Is this enough compensation? Raw sewage smell in my room, but no repeat cruise

To say that Michael Harr-Trueblood’s 10-day cruise aboard the Disney Wonder was disappointing might be an understatement.

On his first morning on board, he woke up at 5 a.m., “coughing, choking, eyes burning to an overwhelming smell of raw sewage.” And while Disney made efforts to address his complaint during the voyage, the question is: Did it do enough?

Let’s rewind to the morning of the sewage incident. Harr-Trueblood had spent $4,400 on his cabin and then an extra $1,700 to upgrade to a “family deluxe veranda” cabin. These numbers are important, as you’ll see in a minute.

After he and his six-year-old twins were awakened, he opened the veranda door and the cabin door, pulled the children into the hallway and phoned guest services. They promised someone would be in touch around 7 a.m.

I checked the bathrooms and the smell was not coming from there, it was coming out of the ventilation grate in the ceiling.

After a few minutes, the smell dissipated out the veranda door and we returned to the cabin. I left the veranda door open. (Six-year-old curious boys and an open veranda door at night — scary!)

We put the kids in our bed with us and tried to sleep.

For the next seven days, the family asked Disney to be moved to another cabin.

“We complained daily about the stench and demanded repeatedly to speak to management,” he says.

On the eighth day of their cruise, a guest-services representative finally said they could switch cabins, he says.

On the morning of the ninth day, I got to have a my first face-to-face with the manager of guest services, “Gary.”

On behalf of Disney, he refunded the $1,700 upgrade, and gave us a $300 shipboard credit. “Gary” stated that was all he could do onboard ship and he would have “corporate” call us when we arrived back home.

He stated he was recommending to “corporate” a full refund and a repeat cruise, same cabin category or better, 10-day cruise. That calmed me down.

I had no idea what had caused our itchy skin rash, coughs, burning eyes and strangely enough, what had caused the silver jewelry my wife brought along to tarnish. I just knew our cabin and everything in it including all our clothing smelled like, well, sh*t!

Needless to say, no romance, stressed out dad, pissed off mama, sick sons.

It isn’t clear what happened to the Harr-Trueblood’s cabin. I haven’t asked Disney about this yet, because it’s possible that they were offered enough compensation for their hardship. Here’s how Disney addressed the problems, post-cruise:

I received a call from “Executive VP” Joseph Paris from Disney Cruise Lines corporate offices in Florida.

He stated that he had reviewed my “perceived issues” and had decided we had been compensated “more than enough” and, in his opinion, “too much.”

When I stated that he had an obligation to protect the crew, passengers and especially children from H2s and other sewer gasses, he became rude and asked, “Are you a chemist? Did you take air samples? Did you bring them to a lab?”

I replied, “No, I just know what it was like for my family to smell sewage for too many days of a 10-day cruise. He response was, “Well your expectations were too high.”

Harr-Trueblood thinks the original proposed offer of a refund and do-over is fair, given his family’s inconvenience. I think Disney could have responded to his complaints much sooner and that refunding the upgrade and moving the family was appropriate.

But a full refund and a do-over? I’ve never heard of that kind of compensation.

I’m troubled by the phone call between Harr-Trueblood and the Disney executive. It’s very un-Disneylike. But I’m not sure if more compensation is warranted.

What do you think?

(Photo: hubsterd isney/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Grant

    In defense of Disney, My (now-ex) wife and I went through something similar with Norwegian Cruise Lines… waking in the wee hours to a choking, disgusting, overwhelming smell. I was furious, but fortunately, before I took it out on NCL, I realized that my lovely ‘ex’ had spent the prior evening drinking Chardonnay and gorging herself on those big shrimp NCL has. So, a word to the wise to the OP, you might want to check with the lovely Ms. H-T before you assume that Disney is at fault.     

  • Wheelchairs

     Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.

  • Crissy

    They spent the vast majority of their trip in a smelly room.  If they were eventually moved then they could have been moved earlier in the trip.  I would say they deserve a refund or at least 3/4’s of a refund, but not another free cruise too.

  • MVFlyer

    I agree with several other posters–IF Disney truly acted the way they did, THEN they do deserve more–just refunding the trip doesn’t necessarily cover the angst, the vacation time, and all the rest.  But something smells bad about the way the OP put it (sorry, couldn’t resist!).  Find out Disney’s side and then decide.

