The cruise industry has embraced marketing 101. They are not selling vacations or travel, they are selling something more. Consider two examples. Norwegian (NCL), is selling “freedom” and Carnival is selling “fun.” The selling point is the experience and each cruise line is aimed at a particular market. Delivering on that experience is then built into many of the offerings with NCL deciding to do away with set dining times to reflect its commitment to freestyle cruising.

Every once in a while a company reminds us (in a bad way) that the focus on aligning the experience with the brand value does not matter if you  don’t deliver that experience throughout the customer engagement.

Consider a colossal brand failure on a recent NCL cruise.

We all arrived on time, and dutifully (there were a lot of Canadians) lined up under the hot Miami sun, to board the ship but the line did not move. We later learned that a computer failure was the root of the problem. So we waited, and waited. In the end, a total of 1 hour and 45 minutes in the sun. No water, no food, and no explanation. Well, that is not true, when the emergency first responders started having to give medical attention to people who were passing out they started to deliver dixie cups of water.

Of course, bad things occasionally happen and a measure of a company is not only how often they happen but also how they respond.

The good of the response… they did start pulling very small children and some very old people out of the sun. Good start.

The bad. Neither water nor an explanation is expensive and both would have helped build a sense of collective response to the challenge. Both could easily have been provided once an immediate solution was not found (e.g. after 15 minutes).

One very helpful staff member even went and forced people who had sought some shade protection to “get back in line” in the sun because the line was going to be moving (it moved about 30 minutes later). One of the people moved was one of the ones helped by the first responders.

In fact, as we boarded, the ship it was clear that the company was going to pretend that the incident did not happen. We later learned that a sub-contractor may have been ultimately responsible for the boarding process but nevertheless, the reality of our situation clashed with the freestyle experience touted by NCL. When you are stuck in a line, you just don’t have a sense of freedom.

The rest of the cruise was fine but how many of the 2300 passengers will tell the negative story about what “freedom” means on an NCL cruise?