Scottish theme park trip ruined as Ulsterbus coach fails to turn up
Several kids were left in floods of tears after an administrative error on a package trip left families stranded at a remote ferry terminal in Scotland instead of having fun at a theme park.
The local people, who had booked a package excursion with Stena Line to M&D's theme park on Saturday, April 15, to celebrate birthdays and the Easter weekend, were forced to abandon their plans and take the next ferry home when connecting coaches failed to arrive at the port.
After waiting for two hours in a terminal with minimal facilities, the angry parents and their distraught children were faced with the stark choice of either boarding a return boat home or continuing to travel by coach for another two hours, only to have half the time to enjoy the attractions. Carrickfergus man Mark Mills told how his teenage son Josh was "over the moon" at the surprise trip to celebrate his 14th birthday.
"We told Josh about the trip the night before and he was so excited as it was his first trip to M&D's theme park and it was on his birthday," the frustrated dad recalled.
"We had been planning the trip for four or five weeks and got up at 4.30am to make sure we were on time and prepared a picnic for when we arrived. We had booked the whole trip as a package through Stena Line and the mood on the way over was great. The boat was full of families and about 50 kids celebrating birthdays."
However, the atmosphere quickly soured when the families arrived at the port of Cairnryan, only to find that the connecting coaches provided by Ulsterbus were not there.
"The buses were meant to collect us at 9.45am and arrive at M&D's at 12.15pm, giving us just over four hours at the theme park before we had to get the return coach," Mark continued. "They told us that they would sort it out and that raised the kids' hopes again, but we had to contact the help desk ourselves by email and phone to ask what they would do to help. It was a complete shambles. Some of the staff did try to help but mostly we were just told to call or email the help desk - that's after we had been up since 4.30am and travelling for hours.
"We ended up waiting for nearly two hours in a ferry terminal which had two vending machines and toilets and that was it.
"We weren't offered anything to make the wait more comfortable. Finally they told us that they could get us on a return ferry and just as we were boarding it one coach turned up, which wouldn't have been able to take all the passengers anyway."
Mark said some of the kids - including one as young as five - became hysterical at that point.
"We spent £150 on the trip in total, but another family had spent over £400 to bring 13 people over, and all of the kids were under 10," he said.
"Josh was upset, but some of the other kids were as young as five and their families had been travelling from further away - there were people from around the country who could have been travelling for three to four hours to get to Belfast."
In contrast with the outward journey, Mark says that the passengers on the premature journey home were left feeling "angry and deflated".
"It totally ruined Josh's birthday, which he had been looking forward to," Mr Mills said. "When we got back to Belfast we went for a pizza but he didn't want to do anything else, he was too tired.
"We did take him out bowling on Monday and Tuesday to make up for it but it wasn't the same. They offered us a refund which they described as a "gesture of goodwill" or to go at another time, but I don't want to go through that again. We want the companies to learn from this, to improve their communication, and to make sure that what happened to us doesn't happen to any more families."
After the Belfast Telegraph contacted Stena Line, the company got in touch with the 28 passengers who chose to return home to offer them a full refund and a complimentary day at M&D's. The 62 passengers who chose to travel on to M&D's are being offered either a full refund or another day trip to M&D's.
A Translink spokesperson apologised to the passengers and said the company "will work with Stena Line to ensure this doesn't happen in future".
A spokesperson for Stena Line apologised "unreservedly" for what they said was an "administrative error".
She said: "Approximately 28 of the 90 passengers affected by the delay decided to return to Belfast without visiting the theme park. During their return sailing, Stena Line ensured that all 28 passengers were given a meal and offered a visit to the Bridge. Each year Stena Line carries approximately 8,000 customers to the M&D's theme park and this is the first time an issue with onward connections has occurred. Stena Line has already carried out a full internal review to ensure that this does not occur again."
However, Mark dismissed the gesture as "too little too late".