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Lovebirds’ privacy lost

What happens when an amorous couple gets busy in their balcony stateroom on the ship’s window-washing day? Everybody gets an eyeful. Remember, folks, the view from the balcony goes both ways.
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The lovebirds just wanted to enjoy a romantic interlude inside their balcony stateroom. And why not? Their ship, the Norwegian Jewel, was anchored off Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas. The view was so lovely that the couple decided to keep the drapes and balcony door open. But the romance vanished when a maintenance worker turned up outside the balcony for a routine window cleaning.

“It was 8 a.m. and we had just finished being intimate when we heard a noise on the balcony,” reports the gentleman. “We looked out and there was a maintenance man on a trolley standing in front of the railing outside our cabin leering into it. I was stunned. We were on the 11th-story deck, and we were not notified that there was going to be any maintenance going on out there.”

Incensed, the gentleman called the purser’s desk to complain. He spoke to a staff member in the ship’s front office who admitted there had been a mix-up and asked what the staff could do to solve the problem. “I told them that I needed to cool down and wanted to know what they could do to compensate me for their breach of our privacy,” says the offended husband. He was then given a contact card with the address and phone number of NCL ’s corporate offices in Miami.

Upon returning home, the couple contacted NCL but got no satisfaction. They then turned to Tripso for help.

What price do you put on privacy?
I contacted NCL to see what the cruise line could do. AnneMarie Mathews, director of public relations for NCL, told me that the customer relations department had conducted an investigation and found that the Jewel ’s housekeeping staff had indeed sent a notification around to all balcony staterooms letting them know about the scheduled work.

Nevertheless, NCL wanted to make amends. “As a gesture of good will the couple will receive a 25 percent future cruise credit,” she said. Indeed, two weeks later, the couple received a letter apologizing for “any discomfort or inconvenience” and confirming the credits, which totaled $524.

“We are disappointed with their offer,” says the gentleman, who insists that the couple never received a maintenance letter and that the onboard staff freely admitted to an error. “The minimum that I would like would be two free cruises: one to make up for the cruise that was ruined, and the other as a settlement for being violated in the manner in which we were.”

While I sympathize with the lovebirds’ situation, I think their demand for free cruises is excessive. One of the most important things to do when trying to rectify a cruise complaint is to set realistic expectations. If you ask for too much you are bound to be disappointed, and you may antagonize the customer service department as well. Having realistic expectations makes it more likely that a mutually satisfactory settlement will be reached.

What’s realistic? If you really don’t know, call a lawyer, an ombudsman or a friend whose judgment you trust. Remember, too, that privacy complaints can be an exceptionally difficult to resolve satisfactorily because while there is no actual harm, the offended parties may be feeling a great deal of anger, outrage or embarrassment. How do you remedy that -- other than apologizing over and over and over again?

The view from the balcony
Personally, I feel NCL’s offer is fair. I also think the couple shares some responsibility for what was admittedly an awkward and maybe even unpleasant situation. But when I pointed out that the whole incident could have been prevented by simply closing the curtain, the husband argued that they shouldn’t have had to. In his view, booking a private balcony cabin on the 11th-story deck accorded him a reasonable expectation of privacy. I see his point, but I also see the need to keep those windows clean and shiny. Yes, a private balcony is built with solid dividers so people on the next balcony can’t easily peek over, but when it comes to maintenance trolleys, there is no privacy when the curtains are open. The view goes both ways.

Most of the time the ship’s staff does inform passengers when maintenance work is scheduled in the vicinity of their stateroom, but the system isn’t perfect. On a luxury cruise, I was surprised to return to my suite to find a maintenance worker varnishing the balcony railing -- I had not been notified. On another cruise, I returned from a beach day and left my drape partially open as I was undressing. Luckily, I heard the maintenance men talking and quickly dashed into the closet! In that case, I had been informed of the balcony maintenance -- I had simply forgotten.

So, what’s the lesson in all this? First, know that maintenance work goes on whenever the ship is in port, so be on the lookout. Second, read all the correspondence that comes to your cabin. Third, keep in mind that the only way to guarantee privacy is to lock your door and close the curtains. Finally, if you feel that a cruise employee has been disrespectful of your privacy, report the incident immediately. The best defense against a similar situation happening to another guest is a stern reprimand or dismissal of the worker.

The lovebirds intend to pursue their “quest for justice.” I wish them luck, and wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

What do you think of this situation? Are the lovebirds being treated fairly? Post your comments and experiences below. And if you have some other complaint or a problem for Anita to solve, send her an e-mail.