Monday, September 24, 2012

Karmic Vacation; A Comedy of Cruise Complaints

Dec. 7th, 2008

Dear, Mr. Dondero-

I’m writing this letter in reply to your email which was sent to me after I took the post-tour survey. Let me just say that this last trip was my 4th time booking a vacation through your agency and, although I have indeed had minor issues in the past (being left accidentally without transportation somewhere there was supposed to be a transport, etc.), I have never actually complained before. And I do realize that, in a way, I’m sort of barking up the wrong tree here. My real beef is with the cruise line. But believe me, I have tried to contact them several times since I’ve been home in order to obtain either a mailing address or a phone number where I can direct these complaints. They, however, have yet to respond to me. And let’s face it; they’re not going to, Mr. Dondero. Furthermore, I realize some of these complaints may seem quite petty…others, however, are much more serious indeed. But when the crap on that boat just started piling up; I began to keep a list of absolutely everything that went wrong. This is pretty much in chronological order so…I’ll just start at the top:

  1. The hot water in our shower took 20 minutes to heat up everyday. I called the customer service desk several times but, each time they told me that they would send someone up to look at it, nobody ever showed up. And this is a rough way to start things out, Mr. Dondero. I am referring, of course, to both this list and the way my girlfriend and I were forced to start each morning. Because nobody enjoys a cold shower upon waking, sir. Of this, I am sure. Even Europeans.  

  1. Our daily ship-info newspaper was not received on the first evening and therefore; we missed breakfast the following morning not realizing what time they stopped serving (which does, by the way, vary from day to day). As I have said and as I’ll reiterate; it was our first evening aboard and, since taking a cruise was a new experience for either of us, we didn’t even know we were missing this informative paper until it was too late.  

  1. The crew left a bottle of water in our cabin for us (optionally) to buy with a price tag on it. I have no idea how much it cost but it’s just little stuff like this that added to the whole trip seeming that much more sleazy, greasy, and tacky.

  1. The ship was late reaching Civitavecchia, our port of embarkation, so my girlfriend and I were left with no time to plan or read any literature our first evening aboard (not that we had the ship-info paper anyway) regarding the optional excursions. This being said, though, we wound up ‘opting out’ of any of these optional tours since they were well overpriced, would have taken up hours of our port time and, to put it succinctly, I had already begun to distrust anything sponsored by this cruise line from the very first night. If I would have had any information regarding these overpriced excursions prior to actually setting foot on the boat, I would have planned some optional tours on my own that would have worked better for us. And it must be added here that, supposing my girlfriend and I did ever want to take one of these overpriced tours; neither of us ever figured out how. All I can deduce is that it must have been a real pain in the ass to sign up for one. The customer service desk told us to locate a “tour machine” that we were supposed to slide our credit cards in but…whatever happened to the ‘personal approach’? Especially on a so-called ‘luxury cruise liner’ such as this. We were not happy, Mr. Dondero. And I am not happy now obviously. Or satisfied.

  1. I cannot tell you how many times the customer service desk misdirected me, told me to come back at 5, and then at 7, and then at 8, and then go up to Deck 4. A classic example of this was the time that our daily ship-info paper stated that all non-EU passports had to be rounded up at the customer service desk in order to for us to disembark in Mallorca. And so I waited in the longest line for a seeming eternity only for the representatives to tell me that, of course, ‘non-EU passports meant ‘non-EU passports and American passports’ obviously. So, silly me. Also, due to this lack attention and misguidance; it took me three days! Three days, Mr. Dondero, to even activate our cruise-cards which were supposedly so essential in paying for things on-board and signing up for those overpriced tours that we weren’t going to take anyway. Not too cool. And not very relaxing (which, so I’ve heard, is everything that a cruise is usually supposed to be).

  1. Here’s an easy one. The hot tub closed at 10 p.m. Lame. The hot tub was also 80 degrees! And perhaps that is how Europeans prefer the temperature of their hot tub water (that’s just a guess, I don’t know) but it sure wasn’t very satisfying to our own American skins or live up to our standards. And this is too bad, Mr. Dondero, since there was virtually nothing else to do on the ship all day. Every other activity, recreational spot, or point of interest (even the ridiculous excuse for a water slide) was open for 2 hours a day only. And those 2 hours were almost always while everyone was at port!

