Hey NCL, you call that a kids’ cruise?

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By Christopher Elliott

I’ve been on the fence about this case for weeks, following the back and forth between this unhappy customer and a cruise line.

The reason for my indecision? Two years ago, I took virtually the same Norwegian cruise as Joseph Cilento, and my family and I had a dramatically different experience than he did. But things change.

A family’s unfulfilled expectations

Cilento, his wife and twin daughters were passengers on the Norwegian Gem in May, which sailed from New York to Nassau and back in seven days. He says the voyage was billed as a family-themed voyage, with lots of special amenities for kids.

“We were led to believe that this was a Nickelodeon cruise,” says Cilento. But it wasn’t — at least not the way he expected it.

“The characters were only available by paying for a breakfast or for seeing them for five minutes on stage,” he adds. “Needless to say, my children were disappointed.”

What a contrast to the Nick cruise my family took in 2011. The ship was teeming with cartoon characters back then, and it looked as if it had actually been retrofitted for the kids.

That’s not all. Cilento outlined a long list of other grievances in a letter to NCL. The biggest one revolved around a lack of available daycare.

We were told the kids’ zone was open until 10:30 p.m., and then
we [would] have to pay for babysitting. However, the kids zone closed from noon to 2 p.m. and then again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. And it did not open until 9 a.m.

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My wife and I wanted to play in the Texas Hold ’em tournaments onboard, but the three you had were all at 12:15 p.m., while your staff were out to lunch. Why no babysitting during the
day? So those plans went out the window for me and my wife.

Why don’t you have your staff in the kids’ zone overlap and break at different times? Who takes a two-hour lunch, anyway?

The promised Nick characters never showed up, he says. Not during meals, not during their visit to NCL’s private island. To add insult to injury, he says NCL wanted to charge his kids to use a slide on the island, which dampened his enthusiasm for this “all-inclusive” kids’ cruise.

Navigating the Nick Cruise disappointment

This isn’t the first complaint that we’ve received about NCL. I suggested he send his complaint to NCL. Here’s how it responded.

It is most unfortunate to learn of your disappointment with our youth program. Since we know that this type of vacation has become popular for families, we offer a comprehensive children’s program onboard, which offers a variety of age appropriate activities and supervision during certain hours of the day. When the ship is in port or during late evenings, we offer a Port Play program, which is a group sitting service for a customary fee per child per hour.

As an additional bonus for our younger guests, we offer the Nickelodeon At Sea program. Events include Nickelodeon Character Breakfast, available for a fee; Slime Time Live!, which is scheduled once during the cruise; meet and greet photo opportunities at designated times; Nick Live Poolside!, etc. Please note that the Nickelodeon at Sea events are listed in the Freestyle Daily newsletter.

We strive to provide a variety of activities for families with young children and do try to be flexible with our guests’ needs. We sincerely regret that we fell below your expectations and you can be certain that your feedback has been carefully noted.

We were concerned to hear of your experience at our private island and we wish to extend our sincere apologies for any inconvenience. Please know that every effort is made to ensure a comfortable environment for our guests so they can relax and enjoy their cruise vacation. A copy of your letter was forwarded to management in the respective departments, so they are aware of your impressions.

Similar to other hotel and entertainment establishments, there may be a customary fee for some activities and events. For future reference, your cruise fare includes ocean transportation, accommodations, meals in the main dining room, entertainment and guest activities planned by our cruise director’s staff. Items of a personal nature, such as alcoholic beverages, sodas, spa treatments, certain specialty exercise classes, laundry, photos, internet services, tours, etc., are not included, as indicated in our brochure. We are sorry for any confusion in this regard.

Thank you for this opportunity to respond. We value your patronage and hope to welcome you back aboard in the near future.

This appeared to be a form letter, so I suggested Cilento appeal to NCL in writing. He did, but NCL refused to budge. I reviewed his email, and found that he didn’t ask for any specific compensation — an easy mistake to make. He’s now on his third appeal. (Here’s our guide on how to resolve your consumer problem.)

Personally, it ticks me off when any product is marketed for families, but then comes up short. Is that what happened to the Cilentos? Did their travel agent — or did they — make assumptions they shouldn’t have, or did NCL stretch the truth in its marketing?

I have a feeling NCL will say “no” again. Which will bounce the ball back in my court. Should my advocacy team and I go after NCL. Or should we tell Cilento he raised the bar too high on his cruise?

Should I mediate Joseph Cilento's case?

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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