Last week, my family and I set off on a Hawaiian islands cruise with my wife’s entire family. Her parents were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary and wanted everyone along for the trip. It was incredibly generous of them. My father-in-law is a remarkable man, 89 years old and still works four days a week on machines at the machining company he founded many decades ago. You read that right. He’s 89 years old and still works the machines. He footed the vast majority of the bill for the entire trip, and there were absolutely wonderful things about the journey…OFF the ship. You can imagine, I’m sure. I’d never been to Hawaii before, but everyone knows it’s paradise, and it really is.
On board, it was a different story. The short version is this: we noticed almost immediately that the smell of sewage (call it what you want…human waste…shit) would come and go in the corridor on deck nine, where our rooms were located, and would sometimes FILL the rooms themselves. That’s right…all of us. There were fifteen people in our party, six staterooms, and we all experienced this issue. I called down to complain…as you do…and I was told that housekeeping would come up, and that they would send maintenance a message. Later that day when we returned to the stateroom, the smell appeared to have gone away and I was told maintenance was “looking into it.” As if they were mystified. As if they’d never had a complaint about this before. Keep that in mind.
Needless to say, it came back. Not only did it come back, but when we were in port (thus, the ship not in motion), it was dreadful. Off and on, it permeated the rooms. Opening the doors helped alleviate the problem, but understand…the smell of human waste was being vented into our rooms though the ship’s own ventilation system. I was told something had gone wrong and the ship’s waste disposal system was being vented the wrong way. Still as if this was a mystery to them. They would, they promised, keep working on it.
As days passed, my thirteen year old daughter grew more and more frustrated (as did the rest of us). “We’re trapped. There’s nowhere for us to go.” And that was the truth. Guest Relations confirmed they had no other rooms to give us, so though we could stay out of the staterooms as much as possible, we still had to sleep there. And it grew worse…because over the week, the smell permeated more and more of the ship. We gathered as a family to play cards in the game room, and it STANK OF SHIT. We went out for a dinner at one of the onboard specialty restaurants to celebrate my son’s 20th birthday, and it STANK OF SHIT.
Guest Relations told me that normally they’d have upgraded us to suites or switched us into other rooms, but there were no other rooms. No suites. And that made me think…”wait…normally?” So I started asking around, talking to members of the ship’s crew, and this is where it went from frustrating to infuriating. To unforgivable. You see, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America, sailing the Hawaiian islands, had been experiencing this problem for MONTHS. They’d ruined hundreds of vacations for people who had paid many thousands of dollars (just imagine what this trip cost my wife’s parents) and they had KNOWN all about it. In advance. The pretense of being mystified by the problem was precisely that, a pretense. Every passenger must have smelled it at some point in the restaurants and corridors and lobby, but for those on the starboard side of deck nine, it’s unquestionable. Crew members confirmed that every week…every week…for a couple of months now, passengers have paid thousands of dollars expecting the vacation of a lifetime, only to get on board and breathe in the stench of human waste for a week. Ship staff and Norwegian Cruise Line knew all about it, in advance. The ship goes into dry dock in February and the problem will not be addressed until then, according to staff I spoke with (and whom I will not name for fear of retribution against them).
When my brother-in-law and I went back to Guest Relations with this new revelation–individually and later together–we were promised some form of compensation. The manager we spoke to acknowledged this as an ongoing problem, confirming what staff members had told me. He waited days, saying he had to speak to his superiors about what could be done, and though he was pleasant, in the end the best he could do was to offer us $400 per room in refund/credit. (Which we took, of course.) He said that was the most that the ship itself was allowed to do, that anything else would have to be brought up to corporate, that I should contact customer service when I got home. He told us that he believed THEY would contact US on Monday (yesterday), because he had written them several emails about it.
It’s not the stink that truly bothers me, as you might imagine, but the deceit. It’s not the shit…it’s the bullshit.
Were we surprised that they did not call us yesterday? We were not.
So today, I called them on the number that the manager on board had given me. I was on hold for FORTY MINUTES before a human finally answered, and when she did, she was not ameliorative at all. As I always do, I began by explaining that I knew she was an employee, and that though I was frustrated and angry, I was not frustrated or angry with her. Then I explained the situation. Tersely, dismissively, she told me my only recourse was to go fill out a form online and wait fifteen to twenty business days for a reply. While this did not surprise me, it was not satisfactory. I wanted, before I hung up and went to fill out that form, to at least spend a few minutes speaking to a manager or supervisor. I wanted at least the satisfaction of being *acknowledged.* I was told no supervisor was available. I asked when one might be available. I got the runaround. Classic. I pressed several times, eventually asking two or three times: “for the record, I am asking a simple question–is it true or not true that supervisors at Norwegian Cruise Lines refuse to speak to customers who call their customer service line?” She refused to answer, changed the subject, and then finally said there were circumstances in which a supervisor would speak to a customer. I asked what those circumstances might be, and she said she did. Not. Know.
To summarize…NCL’s Pride of America has a current, ongoing (for months) ventilation problem that causes their waste system to vent the stink of human waste to vent into many staterooms and public areas. They’ve been aware of it the whole time, yet gave no warning, behaved as if they were unaware of it, tried to pretend it was a surprise to them when complaints were lodged, stalled on what they might do to make it up to us, only finally gave us $400 per room after we confronted them with the knowledge of the ongoing problem, and their customer service phone line offers only one response to complaints–go fill out a form and if you’re lucky we’ll get back to you in a month. (Why have a customer service phone line if you can’t serve your customers by phone?)
If we had known about this ongoing problem before boarding the cruise, we’d have been in a position to do something about it. Good luck to anyone who is currently booked to cruise on that ship. I know that I will never go on a Norwegian cruise again.
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Hawaii is paradise. Later I’ll be posting some pictures on social media of some of the best moments from our trip. None of them, needless to say, took place on board.