Parksville passenger Mae-Claire Locke shot a photo of some of the construction materials and debris left on sections of dock closed to passengers during a Norwegian Cruise Lines trip in March. — Mae-Claire Locke photo

Dream cruise turns nightmare for Parksville travellers

Panama Canal adventure taken on ‘floating construction site’

What was anticipated as a dream cruise for several Parksville travellers turned into a nightmare in March as an early start to a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship refit began as soon as the Norwegian Sun departed for a two-week cruise from Miami to Los Angeles.

“It was like being in a construction site,” said Jill Davies, who was taking her first cruise on the two-week trip from Miami to Los Angeles March 16-31. “We had no forewarning. There were jackhammers, power sanding, welding. People were getting sick from the fumes and dust.”

Access was closed at different times to various decks, a pool, the running/walking track and even the passengers’ safety and muster stations, Davies added.

Mae-Claire Locke, a Parksville investment advisor, was travelling with her husband and their two sons. An eight-time cruise passenger and a platinum member with Norwegian, Locke said she was left “livid” by the treatment of passengers by the company.

“What they did was so wrong,” she said. “This was a full-blown construction site, and it came from the corporate front office. I think the captain had his hands tied, but they put our lives at risk.”

Locke said both her sons had to be treated in the shipboard infirmary during the cruise. Hamish, 11, a student at Oceanside Elementary School, had respiratory issues that she attributed to dust and fumes from power sanding of the decks and solvents being used and stored on the ship.

After a session of play on the outdoor basketball court with friends, 13-year-old Ramsay, a Ballenas Secondary School student, was left with his eyes “glued shut,” Locke said. Speaking from Phoenix, Ariz., on Wednesday, Locke said she is calling to schedule ophthalmologist appointments for the entire family upon their return to Parksville in the coming week.

“I am livid about this situation, how they treated us,” she said. “For paying passengers to be on a floating construction site was horrific. It’s one thing to do a paint job or simple maintenance, but this was a full-blown refit.”

After dropping passengers in Los Angeles, the Norwegian Sun continued to Vancouver Island, where refit work continues in dry-dock in Esquimalt.

Locke ended up organizing what turned into the first of three passenger meetings onboard the ship. The first one drew 600 people, she said, and regrettably turned into a mob frenzy when the ship’s captain was asked to address the passengers.

“The captain did come to speak, but it was almost a lynch mob mentality,” said Locke. “Everyone was so angry they started yelling at him. He finally said, ‘Don’t shoot the messenger; this is out of my control,’ and walked away. He got booed.”

Locke said she tried to call a quiet second meeting of about 20 people, “But it leaked, and 500 people showed up again.”

She is also one of three administrators on a Facebook group, Panama Canal Sun, that was set up even before the ship docked and which contains contributions of passengers’ photos, videos and personal difficulties.

In response to queries from passengers, including both Davies and Locke, Norwegian so far has responded only by offering 25 per cent off their paid fare on another cruise, to be booked and used by March 18, 2019.

“That’s a pretty transparent and cynical exercise,” said Davies. “They’ve offered no apology.”

Davies, the cruise rookie, tried to recognize highlights from the trip, noting shore destinations in both South America and Mexico, as well as the experience of passing through and seeing the Panama Canal.

“The crew and captain were wonderful,” she said. “This was really out of their hands. It should have been a fabulous cruise.”

Locke said she and several other passengers have been in touch with a maritime law firm based in Miami, and expects Norwegian Cruise Lines has not heard the last of this voyage.

“I don’t even know what I want out of this, but I don’t want it to happen to anyone ever again. I think Norwegian thought this was just going to go away, but they’re in trouble. Massive trouble.”

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