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The Rita Rhapsody

Written by Marla Archer
November 26, 2005


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Our second SSQQ Cruise of Year 2005 - the Rhapsody Reunion Cruise in late September - was without a doubt the most challenging experience I have encountered in my newfound career as a "travel agent" .

It was just one short year ago that I had taken the cruise of my dreams. Rick and I got married aboard the Rhapsody, I had presents sent to my cabin daily by the Senior Staff, I got to have dinner with the Captain, and he even treated us to a private meeting on the bridge.

For the entire trip I was treated like a Fairy Tale Princess.

One year later I was so depressed by the time our cruise started, there was a part of me that really did not even want to go.

What on earth happened? 

I will begin our story by going back to June 2005. 


 The 2005 Rita Rhapsody Nightmare began the day I lost Courtne Smith, my "hero" at Royal Caribbean. He was the most talented group specialist I have worked with to date. Anyone who read Rick's story about last year’s “Wedding Cruise” in 2004 will understand how important Courtne was to the success of that trip. (Wedding Cruise)

I want to emphasize that Courtne did not resign; he was fired! 

I don't understand why an organization would fire such an outstanding employee, but my recent experiences with the Royal Caribbean Corporate Monster have begun to give me a hint.  Unfortunately I had no way of contacting Courtne, so the reasons for his demise remain a frustrating mystery to me.

On Monday, June 20, I received the following e-mail from James Magyar:

----- Original Message -----

From: JMagyarrccl
To: marlassqq
Sent: Monday, June 20, 2005 4:55 PM
Subject: Fw: Need another balcony cabin for Alaska

Hello Marla

Courtney is out of the office at this time indefinitely.  Unfortunately for the RD on 07/16/05 there are no balcony staterooms available to book at this time.  I processed the payments that you also emailed Courtney for the individual reservation in the Cat Y.  I am currently researching the document situation, and hopefully will have an answer first thing in the morning.

James Magyar
Partner Advocate, Team Safari
Royal Caribbean International


I phoned James Magyar. He confirmed Courtne's dismissal and let me know that a new group specialist would be in touch shortly. 

I was in shock!  Courtne is gone; what was I going to do?  Courtne assisted me in putting together the best cruise possible on the Rhapsody in 2004.  He knew the SSQQ group's needs inside and out.  How can this be???? 

The timing could not have been worse.  Tomorrow my "day job" required me to leave for a ten-day stay in Dallas to attend our biggest market of the year.  I was deeply worried because it would be next to impossible for me to stay in contact with a new "specialist" at RCCL while I am away. 


The next day Tyler James entered the picture. I can say without hesitation Mr. James was the main reason my Rhapsody Reunion trip fell apart although I should add he had plenty of help.

----- Original Message -----

From: TJamesrccl
To: marlassqq
Cc: isharerccl

Sent: Tuesday, June 21, 2005 1:19 PM
Subject: 6704714|transfer information request

Good Afternoon, Marla!

        Hi, my name is Tyler James and I am your new Partner Advocate and will be taking care of all of your groups' needs from now on.  I am writing in regards to your group on the Radiance of the Seas 7/16/05 and the transfers you are requesting.  In order to fulfill your request for this
roundtrip transfer request, I need the following information:

*Flight number and carrier for both the arrival and return flights,
*Departure and arrival times for both the arrival and return flights,
*Departure and arrival gateways, and
*Departure and arrival dates for each of the flights.

Without this information I will not be able to confirm this transfer.  I would be most appreciative if you could accommodate and will get it done for you immediately.  Have a great day, Marla.

Thank you,

Tyler James
Partner Advocate
Trade Support and Services
Royal Caribbean International


From his letter, Mr. James seemed like a good guy. His request sounded like an easy do, yes??

NO!!!!  I labeled this incident Headache One. I tried and tried to call the man up without success. Finally I ended up calling someone else to get this simple request handled.

Tyler always had a reason why he couldn't handle my requests.  You will see this for yourself as I go on. 

Headache Two came the moment Mr. James was put in charge.  While I was in Dallas, I found out in a phone conversation that several of the 2005 Rhapsody passengers were cancelled due to strict new policies Royal Caribbean had implemented. 

"All passengers must be fully deposited and a roommate assigned at the time of first deposit or risk cancellation."

Was I warned they would be cancelled???  No.  It seems while I was in Dallas the passengers were just cancelled from the trip behind my back with no warning.  I cynically wondered if Courtne’s habit of trying to cooperate was one of the reasons he was fired. He looked out for his passengers even if it meant not enforcing every rule to the letter!  He trusted me and worked with me on all problems. And he lost his job. Makes you wonder….

