulted in the couple being assigned an accessible cabin. Carnival explains that many of their guests use wheelchairs/scooters on board, but do not require or want accessible/modified rooms.

The cruise line can't help you, if you don't ask.
Carnival Cruise Line’s description of the various types of accessible cabins and the standard cabin. 

Guest Access Services is available to help before and during your cruise 

The Carnival website notes 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 team is called the Guest Access Services.

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 gather more information about the extent of the elder Bentons’ 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 [email protected]

Additionally, our Guest Access Services Team emailed our medical package on August 5, to [email protected] 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.

The cruise line needed more information to help this family

Our executive contact at Carnival told me that their team made multiple attempts to clarify the extent of the elder Bentons’ needs, but Stacy Benton did not respond. Benton says she did receive “two voicemails” 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.

Unfortunately, once the Bentons boarded the ship, all the accessible cabins were already occupied. But, there was still one other option for the Bentons at this point.

Carnival Cruise Line’s Great Vacation Guarantee

Our executive contact at Carnival Cruise Line explained:

If the Bentons found the cabin situation intolerable, 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.

Every member of the Benton clan could have invoked Carnival’s 100%  guarantee. But the couple, it seems, evaluated the situation and decided to continue with the cruise. Carnival has not received a complaint from Mr. and Mrs. Benton and has turned down Stacy Benton’s third-party request for a refund on their behalf.

Need special assistance? Here’s how to avoid unpleasant surprises on your next cruise

  1. Alert the cruise line of your special needs (before your cruise)
    Most cruise lines have a pre-arrival special needs form and teams dedicated to helping passengers with special needs. Involving this team and providing information about your requirements will help the cruise line prepare for your arrival and cut-back on unpleasant surprises onboard. It’s critical to work out all the details with your cruise line before boarding the ship.
  2. Make sure that your contract reflects your needs
    Don’t forget to verify that the details of your cabin and onboard services are reflected in your cruise contract.
  3. Use a qualified travel professional who specializes in cruises and accessible travel
    Not only during your vacation booking process but should a problem arise, a professional travel advisor can offer invaluable assistance. In complicated, multi-cabin reservations, the expertise of an experienced travel agent who specializes in cruises and accessible travel can eliminate most cruise fiascos.  A website such as Travel Leaders can help you locate agents who have experience in planning accessible travel. You may need to interview a few agents and ask for references before you settle on one. (Michelle Couch-Friedman for Elliott Advocacy)

You can read more cruise fiasco stories here in the Elliott Advocacy archives.