I left home at around 11am on Friday. I had a reservation at the Hampton Inn and Suites and got to Galveston at around 3.45pm. One of the very first things I noticed as I crossed over onto the island was the fog. The further toward the seawall I went, the more dense the fog. I have never seen fog like what I saw over the next couple of days. I have lived in Germany where the fog would get so bad it was downright dangerous to drive, I have lived in GA where it would get foggy and I grew up in Tennessee which is no stranger to fog. But what all those places have in common is that it would "burn off" when the sun rose. It didn't stick around. I named the Galveston Fog - Fogzilla. It was industrial strength fog - not even the sun could kill it!
Anyways I check in to my hotel and the visibility was ok but it seemed to change rapidly. By 7pm it was so thick I could not see road signs or stores. I went back to the hotel and stayed there! I dragged my 4 year old granddaughter down the street to the Golden Corral just so we would have something to eat. I could not see the seawall at this point which was directly across the street. After we ate and walked back to the hotel and I used the hotels business center to check Carnival.com and CC. You see I was expecting to see some sort of ALERT on the front page of Carnival.com - NOTHING! I am a very proactive (some call me anal) and called Carnival and asked about our sailing. I specifically asked about the ship coming in or not. She said and I quote “we have not been advised that there will be a delay and things should proceed as normal". Now I am not going to say that this was an outright lie - but the Port of Galveston had already been closed by this point.
Next morning dawns and I am up at 6.30am and took photos of the fog outside my window. I hustle down stairs and pop on CC and Carnival.com again. NO Alerts. I check gmail and Facebook - Nothing. (this all comes into play later) I get breakfast, go to Walmart (again) and call Carnival (again) and am still told that everything is fine - despite the fact that while I am talking to them I am also on Galveston.com and looking at the cruise and harbor cams and there is NO ship in port. I point this out - silence. She tells me that perhaps the feed is delayed. Um no. Its live. She says and I quote " We have not been advised that there has been any delay with the arrival of the Carnival Ship Ecstasy and everything should precede as normal". Now again I am not calling her a liar - but I think Carnival needs to work on their verbiage on what to say to passengers.
I am going to stop here and say that what I witnessed (phone and in person) during those 2 days leaves me convinced - even days later when I have had time to process everything - that Carnival must train their CSR's to evade, down play, avoid the truth - whatever you call it. Now I will also say that there was 1 or 2 who I met in person - the supervisor at the Convention center and the supervisor at the terminal on Saturday that actually tried to help. And the supervisor from Sunday morning from Guest Resolutions that spoke to me tried to help and was very helpful in calming me down and actually listening to me instead of talking and there was at least one CSR who didn't try to just pacify me to get me to shut up. I am not a difficult person to deal with...I don’t yell or scream our cuss CSR's (well I did say one or two nasty words to one - I will tell you about that in a few minutes). I also want to add that once we boarded that ship - it was like heaven. All the staff was wonderful and let me tell you they took a licking and I never NOT once saw them frustrated or get nasty with those who were giving them hell. They would smile and be very friendly...they made what we went thought more tolerable.
Back to Saturday...I made my 1st mistake of the day - I checked out of my hotel. As I look back I should have stayed at least until check out time. I wanted to sightsee and I didn't understand that Fogzilla wasn't leaving anything soon. I loaded the kid and luggage up and we were off for the Strand. I immediately went to Park and Cruise to park but was told that since the Ecstasy wasn't in yet I could not park. There was a very nice lady who worked there and she directed me to park along the street at 25th and Strand. So I hooked Illiana up to her puppy harness, grabbed my camera and wallet and we were off. I deposited $1.50 (I think) in the meter and we walked to Pier 21 and around the Strand. I had put an hour on the meter and it was set to expire at 11.30am. At 11.15am we headed back to the car with still no Ship in sight. I called Carnival again. I was getting worried at this point. I had checked my Blackberry and there still wasn't anything on Carnival.com but I wasn't able to access the full site - so I called.
