By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 9/9/2009 4:05:35 PM ET 2009-09-09T20:05:35

Fred and Deborah Marenna were looking forward to celebrating their 25th anniversary on the Carnival Miracle. It was the perfect itinerary for celebrating as it would visit exotic Panama and Costa Rica.

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But the day before the Connecticut couple was to fly to Fort Lauderdale, things started to fall apart. Their travel agent called with bad news: The Miracle’s entire itinerary was being altered and the ship would no longer be visiting Panama or Costa Rica. The couple had the option to continue the cruise with the revised itinerary that would include a $50 onboard credit or they could opt to receive a full refund.

Money for nothing
The Marennas were devastated as the entire reason they booked the cruise was to visit Panama and Costa Rica so they opted not to go on the sailing and receive a full refund. But they were angry. They were out $100 on airline cancellation fees and $190 for cruise insurance that proved to be useless since it would not cover any loses because the cruise wasn’t canceled.

Fred Marenna felt he was entitled to more restitution and contacted Carnival with his issue. “We have cruised with Carnival several times before and I am surprised we weren’t given some other options like booking us on another cruise with the same itinerary or some other compensation.”

After several letters to the company and not getting any responses he contacted Consumer Traveler for help.

Miracle whipped
I contacted Carnival to get their side of the story and spoke with Carnival spokesperson, Vance Gulliksen. He stated that the December 15, 2008 sailing onboard the Miracle was changed due to a “technical problem” that affected the vessel’s sailing speed. “This made the vessel unable to operate its scheduled eight-day western Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Panama, Costa Rica and Belize,” said Gulliksen. The ship’s original three-port itinerary was changed to an alternate route that featured four ports of call: Costa Maya, Cozumel, Belize and Roatan. Gulliksen noted the technical problem only affected the ship’s sailing speed and that all hotel systems were operating normally.

Upon learning of the situation, Gulliksen said Carnival distributed letters to all guests and travel agents with clients the affected sailing on Dec. 12 advising them of the itinerary change. Guests scheduled to sail on the affected voyage were offered the option of receiving of a full refund of their cruise fare or sailing on the modified itinerary and receiving a $50 shipboard credit.

The best cruise deals around the worldThe Miracle’s propulsion problem was subsequently fixed and the ship is currently in New York operating eight-day Caribbean voyages but will resume its eight-day southern and western Caribbean voyages from Fort Lauderdale in October. “Carnival sincerely apologizes for the disruption to the Marenna’s vacation plans,” said Gulliksen. He adds they would gladly work with the Marennas in applying their refunded cruise fare in re-booking one of these voyages.

Fred Marenna doesn’t agree he just wants to sail on the itinerary he purchased or at least be refunded the $290 he lost.

As the prop turns
Propulsion problems on cruise ships are rare, but they do occur. “Cruise lines are typically quite fair with passengers whose vacations are inconvenienced, canceled or have substantially altered itineraries,” says Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert who is nationally recognized as The Cruise Guy.

Chiron notes that these issues are often handled as a group, but also on a case-by-case basis. “Cruise lines are in the service business and care a great deal about their passengers,” he says. So, did Carnival do right by the Marennas? According to Chiron, not really. “Carnival should have refunded or credited the value of the insurance premium paid by the Marennas as a goodwill gesture to encourage their future booking. The couple is on their own with the airline change fee because it wasn’t booked through the cruise line.”

As for Fred Marenna, he is disappointed that Carnival didn’t come through and “do the right thing” to rectify the problem. “We were not treated as valued customers of Carnival,” he says.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column. And check out her blog, ExpertCruiser.com.

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