Update, 5:26 p.m.: In an email to New Times, Royal Caribbean apologized for the "technical issues." See the company's full statement below.
After two years of saving up for a vacation, Delaware resident Rick Rettinger and his wife spent $3,000 on a cruise. On January 6, the couple boarded the Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas in Cape Liberty, New Jersey, and headed for their first stop, Puerto Rico.
Upon leaving San Juan, however, Rettinger noticed their cabin started to feel pretty warm. He spoke with someone at guest services, who told him a maintenance crew was working on a problem with the air conditioning. But the temperature in his room kept rising; at one point, it reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
"We went down every 12 to 14 hours to guest services, and we were very patient with them," Rettinger says. "We understand, but we’re really suffering. Every time they gave us a time it was going to be fixed, it wasn't."
Sweltering inside their cabins, many passengers opted to sleep on pool chairs on the deck so they could catch a breeze. But for Rettinger, a Navy veteran paralyzed from the waist down, that wasn't an option.
"Even if I could get down from my wheelchair into one of these things, I'd be risking pressure sores and it would take at least two to three people to pick me up to put me back in my wheelchair," he says.
Friends who were on the same ship offered to let him sleep in their room, which wasn't affected by the air conditioning failure, but his 26-inch-wide wheelchair wouldn't fit through the door of their standard cabin.
"I had nowhere else to sleep other than my cabin, which was over 80 degrees," Rettinger says.
For Royal Caribbean, which is headquartered in Miami, the timing of the air conditioning breakdown couldn't have been worse. It happened right in the middle of a norovirus outbreak that hit 475 passengers and employees on its Oasis of the Seas ship; days later, a 16-year-old passenger died after falling off a balcony on the Harmony of the Seas. Contacted yesterday, the cruise line provided New Times neither a statement on whether the AC problem has been fixed nor an explanation for what went wrong with the system. This post will be updated when the company responds.
At the end of the oppressively hot cruise, passengers found notes in their cabins apologizing for "technical issues" with the air conditioning. In the letter, Royal Caribbean said it would refund $200 to those who had stayed in interior and ocean-view rooms, including the handicap-accessible cabin where Rettinger stayed.
"We were basically stuck for eight days in this heat," he says. "It's such a slap in the face to say, 'Here’s $200 for your inconvenience' when it wasn't just an inconvenience."
Passengers in rooms with balconies received a $300 credit. Michael Morgan of Connecticut, who stayed in an interior cabin, said that is unfair because those travelers could open a window and get some air circulating. "The inside rooms got the least amount, and they were the rooms that suffered the most," Morgan says.
After returning home, Morgan says he contacted Royal Caribbean's headquarters, as employees on the ship had instructed him to do. But a representative told him an "executive decision" had been made and no further refund would be issued to him.
"Air conditioning breaks, ships break down, things happen. These are out of the control of cruise lines. The manner in which it's handled tells a person what the management of the company they've placed their trust in are about at their core," Morgan says. "This didn't matter to them, and it was very clear in the way in which this was handled."
On its Facebook page, Royal Caribbean has assured travelers the air conditioning problem on the Anthem of the Seas was resolved. But posts from some recent passengers suggest otherwise.
A woman who says she returned from a cruise this past Saturday says her room reached 86 degrees:
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Another passenger who says she took a cruise on January 18 claims she was without air conditioning for three days:
Update - Royal Caribbean released the following statement to New Times:
"Regrettably, we had some technical issues with our air conditioning system that intermittently affected a small section of the ship several weeks ago. We always aim to provide our guests with a wonderful cruise experience, and we apologize for falling short."