I got the 2nd of the many CSR's or Carnival Pier Rep's that I would speak to that day that would lie to me or avoid giving me a straight answer. She told me that that there was a delay (ohh NOW you have a delay) in the docking of the Ecstasy and that due to "mother nature" the port was closed. I asked her (thinking that I would get a straight answer) why that information hadn't been made public on their website? Her answer? Again I quote "Well we did send out an email and calls at 2.30). Now mind you its about 11.30pm by now so I asked her 2.30 when? Her response: "Yesterday". At this point I called her a liar. I told her that I had checked my email Friday before I left work and just that morning before I checked out of my hotel and not only that ALL of my emails come auto to my Blackberry! And...I have a work phone number, my cell number, my home number and my daughter's cell number on my reservation! She said that "perhaps my emails went to my Spam box" - not bloody likely - but here let me check - NOPE NOT THERE! And then I asked her what about the phone calls - she said that "Calls Went Out" to advise "passengers to not come to the port and to contact Carnival or visit Carnival.com". That’s all she would say. I told her that if calls had of gone out I would have gotten one - she said that maybe (she had an answer for everything) that I missed it - ever heard of voice mail? What about caller ID? She said that they might not show up on Caller ID - OMG! Every single call I get shows up!!!! And I told her that there was 4 - count them FOUR phone numbers on my reservation and you are telling me that NOT one of them would have been answered or shown up on VM? Here's the good part: "Well Mam you were notified and if not then I am telling you now". Oh Dear God. I hung up before I said a really bad word.
So I put more money in the meter - enough till 5.30pm. We walked back to Pier 21 and ate lunch at the Olympia. Good but very pricey. I paid $26 plus tip for a burger, fries, glass of tea for me and a very large bowl of spaghetti and choco milk for Illiana. As we were sitting there I noticed that they skies were clearing. Sun had even begun to show through. After lunch I need to pee and since I had a hankering to see the Harbor House I made use of their 2nd floor lobby. It’s actually very nice. There was a large TV and sofa. We sat there for a bit and I let Illiana watch cartoons and I sat there and watched the sky clear more. I figured we had better leave before someone figured out we didn’t belong so we left. We went outside to the grassy area and I let her play for abit. It was about 2pm by this time I think maybe earlier perhaps later. I called Carnival again for an update. I was told that the Port had reopened and that the pilot boats had been sent out to the ship. I asked the CSR if I should check in now and she said yes to do so. I asked if I needed my bags and she said that I would. I was ecstatic - I got on CC and confirmed it via one of the threads about this topic. I collected my grandchild and we set off for my car.
As I was walking back to my car I passed Park and Cruise I saw that the guy was standing out front holding a sign that said park for $40. I asked him if that meant I could park now. He said yes. I had pre - paid $35 and when I got Illiana in my car and got across the street I was met by the same lady as before. There was a catch to the whole park now thing. The parking lot I had pre- paid for was still full. I could pay $7 extra for the secure indoor building. This brings me to mistake number 2. I paid extra. I figured it would be one less thing I would have to worry about later. They were very nice. My suitcase weighed 200lbs by this time and one of the guys let me ride back on the golf cart to the corner in front of the terminal.
I reached the check in entrance we were greeted by the lady who told us that we could check in however the ship wasn’t there (no! You’re kidding! However could we have missed that) anyways. We headed up stairs to check in. It went very quickly despite the security person touching Illiana's hair and talking to her. We were told that we could not get our S & S cards yet and we could not establish our on board accounts yet if using cash. Ok. As I was walking to sit down I was re-directed to the back room. I was told that they were not encouraging us to stay there but to go walk around and see Galveston and ohh by the way here is a Map. I elected to stay for a little while. Illiana ate the rest of her spaghetti left over from lunch and I was on my phone constantly watching the cruise cam and checking CC. Thus begins my terminal saga....
As most know who have cruised out of Galveston on a Carnival ship there is not a lot in the way of comfort in this terminal. This was my 2nd cruise out of Galveston but I don’t recall it being so spare - perhaps since I didn't stay that long the last time I just don’t remember. I was there from around 2ish till 8 or 9. Not long really - not as long as I would be at the Convention Center the next day. We ended up leaving for a couple of hours and walked back to Pier 21 and then on to visit the Ocean Star exhibit. I was there for about 2 hours I guess when I noticed that the fog was returning and with a vengeance…Fogzilla was back!!! I made my way back to the terminal and I was there before 6 . I know this because they had made an announcement that they would make an announcement at 6. They had also stopped allowing people in unless you had the boarding pass you had been given after you checked in. I had already begun to question different Carnival rep's at the terminal about the likely hood that this ship would actually come in. At NO point was I EVER given a straight answer. But there was one helpful rep (sarcasm here) that was handing out a listing of about 10 hotels that were ALL booked! I even called the hotel I had stayed in the night before and they had already sold out. I called every hotel I could think of. I even called my old home hotel in GA to see if they could help me find a room in Galveston. Nothing. I was really getting worried. I also noticed that 6pm had come and gone and no announcement. Finally at 6.45 they announced that they would update us at 7pm. I knew that something was very wrong when I saw 3 carnival employees that looked like supervisors or managers (one was one of the one's who would help me later) escorted by security to one of the back offices. The look on their faces was very grim.
