royal caribbean

Are cruise lines “dumping” their sick passengers?

Fred and Connie Claussen’s honeymoon cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas ended on a tragic note. During the voyage, Fred suffered a massive heart attack. The Serenade’s medical staff treated him and then diverted the ship to St. Kitts, where he was transferred to a hospital.
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Case dismissed: A little visa problem that sank their family cruise

Port separation anxiety is a term I use to describe the sudden decision some cruise passengers are faced with when a member of their party has to be left behind — usually because they don’t have a passport or the right kind of birth certificate.

It’s never an easy choice, but it’s particularly difficult when a family is being separated. Do we leave Mom and Dad behind and take the cruise, or do we turn around and go home?

But that was the decision Ananth Channaveer had to make when he tried to board Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas in Seattle recently.
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The smarter consumer: 7 questions to ask if you don’t want to be scammed

Lyn Cacella found an unbelievably good deal on a Royal Caribbean cruise to Bermuda through a website she’d never heard of called The catch? She had to wire $1,359 to the business for her fare.

But when the tickets didn’t arrive, she phoned the cruise line, which had no record of her reservation. When she asked a representative by email about the preponderance of bad reviews, she was referred to a site called, which “certified” the business as legitimate.

“I think it’s a hoax,” she told me.
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Is this enough compensation? He waited too long to use his cruise voucher

Gregg Brady was looking forward to his February cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager Of The Seas but the winds of fate were about to blow in a different direction. Just before his vacation, he had to be hospitalized and missed his sailing.

He didn’t have trip cancellation insurance, but Royal Caribbean agreed to issue vouchers of $171 per person — the equivalent of his taxes and port charges — for a future cruise. RCCL didn’t specify the duration of the vouchers.

That was more than three years ago.

You can probably guess what happened next, right? When Brady tried to redeem the voucher, RCCL informed him it had expired. Long ago.
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“Royal Caribbean should change its name to Pirates of the Caribbean”

majestyA word of warning to anyone taking a cruse: Don’t trust anyone with your valuables.

When a luggage porter took Jim Van Ness’s bag as he boarded Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas recently, he should have stopped him. “I didn’t intend to give my backpack with my cameras inside to the porters,” he told me. “But I laid it down to pick up my granddaughter and a porter grabbed it and off it went.”

Guess what happens next?
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“Pay an additional $800 or you can’t board the ship”

Timing is everything when you pull a bait-and-switch. Most of them happen just before or after the purchase – an “oops-the-price-isn’t-available” or a “sorry-did-we-forget-to-mention-a-fee” stunt. But for Mary Hoefs’ Royal Caribbean cruise, she didn’t find out until she tried to board.

Here’s what happened she tried to embark on the Liberty of the Seas with her family recently:

While checking in, our son and his family from Texas were pulled out of line and taken to another room. There they were told: “Pay an additional $800, or they you can’t board the ship.”

They were in a state of panic, and two little grandsons were in tears because they could not get on the ship. Not really understanding the reason, we had to come up with the extra cash for them to board. (Had we not had the money, what would have happened?)

The cruise was paid in full by us, at the time of booking. They had all this information far enough in advance that should there have been a problem, had plenty of time to let us or our travel consultant know so that it could have been taken care of before the date we were to set sail. Under no circumstance should this have been thrown in our face while standing in line to board the ship!

We feel that the full $800 should be refunded by Royal Caribbean. They only refunded $400, and sent that to the travel agent, with no reason or apology to us as to why our family from Texas was singled out like this.

Sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? I figured there must be another side to this story, so I asked RCCL. Here’s its response.

Our records indicate that this booking was not created in-house, rather, through a travel agent. During the booking process, the guests from Texas were booked as being residents of West Virginia – with a promotional discount that was being provided to residents of West Virginia at that time. When the guests were unable to provide government issued ID that showed they were residents of West Virginia, the discount had to be removed, thus, the additional charges.

In other words, Hoefs’ family had used a discount that can only be used by West Virginia residents. When they couldn’t prove they lived in West Virginia, they had to pay a fare difference.

I shared this information with Hoefs.

I paid for the two from West Virginia $1,787, which was the “special rate.” The family from Texas, I paid $3,275. And from here in Arizona, the price was $3,275. So the Texas family did NOT have a special rate. Regardless, I booked and paid in full on December 16th, 2008, the cruise was not until March 14th 2009. If there was a discrepancy, they had plenty of time to notify me before rather then wait till we were standing in line to board the ship. If they did not feel they were in the wrong, then why did they return half of the $800?

Hoefs is correct. She didn’t create the confusing pricing system that led to this problem. RCCL had ample time to check the IDs of the travelers. And yes, the $400 refund doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Lesson learned? If you’re booking a cruise through a travel agent, make sure you qualify for any discounts, and can prove it. At a time like this, cruise lines are trying to collect every extra penny from their passengers — even if they have to do it at the dock.

Getting stonewalled by your cruise line? Sue your bank

Here’s an odd case with a surprise ending that would probably make David Mamet proud. It’s about a refund gone awry and and unlikely solution that even this ombudsman wouldn’t have known to recommend.

Michael Sawyer is a National Guardsman who booked a hard-earned cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship two years ago while serving in Iraq. He made an initial $500 deposit, but as his vacation drew closer, he decided that because of his busy work schedule, he would have to cancel the reservation and receive a full refund.

At the time of cancellation, I made a point of instructing the reservation agent to not send a credit to the debit card as I had canceled the card, but rather, to send a check direct to me. The agent agreed to do this.

But instead, Royal Caribbean tried to credit his closed US Bank card. The bank just sent the refund back to the cruise line.

The harder Sawyer tried to get his money back, the more difficult it became. Royal Caribbean insisted that “too much time had passed” between now and his cruise date. Then it simply ignored his further attempts to secure a refund.

