As inaugural voyages go, Carnival Splendor’s arrival in her new home country appears to have been par for the course.
On her way to Sydney from a two week dry-dock in Singapore, Splendor arrived in Darwin amid tales of an exploding toilet, grounded lifts and a passenger made to walk the plank for bad behaviour.
Reports on social media spoke of aft lifts broken for several days, faulty toilets and staff being abused by passengers.
Welcome to the world of the shakedown cruise – where often things don’t go quite according to plan.
Judging by the dance party that greeted the ship’s arrival in the Northern Territory, most of the problems had been overcome and passengers just wanted to celebrate.
They even dressed as towel animals.
Shakedown cruises are similar to seeing a preview theatrical play. The deal is that everyone knows it’s a rehearsal for the real thing. Passengers are sometimes charged less because they know that, while the vessel is safe, a few jobs have still to be done.
In 2016, the launch world’s largest ship, Harmony of the Seas, was slated to be the biggest and the best and cruisers were excited by the results of her shakedown cruise. Instead, passengers claimed they faced a floating ‘construction site’ with closed attractions, exposed extension cords and overflowing urinals.
The Carnival Splendor’s Facebook roll call page is typical. On the one hand, it’s filled with praise for some parts of the cruise. On the other, it also records the anger of those who hadn’t reckoned with the mishaps.
One guest alleged that their toilet exploded on the second day of their cruise.
A spokesperson from Carnival said: “Carnival Splendor is all set for a spectacular arrival in Sydney on Tuesday and her new cruising home. The ship’s crew are doing a wonderful job looking after guests who’ll have the fantastic experience of sailing into Sydney for Carnival Splendor’s historic maiden arrival.
“Lifts, swimming pools and toilets are fully operational. Any post drydock problems have been addressed quickly and successfully. We stand by the onboard team’s decision in one isolated case to disembark a guest in line with our zero tolerance of behaviour that can affect the enjoyment of fellow guests.
“None of this detracts from the growing excitement among guests and crew as arrival in Carnival Splendor’s new home approaches.”
So shakedown. They might be cheap, but they are not always cheerful.
Carnival Splendor is arriving in Sydney on December 10 to a triumphant welcome in Sydney. No doubt the irksome travails of her maiden voyage will soon be forgotten.
But for those considering a shakedown cruise, our advice is: be patient and don’t expect everything to work.
Here are some things to know about shakedown cruises.
1. Don’t be surprised if builders are still constructing your ship
If you’re cruising on a brand-new vessel, you might run into shipyard workers. There will often be last minute tweaks like fixing door handles, light fixtures, etc. Also, cabin numbers are limited as they may be blocked off for workers who need to finish the ship. Sometimes you will find engineers testing the rides to make sure they are working correctly. Cruise Passenger has seen staff from Meyer Werft shipyard trying out the new Encore Racetrack on the Norwegian Encore. And rightfully so – they’ve spent years building the ship.
2. Don’t expect everything to run smoothly
Any new product will come with its own kinks. This includes an array of things that won’t work – technology, booking shore excursions, shows, restaurants and even service. And sometimes, there might be missing items. A journalist onboard the Scenic Jasper’s launch, in 2015, recalled that there was a mutiny after the women onboard found that there were no hairdryers in their suites. By the following evening, the ship pulled over to pick up the precious cargo for the ladies’ coifs.
3. Be patient with the staff
The staff are learning the lay of the ship so be patient. While some might have worked for the same cruise line, every ship is different. Service might be a bit slower, especially in restaurants as the staff are still learning the menu, ticketing system, table numbers, etc. On the Genting Dream’s inaugural cruise, journalists had to wait for around three hours to get all dishes at the Japanese restaurants. Bear in mind, the staff were completely fresh – some had never worked on cruise ships before. In saying that, the food was delicious.
4. You’re a guinea pig
As the first fee-paying guests, you’re often the first to try out new ride and activities, watch new entertainment, try new dishes and restaurants. And you’re the first person to ever sleep on that bed. On the Majestic Princess, Cruise Passenger was the first to snooze on the line’s famous brand of beds developed by sleep expert Dr Michael Breus. The beds are touted to give guests the most comfortable sleep at sea.
5. Not everything will be open
As the builders might still be working on the ship, be prepared that not everything will be open. It could be rides like waterslides, games, restaurants and even spas. On the Norwegian Encore, the engineers were still putting together games and rides in the virtual reality centre, the Galaxy Pavilion.
6. You might run into celebrities and executives
Not only are you the guinea pig, but often the top line executives are as well. They are there to see what works, what doesn’t work and get feedback from the guests. We have spied Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO and President, Frank Del Rio meticulously fixing a painting onboard the super luxurious Seven Seas Explorer. While he was hosting guests on the Seven Seas Explorer, Cruise Passenger believes that they saw Mr Del Rio onboard the Norwegian Bliss‘ launch, in an unofficial capacity. The journalist did spy, like on the Explorer, he was also fixing the levels of a painting.
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