At 7.10 the announcement was made that the ship was not coming in. I will stop here and tell you that I believe that Carnival knew this at 5 when the pilot boats returned and by the fact that they had stopped letting people check in or drop their bags. I had asked several employees before this, should I get my car and try to find a hotel somewhere off the island? Ohh no, everything should be fine; you might want to wait and see, etc. Complete and utter BS! I tried calling Park and Cruise and they had left for the night. They had also announced that there would be buses to take us to area Houston hotels if we needed it. I guess I qualified.
They then handed out the letter and on the back were 3 THREE hotels. The Holiday Inn, the Hilton and the Four Seasons. I called the Holiday Inn first - constant busy signal. The phone number for the Hilton was the manager's private cell phone! She was very nice however and tried to transfer me to the hotel but with no success. I tried back but it went straight to VM. That’s when I noticed that the area code (912) that they had for the Four Seasons was very VERY familiar to me. And I can assure you it’s NOT in Texas! It is the area code for Savannah, GA and the surrounding area! I know this because I lived there for 5 years. I walked up to the desk and talked to one of the dumbest CSR's yet. She looked at me and said its right, that maybe I should try to call it. Are you serious? I am telling her that I know for a fact that the area code is NOT RIGHT! I even showed her my phone where I had tried to call my former hotel that I used to work at when I lived in that area code...912.756.6blah blah blah. She really wasn’t getting it (I was really emotional by this time) When I get angry I cry. I don’t yell. I don’t scream. I cry. The angrier I get the more I cry. And let me tell you the tears were pouring. So that means I was quite pissed. I felt bad that I was crying in front my grandchild. I knew that she needed me to be strong and take care of her. I was at the point that I didn’t know what I would do. I didn’t have a car - I didn’t know anyone in the area. I was stuck. I got the attention of the supervisor who was kind enough to get the correct number for the Four Seasons. Their rate was $125 which I am sure was a terrific deal however it was more then I wanted to pay. I called the Hilton back again, and thankfully the manager answered again and there must have been an Angel looking out for me because I was able to get a room. $99 for the night plus tax. Again more then I wanted to pay...but the kid needed a place to sleep that was safe and warm. I made the reservation.
We had to go get our luggage and board the buses for Houston. By this time my bag had increased in weight by about 400lbs. Illiana was sleepy and just wanted to go to bed. After we sorted out that Illiana has a different name from me we were allowed to board the bus to the Hilton. **I will include my Hilton review with my ship review.
I get up early (again) and go down to look at the cruise cam and CC and Carnival.com - ohh and by the way - what moron made the decision to put the delay information under the FAQ section to where you would have to search "fog" to get any updates! The only way I knew to search there was from calling Carnival. No one seemed to know when the buses would return to Houston to pick us up. Some had been told 12, some at 1pm. I called Carnival and was told to ask the hotel. I called the front desk and was told to ask Carnival. So I called Carnival again. I talked to the one person who made me so angry. She told me that “We are all in this together”…hold up there Sister. “We” aint in nothing together. YOU are in Miami. I am in Houston supposed to have been on my ship. She also kept saying “if you can’t stay where you are to head over to the convention center”. I mean what kind of stupid was she? I had already told her that I was bused by Carnival to Houston – that means that I don’t have a way to get anywhere and I was calling to ask when the buses would show back up…I swear this woman did not listen to a word I said! Again, they are trained to ignore you. (insert the cuss words I told you about before here) I got so fed up with her that I asked for a supervisor. She kept trying to talk me out of it, but I work in a call center too and I let her know that I wasn’t going anywhere until she put one on the phone. It worked. She put me on with a very nice supervisor with Guest Resolutions. There wasn’t much she could do, but she was able to at least talk to me and help me understand what was happening at the port. I knew that Carnival was not responsible for the fog, or the port closing. But as I told her they were responsible for how they handled the communications portion of it. She apologized and said that they were working on better communications with their guests in events like this. I hope so because this was not acceptable on any level.
Leaving Houston and at the Convention Center.
About 1pm the buses show back up at the hotels. We board them and are on our way back to Galveston where we are taken to the Convention Center – where by the way no one was asked if that’s where they wanted to go! But looking back I see that it was the best option. The ones who did not go to the Convention Center where not allowed into the terminal and had to wait outside. Now I know that there will be those who will disagree with me but the Convention Center wasn’t all that bad. We were inside. We were safe. We had access to restrooms. There was a Kroger across the street. I didn’t see any restaurants around but I didn’t get out and look either. There were about 10 Carnival employee’s there with us the entire time – so pretty much what we went through – they did to. They had given us soda, chips, coffee, water, and later on candy, pretzels and nuts. They also had movies for the kids. Illiana really enjoyed this. Upstairs there was a hair show and they had set up a concession stand where I was able to get pizza and burgers for us.
