Cruises

An Account of the Great Flood of 2015

Written by Mark McElroy

When you’re on a cruise ship — especially when you’re in a luxury cabin on the tenth floor — you don’t expect to wake up and discover your stateroom filling slowly with water. And yet, this is exactly what happens on our first full day at sea on Holland America’s Veendam.


We’re in Cabin 021 — a spacious Neptune Suite with a double-wide balcony, a combination living room / bedroom with a huge seating area, a dressing room, and bath:

neptune-suite

Our digs are about as luxurious as any onboard (surpassed only by the Pinnacle Suite, a full-sized condominium complete with butler service). Residents of Neptune suites enjoy a long list of amenities: free laundry (which lets you pack less), free treats (canapés, snacks, and desserts), free high tea delivered to your suite, free light catering for small group parties thrown in your suite, and constant assistance and support from the Neptune Suite Concierge (on this voyage, a tireless young woman named Christine).

These rooms do cost significantly more than, say, the windowless inside single-wide staterooms, but over the years, as our time aboard Holland America ships increases (HAL refers to this as our “Mariner status”), we’ve found we can negotiate substantial discounts, and enjoy more luxury for less money.


On the first full day of our trip, we awake to discover an unexpected amenity: an in-room pool.

After lazing in bed to check Facebook and email, I jump up when I hear Clyde getting out of the shower … and put my bare feet down in ice cold water. The carpet by the bed is sopping wet, but the carpet in the dressing room is saturated. Soon, the water seeping out from under the raised floor of the bathroom is generating a sizable pond.

At first, we think think the shower drain must be leaking; soon, though, as the water level continues to rise, it’s clear the leak is coming from somewhere else. By the time we’re both decent, water runs from the dressing area into the bedroom, under the king-sized bed, across the bedroom, and down the wall to the balcony doors.

We alert Christine. Moments later, a small army of attendants, engineers, and maintenance workers descends on our suite. They pick at the swollen towels. They disassemble the bed. They drag in high-power vacuums and large carpet drying blowers that sound almost exactly like cappuccino machines:

great-flood

Soon, another team arrives, announcing the source of the water isn’t our room at all, but the adjoining room, where pipes (clean water pipes — not brown water pipes, thank goodness) have broken.


We find ourselves transplanted to an “emergency room.”

Accidents happen, and HAL knows it. So even on very full cruises, a block of (generally undesirable) rooms are reserved as “emergency rooms.” Ours is on the same floor, but at the very back of the boat: a narrow, single-wide cabin looking out at the ship’s wake.

It’s far less comfortable — you would’t linger in this room the way we do our Neptune suite — but it is well-appointed, has a balcony, and, most importantly, is not flooded.

That said: it’s perfectly comfortable, and, since one of the first rules of happy travel is “Embrace the unexpected,” we settle in and make the best of things. While not in the room we hoped for, we are still in a well-appointed room on a luxury cruise liner, headed for exotic destinations many people only dream of visiting. And on top of that, the amazing HAL staff is constantly apologizing to us, wishing us well, and offering to do anything within their power to make up for the mishap. (In fact, less than an hour after our displacement, Christine appears at our door, offering us a complimentary night at the ship’s most expensive restaurant.)

Given these realities, any inclination to complain dwindles.


“It’s terrible!”

Despite having been shifted to Cabin 089, we still have Neptune Suite perks, including elegant breakfasts in the Pinnacle Grill (HAL’s swanky, reservations-only dinner spot, specializing in steak and caviar and fine wine and upcharges).

As luck would have it, the displaced residents of Cabin 015 — the source of the flood — are seated just a table or two away.

A hapless server asks Mr. 015 an innocent question — “How are you enjoying your cruise?” — and Mr. 015 seizes the opportunity to air his extreme displease with his cruise, with the cruise line, and with life in general.

“It’s terrible!” he repeats, shaking his head and raising his voice. “Our cabin is flooded! Water everywhere! Now we’ve been pitched to the back of the ship in a dark, freezing room! If I had booked that room, I would refuse it! Who would call this a vacation? Somebody ought to pay for this, and it’s not gonna be with a little free dinner.”

The server looks sympathetic, and offers Mr. 015 a cinnamon bun.


At this point, I catch myself feeling more than a little superior to Mr. 015.

After all, we’re in the same predicament, aren’t we? And here we are, smiling and enjoying ourselves. We’ve made better choices! We’re thanking the crew for their consideration! We’re looking forward to that free dinner on Thursday night! We’ve taken the high road!

But, while we aren’t hollering about our predicament in the Pinnacle Grill, I confess we have also been wondering what else HAL might do to compensate us. (Just typing that makes me feel uncomfortable and ungrateful, so you can imagine how thinking it makes me feel.)

As we often do when things are on our minds, we retreat to a quiet space and talk it out.


We pay more for a Neptune Suite experience than we would for a balcony room on the back of the ship. Significant portions of two days have now been impacted by the noise, the mess, and the inconveniences of the flood. And while the swanky free dinner is a nice gesture, we finally agree we think HAL should do more.

So: while I won’t be screaming that my trip is “terrible” any time soon, it turns out both Mr. 015 and I agree HAL should do more.

And, in that moment, I feel considerably less superior than I did back at breakfast.


The flood happened on a Sunday morning. By Monday night — after lots of shampooing and drying out of carpets — we are back in our room.

Once back, we slip Christine a proposal — a very politely worded note asking HAL to consider giving us a free upgrade on our next cruise in August.

“I assure you, the dinner is just a gesture,” Christine says. “The main office is already discussing additional compensation. I’ll pass this to them.”

On Thursday night, we show up at the Pinnacle Grill, where we find a table by the window — facing a magnificent sunset — reserved just for us.

I’ve been vegetarian for most of this cruise, but I freely admit I ordered the seven-ounce filet and loved every single bite.


We’re in Quebec on the next-to-last day of our cruise. The harbor is socked in with thick grey fog and ice-cold drizzle. We’re in our Neptune Suite, sipping hot coffee and thankful our room comes with two large umbrellas.

As I’m writing this, a steward appears at our door with a letter from the home office in Seattle. While not able to consider our upgrade proposal, HAL has done some math, and extends to us $300 of credit to be applied to expenses incurred on this trip.

Clyde has also been doing some math in his head — a gift that, to people like me, seems magical — and this figure comes very close to what Clyde calculates as the difference between two days in our suite versus two nights in the emergency stateroom. It’s also almost exactly what I had come up with as a fall-back proposal: a day of free tours in Quebec. Coincidentally, we signed up for two tours today, with a value of $300. The credit HAL’s extended will cover these completely.


We see Mr. 015 only once more. His wife hasn’t been feeling well, and he is dining alone. We stop by to ask after Mrs. 015, but Mr. 015 replies with a litany of complaints about his meal (“I’ve been here half an hour! They’ve not even brought me bread! Am I invisible?!? Whatever happened to service? I’m going to have to write a doozie of a letter!”).

We make sympathetic noises. We excuse ourselves quickly.

Downstairs, we head out into the foggy port of Quebec for a day of touring: happy to be on another adventure, happy to be who we are, and happy to be together.

About the author

Mark McElroy

Leave a Comment