I stared at my phone in disbelief. They had cancelled over a dozen passengers from my Rhapsody Cruise over a technicality!!  They had refunded them their deposit.  What kind of business cancels their clients over a technicality??   The technicality involved holding cabins with only one occupant. All they had to do was ask me to combine the guests two to a room, a task I would have done with little effort. Instead over one-third of my group was no longer on the ship’s passenger list.

I sighed in dismay. I was helpless at the moment because I was in Dallas while my Rhapsody file containing all the pertinent info remained in Houston.  There was nothing I could do about the cancelled passengers.  Stupid me.  I suppose I should have foreseen some rule follower would find it so urgent to cancel passengers for a trip four months away that he couldn’t wait two days till I got home.  Oh well. 

Rhapsody would have to wait until my return.  I left Dallas Tuesday morning.  The first thing on my agenda was to get this mess straightened out.

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
To: tjamesrccl
Sent: Tuesday, June 28, 2005 1:00 PM
Subject: Rhapsody 9/25/05 Sailing Group 1805013

Hi Tyler,

Please call me at the number below to discuss this group ASAP.  I am back in my office. 

No return call, so I e-mailed again.

 ----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
To: tjamesrccl
Sent: Tuesday, June 28, 2005 2:16 PM
Subject: Group Financial Status for Group #1805013

Hi Tyler,

Please send an updated group financial status.  I will be working on pairing up the individuals tonight.  I will send all required info to clean my group up and get the deposits current.

Thank you.


I did receive the Group Financial Report and made all the necessary adjustments to reinstate the cancelled passengers. I might add that all this work was completely unnecessary.   It took me five hours to straighten out the mess!!

You don’t believe me?  Please see the following e-mail.

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
To: tjamesrccl
Sent: Tuesday, June 28, 2005 5:47 PM
Subject: Rhapsody Sailing 9/25/05 Group # 185013

Good Morning Tyler,

I have spent the past 5 hours sorting through the report and hopefully have addressed all issues.  It appears that several of my passengers were cancelled from the group.  After reviewing what I have left open, I request the following things to be done.

1. Please add Judy Jo Baiamonte back to the group.  She was cancelled.
Place her with Maureen Brunetti #6405370.  

2. Please add Abbie Barbley back to the group.  She was cancelled.  Place
her with Phyllis Porter #5557987. 

3. Please add back both Robert Joseph Friske and John M. Faulk.  They were
both cancelled.

4. Please add back both Stefani Callihan and Jean Munnerlyn.  They were both

5. Please add back Eva Lue.  She was cancelled. 
Add Mary Nettle as her roommate. 

6. Both Cynthia Bozeman #5557986 and Julia Ghozali #7118081 were supposed to
be category H.  Please move them in together in a cat H.

7. Gary and Betty Richardson were cancelled from the group.  Please add them
back.  I will be using tc credit to cover their passage.

8. Add Tamara Sword. 


9. Charge George Sargent #6260112 $250.   He was issued a refund.  I don't
know why.

10. Please add Donald L. Schmidt back to the group.  He was cancelled. Place
him with Iqbal Nagji #6391862. 

11. Please add Gary D. Ladd in with Bruce Hanka #6238873. 

12. Please add Cynthia J. Diggs in with Leslie Goldsmith #5556845. 

13. Move Lei Wang #5556850 in with Holly Soehnge #6392764 as her roommate.

14. Please add Barbara Sherwood and Diane Case into a cat M. 

15. Remove Vince Moreno from the group totally.

I think that ties up all my loose ends.  Will you please send me a new group financial status after all the changes are made?  I checked the Royal Caribbean website and saw that there was still space available in all categories requested, so it shouldn't be a problem.

I certainly hope things will get easier!  Thanks for your helping working through all of this.

No response from Tyler, so I sent the following e-mail.

 ----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
To: tjamesrccl
Sent: Wednesday, June 29, 2005 1:04 PM
Subject: I am in the office

Please call.  I can't get through to you.

What's up on my Rhapsody Group #185013?


By fax I did receive the updated Group Financial Status and reviewed it for changes. Unfortunately there will still a half dozen mistakes, but for the most part the problem had been solved.

In the mean time all sort of problems were happening on the Alaska Cruise. By now I had discovered Tyler was useless in taking care of our group needs.  By phone he told me he had several hundred groups that he was responsible for. He said I should just call the 800 Group Department line for service. 

Because of the problems beginning to brew, I followed his advice and found that it was easier to go through ANYONE ELSE in the group department at Royal Caribbean rather than deal with him.  From that point on I used Tyler only if I had to. 

 ----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
To: tjamesrccl
Sent: Thursday, June 30, 2005 7:46 AM
Subject: Rhapsody Sailing 9/25/05 Group #185013 Details to Handle

Thank you for your efforts in pulling my group back together.
There are still some remaining "issues":

1. Somehow, Jan and Robert Milz 5558820 were changed from a D1 to an M.  I never requested this.  Please have them moved back into a D1.