As it got later and later we began to ask when we would board. We knew the ships were in port. We were being told that we had to wait for the Conquest to disembark and embark her passengers before we could board. I don’t think this was fair. I don’t know if Carnival made that decision or if it was the Ports decision and whoever made it, should be smacked! We were on our 2nd day waiting and the Ecstasy should have taken priority. But as everyone knows it didn’t work out that way. As it turned from day light to dark there had been buses parked outside. They left abruptly and no one seemed to know why.
It would be after midnight before we saw those buses again. By that time people were really angry. Some had created Tshirts and I was only able to read some of the sayings but you can imagine. At one point the new media showed up with cameras. He was made to leave the room we were in. Some said it was a public room – its not. Its private property and the Convention center has the right to decide who they allow there. But what was not right and he could and should have been arrested for assault was when the Convention Center employee put his hand over the camera lens. That camera becomes an extension of the person holding it and you just can’t walk up and put your hands on some one. I was close enough to see what was happening but not close enough to hear what was being said. I wanted to stay away from it and didn’t offer to speak to anyone. I know others did. There were 2 Sheriff’s deputies there as well and I guess they made the reporter go outside. They allowed him to interview people outside on the steps.
At one point and I don’t remember what time it was –we were told that the Conquest had been struck by a barge and could not move until it was cleared by the Coast Guard. Great another delay. The VOS was stuck behind the Conquest and the Ecstasy was docked elsewhere. Later we were told that they would begin busing back to the terminal where we would drop our bags and get our S & S cards and then be bused to Pier 10 to where the Ecstasy was docked and were we could finally board. The buses arrived sometime after midnight.
It was officially Monday. I think I was on the 2nd bus and we loaded our bags. By this time that bag weighed about 1000lbs. I was exhausted; Illiana was tired and grumpy and really didn’t understand what was happening. We got to the terminal and no one seemed to know what we were supposed to do. I didn’t know if I was supposed to take my suitcase or not. I didn’t see anyone else doing so, so I left mine hoping that I would see it again and at the same time – not really caring if I didn’t! We were herded up the escalators, back through the security lines, back to check in desk where we got our S & S cards, back down the exit ramps to the area where you would get your luggage upon debarkation and then to wait to board a bus to pier 10. In all it might have taken an hour. I was so tired and by now in pain. I have a back injury from a fall a couple years ago and I have trouble walking and standing for long periods. Plus by this time I was practically dragging Illiana. I had 2 carryon’s, her little bag, my pillow and her. It felt like I was carrying 500lbs of stuff. Thankfully some people felt sorry for me and helped out. I was at my exhaustion limit. So was she. But she was being so very good. She didn’t complain. She just wanted to see her big boat. And when she did, her eyes light up! When we pulled up to that ship I knew we were almost done with what turned out to be a 2 day ordeal. We were in our cabin by 2am.
There are a few things that I think could have been done better.
1. Carnival needs to put updates on their main page! Not bury it in the FAQ’s section.
2. Train the CSR’s to actively listen. Give out correct information.
3. Have a plan in the event this happens again. Don’t wait till the last minute to make one.
4. Give information as soon as its received not hours later – be honest with their guests.
Now, I know everyone will have different versions of what happened. But this is how I saw it. I will sail with Carnival again. I am happy with the compensation we were given. I think it was fair and just. I chose to stay on the ship Monday and went on the 3 day cruise to nowhere. After all any cruise is better than no cruise at all!
The Whale Tale Club's Unofficial Official Vodka Taster
February 2003 - Carnival Fantasy - Freeport & Nassau, Bahama's
February 2009 - Carnival Ecstasy - Cozumel & Progresso, Mexico
September 2010 - Carnival Liberty - Half Moon Cay, Bahama's; St. Thomas, USVI; San Juan, PR ; & Grand Turk Island, Turks & Cacios.
February 2011 - Carnival Ecstasy - Was to have been to Cozumel & Progresso, Mexico...however due to Galveston fog turned to a 3 day to nowhere....
October 2011 Carnival Triumph -Progresso & Cozumel Mexico
April 2013 - Carnival Magic - Montego Bay, Jamaica; Grand Cayman Island & Cozumel, Mexico
April 2014 - Carnival Magic - Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize & Cozumel, Mexico
August 2014 - Carnival Triumph - Progreso & Cozumel, Mexico
April 2015 - Carnival Magic - Key West, Florida, Freeport and Nassau Bahamas
September 2015 - Carnival Freedom - Montego Bay, Jamaica; Grand Cayman Island & Cozumel, Mexico
September 2016 - Carnival Breeze - Cozumel, Mexico; Belize & Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan