Gay couple Chance and Dan Walton-Ashmore wed in December and decided to book a south-east Asia cruise through TUI—a Crawley, West Sussex, England based travel agency—to celebrate their marriage.
The newlyweds from Duffield in Derbyshire spent £3,000 (roughly $3,352) for the 11-day cruise, but after unfolding circumstances, they wanted to end their honeymoon.
What should have been a jubilant excursion quickly devolved into a nightmare after they faced homophobic abuse from the cruise staff.
Dan, a 25-year-old NHS worker, took to social media during the cruise and slammed the Marella Discovery—a former Royal Caribbean International Vision-class cruise ship—and said he was "heartbroken."
"Heartbroken at this cruise. We have received so much homophobic abuse from TUI staff on board the Marella Discovery."
"We want to come home. TUI are a disgrace!"
The couple asked repeatedly for a double bed, but the staff ignored their requests. The staff also pointed and laughed at them and even refused to take photos of the couple together.
Dan continued speaking to the Mirror.
"Initially it was that they refused to provide a double bed rather than the two singles we were given, even though the booking did state it was our honeymoon."
"When we requested this to be completed at reception five times they simply pointed and laughed at us."
"I had to push them together myself for it to be done."
Shame: Staff from @TUIGroup's Marella Discovery ruined the honeymoon cruise of a gay couple by #homophobic abuse 👎… https://t.co/vjaZbAsoyv— Pixel Tracker 📷 (@Pixel Tracker 📷)1576973536.0
When Dan complained to a member of staff, she replied:
"I find it hard to believe as I'm the minority on this ship as a heterosexual-woman, not you."
But he disagreed and continued describing other incidences of ridicule.
"We are being treated differently from the bar staff and in some cases not being served at all and feeling like we are invisible."
"We have danced with each other and noticed bar staff laughing and also pointing at us. Passengers have witnessed this happening and have all been really supportive."
"We had to have a private photo shoot in their studio away from other guests which was brilliant but those pictures had to be paid for."
Tensions further escalated after the couple objected to the onboard entertainment that included "racist and transphobic jokes."
"A member of staff has just been sat behind us slagging us off after we raised concerns about racist and transphobic jokes which were not appropriate."
Pink News said that TUI tried to assuage the couple's experience by offering "champagne, strawberries and a free meal in the a la carte restaurant" after seeing their complaint on social media.
However, Dan said nothing could make up for the torment inflicted on them during their honeymoon.
"This is not good enough and is in no way a sufficient apology and does not make up for the 11 days that we have been through."
Chance, who is also 25 and works as an interpreter for the deaf, wrote:
"This whole experience has been horrible. This should [have] been the trip of a lifetime and has turned out to be a nightmare."
"I didn't think in 2019 we would be facing this kind of prejudice from an established company."
"We only have a few days left but it has really ruined our honeymoon and we do not feel safe on board or comfortable enough to be the honeymoon couple we should be able to be."
Although passengers empathized with the newlyweds, Dan and Chance were still viewed as the "laughing stock" by cruise staff.
"We have the support of passengers on board and people back at home. We just want to come home now as we are a laughing stock for the TUI staff on board!"
People offered various suggestions for the newlyweds to combat the contempt while they were still on board the ship.
TUI issued the following statement.
"We're very concerned to hear of the Walton-Ashmore party's experience onboard Marella Discovery and we take claims of this nature very seriously."
"We are currently investigating this internally. Our team onboard are doing everything possible to address the customers' concerns and give them the best possible experience on their holiday."
Cruise Critic said that data suggests the percentage of LGBTQ travelers is equal to, or in some cases slightly higher than, heterosexual travelers and most cruise lines express solidarity by hosting gay and lesbian socials.
The cruise industry cannot afford to lose out on the LGBTQ demographic and thus have adopted policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in recent years.
If the Marella Discovery hopes to remain afloat in a competitive industry, then perhaps a staff restructuring and training on discrimination is in order.