2. Judy Jo Baimonte  6405370 payment of $250 was applied to Maureen Brunetti (same booking #)  Please move to Judy Jo.

3. Were you able to get a category H from individual reservations for Tamara Sword?  She was the only name that wasn't on the group financial status detail. 

4. Errors on names:  Please correct.
Marla Gorzynski Archer  6371582
Abbie Barbley  5557987
Cynthia Louise Bozeman 5557986
Mary Nettles  6366824
Gareld McEathron 6367781
Catherine Bryant  6371737
Barbara Leslie Barkley 6391915
George Sargent III  6260112



The July Alaska Trip went very successfully. Upon my return, I began tying up loose ends on the Rhapsody Trip.

Unfortunately one month before the trip was to begin, I was told from this point on I would need to work with Mr. James. This was not good news. My immediate reaction was to get sick in my stomach.

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
To: tjamesrccl
Sent: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 1:42 PM
Subject: missing documents from group 185013 Rhapsody sailing 9/25/05

Hello Tyler.

I have not received the following cruise documents for these passengers:

Julia Ghozali     booking id # 6161551
Beth Hendricks  same as above
Stefani Callihan   booking id # 6364974

When will I receive these documents?  I have a group meeting planned on Sept. 11th to hand out the cruise documents.

Please respond.  Thank you.


I had to send one email after another simply to beg him to respond. Finally I got a reply.

 ----- Original Message -----
From: tjamesrccl
To: Marla Archer
Cc: isharerccl

Sent: Thursday, September 01, 2005 10:54 AM
Subject: 185013|Rhapsody sailing 9/25/05 missing documents from group

Hello, Marla!

I received your email and I have called documentation to check on the progress of the missing documents.  I was advised that they have been reprocessed this morning and in three days they will be mailed out UPS ground or first class air.

Marla, if you have any more questions concerning anything, feel free to email me again.  Have a great day!

Thank you,

Tyler James
Partner Advocate
Trade Support and Services
Royal Caribbean International


Guess what?  The documents never came.  However this soon became the least of my worries. A big storm appeared headed our way.


The entire coast of Texas was put on a serious hurricane ten days before our cruise was set to sail.  One month earlier the nation had watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina had brought New Orleans to its knees.

As a result, we were all incredibly skittish as Rita made its slow progress in our direction. I watched as Rita brushed by Key West. It was predicted to hit somewhere in Texas in five days!! 

For several days it appeared the hurricane was going to land about 200 miles west of Houston near Matagorda Bay. If this direction held up, Houston would get a lot of rain but be spared major damage. Rick and I crossed our fingers.

I immediately feared the hurricane would disrupt our trip. Rick scoffed, but I knew better. Something told me we were in for big trouble. I wasn't the only one - the phone began to ring constantly.  My 95 cruise passengers were phoning and emailing me ratatat to ask what to do. I tried to get information to pass on to my passengers, but Royal Caribbean drove me nuts. No one could give me a straight answer on how they intended to handle my cruise.  

I checked the RCCL website hourly and passed on new information as it was posted.  I was at wit's end because the people at Royal Caribbean's customer service continued to tell the Rhapsody passengers to contact me. What good was that going to do?  I WAS COMPLETELY IN THE DARK!!

When I woke up on Thursday before the trip, I immediately turned on the TV.  I gasped at the news.  Rita was now predicted to hit Houston squarely in the jaw and level Galveston in the process.  I woke Rick up.  He and I stared at the TV in disbelief.  

Our worst fears had been confirmed. Houston was squarely in the Bull’s Eye.  We got dressed and had some coffee.  As we were watching the bad news on TV, I got a phone call from someone at RCCL who said I was in charge of handling all changes.

What are they thinking?  Don’t they know a hurricane is about to hit us?  I was furious!!  So I fired off this e-mail.

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
To: tjamesrccl
Sent: Thursday, September 22, 2005 7:40 AM
Subject: Group 185013/Hurricane Rita

I was given a contact named Olga located in Miami at ext. 30546.  She isn't answering her phone.

I am looking at a 175 mph Hurricane Rita coming at me.  I was given an 800 # for my passengers to call for cancellations.  Whoever is answering the phone at Royal Caribbean is saying the cancellation needs to be done with the agent. 

What is it that you people don't understand?  I am not going to sit here and risk my life to do your job for you!!!!  I am evacuating!!!!!!!! 

The number I was given for my passengers is 1 800 205-9812 ext. 8088.

Not surprisingly, Tyler never replied to my e-mail.  Meanwhile Rick and I continued to watch the hurricane map on the TV screen. We shook our heads in disbelief at the images of half the city stuck on the freeways.  That’s when we decided it was too late to evacuate. We decided to hunker down as best we could.  We proceeded to go to the studio to board up and gather whatever flashlights and batteries we could find.  We then came home and boarded up our house and began the wait.

