The family of a terminally ill man who died on board a P&O cruise ship last week say a bucket list holiday turned into a nightmare thanks to accommodation and heating problems.

Debbie Hotene said her son Rikki Hotene was put in a room with broken air conditioning and on a different floor of the cruise ship from his relatives, despite requests to keep him nearby.

A spokesman for P&O cruises said alternative rooms were offered and the heating system was not broken, something his family disputes.

The family felt cruise staff let Rikki down, while the company spokesman said he was confident crew had done their best to support the family at every step.


Rikki, who lived in Taupō with his parents and nana, was in palliative care, weighed 44kg and was suffering total renal failure after years battling health problems, including type 1 diabetes.

Rikki had turned 30 two weeks before he died on May 27, despite a prognosis he wouldn't make it to 21.

His family fundraised through Givealittle to afford to take him on the New Zealand cruise - the holiday was on his bucket list, which also included getting a puppy which he'd had since April and which is now being cared for by his parents.

He died overnight onboard the cruise ship, his body found in his cabin on the final morning of the three-day cruise.

His family knew something was wrong when they heard a medical emergency announced over the ship's loudspeakers, calling staff to Rikki's cabin number.

They claim the room was cold due to a broken air conditioning system, a claim disputed by the company.

"My son weighed 44 kilos, he was frozen on a normal day," Hotene said.

Hotene said through tears that Rikki - her first born - was the strongest person she knew.


She was angry with P&O, and grieving deeply.

From left: Rikki, Kahla and Debbie Hotene. Rikki defied doctors who said he wouldn't make it to 21, turning 30 two weeks before he died. Photo / Supplied
From left: Rikki, Kahla and Debbie Hotene. Rikki defied doctors who said he wouldn't make it to 21, turning 30 two weeks before he died. Photo / Supplied

The family claim that once on board the cruise they weren't able to have Rikki moved from the sixth floor to be nearer his relatives, who were in rooms on levels nine and 10.

His sister, Kahla Hotene, said staff told her the rooms were full.

Because of his health problems Rikki needed privacy and his own bed, and swapping into a room full of family members wasn't an option.

Kahla and Rikki Hotene as children.
Kahla and Rikki Hotene as children. "He was my best friend". Photo / Supplied

P&O had wiped all bills relating to medical treatment on board, including a hefty resuscitation fee, and were arranging to refund the price of Rikki's ticket.

But to Kahla, it didn't feel like enough.

"It's hard. I'm 26 and he's been my best friend since I was a baby," she said.

"He just fought everything. Every sickness he got he fought it. "

A P&O spokesman said the company's care team had provided compassionate support for Rikki's family as they grieved.

"While we are bound by privacy considerations, it is on the public record that the cruise was to fulfil the final wishes of a guest who was in palliative care for significant pre-existing medical conditions.

"Our onboard team did everything possible to respond to the guest's needs including suggesting changed accommodation arrangements in relation to the family's cabin allocations."