It was supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime for Johanna Robles and her extended family of 19, which included her husband, children and grandchildren. But when she tried to book the “Great Rivers of Europe” tour through Grand Circle Travel, the experience was less than great.

Since Robles and her husband were paying for the entire cruise — we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars — they wanted to make sure they understood the terms of their deposit. By the way, they’re clearly disclosed on GCT’s site.

Here’s the problem, though: They made the reservation by phone, so when they called on May 19, they may have gotten their wires crossed.

The [agent] said that my husband and I needed to book ourselves first, which meant a deposit of $2,330 on our Visa, in order to have a “complimentary hold” for 19 people until June 19, which gave us time to make a decision with our budget.

We hesitated because we wanted to make sure if we did not go, it would be a Visa credit. She assured me every dollar would be refunded should that be the case.

Well, it wasn’t the case.

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After lots of back and forth between Grand Circle and the family, it became clear to Robles that this was the wrong cruise for her family. So she decided to cancel before June 19.

[Grand Circle] said the $2,330 would be issued as a travel voucher because the date had elapsed. It was a shock and did not make sense when she said the booking for my husband and I had to be made to have a complimentary hold.

Did the Robles miss their deadline? I put the question to Grand Circle.

Here’s what a representative had to say:

Putting together a group departing from many gateways can be very challenging for the organizer, but from what I have read and heard, we were able to answer many questions raised by Mrs. Robles, through more than a 20 calls or e-mails over a one month period, including those around general trip details, air/gateways, insurance, pricing and beyond.

It was hard to provide Mrs. Robles with the final pricing she required, since a group discount is based on head count and head count was still not confirmed at time of cancellation.

I also believe that, based on recorded phone calls to this effect, we were clear around our risk-free 14 day period and that a travel voucher is appropriate and consistent with what anyone would receive if canceling a trip outside of the 14 day period.

So GCT is sticking to the vouchers offer, because she canceled after outside the 14-day window. And as the company notes, it has written and recorded evidence that it gave Robles the right information from the start.

Robles isn’t impressed with that answer.

They say they keep good records, which I try to do as well. I would like to have them point out in a message or phone call where they stated the two expiration dates were different.

I booked with Vacations-To-Go and asked for the identical info as I did with Grand Circle – “What would this particular trip cost for a group of 19?”

Vacations-To-Go gave me full information within a very short time and the agent has been extremely professional.

In other words, she doubts Grand Circle has any recorded calls, and that it just conducted informal interviews with the agents, and that they insisted they said “14 days.”

What do you think?

By the way, here’s the final outcome: Robles disputed the $2,330 charge on her credit card. The card found in her favor and she received a full refund.

(Photo of Danube River in Passau, Germany by Audri ngje/Flickr Creative Commons)