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Fogged out from the Fantasy

Changes in a traveler’s itinerary can be unsettling. On Dec. 14 an extraordinarily rare weather situation of thick fog in the Gulf of Mexico forced just that for several cruise lines.
/ Source: Consumer Traveler

Tennessee resident Patty Johnson was looking forward to her 5-day cruise on the Carnival Fantasy sailing from Mobile, Alabama last December. However, when she arrived at the pier there was no ship due to severe fog. According to Johnson the weather wasn’t the only thing that was foggy, but so too was the information they received from Carnival.

Gulf nightmare
December 14 was an extraordinarily rare weather situation as thick fog in the Gulf of Mexico closed ports and delayed cruise ships from Tampa, Fla., all the way to Galveston, Texas. Carnival Cruise Line’s ships weren’t the only ones affected that day a number of Royal Caribbean vessels had also been delayed by the inclement weather.

Guests arriving at the Mobile pier hoping to sail on the Carnival Fantasy that afternoon quickly discovered there were no ship due to the weather and were instead sent to the city’s civic center to await information from the cruise line. While waiting for news from Carnival terminal officials provided lunches to the stranded passengers and offered advice on sightseeing and shopping in the downtown area.

When the Carnival Fantasy couldn’t return from its four day cruise, the five day cruise set to depart that afternoon for Cozumel would have to wait until the next day. Carnival issued a statement to guests waiting at the civic center stating that it worked with area hotels for discounted room rates and would be providing transportation to and from hotels. According to Patty Johnson that wasn’t the only thing that Carnival stated.

Johnson said the communication between the Carnival staff and the passengers was extremely poor. She stated a Carnival employee announced that since the ship couldn’t get in on schedule the cruise line was changing the sailing from 5 days to 4 days. “He then announced that we could go on the shortened sailing and get a partial refund for the day missed or we could not sail and get a full refund,” said Johnson. With that information Johnson says she was opting to get the full cash refund and drive back home to Tennessee. However, a few minutes later the same Carnival employee came on the speaker and announced that there had been an error and that those canceling would receive a credit towards a future cruise, not a full refund as previously announced.

Patty Johnson was furious. “I paid $556.42 in good faith for a 5-day cruise Carnival could not provide. They were quick enough to take my money. I feel they have an obligation to honor’s their senior representative’s announcement and provide me with a full refund.”

I contacted Carnival to get their side of the story. I spoke with Carnival spokesperson, Vance Gulliksen. Gulliksen acknowledged there had been some misinformation regarding the opportunity to receive refunds that was inadvertently relayed to guests. Gulliksen adds that shortly after this misstatement, a letter outlining embarkation instructions for the modified four-day cruise, as well as the correct information on Carnival’s offer for a future cruise credit, was distributed to all guests. All guests were given the option of sailing and receiving a refund equal to one day of their cruise fare, along with a $20 missed port credit, or canceling and receiving a future cruise credit equal to their cruise fare.

“More than 2,150 guests opted to sail on the modified four-day voyage,” said Gulliksen. Patty Johnson opted to not to sail and received a future cruise credit which is valid for sailings through December 2011.

Fog protection?
Changes in itinerary can be upsetting for some guests since they aren’t getting the exact scheduled vacation they purchased. While I sympathize with Patty Johnson I feel that her stance given Carnival’s admission to be unreasonable. A mistake was made by one employee, but was quickly rectified a few minutes later by the cruise line. Furthermore, the cruise line certainly couldn’t help the extreme fog situation.

In every cruise lines’ passenger contract is a clause stating that the cruise line has the right to change a sailing or skip a port during a cruise for weather or other safety information. Carnival’s Cruise Contract has this very clause located under Section 7, which basically states they can change course and have no liability for any compensation or other damages in such circumstances. Fortunately most major cruise lines like Carnival do compensate passengers in those instances and offer partial refunds, shipboard credits or discounts on a future cruise.

In the rare instance a cruise is canceled, passengers are entitled to a full refund. Still, the majority of ships set sail regardless of weather. Cruise travel is unique in that you will usually have a vacation even with weather issues. Travel insurance coverage would have kicked in for the expenses of a hotel, but most basic travel insurance policies do not cover passengers who cancel or delay a trip merely because the itinerary has changed. There are some insurers and cruise lines that offer a ‘cancel for any reason’ add-on to a regular travel insurance. Depending upon the insurer, cancel-for-any-reason policies provide a cash payout of a portion of a canceled trip’s cost or for a cruise line a voucher for use on a future trip. As for Patty Johnson she’s still not happy with the outcome and still debating whether or not to use her cruise credit.

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