Later that day, it became clear that Rita had shifted again thanks to the high-pressure area that had kept us from having rain for a month. This time the high-pressure zone came in handy – it saved our city!  We had missed the bullet.

So I went back to work on the cruise. 

Meanwhile our passengers were full of anxiety. First they all scrambled to cancel, then they scrambled to rejoin. Every change of mind just added to the confusion.

Unfortunately, RCCL was not well set up to handle thousands of last-second changes. The point of this next e-mail is to show Royal Caribbean's difficulty at handling the confusion. 

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
To: Eduardo Garcia
Sent: Saturday, September 24, 2005 4:35 PM
Subject: Reinstating your reservation

Hi Eduardo,

I have just spent over an hour and one-half on the phone working with Royal Caribbean trying to get you and Sarah back on the trip. Your original cabin was gone.   When you check in at the pier they will assign you a new cabin. You will need to pay again.  I will be forwarding you an email from Royal Caribbean should documentation become necessary.

Please note the time of my e-mail to Eduardo.  He had phoned me earlier in the afternoon about getting reinstated on the trip.  After spending over an hour on the phone working with someone in customer service attempting to get Eduardo back on board, I was told that someone at the top would have to approve this request.  I wondered why a simple transaction like this required the review of a higher-up?  After all, they already had his information on file including security checks.

The woman then added once it was “approved”, I would receive a confirming e-mail. As with most promises, I never received a confirming e-mail.  Fortunately Eduardo did sail and in his original cabin.  Why it had to be this difficult made no sense. Over half the ship was empty!  Why couldn't they simply reinstate him without a fuss??? 

That is when I realized clearly that Royal Caribbean was so big and the confusion of dealing with Hurricane Rita problems was so great no one could give me a straight answer.  Instead they referred me to someone else or said they would get back to me (but never did). It was a nightmare. No one knew what to say!


Originally our cruise was to have left on Sunday, September 25. However Royal Caribbean posted that our cruise departure would be delayed till Monday, September 26.  Rick and I looked at each other with concern. It was true that thankfully Hurricane Rita had harmed neither Houston nor Galveston, but both cities were facing enormous traffic problems with all the people trying to return home at the same time. Neither of us relished the thought of fighting the traffic trying to get to our cruise, but we were prepared to do so if necessary.

Now I had to face a new headache. At least 2 members of our cruise actively tried to persuade other cruise members to reschedule the entire trip to another date.

On the one hand, I wanted to postpone the trip just as much as they did. The stress from Rita had been enormous. We were without power for two days.  We were tired and we were miserable.  The last thing I felt like doing was “take a vacation”.  If I had a choice, I would spend time helping Rick take down the boards and put the house back in order.

But rescheduling the trip for a hundred people and coordinating it with the SSQQ schedule (I do registration the first and second weeks of each month) would be difficult.  I believed it would be next to impossible for nearly 100 people to agree on another time AND also get time off from work.  I predicted we would lose over half our original passengers. 

So I rolled the dice and put my foot down.  I told the group we were sailing on Wednesday/take it or leave it.  I said there was no way we could reschedule this trip.  People had their vacation time approved for NOW. NOW was the time to go.

Thankfully, our group responded favorably to my decision. The mutiny attempts ceased.  In all we only lost 10 people from our original group of 95. By comparison, the enormous “Bead Group” out of Grapevine, Texas, with 250 people was scheduled for the same sailing as us. They completely threw in the towel.  They weren’t the only.  Lots of people cancelled.  Not us. As a result, SSQQ had the ship practically to itself for the trip!

While I was trying to hang onto my group, I also did my best to take care of the people who had decided to cancel. My next e-mail to Tyler was in regards to cancellations from the cruise.

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2005 12:09 PM
Subject: Cancellations due to Hurricane Rita on Rhapsody Sailing

The following passengers have canceled from group 185013 due to the change
created from Hurricane Rita:

Eva Lue   6366824
Melvin Auster  6917188
Denise Weinberg 6917188
Harvey Huisenfeldt  6917190
Charlene Torrest    6917190
Juliene Carney  6392764
Gary Ladd  Booking #6238873.

Please process their letter of credits as offered on the webpage.

Thank you.


Now came another headache. RCCL postponed our trip a second time.  Word came down that the Monday departure had been moved to Wednesday, September 28.  This meant our trip had been cut in half.  After all the work I had done, I was sick with disappointment to see this trip in shambles. 3 days at sea. Oh boy! 

But I still had a job to do.  The pressure on me mounted as I tried to tie up a million loose ends.  The phone was ringing constantly.


Things changed on a daily basis and every change meant more work for me. 

My biggest problem was rescheduling all our onboard activities since our original plans were now useless.

