Triumphing Over Triumph
A Philadelphia Publicist Recaps Carnival Cruise Lines’ PR Nightmare and Reflects on Her Own Cruise Disaster
Last Friday, passengers triumphed over unsanitary conditions, food shortages and camping out on deck, while stranded for five days on Carnival cruise ship Triumph. The cruise ship was paralyzed by an engine room fire about 150 miles off the coast of Mexico, ultimately leaving guests trapped in the middle of the ocean for nearly a week. Friday morning, 4,200 exhausted, dirty, miserable passengers disembarked onto sweet Alabama soil.
I’m sorry, what?
When the vessel finally docked, Carnival tweeted, “Of course, the bathrobes for the Carnival Triumph are complimentary.”
I’M SORRY, WHAT?
Passengers may have been stranded aboard a filthy cruise ship for five days with little food, broken sewage systems and no heat or air conditioning, but hey, at least they get to keep the bathrobe. That tweet was an extraordinarily dumb and outlandish way to end a traumatizing week for over 4,000 people, don’t you think, Carnival?
America watched Carnival cruise lines flounder through the week-long public relations fiasco, which began Sunday night when an engine fire left the ship drifting off the coast of Mexico. Nonstop news coverage and social media sites were flooded with horrified passengers recounting overflowing toilets, hours-long waits to get food and flooded rooms during the five days they were stranded at sea.
The Huffington Post noted editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com Carolyn Spencer Brown’s opinion on the cruise line’s disaster, with a succinct quip, "I can't think of a worse way they could have handled it, whether as a maritime issue or as a PR issue.” Carolyn, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The way I see it, there are multiple PR mistakes going on here.
1.) Carnival clearly did not care about the situation at hand. In fact, two days after the engine fire took place and passengers were forced to face sewage infused walls and bread and ketchup for dinner (no exaggeration), Carnival's Chairman Micky Arison was seen at a Miami Heat basketball game. What a selfish moron!
2.) Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill released a statement to CNN on Friday (four days too late) stating, "We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case." Thank you, Captain Obvious. Pun, totally intended.
3.) Carnival was slow to communicate information about the breakdown, the passengers well being, and the rescue to the press, ultimately raising questions about how well the company (and industry at large) are prepared to deal with cruise ship breakdowns.
4.) Carnival tried to save money during the crisis by using Twitter to post frequent updates about Triumph's return to land. As the largest cruise line company in the world, (Carnival had a substantial revenue of $15.8 billion in 2011), everyone is wondering why they chose to cut corners on such a massive mistake!
5.) In the same vein, Carnival's plans for compensation include re-reimbursing Triumph passengers' fares, and a measly $500 credit for another cruise (along with those charming complimentary on-board bathrobes). Who is going to want to go on another cruise after that experience, let alone wear a keepsake that reminds them of the worst week of their life?
6.) This has yet to be explained – why didn’t Carnival send another cruise ship to pick up the stranded passengers, instead for making them endure five Titanic-esque days? I was under the impression that we were in 2013. Were there really no ships anywhere that could have gone and picked these people up? For five days?
7.) Likewise, why couldn’t food be dropped off for these people? Did they really have to resort to rationing left over rolls and ketchup once a day?
When I was sixteen in 2007, I was on a cruise ship named The Crown, owned by Princess (which is owned by Carnival!) and that ship had major problems as well. The cruise ship listed 40 degrees, almost capsizing 13 miles from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The tipping caused multiple pools to pour all over the top deck, leading to dirty ankle deep water in every room filled with shards of broken glass, and massive leaking throughout all of the cabins. About 240 injured passengers were treated onboard, and thankfully, hours later we were transported by ship to the closest port and immediately met by Coast Guard officials and medical personnel. I remember how unpleasant and scary that whole ordeal was; I can only imagine how Triumph passengers must have felt being stranded for five days with injured passengers, no food and foul conditions.
As a publicist and a survivor of a cruise fiasco, I can honestly say I am shocked how Carnival chose to handle this debacle. Not only was the whole situation a complete mess, but also the company presented itself as complete selfish assholes to the world. Do they not have a publicist… or even anyone employed in the corporate office with common sense?
Congratulations Carnival, with your lack of concern for Triumph customers, you’ve officially lost 4,200 customers. Make that millions, as I’d be surprised if anyone with any sense at all would ever consider going on a Carnival Cruise again!
Read more about Triumph here:
Read about Crown Princess here: