A white-knuckle ride through an Atlantic storm Sunday has those who were aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas and other prospective cruise passengers wondering about their rights.
“We have to do better,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement to passengers shortly before the ship docked Wednesday in Bayonne, New Jersey, cutting short a seven-day Bahamas itinerary.
There’s room for improvement on 12 hours of rough waves, but what is the cruise line required to do?
The industry took steps toward answering that question in May 2013, when Cruise Lines International Association announced its Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights after a series of mechanical failures and the deadly 2012 Costa Concordia accident off the coast of Italy.
That bill, however, focuses primarily on mechanical failures, medical care, essential provisions and unspecified emergencies. Among the 10 rights listed is “the right to a ship crew that is properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures.”
The industry association’s bill of rights “does not specifically cover situations involving weather — which is similar to the airline passenger bill of rights,” said Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of cruising site CruiseCritic.com.
Yet foul weather is a common occurrence on the high seas, and cruise lines reserve the right to alter itineraries to avoid it.
The fact that the ship sailed as scheduled — into a storm — is what has officials looking closely at the Royal Caribbean incident. The cruise line said the storm was more severe than expected.
“If we knew that we were going to have those kinds of winds, the winds that we actually experienced with the ship, we would not have sailed into that,” Bill Baumgartner, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of global marine operations, told CNN.
Royal Caribbean said it will be “strengthening its storm avoidance policy” and hiring more support personnel in its Miami office.
The ship sustained “superficial damage,” and four minor injuries were reported.
The cruise contracts specific to each cruise line that passengers agree to before boarding spell out exactly what passengers are entitled to in various situations that might occur at sea, Cruise Critic’s McDaniel said. That includes what happens during bad weather.
“For the most part, cruise lines are not required to provide much in the form of compensation, though it is at the cruise lines’ discretion, and we generally see cruise lines act beyond what is required, by offering seemingly fair compensation for situations like these,” McDaniel said.
That seems to be the case with Anthem passengers.
Passengers will receive a refund for their trouble plus a voucher for 50% of what they spent to be used toward a future cruise fare, Royal Caribbean tweeted.