MINNEAPOLIS --It would be hard for any traveler to match the frustration level of thosepassengers stranded aboard the crippled cruise ship Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico.
But they're not the onlyones who are less than thrilled with with the way Carnival Corporation is handling customers this week.
Peter and Jessica Westberg of Maple Grove drove all the way to Texas Sunday, with all six of their children, before learning their cruise scheduled for the next daywould be cancelled because of the engine fire aboard the Triumph.
"We were scheduled to board the Triumph on noon Monday in Galveston," Peter Westberg explained.
"So we left Minnesota around one in the morning Sunday, bound for Texas."
The vacation was planned as a Christmas gift for the children, according to Jessica, who was looking for alternatives the electronics and toys that are more typical of holiday presents.
"We decided they had too much stuff - iPods and iPads and games. We wanted to have an experience with them, something we could all do together," Jessica said.
They decided to drive after learning how pricey round trip air fare to Houston for the entire family of eight would be. But they figured thelong road trip would be worth it if there was a cruise waiting at the other end.
"We, actually, were supposed to be on Stingray Beach on Cozumel right now, as we speak," Jessica said.
The first hint of trouble came at 1 p.m. on Sunday when she received an email message from Carnival. It said the Triumph had lost propulsion, so it was likely it would not be departing from Texas on schedule Monday.
"There is a possibility we will be able to operate a modified cruise during the week," the letter from Carnival's VP of Guest Services said.
"However, due to the uncertainty, we ask guests not to change their travel plans until our next update."
By that time the Westbergs were in Oklahoma already. Jessica called Carnival and reached a customer services rep who put her mind at ease about status of their voyage.
"The guy on the line said he heard a rumor that the Carnival Magic was going to be picking us up from Galveston, and told us that we for sure would be on a cruise," she recalled.
Peter said the Magic was an even more desirable ship, so it appeared things were going to work out for the better.
"The Magic has water slides,a rope course on the top of the ship, and things like that," Peter said.
"We actually got a little excited that they were bringing in a better ship for us."
But at 6 p.m. a second "Urgent Notice" arrived via email from Carnival. The Monday excursion had been canceled.
"I think that the kids handled it better than I did!" Jessica said.
"I was in tears on Sunday night. They were the ones that were comforting me and saying, mom, it's okay, don't worry about it!"
The cruise line offered a full refund plus a 25 percent discount on a future 3 to 5 day cruise."
Peter and Jessica both assumed Carnival could offer a diffferent cruise for the same price they paid for the one that was canceled. But the discovered it would be much more expensive to book a Carnival cruise for the summertime, after the school year ends.
"The lowest priced cruise we could get, even with the discount, was an additional $1,500 to $2,500 more than what we paid for our cruise," Jessica said.
"They said the summer season is busier, and trips are more expensive that time of year."
The Westbergs grasp that concept, but they still contend Carnival would do a better job of making them whole by offering the later cruise at the same price they paid for the one that was canceled.
"If there was something wrong with YOUR product, then you should exchange it for something else. It didn't seem right that we would have to pay more money to get on a different cruise," Jessica asserted.
The Westbergs decided to abandon the idea ofbooking another cruise for the time being, and insteadaccepted the refund. Carnival agreed to pay the family's expenses for the trip to Texas,as soon as they submitreceipts.
The Triumph was towedinto a port inAlabama late Thursday night with 4,300 passengers still aboard.