As a public relations professional, I was glued to the endless news coverage about Carnival Cruise Lines’ 4,200 passengers on the smelly, germ-infested and disabled “Triumph” ship. I saw passengers build a “tent city” on the upper deck. I heard how they survived on cucumber and onion sandwiches. I felt their anxiety to be reunited with loved ones. I celebrated their victorious return to shore.
Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
I thought about Mr. Buffet’s quote when pondering the cruise line’s missed opportunities. For instance, Carnival Cruise Lines could have earned the Triumph passengers’ hearts and minds for life through outstanding customer service. They could have bonded with the passengers’ families by offering them an extraordinary level of support. They could have been a leader in the industry through flawless execution of crisis communications. However, in the end, their corporate reputation was buried at sea.
The Triumph cruise incident gave me a strange sense of camaraderie with its passengers. I wished Carnival Cruise Lines would have done things differently a long time ago. My one and only Carnival Cruise experience also was filled with missed opportunities during a time of need. (Please know our voyage significantly pales in comparison with the Triumph cruise. Yet, it resulted in strong feelings of disappointment and distrust in the world’s largest cruise line.)
In the fall of 1996, my husband, Jeff, and I joined his family on a Carnival Cruise ship for his brother’s destination wedding. It was a seven-day cruise. We were looking forward to visiting exotic ports, relaxing on the ship and spending time with family members.
Instead, Jeff experienced Salmonella poisoning from a tainted meal on the cruise ship. The sickness confined him to our cabin for four days and he missed the wedding.
Despite repeated requests for help, the Carnival Cruise staff did nothing. The ship’s doctor refused to see Jeff or confirm an appointment. Instead, the nurse endlessly shared tips on how to weather sea sickness.
Jeff was seriously ill. As soon as we returned to the United States, Jeff visited his physician who diagnosed Salmonella poisoning. Post-voyage outreach to Carnival Cruise Lines about our experience fell on deaf ears.
Now, 17 years later, the Huggins family maintains two strict rules. No matter what – don’t be a passenger on Carnival Cruise Lines – and never order chicken while on a sea voyage.