I was one of the many passengers hijacked and taken against my will around Norway etc instead of the promised cruise to Russia.
I too have been astounded at how arrogant NCL have been, but having looked at numerous websites that have been set up, clearly this is the NCL way of doing things. It seems that their motto is 'You've got the cash, now take a dash'.
Every cruise that I have been on has had some minor change due to weather (alternative ports, or even cancellations). However, NCL contend that it is ok to advertise a cruise to Russia in the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg, and then just change it with no notice, despite knowing in advance, and just not care. If you write to complain, all you can expect (6 weeks later) is a standard letter that is not addressed, signed, dated and will bear no resemblance to your letter to them.
Oh by the way, Freestyle cruising just means standing in queues a lot of the time - average of 40 minutes for every meal.
And it's not just sour grapes - I spoke to a passenger who went on the cruise to St Petersburg only last week (i.e. not the hijacked cruise that I was on) and she said the NCL was the worst cruise line she has ever been on and would not be with them again.
What's to evaluate? I paid them for a service that I didn't receive! >>
BAS, I am assuming that the online agency that you booked with also sold you the insurance policy with Access America? Also, I notice that you are located in San Diego.
Every travel agent that sells travel to a California resident is required to register with the State of California Attorney General's Office and receive a "California Seller of Travel" registration number. You probably have seen the CST # xxxxxx in various advertisements. I do not know which online agency you purchased the trip from, but I would think that you might want to check to see if they are registered in the State of California. If they are not, I would consider a letter of demand for a full refund citing that they have not complied with the laws of California and that they had no legal standing to sell travel within the state.
If they do not respond, then you have a wonderful small claims action that you could bring against the agency in question and you would probably prevail.
Bas, and everyone else reading this message, please use the services of an established cruise professional. It is situations like this where a cruise professional would go to bat for you to resolve the issue rather than exasperate it.
I know it's difficult to understand if you haven't travelled to this area, but there's a reason why even the Europeans choose to cruise to St. Petersburg by boat vs. a land tour. A land tour is much more expensive and much more difficult to arrange and book. A Russian visa is required, and due to the fact that the Russian language is not familiar to most Americans and their alphabet is even different, the language barrier is much more difficult to overcome than in other European countries. Also, there are safety issues and cultural issues. We had many passengers from Europe on our cruise, and they all travel extensively in Europe, and they all found it much easier to see St. Petes by cruise ship. So although I'm sure your comment was well-intentioned, it was not practical or applicable in this case.
thanks for looking in and commenting on this mess. It is appreciated. The answer to your question about whether or not the Travel company also sold us the insurance, is YES. You mentioned some things about them needing to be registered in the state of California to have made this transaction legal. They advertise they are, with a Calif. Seller of Travel # CST-2064227-40. They also advertise as being registered in the states of Washington and Florida.
You also recommended that anyone reading your post to only deal with an "established cruise professional." In this case, I thought I was. Here are two quotes directly from their website, which you can check out for yourself.
"Online Vacation Center is your best source of quality cruise vacations at greatly reduced prices. We are one of the country's largest cruise retailers and have been in business for over 30 years." "In addition to our fantastic cruise deals, our clients enjoy the completely free services of our Personal Vacation Managers, dedicated experts who pride themselves on providing impeccable service, quality travel arrangements, and the best cruise prices in the industry."
They handled everything in a professional manner up to the point of being responsible for refunding the money they owe us, for the shore excursion they were to provide and didn't.
So Tom, in your opinion, what could a local San Diego, or Omaha, or Tulsa travel agent have done to help us out in this situation, as opposed to the company we used to book this trip?
My wife and I are seasoned travelers and have used the services of local as well as on-line travel agents. Whether it was a personal contact or on the internet, we have found good as well as not so good agents. By being cautious and purchasing travel insurance (which this is the first time ever, by the way), I really didn't expect to find ourselves in this situation. One where all the companies are pointing fingers at one another to accept the responsibility.
I have contacted my credit card company and filed a dispute over ALL CHARGES relating to this trip. I have asked VISA to do a charge-back to each of the companies involved; NCL, ONLINE VACATION CENTER and ACCESS AMERICA. Not one of the companies fullfilled their obligation of providing us the complete services or products purchased.
We may have a problem with our dispute to the card company inasmuch as we didn't file it in the 90 days required from the date of purchase. You see, we booked and paid for this cruise months before the departure day when all this trouble started. I explained that to VISA when they asked why the delay. We have not heard back from them regarding what they can do for us.
As for "planning a land vacation next time so I can be in charge". Have you ever been on a cruise? Have you ever been to St. Petersburg? I have been there and the only way I would go about visiting this wonderful city is as a port of call on a cruise.
Donna was very accurate in her reply to you describing the problems involved with visiting just this one city, if not traveling by cruise ship. In my opinion it is just too much hassle to do it any other way.
I do take extensive land vacations abroad and enjoy them immensly. I also enjoy cruising. It isn't only about "the cruise experience". Many times it's ONLY about the ports on a particular cruise. Such was the case this time with St. Petes.
NEWEST INFO FOR THOSE INTERESTED:
On 7/3/03 received letter from ACCESS AMERICA insurance company. It states:
"We have reviewed the details of your claim. Unfortunately, we will not be able to honor your claim because there was not a complete cessation of services by the tour operator and/or cruise line."
It goes on to say, "the general provisions related to insurance benefits of your program indicates that any dispute regarding this decision be submitted to arbitration in accordance with the rules then applying of the AMERICAN ARBITRATION ASSOCIATION".
