Her “personal cruise consultant” dropped the ball — should I pick it up?

Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock.com
Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock.com
One of the cardinal rules of my consumer advocacy practice is to never get between a travel agent and a cruise passenger. Agents, and especially cruise specialists, tend to react defensively, take my interest in the problem personally, and the result is almost never a happy ending.

But when has a rule ever stopped me? Which is why I’m asking about Sally Radicali’s Holland America cruise to Tahiti.

From the beginning, things didn’t go as planned. Her home-based agent never sent her a receipt for the $3,500 deposit. And then, a few months ago, she tried to cancel her cruise because of a work-related issue.
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When Holland America says “no problem” maybe there’s a problem

Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock.com
Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock.com
Elmer Purkey suspected there might be trouble with his birth certificate on his planned seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise on Holland America’s Eurodam. He’d been born at a U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, to an American father and a German mother, which made him a natural born U.S. citizen.

But what would the cruise ship employees say when he showed them his birth certificate? So Purkey tried to find out. He contacted Holland America. He got its response in writing.
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Don’t I deserve a refund for sailing on an infected ship?

Robert Dockery’s eastern Caribbean cruise on Holland America’s M.S. Maasdam got off to a bad start when it was delayed in order to conduct a “supersanitization.” It came to an even worse conclusion when Dockery and his wife became “deathly ill” with a gastrointestinal virus and remained in their stateroom, subsisting off Jell-O and toast.
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Kicked off my cruise for peeing near the pool

Nice day for swim. / Photo by A. Tinworth - Flickr
When Karen Del Zoppo’s husband suffered a heart attack two years ago, he sustained severe anoxic brain damage, which left him with the mental state and motor skills of a two-year-old.

Del Zoppo didn’t want that to stop the family from enjoying a vacation. As a registered nurse, she’s more than capable of caring for her mentally handicapped husband. So she recently booked a getaway for the couple and her brother and sister-in-law — a western Mediterranean cruise that left from Venice, Italy.
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Is this enough compensation? My wife broke her neck, but my cruise line will only give me a 25 percent refund

Jerry McClure and his wife were looking forward to a seven-day western Caribbean cruise on the Holland America Ryndam late last year, when disaster struck. McClure’s wife fell and broke her neck less than a month before they were scheduled to fly to Tampa to board the ship.

McClure believed Holland America would have a heart and allow the couple to reschedule their vacation without paying a penalty on his $1,154 fare. After all, he’d given the company nearly an entire month’s notice of his wife’s medical condition.

But the cruise line had other ideas. In a phone conversation with Holland America, a representative dropped some bad news on an even worse situation, informing McClure they’d have to pay a 75 percent cancellation penalty because they were already into the 28-day cancellation period.

How about a rain check? No, replied Holland America, this time in writing. The penalty was non-negotiable.

“I was extremely disappointed by that response,” says McClure. “Holland America’s mission is, ‘We not only do things right, we do the right things.’ The right thing would have been to at least give us a rain check on a future cruise. They’ve lost a customer.”

True, a 25 percent refund is laughable. But is it wrong?
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Holland America kept 100 percent of my airfare — can it do that?

Cruise refunds. There, didn’t your blood pressure just go up? Mine sure did.

Cruise refunds can be an endless source of frustration for travelers like Jeff Grill’s in-law’s, who missed their Holland America ship in Venice, Italy, recently. They knew they were going to lose the value of their cruise. But their airfare? When Holland America pocked that, they were surprised.

Under Holland America’s cruise contract — the legal agreement between you and the the company — any airfare refund should have been passed along to the customer. Rule 4 says, “[If] the air transportation we arrange is unavailable or otherwise fails to materialize, our sole liability will be limited to refunding the air add-on paid or cruise only credit.”

But that didn’t happen.
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Sailing the sick seas with Holland America

My thanks to the passengers and crew of the Holland America’s Ryndam, who returned to San Diego, Calif., yesterday on a norovirus-infected vessel. The highly contagious gastrointestinal virus reportedly afflicted 100 vacationers on the 10-day cruise, and provided a nice news peg for my latest column.

Actually, I’m not grateful to Holland America for unwittingly helping me to underscore my point about noroviruses. As someone who has caught the bug myself, I feel for those passengers. Really do.

Expect more reports of sick cruise ships in the next few weeks. It’s almost March after all, and every chart of Norwalk infection rates that I see shows a peak during the month of March and in early April.

But the question I hear no one asking is: Which ships are likeliest to infect me?

A search of the Centers for Disease Control’s Vessel Sanitation Reports reveals the troublesome ships. Here are the vessels that failed to pass muster last year:

Stad Amsterdam Stad Amsterdam (3/29/2007)

Score: 56/100

“Potentially hazardous food temperatures storage, preparation display, service, transportation … there was no documentation noting that the fish was frozen to the time and temperature required for parasite destruction.”

(Comment: yuck!)

Nautilus Explorer Lever Diving (6/24/2007)

Score: 74/100

“A heavy accumulation of food debris was noted in many of the open seams within the counter.”

(Comment: gross!)

Norwegian Cruise Lines Pride of Aloha (12/21/2007)

Score: 78/100

“The only two handwash stations in the Vegetable Preparation Room had paper towel dispensers which did not function, and two workers were present during this inspection.”

(Comment: umm, do the math.)

Here are the ships with norovirus or suspected norovirus outbreaks in the recent past:

Carnival Cruise Line Holiday (1/24-1/28)
Norwegian Cruise Lines Norwegian Star (1/19-1/27)
Holland America Line Noordam (1/5-1/16)
Holland America Line Volendam (1/2-1/12)

Holland America seems to be well-represented when it comes to recent outbreaks. There are four reports in the previous year as well.

The cruise line published an advisory on the norovirus situation, but appears to have removed it from its site as of this morning.

It’s difficult to say with any certainty that Holland America’s ships are likelier to infect you than another cruise ship. None of its vessels have failed a CDC inspection, but as the numbers show, there are quite a few recent norovirus outbreaks — four of them on the Ryndam since May of 2006.

So what’s the bottom line to you if you’re taking a cruise? Check the Vessel Sanitation Report to see your ship’s scores, follow some basic guidelines for preventing the spread of germs, and you might want to think twice before sailing on the Ryndam.