This turned out to become a major headache that caused me to come as close to losing my temper since the time they expected me to answer my phone in the middle of Hurricane Rita.

Now that the trip was shortened, I had to reschedule every one of the SSQQ group activities. I grimaced because I had no choice but work through my “Specialist”.  As I typed up my email I idly pondered the question of how a Specialist could “Special” with 300 groups to handle. 

I sent Mr. James this e-mail the Saturday prior to our sailing.

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
Sent: Saturday, September 24, 2005 12:32 PM
Subject: Rhapsody Sailing Group 185013

Hello Tyler,

I just got the word that my group scheduled to leave tomorrow will now be leaving on Wednesday.
I need to firm up times for my cocktail party and dance lessons in the Shall We Dance Lounge.
Please see if the Shall We Dance Lounge is available on Wednesday around 7 - 8 pm for the Cocktail Party and a couple of hours in the day on Thursday, and I am assuming I can still keep my scheduled time of 2 - 4pm on Saturday.

As usual, I was left waiting for an answer.


----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
Sent: Tuesday, September 27, 2005 1:10 PM
Subject: Cocktail Party on Rhapsody for Group 185013

Hi Tyler,

Any word from Domenic on the Rhapsody as to when we will be able to
schedule our cocktail party and dance classes in the Shall We Dance Lounge?

I never got a reply and I was running out of time. I decided to phone instead. To my shock, Tyler actually took my call!  He told me he needed to confirm everything with the onboard coordinator, a man named Domenic. 

Tyler stated that I needed to find the Group Coordinator on the ship as soon as I boarded. The Coordinator would work with me at that time on rescheduling our activities. Then Tyler dropped a bombshell. He said THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY WE COULD HAVE THE COCKTAIL PARTY WEDNESDAY EVENING. 

My rage and frustration almost got the better of me. Inside I steamed, but I held onto it. I asked, "Why not?"   

After all, our group was so large this amenity was something we had earned.  Tyler responded that Domenic, the Coordinator, had told him it was impossible and to forget about it. 

I gave up. I knew it was useless to argue with the man. I wondered why I even bothered.  For the next day, I was sick with worry about what to tell our guests if Tyler was indeed correct.

What makes this particular story so ridiculous is it turned out we had our cocktail party Wednesday evening as planned with no fuss. 

Why Tyler behaved as he did never made any sense to me.  His words directly contradicted what Domenic told me later in several ways. I have never worked with a less helpful, less informed professional in my entire life.

Fortunately things worked out anyway. As unhelpful as Tyler was, Domenic was just the opposite. Once we got on board, Domenic helped us in every way that he could.

What a relief!!  Every event went off without a hitch.  Mind you, I had to scramble a little. For example, once I learned the Cocktail Party was "ON" after all, I frantically ran from cabin to cabin posting sticky notes on the passenger's doors.  I cannot tell you how badly I needed that first drink! 

Not only did that night’s Cocktail Party come off smoothly, as far as the SSQQ Group Activities were concerned on our shortened trip, they all went GREAT!!!   We owe a huge thanks to Domenic Crescenza, our Rhapsody Onboard Group Coordinator, for a job well done.  In fact, the entire on-board experience was terrific!!!!   


After all my worries, I was surprised to see the trip turn out a lot better than I expected.  For one thing, at least we weren’t attacked by pirates. The way things had been going, even that would not have surprised me.

Instead by some miracle, a happy spirit quickly developed among our group.

The dance lessons were fun and well-attended, every night we had the dance floor to ourselves, new hot tub stuffing records were set, one couple got engaged, another is “about” to get engaged, and several romances flourished.  Amazingly, everyone had a great time ANYWAY. 

As they say, "All's well that ends well".

That said, I was far too tense to actually enjoy the trip the way I wanted to.  On the one hand, I was relieved to see my guests enjoying themselves. Every one of us was shell-shocked to some extent.  But everyone else seemed to bounce back faster than I did.

First I had been scared to death by the danger of Rita's fury.

Then for five days I was frustrated beyond belief by the complications of half our passengers changing their minds on an hourly basis coupled with my own inability to get any straight answers to tell them. 

Worst of all, the one man who should have been helping me keep it together was useless. I felt so helpless at continually being forced to rely on a man who frankly did not do his job.

I also had to deal with my depression over seeing a year of hard work nearly ruined. I had been looking forward to making this trip a success!!

Maybe now you know why I wasn't smiling in the pictures of me on Day 1 at the hot tub.  Speaking of the hot tub, I had no idea I was about to jump from pot into the frying pan. 

Little did I know that as soon as the trip ended, two new ordeals would be arriving on my doorstep.



The trip itself went smoothly, but I was in for some serious rough sailing when we got home.

We returned from the trip on October 2.  Two days after I got home, I received a phone call from the doctor telling me some tests he had run had revealed a potentially dangerous tumor.

