On April 28, 2003, my wife and I stood in line for nearly 3 hours to check in for a cruise on board the Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, NORWEGIAN DREAM. The itinerary was the Scandinavian Capitals, including St. Petersburg, Russia. The ship was sailing from and returning to Dover, UK. We purchased the cruise and a two-day St. Petersburg tour package for each of us through ONLINE VACATION TRAVEL in February. The total cost of the travel company’s two-day tour in St. Petersburg was $598. We also purchased a travel insurance policy through the travel agent. The entire amount, cruise, tour and insurance was charged to our Visa credit card at the time of booking….two months prior to sailing. This credit card purchase was paid in full on the next bill received.
After standing in line for 1 ½ hours to check in, we were handed a letter from NCL informing us the itinerary had been changed and the ship would not sail to Tallinn, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg. I have been on this same itinerary before with Princess Cruise Lines and had a marvelous trip. My wife however, has never traveled to this part of the world and the main purpose of taking the trip was for her to see St. Petersburg and all its marvelous museums and architecture. As you can imagine, we, along with over 1600 others were shocked and disappointed at this news. We debated whether or not to go on the cruise.
At the check-in desk we asked if there would be any compensation from NCL for the changed itinerary, or if we could re-book the trip to a later cruise with no penalty. The woman at the desk directed us to a private area behind the check-in counters where, it turns out, unhappy passengers were being dealt with. We spoke with a representative from NCL’s main office in Miami. He had been sent to Dover to intervene, with the company knowing that the situation in Dover would be UGLY! It was. This person from NCL was obnoxious and flat out rude to us. When asked what the company would do for compensation, he replied, “absolutely nothing. The cruise line has the right to make changes in the itinerary if it deems it necessary.” When questioned if we could re-book without penalty, he stated that was not possible since we were inside of any cancellation time period allowed without being penalized. The arrogance of this individual was beyond belief and the manner in which he spoke to us was even less believable when he said, “the ship is sailing in one hour, with or without you. You decide if you want to go or not. I can’t help you any further.”
We decided that since we had taken time off from work and traveled that distance from San Diego, and because we had traveled on non-changeable tickets, what other choice did we have but check in and get on the ship. Besides, our bags had been sent to the ship at 10am that morning and we were told that there would be no possible way of locating them prior to the ship sailing. The proverbial “rock and a hard place.” We planned to deal with the problem when we returned at the end of the cruise.
The talk on board the ship for the entire cruise was about the trashy way everyone had been treated by NCL at the check-in and that NCL made no attempt to contact ANY passengers regarding the itinerary change prior to Dover. The reason NCL gave for the itinerary change was that the Gulf of Finland was iced over and the ship could not make passage to these ports. At the captain’s welcome party, he personally informed the passengers that the packed ice was nearly 5 feet thick in the Gulf and that they had monitored the situation very carefully hoping that the warming trend in the North would be favorable for our cruise. He stated that the decision to alter the itinerary was made at the very last minute, on April 27, and did not allow NCL sufficient time to inform any passengers of the change.
How long does it take a chunk of ice 5 feet thick to melt? Is it practical to believe that they really hoped that ice that thick would be passable three days after we sailed out of Dover?
Over 1,000 of the 1600+ passengers that were on board the April 28 cruise banded together to protest the treatment given us by NCL. The protest was in the form of a formal petition, which was presented to the captain during the cruise. A copy has also been sent to the President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines. Hundreds of people were seriously inconvenienced and financially harmed by this cruise company.
When my wife and I returned from the cruise, my first contact was to ONLINE VACATION CENTER travel company to request a refund of our pre-paid St. Petersburg exclusive tour package which they were to provide. Their answer to this request was, “we need to evaluate the situation and see how we are going to respond to over 200 expected requests.”
What’s to evaluate? I paid them for a service that I didn’t receive!
Their answer came 5 days later in the form of a letter saying that they had no intention of a refund, and since I had purchased insurance, I needed to file a claim with the travel insurance company, ACCESS AMERICA. I called the insurance company and requested two claim forms (they told me it would be necessary to file two separate claims) and that it would take 6 to 10 days to process the claims, after their receipt of them. A phone call to them on the 14th of June confirmed they had received them on June 4th and the claims were under review. After not hearing from them for another 10 days, I called ACCESS AMERICA insurance company on June 24th to get the status of our claim and was informed that it had been sent to a special person to evaluate, since it was part of a group claim.
I was never part of a group. I did not purchase anything relating to this cruise as a group.
I asked to speak with the individual making the decision regarding our claim and was put through to her. Her response to me was that the company was denying the claim on the grounds that there is no basis in the policy to make a claim. The company contends they are within their right not to honor the insurance claim because the ship sailed a full cruise with no trip interruption of at least 24 hours, and because the reason the ship did not enter the port of call where the excursion was scheduled was due to weather.
So here we are, caught in catch-22, trying to explain to veteran and novice cruisers alike, how NCL, ONLINE TRAVEL CENTER and ACCESS AMERICA treats its customers. None of the three companies wants to accept the responsibility for repayment of our tour, which was not received and was paid for in good faith.
There is a lesson here for any would-be first-time cruisers. Ask a lot of questions! Know what your rights are as a customer and passenger. Purchase from responsible companies who will stand behind their products and treat their customers with respect.
This was my sixth cruise and first time onboard a NCL ship. This is also the first ship where I have had ANY problems of any kind. Sure, small things have come up, but they were resolved on the spot, in a professional and respectful manner. This situation has become a nightmare. And I still want my $598.
Sorry this has been as long as it has, but I felt it was necessary to get this situation addressed publicly for other cruisers to be aware of and be able to comment about. Fair winds and smooth seas to all.