Carnival cruise ships.
Over the years, the company’s understanding and accommodations of our needs have been an inconsistent blend of hits and misses.
That was the case until last year.
Our 2011 Mediterranean cruise aboard the Magic exposed serious flaws in crew training and special needs accommodations that left quite a bitter taste in our mouths enough to prevent us from booking our next ‘annual’ Carnival cruise for years to come.
Looking back and analyzing what went wrong, I realize the issues we encountered could have easily been prevented by marketing and staff training fine-tuning.
I am hopeful that Carnival, as well as other cruise companies, will implement these minimal changes to help autistic travelers plan and enjoy their vacations better.
Issue: No embarkation assistance after notifying the cruise line.
Trouble started the moment we arrived at the Barcelona pier at 10 AM and asked for the special-needs assistance desk.
No one had a clue! We asked several people who were wearing Carnival and port badges but got varied and inconclusive answers like, “I need to go ask a colleague/supervisor [they never returned],” to, “I just started working here, and I’m not sure [?] ”
As usual, I called months in advance Carnival main’s office in Miami to let them know that we would be traveling with our special-needs
son, and that we needed assistance.
On past cruises, a cruise employee would guide us through the embarkation process and onto the ship as soon as possible; however, this clearly was not going to be the case this time.
Luckily, for us, most passengers had not yet arrived, and the regular counters were relatively empty.
So, without many issues, we sat through a very short line and got all the formalities over rather fast. While at the counter, a guy who introduced himself as Carmelo apologized and kept saying he does not know how this happened.
Solution: Better training for boarding staff
Although Carnival is newer in the European market compared to its competitors, the Magic is not their first ship to offer Mediterranean cruising so these ‘kinks’ cannot be considered simple first-time mistakes.
Having sailed this route from Barcelona for over two months now, the embarkation process issues should have been smoothed out already.
The fact that several employees we approached, still had no idea what to do shows an apparent lack of suitable training and understanding the needs of disabled passengers.olution:Better training for boarding staff
Issue:Trapped in the entrance to the port and almost run over.
In Livorno, we booked the ship’s tour to Pisa that included climbing the old Leaning Tower
We notified our guide both verbally and in writing of our intention to meet with friends and return on our own to the ship, leaving the tour early.
Problems arose upon returning to the port. Our friends’ car was stopped at the gate, even after we showed the guard our ship badges. The guard’s explanation was that while rented cars and taxis were permitted to enter; civilian cars and pedestrians were not. I asked the guard to contact the ship and mentioned my son’s special needs, but he proceeded to ignore me.
We were told our only option was to wait for ‘the bus with the Carnival logo’ to pick us up when it stops at the gate on its way back to the ship.
Fifteen minutes of standing in the sweltering Tuscan sun drove my son to the brink of desperation, and he darted in front of the bus that appeared.
However, that bus did not stop and almost ran him over. The guard had forgotten to mention the significant fact that while all buses were marked with the Carnival logo -only specific shuttle buses would stop at the gate.
After witnessing the dangerous bus scene and my son sobbing uncontrollably, a fellow guard took pity on us and offered us a ride to the ship in her personal vehicle.
Back on the ship when I spoke to the head of shore excursions’ desk who admitted his office was aware of the port’s ‘regulations and expressed his ‘surprise’ as to why our tour guide ‘forgot’ to inform us of the fact we would not be able to return to the ship on foot.
Solution: Improve communication with passengers and local port authority officials.
When the shore excursion desk is aware of certain port regulations – clear written, and oral notices should be provided to all passengers.
Furthermore, Carnival should either have a crew member at the gate or a phone line connection to the gate to provide the passengers (especially those with special needs) with any necessary assistance.
Issue: Wafer thin walls that made the cabin noisy 24/7.
When we booked the cabins, the ship was still being built, so finding quiet cabins-especially inside connecting ones, was not the easiest task.
We finally settled (with the help of a trained Carnival vacation planner) on cabins in the mid-ship 6373 and 6375 which, unfortunately, are located on top of the casino.
The cabin walls aboard the Magic are exceptionally thin, to the point that if you lean on them when sitting on the tiny stool provided you can feel it temporarily bending.
I did suspect that we would hear some ringing from winning slot machines based on my previous travels aboard other Carnival vessels; however, no one prepared me for loud announcements- two every hour-all-night long!
Needless to say, for the nine-day cruise, our night’s routine included a set of ear plugs and sleeping pills.
Solution: Mark quiet rooms on ship’s plan.
Carnival should devise a system of marking the quieter cabins on their vessels’ plans akin to the way wheelchair accessible cabins are marked.
This way noise sensitive and autistic passengers will be able to select more suitable cabins according to their particular disability.
Have you ever encountered problems on your cruise-how did you try to resolve them?