  1. It is my belief, sir, that your travel agency really needs to consider warning people that, if they’re not willing to cough up a bundle of cash at every single port on one of these overpriced tours, than those poor souls are going to have quite a walk in store for themselves from the ship into town. Miles sometimes, sir. Miles. Luckily, my girlfriend liked the exercise. She tried to make the best of it and enjoy her first time overseas. It is also very fortunate for the both of us that she, by nature, just really isn’t the complaining type or I would be much angrier than I even am right now. And if you have a girlfriend or a wife, Mr. D, then you know what this can be like.

  1. I have plenty of friends who have taken cruises and none of them ever complained to me about being motion sick the entire time. We, however, were. The ship was rocking all over the place and people couldn’t even walk around without slamming into each other. Just, please, take this under advisory less you have to deal with some sort of insurance suit soon.

  1. Since the boat was late, we didn’t board in time for the welcome buffet…which would’ve been nice. In fact, by my understanding, nobody boarded in time for this buffet and I believe it was just cancelled altogether. But we paid for this, Mr. Dondero. It was supposed to have been part of our overall ‘cruise experience’. I’ll say no more on this particular subject, however, as I’m sure that you can see where I am going.

  1. The bed sheets felt like burlap. Grittier than in even the cheapest motel room in the US. It did not spell ‘luxury’ to us but I will say no more on this subject either as I’m sure that, by now, you have received many complaints already.

  1. When we finally did make it down to breakfast, we were seated in an area directly next to the kitchen where the staff was busy working. And there was so much clanging of dishes and silverware, Mr. D, that I literally could not hear my girlfriend as she was attempting to speak to me across the table…and vice-versa. Ridiculous. This occurred on our 2nd morning (as I’ve already explained that we were unable to enjoy a breakfast on our first day) and, so fed up were we, it was also the last time we went down for breakfast while on-board.

  1. Another reason we didn’t sign up for any of the optional tours is that we were both feeling queasy and motion sick the whole time. And, according to cruise line, the only way to get out of a tour (with your money) after having already signed up for one; was to get a Dr.’s note from cruise line’s own hospital on-board. And, since one Dr. visit cost as much as one of the optional tours to begin with…we have just another example of the sleazy trickery in action. A scam in action, Mr. D. And I stress this.

  1. Ping-pong seemed like a fun option but the paddles were nowhere to be found and no one could direct us to them…not even customer service. Especially not customer service or the front desk due to both their brusque unfriendliness and their incompetent nature.  

  1. The decibel level of the P.A. system on-board is literally detrimental to one’s hearing. I’m not joking. And this is one of my more serious complaints. Our ears were literally ringing after the first long and overdrawn ‘welcoming message’. Even after we had both tried to cover our ears with pillows from the bed! And I just don’t think that this is very cool at all, Mr. D. Or very healthy. From a legal standpoint.

  1. The cruise directors informed us specifically (over the ear-splitting P.A.) that no passengers, without exception, were allowed take pictures during the life vest drill. This, in itself, was fine. A lifesaving drill sounded serious enough and therefore no one should be playing around and taking pictures. It was understandable.  But what do you think, Mr. D, was the first thing that my girlfriend and I saw when we reached the lifeboat deck upon reporting for our only true duty on this ship which was to participate in this lifesaving drill? What we saw, Mr. D, was the cruise staff taking pictures of everybody in their life vests looking so silly and only so that these photos could be sold to us later on if we so desired. Which we, I believe it goes without saying, did not buy. Disgusting, Mr. D. And truly irresponsible, in my opinion. This very crucial drill was nothing more than a photo opp, a sales opportunity, and a comedy in which we (ourselves and every single, last passenger) were on stage for the cruise line’s owners’ own capitalistic amusement. And this one is so very serious, Mr. D. Please, if for no other complaint, look into this one for me. But, moving on… 

  1. The snack bar area (where we ate mostly) was infested with flies. They were everywhere. I literally caught and killed them with my hands sometimes, from out the air, as they proceeded to buzz around our plates. And this is not luxury, Mr. D. Having to constantly deal with pesky flies is not a luxury in any country I am yet familiar with. In the US or in Europe or even in the Third-World, sir. There may be fly-problems…but you will never hear anyone referring to it as some sort of luxury.

