Exactly two weeks before Christmas, Brevard’s Wesley and Stephanie Royal arrived back at the Port of Charleston in South Carolina following a four-night cruise to the Bahamas aboard the Carnival Cruise Sunshine.
When they got to the parking lot where their vehicle was, they were shocked. A storm had passed through the Charleston area a few days before, dumping over 4 inches of rain, and since the parking lot was so close to the shore, all the cars in the lot received storm damage from the saltwater, Stephanie Royal said.
“Over 400 cars were affected by the damage due to saltwater,” she told the Times-News on Dec. 23.
None of the cars would start.
A long way home
Like all of the other passengers who parked in the lot damaged by the storm, the Royals had to scramble to figure out what to do so they could get back home when they encountered the shocking state of their cars at the port.
Stephanie Royal said no one was informed that their cars had received so much damage.
“When we came off the ship, none of the carnival staff informed us that this had occurred. The captain and crew on the ship didn’t inform us either. Once we were rushed off the ship after being delayed 6 hours and got back to the lot, the Port Authority didn’t inform us either,” she said.
The bad weather didn’t just affect the cars. The Royals said it was rough weather during most of the cruise, too, which made the return to Charleston delayed.
“We were originally due back at port by 7 a.m., but due to weather, we were delayed six hours, which put us back at port around 1 p.m. From 1-4 p.m. we were stranded,” Stephanie Royal said. “We managed to get a rideshare to the airport for a car rental. We returned to the parking lot at 6 p.m. to get our belongings from my car. People were still stranded waiting on help.”
She said she and her husband drove back to Brevard that evening and got home after 11 p.m. That was after spending $55 for a rideshare to the airport and an additional $400 for a rental car to get back home.
Who is responsible?
So far, South Carolina Ports Authority has only issued a refund of the parking fee, Stephanie Royal said.
“We got a parking refund but that’s it. We’re still waiting on final closure of our totaled vehicle from the insurance company.
According to past reporting by USA TODAY, a spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines said in an emailed statement, “We regret that some of our guests’ vehicles parked in the port’s lot were impacted by the recent storm.”
The cruise line then suggested passengers contact the South Carolina Ports Authority, since the parking lot was not a Carnival facility.
According to an article in the Charleston Post and Courier, the South Carolina Ports Authority said it isn’t responsible for the hundreds of cars damaged but did provide documentation vehicle owners can use to file insurance claims. The Ports Authority then refunded parking fees and allowed the vehicle owners to leave their cars in the lot for as long as they needed to.
“In my opinion isn’t nearly enough to cover the length of getting back home and being stranded in an area we do not know well. I have also issued a complaint to the town of Charleston to make changes in how they handle parking there,” Stephanie Royal said.
The Times-News reached out to the South Carolina Ports Authority on Jan. 2 but didn’t receive a reply. There is a notice to cruise passengers on the Ports Authority’s website, informing them that they are “parking at their own risk.”
“SCPA assumes no liability for theft, collision, accidents, fire or other damages of any kind to personal property from any cause whatsoever. SCPA assumes no responsibility or liability for property left in a vehicle,”the website says.
Stephanie Royal said passengers leaving for the Carnival cruise out of Charleston are forced to park in one of the Ports Authority parking lots, which are at sea level.
“We have no choice as passengers but to park there to board the ship. We even had a rough cruise due to the weather, which didn’t make the return any better,” she said.
‘A mess that could’ve been prevented’
Stephanie Royal is hoping the incident will cause big changes for the cruise parking in the Charleston area.
“There are a lot of people that do not know how bad this area can flood but the Port Authority doesn’t inform the public about it, either. We have been trying to let the public know that this is the way it will be until they close it down in December 2024.
“We feel as though not enough was done, and this mess could have been prevented. They were well informed bad weather was coming but didn’t take the necessary parking precautions. The lack of communication between the ship crew and port authorities is beyond terrible.”
Royal believes the crew could have informed the passengers what was happening so that they would have information before leaving the ship.
“It’s apparent that the Carnival crew at debarkation was informed not to say anything to us because of fear of passengers bombarding them for help and information,” she said. “At the very least the Port Authority employees in the parking area could have informed us once we got on their lot. It was up to us to find that our cars were flooded and totaled. We are hoping to share this information to forewarn future passengers boarding the Carnival cruise line and parking in this area.”
Dean Hensley is the news editor for the Hendersonville Times-News. Email him with tips, questions and comments at [email protected]. Please help support this kind of local journalism with a subscription to the Hendersonville Times-News.