    Personally, if I had to live with that smell for more than a few hours, and I couldn’t talk to the customer service rep, I would have found the customer service office and started there in person.  If no one could help there, I’d insist on seeing the captain.

    [As an aside, when I pulled up this discussion on my computer, the automatic ad generator had a big banner exhorting me to take a cruise on Disney cruise lines through Europe.  I’m sure after reading this post I’d really want to take a Disney cruise!  And Chris, you just made a penny or so from Disney!]

  • Ghost

    But in the case reported here, the person said they traced the smell to the vent.  Until Disney responds and explains their side, I have to take things as truthful.

  • Billy Bob Jerk

    I can’t remember the last time I read a story about a toddler getting killed in a car accident, so I guess it’s a non-issue.  I will quit buckling mine up.

    I’m not providing any stories about houses getting burglarized so it is apparently a complete non-issue to the rest of the world.  I guess I won’t lock the door anymore.

    Yeah, that makes sense.

  • Tyler

     The whole thing is ONE room! All there is is a curtain that can be kept open! And as they said THERE ARE LOCKS on the doors. You truly seem like one of those people that isn’t happy unless you have something to worry about! Get over your self! Lock the door!!!

  • Tyler

     Nope impossible! There are no “French Doors” it’s a curtain! And if you put the bed in the way of the verandah door, I bet people would complain about that too! 

  • Tyler

     This guy seems like he went onboard wanting to complain about something, he does know that silver always tarnishes right? and that rash causing odor seems unlikely. The manager on the ship might have just told the guy that he should be receiving a full refund and another cruise just to calm him down. I think he got more than enough. I agree that we should see Disney’s story first. 

  • cjr001

    Well, your ‘examples’ are certainly fitting with your handle.

    By all means, find me just ONE story from the last FIVE years. Otherwise, stop making fools of yourselves.

  • acproductions

    One or the other.  Double compensation is far too much.  If he doesn’t want to try again, then take the refund.

  • Paula

    Something “smells” more than of raw sewage here…pun intended. While I certainly wasn’t there, so can’t say he’s lying, I do know something is not the norm here. I have cruised Disney 4 times and while no one is perfect, I can honestly say they are probably tops in customer service (I have also cruised on other cruise lines) and I myself had one disney cruise where we had a cabin that the noise outside of it (We were in a verandah room and they were working on something beneath us or above us-can’t remember) was SOOOO noisy that it kept us up and woke us up early. My DH complained at guest services (not just a phone call) that first day and we were MOVED THAT DAY! It doesn’t sound like he complained until the end. If it was THAT bad, wouldn’t he have gone to guest services and complained sooner? People are just really too much about getting something for nothing these days. It stinks that it happened, but again IF IT WAS THAT BAD HE WOULD HAVE BEEN AT GUEST SERVICES TILL IT WAS FIXED! They did change him eventually (and like I said, had he made a stink about it earlier-he would have moved earlier) That being said it was almost like he waited to see if he could get another cruise out of it.

  • cjr001

    Wow, you guys have provided SO MANY examples of kids going overboard on cruise ships, much less from veranda rooms, that I’m completely convinced that the cruise lines and their room layouts are the problem, and not you as a parent.

  • TheInfamousJ

     I’m willing to bet that the tarnished silver came from the sea-air that entered through the opened veranda doors. I used to wear sterling silver jewelry when visiting my grandmother in Florida and learned that salt-water air and exposure to the air immediately above a jaccuzi/spa/hot tub would tarnish my silver rather quickly; the latter providing a pink/red color to the tarnish.

  • Gabrielle

    I think you, Chris, are remiss in posting OP’s complaint without contacting Disney first to get its side of the story. Like several others who have commented, I question the veracity of OP’s story. Enduring a week in a luxury suite reeking of sewage without complaining firmly and frequently enough to effect a face-to-face meeting with a manager is bizarre. Also unbelievable is the assertion that management deliberately waited nine days to actually meet with the OP about a problem so serious. I don’t work for Disney, own their stock, or have any other connection to the company, but justice dictates that the facts behind this complaint be laid out as clearly, fairly, and completely as possible. You haven’t done that, Chris. Bottom line: BOTH sides deserve a fair hearing.