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Archive for the ‘Ombudsman’ Category


Avoid this on your next cruise

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On June - 18 - 2015

What’s the worst place on a cruise ship? If you ask regular cruisers, they might tell you to avoid the cigar bar or the Lido Pool area. But for me, it’s the art auction area.

Why? Quite frankly, I think art auctions are a misuse of space on cruise ships — not to mention a complete waste of time and money.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate fine art. It’s just that most of the so-called art displayed for cruise ship galleries and auctions isn’t so fine and borders on tacky.

I am not alone. I’ve heard the groans amongst my fellow passengers upon encountering art displays around the ship. These art roadblocks force cruisers into a weaving obstacle course just to get from one part of the ship to another.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there was something interesting to look at. I mean, how many paintings and prints of cottages should one be inundated with? Even worse, the neon-colored glossy fliers heaped upon guests in their staterooms touting the auctions and free champagne are offensive, not to mention far from being a green-friendly practice.

Offensive or not, art auctions and galleries on cruise ships generate revenue and that’s music to most cruise executives’ ears. Still, off the record, many cruise line managers admit they aren’t big fans of the practice. Nevertheless, in the age of shrinking corporate balance sheets, any revenue source is a bright spot.

What’s not so bright is deceptive practices heaped upon some cruise passengers.

Art job

While on a recent cruise I decided to do a pre-dinner stroll of the art gallery and came upon a Picasso “painting.” I use the term “painting” because that’s exactly how several art gallery personnel described it.

They were using this “painting” for a contest. Guests had to estimate its value. The passenger who guessed closest to the actual price would win hundreds of dollars in credit to use towards an art purchase.

The Picasso in question was a man holding a cat. I knew it wasn’t a painting, but a print. I decided to play dumb and asked a lot of silly questions just to see what would happen.

I asked one of the gallery workers if this was a real Picasso painting worth millions why wasn’t it guarded? The worker laughed and said in a heavy Eastern European accent that there were plenty of them watching the “painting.”

I asked why this expensive “painting” was on a ship? Then I got the Park West Gallery spiel that they were the largest art gallery in the world with an extensive original art collection and had the most expertise on selling art at sea.

Indeed, Park West Gallery is the largest player in the high-seas art stakes. The Southfield, Mich., company has galleries onboard Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Carnival, Disney, Holland America, Regent and Oceania vessels. When Park West makes a sale, the cruise line takes a percentage of that sale.

I walked out of the gallery shaking my head, wondering how many gullible passengers would fall into this art trap and wishing the cruise lines would give this whole concept the heave-ho.

So, it was no surprise when I read that some passengers shared my misgivings about these art auctions in general and Park West in particular.

In one example, a passenger paid $19,468 for three Dali prints, only to come home and have them appraised from $850 to $1,000. Another passenger went to a German art fraud detective with his purchases and was informed that they were photomechanical reproductions and not lithographs. The German detective referred to the pieces as “poster art.”

Beware of buyer’s remorse

Shipboard art auctions can be a lot of fun, and they do offer free champagne. And that’s the problem.

Lured by the secure environment onboard the ship, many passengers are more likely to believe the value claims made by the art auctioneers. If you’re not careful with the cheap bubbly, you could end up owning a painting of four dogs playing poker.

I’ve seen this happen a number of times, and I’ve seen the remorseful bidder go home hundreds and thousands of dollars poorer.

Case in point: John and Helen Finch of Pittsburgh took their first cruise several years ago, a seven-day Alaska Inside Passage cruise on Princess. Seeing attractive art every day on the ship, Helen decided to attend one of the onboard art auctions. Before she knew it, she’d paid $800 for two lithographs — not something she had planned for. Even worse, the sale was final – the Finch’s were stuck.

My advice, if you see something you really like, take a picture of it and see if a local art gallery can find it or something like it for you. You usually get better art deals on land, where you can play the competition among galleries.

Better yet, take a photo of a beautiful landscape on your cruise and frame it. That will be a far better value and a terrific memory that will always remain priceless.

Reported by © www.expertcruiser.com – Your online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Filled Under Advice, Blog, Ombudsman

Cruising without clothes – a cautionary tale of lost luggage

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 26 - 2013

Erin and Sean Spital last saw their luggage after checking in at New York’s JFK airport, shortly before they boarded their flight to Barcelona on Iberia Airlines. The couple waited until the last bags made their rounds on the luggage carousel, their bags never arrived. Left with only the clothes on their backs, and with their 7-day Norwegian Cruise Line cruise about to depart, the Spitals did the only thing they could do: They filed a claim with Iberia and went out to buy new clothes.