This "we won't pay you" insurance company, also included a 7 page booklet on how and where to file for arbitration....including the filing fees. The fees will only be $375 EACH CLAIM! So, for us to file two claims for the refund of our two, pre-paid shore excursions which cost a total of $598.00, we are being asked to pay an additional $750.00! Does anyone else see a problem with this picture?
Why did we purchase trip insurance in the first place? If a trip is interrupted and services aren't provided, why doesn't insurance cover that?
Our next step is to file complaints with the State Attorney General of the State of Florida. This is where NCL and OnLine Vacation Center are both headquartered. Letters to both these companies have gotten us nowhere.
I have now spent more than $598 of my time on this situation and I don't plan to give up before getting a full refund. It has really become the "principle of the thing". I can't accept these big companies thinking they can get away with stuff like this and not be morally and financially responsible to their customers.
I'll keep you updated to any changes in the situation. If anyone else out there following this "saga" has any suggestions, I'm all ears.
Thanks for your posts and comments. Cruise On!
Great question. First of all, while San Diego is a large city, all of us still think about it as a small town. A San Diego cruise professional (and I am going to simply name one, so as to be specific) would have the ability to intervene in a way that would expedite the solution to the issue. First, I am sure you are familiar with Anderson Travel in San Diego. It is a huge leisure agency and the principles know the folks at NCL personally. They have the ability to pick up the telephone, call whomever they want and resolve the crisis on the spot.
Why? Because they do a huge volume with just about all cruise lines and their reputation is on the block with every client that sails. I have seen them (and many other cruise professionals) go into their own packets to settle a claim simply to keep the goodwill of the client. This is not uncommon for a reputable travel agent.
Please understand that I am not pushing Anderson Travel, we have several excellent agencies in San Diego. I am just using them as a viable example of the benefits of using a local cruise professional since you are located in San Diego and have probably seen their advertising.
Secondly, While on-line agencies always tout "LOW PRICE" it isn't necessarily so. I guarantee you that Anderson Travel has lower prices than you will find on any on-line agency. Why? Because they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising (have you seen the 4-color double trucks in the San Diego Union every Sunday?) They are creating demand, not intercepting it. The cruise lines are not going to enable someone that is not adding value to the development of the cruise market. Think about it.
Lastly, While the agency you purchased from may be registered with the State of California, if they are not located within California they cannot participate in the State of California Restitution Fund. Anderson Travel (and all other travel agencies located in California must belong to this fund) The fund works this way.
In your situation, if you had purchased from a local cruise professional, you could simply file a claim with the Fund and the state of California would refund your money. The State then would pursue settlement with the registered CST member. The Restitution Fund is maintained by all registered Sellers of Travel within the State of California and does not cost taxpayers one cent. It is consumer protection at its best?
At any rate, I hope I have made my point.
As to what you can do now. Since the on-line agency is registered within the State of California, I would immediately serve them with a letter of demand for a full and complete refund for the optional tours that were missed, as well as the cost of the Access America policy. I doubt they will pay, so I would then file a complaint with the CA Attorney General's office and copy the agency and at the same time file a small claims action and have them served.
Here is a link for more information about the Sellers of Travel law in the State of California.
Regarding Raoul's comment on this travel agency, the On-Line Vacation Center was previously associated with American Express, and that is a reputable company. (I booked through a local agency in another state, and we don't have a restitution fund for our state, but I appreciate that information.) I wonder what prompted the business decision to end that association between the two companies and who made the decision.
Norwegian Cruise Lines has been non-responsive to our many complaints,assuring us (passengers) that we have no recourse to their decision. The following is being sent to various travel editors and newspapers in the hope of shedding light in the darkness. A short article appeared June 8, 2003 in the Washington Post entitled "Mutiny on the Norwegian.." (and picked up by the Birmingham Newspaper).
LETTER TO TRAVEL EDITOR
You thought you were sailing where ?!
Do you know that a cruise ship line could decide on a change of destination well in advance of the sailing date, and not only not notify the passengers until boarding, but refuse to refund any portion of the fare, or allow rebooking?
When you book through a travel agent or a cruise line they hold themselves out to be experts in the field of providing travel services. One of the performance requirements is called "the duty to warn". The law requires they warn service recipients of their inability to perform a service as soon as this inability becomes known.
Recently, Norwegian Cruise Lines "Dream" embarked 1700 passengers for St. Petersburg, Russia, on St. Petersburg's 300th Anniversary year,
only to announce that due to pre-existing ice conditions, and insurance considerations, they will not be sailing to the major ports of call, and as recompense, would be cruising the Fjords of, where else, Norway. In this case, NCL did not even inform their travel agents. Many NCL passengers had to "jump ship" en route.
Some cruise lines make an effort to be more accommodating.
When Princess Cruise Lines cancelled a Mediterranean port-of-call, they contacted every passenger 5 days before sailing, and offered a full refund, a cabin upgrade, or a cruise at a later date.
Carnival Cruise Lines, in the event of a pre-planned change of
itinerary, has a policy of prior notification of any changes, and the passengers have 24 hours after receipt of the notification to decide whether or not they want to sail the itinerary, and there are no penalties. ….
Radisson Cruise Lines will notify passengers of change in itinerary,
and in the past, when unable to get into a scheduled port, offered alternative transportation to passengers.
Crystal Cruises will advise your travel agent of itinerary changes, and generally these will be known prior to any penalty periods, especially if they impact any of the major ports of call. There may be slight changes in itinerary closer to sailing as well (which will most often be arrival/departure times in ports rather than full port changes). While they do reserve the right to alter an itinerary at any time, in the past when changes have been significant, they have offered options. Smaller changes are at the company's discretion, but will seldom impact the overall itinerary.
If your cruise destination is as important as the food, you would be well advised to check with your travel agent or directly with the cruise line to be aware of their track record before booking your next cruise.