Uh oh.  I was scared out of my wits.

I went to the doctor the next day and we scheduled surgery. I knew I had to postpone it till after the Halloween Party, so basically that gave me a month to worry. And worrying is something I do very well.

Soon I realized I had another problem on my hands. There were two business issues from the cruise that needed to be handled.  Our passengers had been promised a 50% refund (after all we only received half a trip). Second, they were also promised a $100 letter of credit. RCCL was to issue this to each person as a measure of appreciation for all the trouble our passengers went through. 

I thought the decision about the refund was fair and the letter of credit was a nice gesture. However I had not anticipated how slow RCCL would be to handle the financial details. Second, I never anticipated that I would become the lightning rod for everyone’s frustration.  Although I didn’t have anyone’s money, as the travel agent of record I was expected to have the answers. 

Unfortunately none of passengers had any idea how hard it was for me to get a straight answer from Royal Caribbean.  I spent the next month spinning my wheels in total frustration. Absolutely nothing was accomplished on their end nor would anyone give me any clue who was in charge or what was being done.

Here are a few emails to illustrate their intransigence.

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
Sent: Thursday, October 06, 2005 10:35 AM
Subject: Letter of Credits for Group 185013 (Hurricane Rita)

Hi Tyler,

Group 185013 is back from the 4-day cruise on Rhapsody.  I am getting several emails from the passengers who cancelled from the trip about their letter of credits.  Do you know when these 'letter of credits' will be issued?

As a reminder the following passengers cancelled due to Hurricane Rita and the change from a 7 to 4 day cruise.

EVA LUE  6366824
LEI WANG    553596
GARY LADD   6238873
RITA MOORE  7670496
SARA GARCIA  5556409

Please advise how this situation will be handled.  Royal Caribbean's customer service is telling the passengers that the letter of credits will be issued from the travel agent.  I haven't been given any instruction in regards to this matter.

Thank you for your prompt attention.



 ----- Original Message -----
To: Marla Archer
Sent: Thursday, October 06, 2005 2:17 PM
Subject: 185013|Letter of Credits (Hurricane Rita)

Good Afternoon, Marla!

I checked into it for you, and I have been advised that you are to call our redeployment desk and they will assist you with the LOC's.  Call 1-888-305-4549 and give them the passengers' information, and they will take care of it for you.  I wish that there was a way for me to take care of it personally but, unfortunately, that isn't possible.  I'm sure that they will be swift in their actions and will provide quality service that you deserve.

Have a great day!
Thank you,

Tyler James
Partner Advocate
Trade Support and Services
Royal Caribbean International


I phoned the 800 number Tyler had given me. I was given Ileana Dominguez as my contact, but they did not put me through to her. So I emailed Ileana.

---- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
Sent: Thursday, October 06, 2005 3:08 PM
Subject: Fw: 185013|Letter of Credits (Hurricane Rita)

I was given your name by the person who answered the phone.  Please issue letter of credits for the cancellation below from my group 185013.

Also, how are the 50% credits being handled for the passengers who sailed?

You may contact me at the phone number below.

Marla Archer
SSQQ Travel
713 862-4428
713 862-2550 fax


I received no response from Ileana Dominquez. I phoned several times, but it did no good. I received no return calls from Ms. Dominquez.  Was I getting the runaround?  It sure seemed that way.

In the days to come, I received a never-ending barrage of calls and emails from our passengers requesting information.  I was quickly being driven crazy because Royal Caribbean's customer service gave out inaccurate information by telling the passengers to call me for further information.  Meanwhile, I couldn't get a return phone call or email from Royal Caribbean to save my life!!

These unanswered cries to RCCL went on for weeks. Nothing was accomplished despite my daily attempts to get answers to the questions of the SSQQ cruise passengers.  It was a "dog chasing its tail" mess of great proportions.

Every day it went something like this:  Passenger calls RCCL, is told to call or email me, they call or email me, I know nothing, I call or email RCCL, they don't respond, passenger gets mad at me. Two days later they call RCCL, are told to call me, and the game starts again. This was not fun.

On October 17th, Royal Caribbean sent an error-filled Guest Financial Summary (GFS) report to my travel agency sponsor. RCCL appeared to want to make the problem go away by giving each passenger $250 regardless of the category sailed and then make the travel agency responsible for the issuing the refunds.  It also appeared that Royal Caribbean didn't want to address the cancellations from this cruise.  When I saw this report, I was outraged because it was filled with inaccuracies.  This meant that some of our guests who were owed $425 (balconies) and $305 (oceanviews) were going to get cheated.

I called my travel agency to ask them to intercede. Two days later on October 19 there was a breakthrough of sorts. A man from RCCL named Darren Diaz sent an email to the travel agency who sponsored my work for this cruise. He inquired about some of the problems with the refunds and the letters of credit.