Naked truth

Lost airline luggage — it’s a problem all cruise lines are dealing with more often these days, especially on European cruises. I’ve been on a number of Mediterranean cruises where dozens of passenger’s bags never made it to the ships for embarkation. Most bags turn up during various ports of call, but not all of them make it. Like the Spitals, their owners just had to make do.

“Many people don’t realize it, but most cruise ships have a small supply of clothing on board that guests can borrow, and there is even formal attire for men and women to rent,” says John Heald, Carnival Cruise Lines senior cruise director. These reserves can usually tide people over, but sometimes passengers become desperate because their bags are truly lost and they can’t find replacement clothes in the ship’s supply or even in port. On those occasions, Heald puts in a “shout out” request for clothes during his live “Morning Show” on the shipboard TV. He once put out a call for a pair of extra-large women’s underwear, and got back seven pairs from sympathetic passengers. “Cruising can really bring the best out in people,” Heald says.

The Spitals received help from their cruise line, too. As Heald duly noted sometimes the best in people does come out. For Sean Spital, who is well over six feet tall, finding clothes was difficult. Thankfully a sympathetic Norwegian crew member of the same height was kind enough to loan some pants during the sailing. The cruise line also helped Erin Spital with clothing and arranged for the couple to keep in constant contact with Iberia. Despite all the help, the Spitals racked up a substantial credit card bill at various ports buying new clothes.

Sadly, the Spitals bags never showed up during their week-long cruise. “We paid more than 400 euros for basics like underwear, shoes, tops, and since it was December some sweaters,” Erin says. The Spitals kept their receipts and filed a claim with Iberia for the cost of their replacement clothing, which came to almost $1,500.

After returning from their cruise, Sean Spital kept calling Iberia daily to find out where their luggage was. Unfortunately, communication was difficult due to language barriers and changing stories. “They didn’t have updated information on the bags or their system was down. Sometimes I just couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me.”

They were told due to the heavy snow storms in Europe and the U.S. in December many bags became displaced. Three weeks after they returned home the Spitals received one bag, which had been pilfered of many items including an expensive shaver, Gucci loafers, and cashmere sweaters. The airline has yet to find the other bag.

Bags of shame

Unfortunately for the Spitals Iberia is ranked the worst airline in Europe for lost luggage. A report in the London Telegraph stated the Spanish carrier lost 19.2 bags for every 1,000 people who boarded its planes during the winter months. Additionally, the carrier was ranked the worst performer in a survey carried out by the Association of European Airlines.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, your luggage has a fairly good chance of taking a different trip than you do. The department’s latest Air Travel Consumer Report shows 155,224 reports of “mishandled” bags in February this year, up from 136,066 in February 2009. While the numbers are still high the airlines have improved their baggage handling within the past two years as the number of mishandled baggage claims has declined.

Airlines do their best to find your luggage before declaring it lost. On average, it takes more than a week; in difficult cases, it can take as long as a month. According to the Air Travel Consumer Report, about 2 percent of all missing bags remain lost. So, what do you do when an airline loses your luggage on your cruise vacation? Here are some tips.

  • If your luggage is lost, report it to the airline immediately. The Department of Transportation strongly suggests you fill out a form with the airline the day your baggage turns up missing. If you flew on more than one carrier, the airline you last flew is usually the one responsible for processing your claim — even if the other carrier lost the bag.
  • If your baggage is declared lost, make an itemized list of everything in your suitcase. Assign a value to each item, including the suitcase itself, using the price you paid, but understand that airlines won’t pay full replacement value; they will pay a depreciated value. The maximum claim the airlines are required to pay is $2,800 for baggage lost on a domestic flight and approximately $1,500 for baggage lost on an international flight. The maximum award for international flights changes daily based on that day’s value of “Special Drawing Rights” (SDR) per passenger. The daily value of SDR can be found at the International Monetary Fund’s exchange rate Web site. Additional information on SDR can be found in every airline’s contract of carriage.
  • A similar claims process is involved when luggage is damaged. Open your suitcase right away to check for damaged contents or stolen items. Any damage or lost or stolen items should be reported immediately to the airlines. The same limits apply for damaged luggage as to lost luggage.
  • Tell the cruise line staff that your airline lost your luggage. They can help you keep in touch with the airline regarding the status of your luggage and they can help you get clothing and personal care items.