  1. Since there was nothing else on board to do, my girlfriend and I thought we could at least watch movies. So sadly, we were wrong. The ship offered but one movie in English and I had already seen it. One! Not to mention that this one movie cost upwards of 10 euro. And to me, this is insane. Is it a ploy, Mr. D? Do you think so too? Is it that they wanted us to get up and out of our rooms in order to spend more money on-board. Because, I can tell you confidently that, the German-based airline we took overseas offered a plethora of English-speaking movies; both classics and new releases. And this is a shame, Mr. Dondero. It truly is. And only adds to this ship’s lack of gratifying their many international passengers.

  1. The food sucked too, sir. How else can I put it to you? Any given meal was either over-cooked or under-cooked. And, on one night in particular, the kitchen’s Tilapia fillet caused my girlfriend to vomit. To literally puke. After the first couple of nights, though, we learned our lesson and ate pizzas for dinner via the fly-infested snack bar. We were desperate, sir. What more could we do?

  1. And while I realize that this one is nobody's fault; the only reason I chose this particular cruise was to see Malta and Tunisia since, every other country along the way, I had already been to. That being said; Tunisia was fun despite the fact that there was a nearby light-rail that would have taken us straight into Tunis for mere cents on the dollar. And despite the fact that, being deceitfully mislead by the front desk again (as they just wanted us to cough up our cash for one of their overpriced and prearranged tours), we were forced to take an expensive cab. Malta, however, was closed. And if I ever could have possibly imagined that a country could close due to bad weather, I would have seriously re-thought this whole trip to begin with. And again I do think, sir, that your own travel agency should definitely warn people about stuff like this up front and in boldface print...if I may so suggest. A whole country that we missed out on, Mr. D! Can you even imagine our mood or the looks on our faces upon hearing that we wouldn’t be going into Malta that day? Because, they were very sad. And the seas were not high, sir. And this is the thing! The sky was clear even! And so I wonder. I have to wonder here although I do not want to sound paranoid. But…were the ports to Malta really closed on this day. Or, was the cruise ship just trying to make up for the time that it had lost by being late on the day of our embarkation. And do you know why it was late Mr. D? Of course, you do. I am sure that you have heard this all already. But, let me just refresh. Please, allow me just this. The ship was late in picking us up because it had crashed into its own dock while pulling into its last port in what I've been told was also fair weather. And, while I do not know for sure, I can only suppose that these things happen. But why, Mr. D? Why should we, the passengers and ticket buyers, suffer and pay with our own money for an experience that we just did not have? Why should we have to pay for a captain, perhaps feeling a bit nervy after having just crashed into a different dock, who may have only been afraid then to perform the simplest of maneuvers in Malta? And in saying so, I have again read through the contract that was sent to us upon the day our payment was confirmed. And nowhere in this contract, sir, do I find any mention of not being able to port in the countries that we had signed up for and with the highest hopes of seeing. Furthermore; I cannot even find, within said contract, any clause relating events such as an ‘act of God’ as our own American contracts so often refer. This is an entire country I missed out on, Mr. D. And so you see what I am saying.   

  1. We, my girlfriend and I, paid one thousand dollars extra for a balcony room. I (from an economical standpoint) could have gone either way on this but, just for the sake of saying, my girlfriend becomes claustrophobic at times, and so it was required. And so much for the better, yes?! If we meant to travel in style on this one then why not just indulge ourselves in such a room. I am sorry to report, however, that the door to the balcony slammed and banged all night due to what I am assuming is poor carpentry work, the installation, or insulation. And it was horrible. It cost us more than many hours of sleep. And again, upon reporting this issue to the front desk; they relayed to me that someone would be up to look at it, however, I am sure that you can guess the rest.

  1. Last but not least; the icing on the cake for me was when we finally received our bill and there was a “hotel service charge” of 84 euro. This amounts to well over one hundred dollars especially based on the poor exchange rate the ship had been giving me. I inquired as to what the charge was for and was told that it was for the tip. The housekeepers’ tip. The tip for the obnoxious guy who never stopped knocking on our door. The same guy that I’d asked after day-two to not come in our room anymore…who still kept knocking. Of course, he did. Because one hundred dollars to housekeeper is serious money. But do you know what, Mr. D? One hundred dollars is some serious money to me too so… We are not rich people, Mr. Dondero. My girlfriend and I. We have scrimped and saved for over one year so that we could take this trip together and did dream about this trip and look forward to it so as some sort of beautiful and wonderfully romantic getaway. One hundred dollars is still a lot to us. And we sacrificed a lot of things so that we could get there. A year’s worth of things that may have made us just that much more comfortable at home. Please, think about that Mr. D. I’ve heard it said that most customers who are unhappy with something simply won’t return. They won’t ever say anything…but they won’t come back. And so, from a business perspective if nothing else, consider the time that it’s taken me to lay out this perfectly rational list of complaints to you. I found no fine print anywhere stating that we could ever be expecting an add-on charge like this. I’d like my money back. Now. And you can tell that to the cruise line.

