Unexpected disembarkation

By Pamela Zent
This item appears on page 25 of the June 2020 issue.

Aboard Oceania Cruises’ MS Insignia, which was docked in New York City, my husband, Michael, and I were halfway through a September 2019, 17-day Canada and New England cruise when he began to have trouble walking. His right leg was swollen, and he was running a fever.

The ship’s medical team summoned an ambulance, we were taken to a hospital in the city, and Michael was put under observation. I returned to the ship at around 2:30 a.m.

After getting a little sleep, on my way to breakfast I went to the ship’s Reception desk, advised the attendant why my husband and I would not be continuing on the cruise and also asked that I have help later on getting our luggage out of our cabin and down to a cab. I was told that help would be provided.

At around 3:15 p.m. I called for the porters as I was told to do. In addition to a bag and a backpack that I was carrying, there were four suitcases.

One porter showed up and signaled that I was to handle two of the bags. I am 75 years old, but I managed to drag them outside the ship to the top of the gangplank, where there was a door attendant and three ship’s officers.

I handed over our ship cards and reminded the attendant that my husband and I were not coming back. This was a very emotional, stressful moment for me. I was worried about my husband and concerned about getting to the hotel I had booked, contacting our travel insurance company and on and on.

After I was given back our ship cards, I noticed that the porter had left. When I said, “I was told I would be helped down to a cab,” the attendant said, “Who told you that?!” The attendant and the officers said that none of them were allowed to go farther. One officer made a call and again said they could not go any farther.

Where was the problem solving? A crew member actually went off the ship while I was there and could have been asked to help me.

I like to say I am a strong woman, but at that point I felt so vulnerable and overwhelmed, I started to cry. One officer then said he would take me down. I said, “Forget it. I will find some passengers to help me,” but he grabbed two bags anyway and we walked down the winding ramp from the ship, went down an elevator beside the terminal building and walked directly to an alley, where he left me by a side exit of the terminal.

After some time went by, with no vehicles passing by, I yelled in to a worker about a cab, and she said that none would be coming there and I would have to pull my six bags around the building. I asked if she could call a cab or if there was a number I could call, and she said, “You have to hail them.”

I sat down on my bag and cried again. It was an awful feeling to be stranded.

After some time, a driver of a private service who was dropping off a crew member felt sorry for me and gave me a ride to my hotel.

When I got back to the hospital, I told my husband my story. He could not believe that Oceania Cruises had not done more to help me.

Michael ended up being in the hospital 10 days. During that time, I sent an email to Oceania Cruises (7665 Corporate Center Dr., Miami, FL 33126). I heard back from the Guest Relations Administrator, whose response to my husband and me included the following:

“In relation to any inconvenience Mrs. Zent encountered during her disembarkation, we truly regret any lapse in service that may have existed in this respect.

“Based on our follow-up with our Executive Concierge, it was noted that he personally reviewed a few hotels near the hospital area with Mrs. Zent. However, our Executive Concierge explained that when Mrs. Zent left his desk, she gave him the impression that she would return, but she did not.

“On another hand, we wish to explain that the cruise line faces many challenges when our ships are in US ports. One of the challenges is that our staff members are unable to assist our guests off the ships, as it is illegal for a non-US citizen to perform any duty on US soil.

“Considering this situation, we would normally involve our port agents to assist the guest during circumstances such as the one Mrs. Zent experienced. Furthermore, New York was not a turnaround port; therefore, there were no porters in the cruise terminal to assist either.

“Bearing all of the above in mind, we genuinely regret if you feel that you were mistreated by our onboard staff during this difficult time, as this is not indicative of the high level of service we deliver to our guests…”

Regarding what Oceania’s representative said about the onboard concierge helping me look online for a hotel in the city, I did stop by and he Googled some for me, but you know that picking your hotel is kinda personal as far as price, etc., so after breakfast, back in my cabin, I Googled some hotels myself and found one that had a hospital rate for the first night at least. I booked a room for one night, then packed up all our things.

I wrote back to the representative saying, “You mentioned in your reply that they use port agents to assist in circumstances like ours. Can you please explain why the port agent was not called to assist me, since I was by myself and, according to what you said, it was illegal for your crew to leave the ship, since they must have all been non-US citizens.”

She replied, “As we previously explained in our initial letter, although you approached our Executive Concierge on September 22 at around 10 a.m. to seek assistance with the hotel’s reservation, and a few options were indeed reviewed, you never finalized any arrangement with our Executive Concierge at that time. Instead, you left his desk advising him that you would let him know, which you did not do.”

I must say that I made it clear to Reception at least twice that I needed help with my bags and to be helped down to a cab, and they assured me that they could do this. Reception never told me I needed to work with the concierge for this help — to either arrange for a cab or to arrange for someone to carry my bags off the ship to a taxi area.

In fact, it wasn’t until I happened to mention I needed to find a hotel room that the woman at Reception mentioned the concierge, saying he could help me find one. He Googled hotels in the hospital area for me. I did not feel comfortable tying up his phone and asking questions in front of him, so I thanked him, and he said something like to let him know if I needed more help with the reservations, but that’s all.

From ITN readers, I would really just like to know if other couples on a cruise have found themselves in a predicament where one member was in the hospital and the other had to pack up and leave. What assistance did the ship’s staff offer the wife or husband in getting off the ship and on their way?*

Chelan, WA

ITN sent Oceania Cruises copies of the above account but received no response.

*Subscribers, if, due to an emergency, you had to pack up and leave a ship on your own in the middle of a cruise to attend to your travel companion, what assistance did the ship’s staff provide, and how did you arrange for that? Include approximately when (year) this occurred, the port where you had to disembark and which ship you were on plus relevant details. Email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Unexpected Disembarkation, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Responses may be printed in ITN.