The Department of Transportation estimates that it takes an airline anywhere from six weeks to three months to pay you for your lost luggage. As for the Spitals, after three months they finally received a check from Iberia for $900, far from their original claim. They are glad it’s over and have vowed to never fly Iberia again.

Reported by Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)
Please note this article first appeared on June 2, 2009.

Filled Under Ombudsman

Cruise couple is bagless in Barcelona

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On June - 11 - 2012

Erin and Sean Spital last saw their luggage after checking in at New York’s JFK airport, shortly before they boarded their flight to Barcelona on Iberia Airlines. The couple waited until the last bags made their rounds on the luggage carousel, their bags never arrived. Left with only the clothes on their backs, and with their 7-day Norwegian Cruise Line cruise about to depart, the Spitals did the only thing they could do: They filed a claim with Iberia and went out to buy new clothes.

Naked truth

Lost airline luggage — it’s a problem all cruise lines are dealing with more often these days, especially on European cruises. I’ve been on a number of Mediterranean cruises where dozens of passenger’s bags never made it to the ships for embarkation. Most bags turn up during various ports of call, but not all of them make it. Like the Spitals, their owners just had to make do.

“Many people don’t realize it, but most cruise ships have a small supply of clothing on board that guests can borrow, and there is even formal attire for men and women to rent,” says John Heald, Carnival Cruise Lines senior cruise director. These reserves can usually tide people over, but sometimes passengers become desperate because their bags are truly lost and they can’t find replacement clothes in the ship’s supply or even in port. On those occasions, Heald puts in a “shout out” request for clothes during his live “Morning Show” on the shipboard TV. He once put out a call for a pair of extra-large women’s underwear, and got back seven pairs from sympathetic passengers. “Cruising can really bring the best out in people,” Heald says.

The Spitals received help from their cruise line, too. As Heald duly noted sometimes the best in people does come out. For Sean Spital, who is well over six feet tall, finding clothes was difficult. Thankfully a sympathetic Norwegian crew member of the same height was kind enough to loan some pants during the sailing. The cruise line also helped Erin Spital with clothing and arranged for the couple to keep in constant contact with Iberia. Despite all the help, the Spitals racked up a substantial credit card bill at various ports buying new clothes.

Sadly, the Spitals bags never showed up during their week-long cruise. “We paid more than 400 euros for basics like underwear, shoes, tops, and since it was December some sweaters,” Erin says. The Spitals kept their receipts and filed a claim with Iberia for the cost of their replacement clothing, which came to almost $1,500.

After returning from their cruise, Sean Spital kept calling Iberia daily to find out where their luggage was. Unfortunately, communication was difficult due to language barriers and changing stories. “They didn’t have updated information on the bags or their system was down. Sometimes I just couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me.”

They were told due to the heavy snow storms in Europe and the U.S. in December many bags became displaced. Three weeks after they returned home the Spitals received one bag, which had been pilfered of many items including an expensive shaver, Gucci loafers, and cashmere sweaters. The airline has yet to find the other bag.

Bags of shame

Unfortunately for the Spitals Iberia is ranked the worst airline in Europe for lost luggage. A report in the London Telegraph stated the Spanish carrier lost 19.2 bags for every 1,000 people who boarded its planes during the winter months. Additionally, the carrier was ranked the worst performer in a survey carried out by the Association of European Airlines.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, your luggage has a fairly good chance of taking a different trip than you do. The department’s latest Air Travel Consumer Report shows 155,224 reports of “mishandled” bags in February this year, up from 136,066 in February 2009. While the numbers are still high the airlines have improved their baggage handling within the past two years as the number of mishandled baggage claims has declined.

Airlines do their best to find your luggage before declaring it lost. On average, it takes more than a week; in difficult cases, it can take as long as a month. According to the Air Travel Consumer Report, about 2 percent of all missing bags remain lost. So, what do you do when an airline loses your luggage on your cruise vacation? Here are some tips.

