A Whidbey Island family says their Alaskan cruise was ruined by a tragic crime. Now, the family of seven, with five adopted kids, wants another chance to take the trip of their lives.
“It was supposed to be, probably, a once in a lifetime experience,” said Stephanie Starets-Foote.
For the seven members of Stephanie Starets-Foote’s family, the special trip was a seven-day cruise on Princess Cruise Lines.
“Just being close, together,” said Starets-Foote. “Plus, the destination was Alaska. And it was the inside passage so we were supposed to see a lot of beautiful things, that you can only see from the water.”
The kids loved the food and spent a lot of time at the pool. Starets-Foote spent together with her wife.
“Chris and I did somethings at the spa and there were movies,” said Startes-Foote.
But all of it was cut short right after the family took their official cruise ship photos.
“Well after our pictures, is when the announcements came, started coming. When we went to our room,” said Startes-Foote.
There was an emergency.
“Attention, attention, all security, all medical personal to deck, whatever it was, immediately,” said Startes-Foote.
When the responders arrived, they found the body of passenger Kristy Manzaneres. Investigators say her husband Kenneth killed her because she was laughing at him.
“Broken hearted and can’t even believe it happened. And it really just makes you want to hold your family closer,” said Starts-Foote.
Starts-Foote says her 15-year-old son, Philip, comforted one of the Manzanares’ three daughters – a new friend he had made on the ship.
“She was trying to get to her mother. But they stopped her and she was on a stairwell hysterically crying. And one of our sons had become friends, or acquaintances, on the ship with her and he was trying to console her,” said Starts-Foote.
The rest of the trip-wasn’t the same. The ship went straight to Juneau where the family didn’t see glaciers. Instead, they saw police cars and other emergency vehicles.
Philip, upset over what had happened, stayed in his cabin for hours.
“He probably internalized it more than anything,” said Starets-Foote. “Most people are like I can’t believe this happened. You know he was quiet. He spent probably ten hours just laying on his bunk.”
The cruise line cancelled a scenic trip to Tracy Arm Fjord, the focal point of their trip.
Because of that and the other delays, Princess Cruises gave each family $150 as a refundable on-board credit.
Once home Starets-Foote thought the adjustment wasn’t even close to fair.
I asked Startes-Foote what she would say to people who say bad things happen all the time.
“I say that is true. And the way I’ve figured that out to myself and my kids, is I teach my kids to fight for what they believe in. So, I’m fighting for what I believe in, which is fairness,” said Startes-Foote.
Princess Cruise Lines also gave each member 25-percent off a future cruise booked by December 2018.
Problem is, it took the Startes-Foote family years to come up with the $15,000 for this trip. Getting the cash in that timeframe would be next to impossible.
“I think the principal of the matter is, in a way, we went into a contract with them. We will pay you, we will show up, we will be responsible people on the cruise. And we did our part, but we sure don’t have a good memory. We have the memories that we gave our kids, basically counseling sessions in our room,” said Startes-Foote.
Startes-Foote wrote a passionate letter to Princess asking for the company to take another look at their case.
The response was cold and mostly copied from the message given by the Captain of the ship two months earlier. No thought, no heart and no full refund or replacement trip.
“I don’t know, I know it’s right for me, for our family to try and make it right. And I’m just a simple person that cares about my kids and my family” said Startes-Foote.
I called Princess Cruises to see what I could do, and they decided to stick with the original offer. I get it. I completely understand why they chose to give what it did. And to give everyone on that cruise a free trip would probably be impossible. This was not the cruise line’s fault. However, I think this family’s story needed to be told. I think they have a unique set of circumstances.