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Archive for February, 2010

Three dead as Costa Europa smashes into Egyptian pier

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 26 - 2010

Three crew members were killed when the Costa Europa slammed into the dock at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, a Red Sea resort on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The Europa was carrying 1,437 passengers as it collided with the pier at approximately 4:45 a.m. local time Friday morning. Bad weather and high winds are believed to be the cause of the collision.

Costa, a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, confirmed the three crew member deaths along with three passengers and a crew member who were admitted to a local hospital. The company says all guests have been disembarked and have been accommodated in hotels and will have flight arrangements back home in the coming days. Costa Europa was on an 18-day regular cruise from Dubai to Savona, with 1,437 guests on board. The ship built in 1986 is 55,000 tons and entered into the Costa Crociere fleet in 2002.

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Dubai is the hot new cruise destination

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 21 - 2010

ExpertCruiser is off to Dubai for the Costa Deliziosa inaugural. Dubai is quickly emerging as a cruise destination and is growing rapidly with 250,000 cruise tourists visiting the emirate during 2009 — a 37 per cent increase on the previous year. And in 2010, Dubai is expected to host 120 ship calls with over 325,000 passengers when the Dubai Cruise Terminal becomes fully operational with the Costa Deliziosa christening.

The new terminal offers the capacity to handle four ships simultaneously, is expected to give the city’s cruise industry a big boost. The terminal will be outfitted with services to make the lives of travelers easier, such as money exchange, ATMs, a post office, duty free shop, souvenir shops, gift shops, and a business center with Wi-Fi.

Stay tuned for live reports from Dubai

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Indecent proposal: Honeymoon cruisers fight for insurance claim

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 19 - 2010

Minnesota residents Kristen and Joe Wegleitner just wanted to start their October honeymoon off in grand style with a romantic 7-day Mediterranean voyage on Celebrity Cruises. Unfortunately things began to unravel when bad weather and a hodgepodge of missed airline flight connections forced the newlyweds to scuttle their cruise plans. Thankfully the couple had the foresight to purchase travel insurance and thought the claims process with Travel Guard would be hassle free. Or so the Wegleitners thought.

Bumpy flights

The Wegleitners were already tightly scheduled on their Delta Air Lines flights from Minneapolis to Atlanta with only one hour connecting time for their flight to Europe. When their flight landed 65-minutes late into Atlanta they knew they had missed their connection, which meant they would not be able to board the ship in time. The couple immediately contacted Celebrity Cruises to make arrangements to board the ship in the next port – Cannes, France. Delta was able to rebook the Wegleitners the following day on a flight to Nice, France via New York’s JFK airport; however, they would have to spend the night in Atlanta.

Unfortunately another day didn’t make a difference as bad weather forced their New York-bound flight to arrive 68-minutes late, which caused another missed flight to Europe. The Wegleitners felt trying to get another flight to catch the ship would be a moot point since much of the cruise would have been missed. They came to the conclusion that it was best to rebook the sailing for another time. “At this point we contacted Travel Guard to insure that if the trip was aborted we would be covered under our insurance,” said Kristen Wegleitner. The Travel Guard representative assured them that since the issues were weather related they would be covered. After spending the night in a hotel near JFK airport the couple flew home to Minneapolis dejected, but still hopeful that their honeymoon could be salvaged at a later date.

A few days after returning home the Wegleitners submitted a claim to Wisconsin-based Travel Guard for the amount of $3,900 for the missed flights, cruise, transfers and hotels.

Travel Guard too guarded

Imagine the couple’s dismay when they opened an envelope from Travel Guard a month later that contained a check for $1,758. The check stub stated the amount was for the missed cruise and transfers and since some of the airfare had been used by the couple there would be no refund.

Kristin Wegleitner was livid. “What they gave us won’t even cover our plane tickets!” She did not understand why they couldn’t be reimbursed fully. “Is that not why we purchased the insurance in the first place”, she asks. After going back-and-forth with Travel Guard, the Wegleitners contacted Consumer Traveler for help.