  1. Just one more that I almost forgot about; every single bar on that ship had a guy playing piano. This was the only form of musical entertainment offered and let us suffice to say that I’ve now officially heard Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ enough to last me a lifetime. Don’t get me wrong and it’s not that I don’t like Stevie. But damn. There was just no feeling in those covers. And I love the soul, Mr. D. But unfortunately, soul was something that just happened to be lacking from every last of the umpteenth covers of this same song that I was subjected to on this ship…and on this trip in general.

Listen. There’s so much more that I could go into but I don’t even have the breath. The casino. The lousy drink promotions. The cruise-ship cards in depth. The photographers being always in your face! But I’ll just end it by saying that this trip was the opposite of what we thought it would be. It was the opposite of relaxing. And I’m sure my hair is just that much greyer now because of this trip and of that ship.
Near Barcelona, we actually contemplated getting off of the ship for good and just buying a Eurorail ticket to Rome.

And please, just let me just reiterate, I have never before complained. Your travel agency can be a little quirky at times but this time…well, I just expected more than this. We saved and dreamed all year about this vacation. And it turned out to be a real piece of shit. Thanks. Please, do what you can on your end to deal with the cruise line and the refunding of my $100 in housekeeper tip-money. Then and only then will I consider booking with your agency again.

P.S. Once in Rome, your agency’s shuttle driver to the airport actually miscounted heads and left my girlfriend and I stranded. We had to catch a taxi to the airport which ran me over $100 when considering that I’d already paid for the shuttle. Just another example. And it just goes to show.


Sept. 22nd, 2012

            That was a real letter and I’d actually sent it. I do not, however, believe I ever received a reply. And so...a copy of it has just been sitting on the desktop of my computer, for years now, collecting cyber dust. And now having nothing much better to do with it, I have obviously decided to give it a little polish and post it to this blog. And it had been written in sort of an entertaining way to begin with. Mostly, though, because I was hoping that the entertainment value of the thing would work to ease this Mr. Dondero guy  into actually reading all of these complaints and to consider giving me some sort of refund. Which, along with so much as a response, I also did not receive.
            All I can say, though, is that I am a man of my word. And, ever since this catastrophe of a vacation trip, I have not booked again with this travel agency. Truthfully, though, I haven’t again booked with any travel agency upon the belief that I’d simply outgrown them. But there are definitely perks to booking with one. For the money; the accommodations are usually excellent. And they’re nice for anyone trying to avoid the stress of having to arrange everything themselves (from airfare to ground-transportation…all the way to hotels and food). They’re supposed to be good for putting one’s mind at ease and since, as I have mentioned, it really was my then-girlfriend’s first time overseas, I’d just wanted us to be able to relax and have a good time and not have to stress about anything.
            Admittedly, taking a cruise was not the way to go. I'd never before been on one, though, and neither had she. And since just about everything advertising a cruise sounds so good in theory; we considered ourselves open and willing to try this new experience. Just think of all the countries we’d be able to see in so little time! Such was one of the intrigues of traveling by boat. But it was also, I’m sorry to say, kind of a lie. Our time at each port amounted to mere hours and we sure as hell weren’t allowed to purchase any alcohol while ashore and bring it back aboard. And I realize that that last statement only helps to accentuate just what I drunk I was and still am but…come on! They could have thrown us a bone, for crying out loud. They could have thrown us that one at least.
            But anyway. My more well-informed readers may want to go back and consider complaint #15. That is, if you’re at all in this for anything more than just a cheap laugh. Not that I care if you aren't. And please, take only from these stories what you want. But, I suppose, there is a slightly deeper and more serious side to them all and here’s the slightly deeper side to this:

So fuck you, Mr. Dondero. And fuck you, Costa Cruises. And while I am very sorry to everyone who had to be involved in the unfortunate accident that did occur on the night of Jan. 13th, 2012...I still had a miserable time on that ship. And I'm glad that it sunk.