NEW YORK -- When
Becky Strecker saw the devastation in New Orleans from Hurricane
Katrina, she realized that the 246-person group she had booked for
the Carnival Conquest in October was in trouble.
Strecker, an agent
with Cruise Planners in Fairfield, Va., quickly got on the phone
and put hotel rooms on hold in Texas and Florida, guessing that
Carnival Cruise Lines would redeploy the 110,000-ton Conquest to
Galveston or Miami. I actually had a meeting with the group, handed
them their tickets and still didnt know where they were going, she
Her gamble paid off.
As soon as she heard the ship was to be based in Galveston
indefinitely, she faxed in the confirmation at the Houston Embassy
Suites, and within 30 hours she had the entire group re-booked to
Houston Bush Airport.
Its the second time
in nine years that Ive had to do it under this much stress,
Strecker said. And the other one was 9/11. With the same
agents last week scrambled to reaccommodate thousands of guests who
were previously booked on Carnival ships. Some, like the Carnival
Conquest, were merely redeployed.
Sensation and Holiday, meanwhile, were chartered by the Federal
Emergency Management Agency for six months beginning Sept.
Those six months of
bookings were cancelled through March.
itineraries, meanwhile, were changed from seven-day cruises to
four- and five-day cruises. Passengers on the Ecstasy were moved
right to the Elation. But the Elations passengers didnt have a
comparable -- or empty -- ship to bump over to.
Carnival paid full
refunds to bumped clients and offered a $100 per-person onboard
credit. Carnival also protected the travel agents commissions on
both the original sale and the rebooking.
And there was plenty of
work for agents like Mimi Comfort, president of Comfort Tours of
Kansas City, Mo., who said the agency had tons of passengers to
We had several groups
on different ships. Its a difficult situation, she said.
We had a meeting
yesterday and ran reports on all the ships and clients affected,
said Comfort. We contacted them on an individual basis. For those
who want to go ahead and go, were moving them over.
The snag, said
Comfort, came for the displaced passengers: The cruise lines are
charging them prevailing rates, often higher than when the
passengers originally booked.
In some cases they
booked a seven-day cruise and are now bumped to a five-day cruise
for practically the same money, Comfort said.
understands the need to help the people in New Orleans, Comfort
said, It shouldnt be a disservice to the clients. Theyre told to
book early to get the best price. Now theyre being kicked off the
ship, and they are paying for it. The cruise lines are not giving
any kind of break.
But Patti Edwards,
the sales manager for Comfort Tours sister agency, Cruise Holidays,
said although some clients are disappointed at seeing their
purchases downsized, Everyone was of the mindset that this is small
compared to what [Katrina evacuees] are going through. It became a
matter of being creative and trying to find ways to work with the
Agents in the office
were really having to scramble, Edwards said, but I think everyone
is getting accommodated. Agencywide, about 50% are just shifting to
another ship. The only thing Carnival should have done was to have
protected their rates. [Clients] are having to pay about 30% more
than they did originally.
that they gave passengers a full refund and a shipboard credit and
said the decision to charter its vessels was difficult due in no
small part to the fact that we realized we would be disrupting the
vacations of tens of thousands of people.
Bruce Scottow, the
editor in chief of the Web site at Seven Blue Seas Vacations of
Pasadena, Calif., said he thought Carnivals offer was generous and
sensitive, even though some clients prices rose.
For people who were
booked on truly good deals that were no longer available its
unfortunate, but Carnival cant give away the house, he said. I was
very impressed with Carnivals response.
According to Scottow,
By Thursday or Friday [following the Monday when Katrina hit New
Orleans] they had already been in talks with the powers-that-be
about possible chartering. Then by Monday they had a game plan in
place. My overall impression is that theyre acting really fast.
Thats something we can tell our customers.
Clients, too, were
putting inconvenience into perspective, Scottow said. If they are
not getting their perfect vacation or alternate date, they are
understanding, saying: Hey, we dont have it so bad. Were talking
about going on a luxury cruise. I think the traveling public is
reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].
contributed to this report.