Claim bliss

I contacted Travel Guard on the Wegleitner’s behalf to find out their side of the story. I spoke with company spokesperson, Dan McGinnity. After checking on the couple’s claim McGinnity stated that there had been a mistake by Travel Guard and a misunderstanding by the Wegleitners. “After completing the review of the Wegleitner’s claim, Travel Guard will be sending an additional reimbursement check of $1,760.22, for a total claim payment of $3,518,” said McGinnity. He noted that the first payment was for the cruise/transfer portion of the trip and when the check was sent out; an accompanying letter stated that “a portion of your claim is still under review.” He said because the cruise/airfare/transfers were bundled into a single cost, Travel Guard was corresponding with the travel agent that booked the flight to determine the value of the unused airfare. “We estimated the cost of the used flight (roundtrip Minneapolis to Atlanta twice) at $440 and that amount was deducted from the total claim payment.”

Having seen the Wegleitner’s documentation from Travel Guard stating there would be “no refund” for air I asked McGinnity why that was on the check stub that led to all the confusion. “There was a miscommunication between the analyst who was working the claim and the processing person who sent the check,” said McGinnity. He noted the information on the check stub is typed in by the claims processing person as a notation for what the amount of the check covers. “In retrospect, we could have done a much better job of communicating with the Wegleitners. In fact, we are planning to use this as an example in our claim processing training.”

“It’s too bad that the Wegleitners didn’t take advantage of our 24/7 travel assistance when they ran into travel problems,” added McGinnity. That benefit is included in all Travel Guard policies. “In a case such as this, we have travel counselors available by phone who will help rebook canceled flights and make other emergency travel arrangements. I think we could have saved them a lot of hassle and may have been able to get them to Barcelona in time to catch their cruise,” he said.

As for the Wegleitners they are happy with the outcome but leery about having to fight so hard for clarity from the company. “Although this process has been a pain, we are getting mostly refunded which will allow us to take another trip without spending a lot of time saving-up,” said Joe Wegleitner.

An ounce of prevention

I am glad Travel Guard came through for the Wegleitners and this case clearly highlights why travel insurance is so important to protect your vacation investment.

That being said, much of the Wegleitner’s travel woes could have been minimized with practical travel planning. First, if you live far from the embarkation port, try and get there a day early. Padding your travel time may cost a bit more, but it pays off in the assurance of a stress-free start to your vacation. Second, just say no to short connection times for international flights. Rule of thumb – do not book a flight with a connection time of less than 90-minutes, especially in the busy airports like Atlanta, New York, Chicago, etc. Taking the earlier flight to the connecting city may seem like a waste of time, but it’s time well spent and it just adds on to your options in case things go astray.

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Princess orders two new ships

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 17 - 2010

Carnival Corporation has signed a memorandum of agreement with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri for the construction of two 3,600-passenger cruise ships for its Princess Cruises brand. The agreement is subject to execution of a definitive contract, financing and other customary closing conditions.

The new ships – which will have an all-in cost of approximately €155,000 ($211,628 per lower berth – are scheduled to enter service in spring 2013 and spring 2014. At 139,000 tons each, the as-yet-unnamed ships will be the largest in the Princess Cruises fleet.

Additional details will be announced at a later date.

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High winds keep Disney Magic in Bahamas

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 13 - 2010

The Disney Magic remains docked at its private island, Castaway Cay, due to 50 mph winds and high waves. The Magic was scheduled back in Port Canaveral Saturday morning, but it is not expected to dock until late Saturday night. Port Canaveral officials said it will take the ship 13 hours to reach the port because it will cruise into the heavy northwesterly wind.

The delay has impacted thousands of Disney Cruise Line passengers from the passengers who were scheduled to embark Saturday afternoon to the Disney Wonder passengers who may have to dock at another location or wait while the Disney Magic disembarks and embarks passengers.

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Princess brings back ‘Bon Voyage’ tradition

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 11 - 2010

Princess Cruises is reviving a tradition that vanished years ago when more security became a way of life – the line is debuting a program to give passengers the opportunity to invite their friends and family aboard ship on embarkation day and will be able to spend approximately four hours together on the ship prior to sailing. The cost is $39 per person and includes a ship tour and lunch in the dining room. Additionally the price can be applied to a future cruise.

The program will debut in March in Los Angeles and Port Everglades, and then will roll out to New York, San Francisco and Seattle. The number of guests who will be able to participate in the ‘Bon Voyage Experience’ on any given embarkation day will be approximately 50.

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