I contacted Royal Caribbean, too, and got the same response: nothing.

So Sawyer decided to go after his bank, which had returned the deposit to Royal Caribbean.

I sued US Bank in a local small claims court for the overdraft fees they charged my account and also for the $500 deposit that was never returned. Their legal department called and offered to settle out of court, and I accepted.

Very interesting. Just goes to show that you can’t leave any stone unturned when you’re working a case. That’s a lesson learned for this ombudsman.

Florida Attorney General announces sellout “settlement” with Royal Caribbean

Are the illegal fuel surcharges imposed by cruise lines about to be scuttled? Don’t hold your breath. Royal Caribbean today announced a settlement with Florida’s Attorney General to eliminate its controversial fuel surcharge for bookings made before Nov. 16 and to refund any fees already collected. Other major cruise lines are expected to follow.

“There’s gonna be a lot of happy cruisers,” Sandi Copes, spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill McCollum, told the AP.

Wrong, Sandi.

It’s a terrible deal for consumers. According to the Royal Caribbean announcement, the so-called “fuel supplement” remains in place for North American bookings made on or after Nov. 16.

And look closer. The Royal Caribbean settlement amends a 1997 agreement that cruise lines were not to put extra charges on their bills unless they were for taxes or government fees. The companies now may add surcharges as long as those costs are properly disclosed to customers.

So Royal Caribbean refunds $21 million to a few thousand customers. But in exchange, it gets to charge millions — potentially hundreds of millions — to customers in extra fees.

What do you think of this settlement? Oh, don’t bother telling me. Let the Florida Attorney General know.

Would you pay $200,576 for a 13-night cruise?

Royal Caribbean must think its customers are royally loaded. Or royally insane. How else do you explain the pricing of an inside cabin on a June 2 sailing of the Legend of the Seas for the princely sum of $200,576?

Well, actually there is another explanation. It’s a dreaded fat-finger fare.


Reader Alan Brill, who brought this apparent glitch to my attention — and Alan, I really hope this is a glitch — says it’s royally absurd.

Given that the smallest inside cabin is 138 square feet, that comes out to only $1453.45 per square foot. By comparison, the Grand Suite, at $4,749 per person ($9,498 per cabin) — plus the surcharge for a 357 square foot cabin (not counting the balcony) is $26.61 per square foot.

I don’t know about you, Chris, but I think that if they get someone to pay the $200,576, they could throw in the $5 per-day fuel surcharge.

Yeah, you would think.

Needless to say, this rate hiccup needs to be fixed immediately. But this does raise a bigger question: Are cruises getting a little overpriced, or are they still a bargain?

Travel agents, what do you think?

“Cruise lines concertedly and deceptively implemented a fuel surcharge”

The first of what could be several fuel charge-related lawsuits against the cruise lines was filed earlier this week in Miami. Coral Gables, Fla., attorney Harley Tropin submitted the complaint, which seeks class action status, on behalf of New York resident Jason Ablelove. It charges several large cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line, with colluding to fix unreasonably high fuel surcharges.

I contacted Tropin yesterday to request a copy of the complaint and to speak with his client. Ablelove was out of the country and couldn’t be reached, but Tropin was kind enough to send me the lawsuit. It’s devastating, and the cruise lines would be smart to settle this one quickly and make nice with Florida’s Attorney General, which is investigating whether Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp. properly disclosed fuel surcharges.

According to the suit, anyone who purchased tickets after Jan. 1 from the cruise companies paid an unreasonably high fuel surcharge illegally set by the companies. Here are a few highlights:

The Fuel Surcharges were unprecedented in the North American market. In large part, this is because of a 1997 settlement between certain Defendants, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, and the Florida Attorney General.

Pursuant to that settlement, these Defendants paid a fine and agreed to revise their advertising policies to settle allegation that they misled consumers about cruise costs. Under the settlement agreement, the cruise lines could no longer charge customers any fees in addition to the advertised initial ticket price, except those fees actually passed on by the company to a government agency.

Defendants, despite their prior settlement with the Florida Attorney General, concertedly and deceptively implemented a fuel surcharge herein described.

The suit also notes the suspicious timing of the fee implementation and suggest the cruise lines were working together:

On November 5, 2007, Carnival Corporation announced a fuel surcharge of $5 per person per day … shortly before [then] the smaller luxury operator Regent Seven Seas Cruises announced that it would implement a fuel surcharge of $7.50 per person, per day, for its 2008 sailings. On November 12, Oceana Cruises announced it too would implement a $7 per person, per day surcharge … on November 14, Silversea Cruises announced a $10, per person, per day surcharge … etc.

That’s a violation of anti-trust laws, the lawsuit says.

Defendants engaged in a continuing agreement, understanding, and conspiracy in restraint of trade to artificially raise, fix, maintain and/or stabilize the price of Fuel Surcharges in the United States and throughout North America in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 14 U.S.C. 1.

They’re also a violation of Florida state law:

Defendants’ misled, and continue to mislead consumers into believing the Fuel Surcharges are proportionately related to their fuel costs. Rather, these Fuel Surcharges are the result of unlawful concerted action among the Defendants.

Finally, it suggests that cruise lines were not acting alone. It names several “unnamed co-conspirators.” Whether or not those are travel agents, who helped collect these fees, is open to debate:

On information and belief, certain cruise line operators, trade groups and/or other entities, unnamed herein and referred to as John Does I-X, willingly conspired with Defendants in their unlawful conduct at all relevant times. The allegations contained herein against named Defendants are hereby averred against these unnamed co-conspirators.

I’ve noted the troublesome nature of cruise line fuel surcharges in the past. Personally, I think it’s only a matter of time before the cruise lines cave in and send everyone a rebate check.