They forwarded his message to me and I promptly fired off this email:

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
Sent: Thursday, October 20, 2005 1:52 PM
Subject: Fw: GFS FInals. Prior to 50% and post 50%


I am the group leader and travel agent for Group #185013.   Rhapsody 9/25/05 Sailing

I cannot make heads nor tails of what RCCL did in regards to refunds.  There are huge discrepancies in the most recent GFS for this group.

1.  Are the passengers that cancelled prior to the sailing due to Hurricane Rita being sent the letter of credit as promised on the website?  I am showing these passengers as being charged cancellation fees.  Official cancellations were emailed to Tyler James the group specialist because customer service refused to take the passengers calls.  The passengers involved are as follows:

a. Melvin Auster
b. Juilene Carney
c. Harvey Huisenfeldt
d. Gary Ladd
e. Eva Lue
f. Rita Moore
g. Charlene Torrest
h. Lei Wang
i. Denise Weinberg Auster
j. Liangang Ye

2. Two passengers are showing being totally cancelled and refunded, yet they actually sailed with us!
a. Kenneth Ham
b. Donald Sheppard

3. Why are some of the passenger's credit cards showing refunds from Oct. 17th, yet the majority are not?  All passengers were charged directly for their fares.  No group credit card account was used.  Why wouldn't all passengers be refunded in the same manner?

4. When will the promised $100 future cruise credits be issued?

I am the direct link to the passengers.  I handled all the bookings and also sailed the cruise.  I know all the specifics.  Will you please contact me so we can discuss the matter?

The passengers are getting restless for their promised refunds and credits.



----- Original Message -----
To: Marla Archer
Sent: Thursday, October 20, 2005 2:52 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: GFS FInals. Prior to 50% and post 50%
Hi Marla,

Can you please give me a call.  Ext#32169

My e-mail is wacky.  Sorry.

Darren Diaz
Group Accounting Help Desk
Trade Support & Service
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd

I immediately called Mr. Diaz as requested. For a second I thought we were going to get to the bottom of this mess.

Unfortunately Mr. Diaz never returned several messages I left for him even though he asked me call him in the first place!! 

I was darkly amused to note his email worked whenever he wanted it to, but not when I needed some answers. It was pretty obvious that no one wanted to put anything in writing if there was any chance it could backfire. I was having no luck getting cooperation from anyone at RCCL.

I decided to email him again.

----- Original Message -----
From: Marla Archer
Sent: Thursday, October 20, 2005 2:40 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: GFS FInals. Prior to 50% and post 50%

My specialist, Tyler James told me that he cannot handle any of these issues and referred me to someone else - a I. Dominguez who never returned my calls.  Who exactly can answer customer service related issues?  When the passengers call the 800 customer service line they are referred to the travel agent. I cannot get anyone at Royal Caribbean to respond. Who is the supervisor in charge of group related customer service issues?


----- Original Message -----
To: Marla Archer
Sent: Thursday, October 20, 2005 3:30 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: GFS FInals. Prior to 50% and post 50%

I am unable to answer any of the multiple questions regarding letters of credit or anything involving Customer service.

I special fared everyone who was in the group LIVE....Not Cancelled Guests.....to 50% the GFS shows this.  Any other issues need to be directed to your Specialist or Customer service.  The passenger refunds are on the way to your travel agency.  Those are the totals from the last e-mail.

Darren Diaz
Group Accounting Help Desk
Trade Support & Service
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd



The two weeks that followed were probably the most frustrating weeks of my life.  The Rhapsody passengers were relentless.  Their patience was running out with RCCL, but unfortunately a lot of their anger was directed at me. In a bizarre turn of events, the people in RCCL Customer Service began to tell the passengers that I was holding their money.

Let me state for the record this was total nonsense. 

My life was hell. Every day I received calls and e-mails questioning me as to when the refunds will be issued. Meanwhile I was going in for surgery for suspected cancer the same week as RCCL was telling the world I was hoarding their money. Royal Caribbean's customer service continued to give out erroneous information stating that I was holding the passenger's funds. 

What utter nonsense!  As if worrying about dying isn’t enough, now I am being accused of being a liar and thief. Take a quick guess what kind of mood I was in.

I was caught between a rock and a hard place.  Royal Caribbean was passing the proverbial buck and I couldn’t get anyone from Royal Caribbean to help me solve this mess.

I was fit to be tied. I called our travel agency to ask them to intercede. They call the Houston-based RCCL travel representative. He announced he had spoken with the RCCL powers that be and had resolved the situation. He says that customer service would not be giving out inaccurate information any longer.  Wonderful.

Meanwhile the phone calls continue to pour in telling me that Royal Caribbean is insistent that they have refunded the agency and we are holding the funds. The "rep" accomplished nothing. When was this going to end?

