I am back and I had a wonderful time. We went on the Royal Caribbean Cruise that departs out of Colon. It was touch and go for a while as to whether the trip would happen or not. I made all travel arrangements through my travel agent and part of the plan was to take a Royal Caribbean bus from Panama City to Colon and then return from Colon the same way.
We were told to be at a specific location (Lumicentro in El Dorado) in Panama City by 9:00AM. We were there at 8:50AM. 9:00 came and went. At 10:30 AM I felt a decision needed to be made. I was ready to call a halt to the trip. When things start off bad, they usually go down hill from there. I had purchased trip insurance, so if I missed the trip, I would only be out the cost of the insurance.
Luckily, others, with cooler heads and without a US Type A personality, convinced me to get to Colon by other means. We went by car, which was an imposition on the person that volunteered to drive us, but all went well. The road to Colon was not all that good, but we made it without problems.
We arrived in Colon a little after 12:00PM and began the process of checking in. I have been on several cruises leaving out of Florida and by far, this was the easiest embarking and disembarking I have ever had. I would do it again in a heart beat.
The original problem was caused because my travel agent did not provide me with good emergency contact information. I had asked to have a contact number for the bus in case of trouble. Of course the number my travel gave me was the office number and it was worthless on Sunday. Likewise my travel agents number was the office number and also worthless on Sunday.
This should be advice to you to have cell phone numbers for both travel agent representatives as well as tour bus representatives.
OK, so we get to the boat. We checked in and the room was available at 1:00PM. On Tuesday, I started emailing my travel agent to resolve the problem with the pickup and to verify that there would not be a similar problem on our return.
When you are using the on-board ship’s Internet at 55 cents a minute, you need your communication to be as efficient as possible. I will say that I found the Internet connection to be very satisfactory. As a side note my ASUS EEE performed like a champ. My decision to go cheap with Linux as opposed to buying a $2,500 Macbook was a good decision.
As I said, Tuesday I started trying to resolve the problem. Besides my travel agent, I also started working with the Royal Caribbean guest relations staff. This was not as productive as it should have been either. For several days, I was passed to multiple staff, each saying they would follow up and as of Saturday (the day before disembarking in Colon), I still had no answer of substance from anyone.
My travel agents answer up until Saturday was to not worry, I would be picked up on the 5th. No contact information, no telephone numbers, just don’t worry and enjoy your trip. My experience in Panama, is that if you don’t worry about it and push for information, it will be forgotten.
So Saturday, I got in a long line waiting to talk to the guest relations desk. A Royal Caribbean agent walked by while I was in line and was asking about problems. I told him mine and he said to go with him. I did so assuming I was now with someone that would do something. Bad assumption. He checked and said that Royal Caribbean had no information in their computer system about my having purchased bus transportation.
Being frustrated, I asked if I could just purchase transportation on the ship and I would clear up everything when I talked to my travel agent. He said I could, but I would have to go get back in the line that was now twice the size of when I first got in it.
To say the least, I was pissed! While waiting in line, another Royal Caribbean representative was walking the line asking for questions. I asked to speak with someone that was in charge. He said he could take care of me. He was right. I went to his office and he looked at the ships records. He also said that there was no to and from transportation in the computer listed for me. I said, OK, can I just purchase it and work it out with my travel agent later. He said the only transportation that Royal Caribbean had was to and from the International Airport and that they had no transportation into Panama City.
I asked if he would mind calling my travel agent since his Spanish would be better than mine as well as he would do it in a more diplomatic manner than I would. He said he would be happy to. He talked to them and said I would have an email withing a couple of hours with the name of the transportation company and a cell communications number. He said if I did not have it by 6:00PM, he would personally assure me that he would get me transportation. Thank you John Lopes, manager of guest relation for Royal Caribbean.
In a few hours I had the email with the tour company name, and a cell phone contact number.
When we disembarked, we picked up our bags without a problem and exited. I immediately saw a person with a printed paper with my name on it. Only then did I feel all was OK. We meet the driver and I am thinking that this is new transportation and not the originally planned transportation.
We waited in the bus for the other riders. When they were approaching the bus, it turned out to be people we had met on the cruise that were about four doors down from us. We all laughed. They said they had waited for us until 11:00AM on the first day. The problem was they were waiting at the Lumicentro store in Patilla and we were told to go to the Lumicentro store in El Dorado.
I still haven’t figured out the full story. I noticed today when I looked at my credit card statement that the charge for bus transportation was listed as Royal Caribbean (travel). It may be that RC did take the order and then subbed it out to another provider. None the less, with a cell number, we could have just gone over to the Patilla location. The other travelers had been asked for their cell number when they made their reservations. I will find out the rest of the story when I visit with my travel agent next week.
The moral of this story is to check and double check all details. Don’t depend on correct instructions. Talk to someone that cares. If I had talked to the manager of guest relations on Tuesday, instead of Saturday, the problem would have been resolved immediately and I would not have had this cloud hanging over my head for the entire trip.
The good news is that I always felt it would get resolved and did not let it affect the enjoyment of the trip any more than was absolutely necessary. I learned from the experience and it will not happen again. I decide to post this as a stand alone post so that post about the cruise would not have any negative content.
UPDATE: I was able to talk to my travel agency yesterday (April 13) and it seems that the breakdown in communications occurred with Royal Caribbean. They offer the service to take people to and from Colon to Panama City and this was the first time that my agent had used their service. Normally, they use a different service, but at my insistence used the RC service.
RC set up transportation with Margo Tours in Panama City. My agent had provided all the Cell phone numbers to RC, but RC did not provide the number to Margo Tours. Whoever the person was at the RC office that provided the address for the connection also gave the wrong information.
Now it will be a waiting game for RC to credit my credit card for the problem that they caused.