By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 6/7/2007 10:55:18 AM ET 2007-06-07T14:55:18

Dini and Tony Saponara just wanted to escape the long Toronto winter and their two kids for a quick three-day cruise getaway aboard the Carnival Sensation. Things got off to a rocky start in Toronto when their flight was delayed because of mechanical difficulties. When the Saponaras arrived at Orlando International Airport one hour late, things got even worse.

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Airport carnival
Even before the trouble began, the Saponaras' schedule was very tight and left little room for delays. Their scheduled flights, which they booked through Carnival, had them arriving at 1:15 p.m. in Orlando, Fla., for a ship departure at 4 p.m. from Port Canaveral. The transfer from Orlando to Port Canaveral is a little under one hour, so when the plane touched down at 2:15, the couple knew time was of the essence. They quickly retrieved their checked luggage and immediately sought out the Carnival Cruise Lines representative who was supposed to greet them in baggage claim. The representative was nowhere to be found.

Asking for help at the Information Desk, the Saponaras learned that the Carnival representative had been summoned to another terminal to collect other cruise passengers. They did eventually find Carnival's transportation operator, Mears Transportation, and boarded their bus to the pier. After signing in and getting their luggage settled, the Saponaras were told there would be an additional delay for more late passengers. When all was said and done, the bus didn't leave the airport until 3:40 p.m. — 20 minutes before the Sensation was scheduled to depart.

Tears over Mears
After everyone was on board the Mears Transportation bus, a Carnival supervisor said that she was in contact with the ship and that it wouldn't leave without them. During the ride to Port Canaveral, the supervisor collected everyone's embarkation documents to speed up the process at the pier. She told the Saponaras that their room keys would be pulled and given to them upon boarding.

"We thought we were all set as we were on Carnival's transfer bus and in the custody and care of Carnival's employees," says Dini Saponara.

As the bus reached the port, the Saponaras breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, that relief was short-lived as they soon saw the ship's ropes being pulled and security driving away. On board the bus, the Carnival representative was frantically talking on the phone and she told everyone to stay in their seats because there was a problem. After a pause on the phone, the representative informed everyone that she was trying to get the ship to stop. A few moments later, the representative said that the captain had made the decision to leave because of weather. The Saponaras were devastated.

As the bus headed back to Orlando International, the Carnival representative announced that the cruise line would fly everyone to the Bahamas to meet the ship the following day. There was a catch: They would have to fly standby because the flights were overbooked. On top of that, the earliest time they could get to the Bahamas was 4:30 p.m. the following day. Now the Saponaras were furious.

"The ship docks at 10 a.m. and we would miss the whole day," Dini Saponara says. "We would basically go to the Bahamas just to come back home again."

Besides, the couple had been traveling since the wee hours of the morning and they were exhausted. They asked Carnival to get them a hotel for the night. They were told no. The couple decided to turn around and go back home, but they couldn't because a massive snowstorm had canceled flights. In the end, the Saponaras decided to stay three days in Orlando and catch their original flight home on Sunday.

Carnival makes amends
When the Saponaras returned home they immediately wrote a letter to Carnival detailing their ordeal. They asked for their cruise fare back, along with reimbursement for their hotel. After a month of getting nowhere, Dini asked Tripso to help.

I contacted Carnival to see if they would look into the situation and learned that the cruise line was already investigating the Saponaras' claim. Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen says Carnival felt bad about what happened to the couple and puts the blame on the ground-transfer service at Orlando.

"Apparently, there was some miscommunication with the ground-transfer provider which caused the Saponaras to arrive too late at the cruise terminal to board the vessel," Gulliksen says. "Although this situation involved the ground-transfer provider and not Carnival, as a gesture of good will, Carnival has agreed to provide the Saponaras with a full refund and complimentary future cruise credits to use for another cruise."

Nice gesture ... but
The Saponaras were happy to get the full cruise refund from Carnival, but they are still bitter about the experience. Dini says, "This was supposed to be a nice weekend away, just me and my husband, and it turned out not to be." She says the gesture of the free cruise is nice, but she says the couple cannot afford to take another expensive trip within the year. She cites the cost of air travel as a major expense; in fact, their airfare for their three-day trip was over 1,000 Canadian dollars. "That's an expensive weekend," she sighs.

I hope the Saponaras are able to take their free cruise. In the meantime, I wish them well.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column.

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