A Cautionary Tale -- now that Hurricane Season is upon us ...
Cruise Ship Goes North, Not South, and Passengers Sue
By JONATHAN MILLER
June 16, 2006
JERSEY CITY, June 15 — Snorkeling in the balmy waters of Bermuda. Golf. Sun. Oh, it was going to be a lovely cruise. At least that's what many people expected when they boarded a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship in Bayonne on July 24, 2005.
Instead, their ship wound up on a rainy, cold, cloud-filled voyage to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — where there was definitely no snorkeling, but plenty of seething passengers.
That unplanned trip is now the subject of a lawsuit, filed on Monday in State Superior Court here, by New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs and the state attorney general's office on behalf of 53 passengers. It claims that Royal Caribbean engaged in "unconscionable commercial practices."
The suit says that the passengers, who had packed swimsuits and sunglasses, were informed of the change in destination only when they arrived in Bayonne to board the Voyager of the Seas. A notice had been posted on Royal Caribbean's Web site — but not until July 23, one night before the departure date.
Even worse, the complaint asserts, passengers were offered a refund of merely $45.20 and a coupon for 25 percent off a future trip, even though "a cruise to Canada is significantly less expensive than a cruise to Bermuda." The suit did not provide exact figures for the prices the passengers paid.
But Royal Caribbean said it had a good reason to change the itinerary at the last minute: Tropical Storm Franklin, which had formed over the Bahamas on July 21 and was expected to reach hurricane strength as it approached Bermuda.
"The only thing that would have been unconscionable would have been sailing a ship full of people into a possible hurricane," said Michael Sheehan, a spokesman for the company. "And we will never do that."
He also said the company's policy allowed it to make last-minute itinerary changes. "Our ticket contract, which each guest receives, as well as our sales brochures specifically outlines our ability to make such itinerary changes under these unusual circumstances."
And, he added, "A cruise to Bermuda is not inherently more expensive than a cruise to Canada." According to Royal Caribbean's Web site, current ticket prices for a five-day cruise to Bermuda range from $549 to $1,099. The cheapest ticket for a nine-day cruise to Canada and New England is $1,049, but that is more extensive than the trip last July.
The suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages for passengers. It also seeks fines for Royal Caribbean that could total $50,000 under the state's Consumer Fraud Act.
Copyright 2006The New York Times Company