Finally Rick suggested I ask Adriana, a talented agent at our sponsor agency, for help.  Adriana told me to send her a detailed email of the situation. Then she forwarded my e-mails to her contacts at Royal Caribbean.  I don't know how Adriana worked her magic, but miraculously the logjam opened up!! 


Two good things happened. First, biopsies from my surgery showed the suspicious tumor was benign. Thank goodness!  Now I could clear my mind to worry about something really important like getting refunds.

Sure enough, my luck was turning. Within a week of my talk with Adriana, the same Ileana Dominquez who wouldn't respond to my calls or e-mails in mid-October was on the phone.

Carefully Ileana and I reviewed each passenger's refund amount. Ileana made the proper adjustments and processed the refunds immediately. The refunds were issued on November 16th with the money credited directly to each passenger's card. On the same day, the $100 Letters of Credit were issued and mailed to me.  Soon after I sent out an email announcing the good news.


After all the disinformation and confusion of the past couple months, I decided to write this story to clear my name.  I want everyone to know I tried as hard as I could from start to finish. 

Looking back, it took Royal Caribbean seven weeks to respond.  RCCL’s original promise had been six weeks. In retrospect maybe their performance was not really too bad considering Royal Caribbean had to close up shop in Miami for a couple of days because of Hurricane Wilma.

However I wonder how long it would have taken them to solve the problem if I had not constantly pursued the issue. I am still perplexed why no one with authority would take a call, return a message or respond to an email for six weeks! 

I am also incredulous that the people at RCCL Customer Service appeared willing to say anything just to get angry customers off their back even if it meant making my life miserable.

I am glad to see my efforts finally paid off.  I am sorry RCCL was so slow to respond, but I promise you it wasn't for lack of effort on my part.

We have a good thing going here at SSQQ. It is obvious to me that people enjoy traveling with a large group. Each year I want to build on our success and explore all sorts of amazing places. However we aren’t going to get very far if some of you think I am a crook or a deadbeat.

The entire affair has been one of worst experiences of my life.  Adding salt to my wounds, I haven't even been paid yet. I am still waiting for my whopping $1000 commission from this cruise.

As an ironic footnote to this dark tale, just as I was putting the final touches on writing this story for Rick's Newsletter, I received the following email today.

----- Original Message -----
From: Charlene Torrest
To: Marla Archer
Sent: Saturday, November 26, 2005 1:26 PM
Subject: Re: letter of credit from cruise


We have phoned Royal Carib.  They say that the travel agent has to call the Group department before we can get our full refund back.  Can you do this as soon as possible?  We would like to book a cruise in January & need the letter of credit.

Charlene Torrest
Harvey Huisenfeldt
Thanks for your immediate attention to this matter.

Charlene and Harvey were two of the ten people who canceled. They were due a letter of credit for the cruise portion of their purchase. In other words, RCCL never sent them the credit which amounted to around $1,080.  I could not believe they had not received this letter.  Let me explain why. For the fun of it, I did a search on the name "Torrest" in this story I have written. The name came up three times.

This showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had previously sent written explanations to THREE different agents at RCCL that Ms. Torrest and Mr. Huisenfeldt had canceled their trip.  Plus I relayed the same information personally over the phone to Ms. Dominquez two weeks ago. 

Four different times I gave them this information and
none of it did any good.   Just as ironic, according to my records, one member of the group sailed completely for free and they wouldn't even bill her despite the fact I pointed out the error. 

I went over the status of every passenger one by one with Ms. Dominguez. 
How hard is it to get it right?  Welcome to the exciting world of the travel agent.

But at least I tried.  After reading my story, I hope you will realize I tried as hard as I could to do a good job. I may not have always gotten the results I wanted, but it wasn't for lack of effort.

I guess I had to learn the hard way that the travel industry isn't always as glamorous as it pretends to be. My friend Adriana tried to explain that this can be a brutal business at times, but I had no idea it was this crazy! 

There are no free rides in life and that includes CRUISES!


Fortunately my frustrations are evaporating with the passage of time. I am putting Rita Rhapsody behind me.

There is no way we are going to have this kind of bad luck again (knock on wood)!  Besides, now that I have survived the experience, I think I can handle practically anything (except maybe the pirates).

I am ready to try again in 2006. I have scheduled cruises to the Pacific Northwest in late May, possibly another Rhapsody Trip in late August, plus an ultra-cool trip to New England in late September to see the changing of the leaves.  I will be posting the information on the SSQQ web site in early December.

You might be surprised to learn that both trips are scheduled with my sometimes friend and sometimes nemesis - Royal Caribbean. As much as Royal Caribbean drove me nuts, I am still convinced they are the best cruise company in the industry. 

All I need for Christmas is a better Specialist… Wish me luck!!

Marla Archer



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