  • If your luggage is lost, report it to the airline immediately. The Department of Transportation strongly suggests you fill out a form with the airline the day your baggage turns up missing. If you flew on more than one carrier, the airline you last flew is usually the one responsible for processing your claim — even if the other carrier lost the bag.
  • If your baggage is declared lost, make an itemized list of everything in your suitcase. Assign a value to each item, including the suitcase itself, using the price you paid, but understand that airlines won’t pay full replacement value; they will pay a depreciated value. The maximum claim the airlines are required to pay is $2,800 for baggage lost on a domestic flight and approximately $1,500 for baggage lost on an international flight. The maximum award for international flights changes daily based on that day’s value of “Special Drawing Rights” (SDR) per passenger. The daily value of SDR can be found at the International Monetary Fund’s exchange rate Web site. Additional information on SDR can be found in every airline’s contract of carriage.
  • A similar claims process is involved when luggage is damaged. Open your suitcase right away to check for damaged contents or stolen items. Any damage or lost or stolen items should be reported immediately to the airlines. The same limits apply for damaged luggage as to lost luggage.
  • Tell the cruise line staff that your airline lost your luggage. They can help you keep in touch with the airline regarding the status of your luggage and they can help you get clothing and personal care items.

The Department of Transportation estimates that it takes an airline anywhere from six weeks to three months to pay you for your lost luggage. As for the Spitals, after three months they finally received a check from Iberia for $900, far from their original claim. They are glad it’s over and have vowed to never fly Iberia again.

Reported by Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)
Please note this article first appeared on June 2, 2009.

Filled Under Advice, gallery, Ombudsman

Fogged out and frustrated

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 23 - 2011

This weekend dense fog in the Gulf of Mexico delayed three cruise ships from docking in Galveston, Texas. Of course the delays were frustrating for passengers on board the ships as well as those awaiting to start their cruises. Last April I wrote a column about a very similar situation out of Mobile, Alabama and it gives a lot of insight into what you can do if this happens to you.

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 FL all the way to Galveston TX. 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.

Misinformation

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.

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Filled Under Advice, gallery, Ombudsman

Oh baby! Cruise takes a pregnant pause

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 2 - 2011

Rene and Amy Rydberg were looking forward to their Royal Caribbean spring cruise to Bermuda. The New Jersey couple was excited and ready to celebrate, since hey were expecting their first child that summer.

Rene had booked the voyage through Travelocity and everything seemed perfect until eight days later when he received the cruise line’s final documents. There in bold print was a clause about pregnancy, which stated a woman pregnant by 24 weeks or more may not travel. Amy would be 27 weeks into her pregnancy at the time of the cruise. The couple was confused and heartbroken.

Lost in translation
The Rydbergs immediately called Royal Caribbean and the company confirmed that Amy was unable to sail and that they would have to contact their booking agent, Travelocity to make changes. Travelocity informed the couple that they would be receiving a refund of the $1,756 purchase price, less $200 (cancellation fee) and $120 for the travel insurance.

Rene Rydberg thought this was unreasonable, since there was no information regarding pregnancy during the time he utilized Travelocity’s booking engine. Travelocity stated the pregnancy restriction was written into the ‘Terms and Conditions’ that the Web site displays before a transaction is completed. Rydberg disagrees. “I read those terms and conditions myself and found no such restriction.”

Rydberg was incensed and felt that burying a restriction in fine print before the transaction and then displaying it prominently in large bold print after the transaction was completed is a predatory selling practice. After getting nowhere with Travelocity Rydberg contacted ExpertCruiser for help.

Travelocity responds
I contacted Travelocity on the Rydberg’s behalf. “Cruise lines do not permit women who are 24 weeks pregnant or more to board — even with permission from a physician,” said Joel Frey, spokesperson for Travelocity. “We have recently updated our terms and conditions to note the number of weeks specifically and we refunded the penalty, travel insurance and booking in full for the Rydbergs because they will be unable to enjoy their trip as planned.”

I commend Travelocity for doing right by the Rydbergs and for updating their terms and conditions to be more upfront with specific information regarding pregnancy.

Baby on board
In the world of cruising, pregnancy is regarded as a medical condition, and the cruise line may require a medical certificate establishing the passenger’s due date and fitness to travel. Many cruise lines will not permit passengers who are more than 24 weeks into pregnancy to sail, so try to schedule your cruise sometime between the morning sickness and the midway mark.

The Internet can be a powerful tool for researching travel, but be aware that online travel sites usually make you pay the full amount on a credit card at the time you book, and you may face a cancellation fee or not be able to get a refund at all if you cancel at the last minute. Always read the travel operator’s fine print and the Web site’s policies before deciding to book.

As for the Rydbergs, they are happy with Travelocity doing right by them and they are hopeful to get on a Royal Caribbean cruise someday – maybe with the new baby in tow.

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Filled Under Ombudsman, Tripblog, What's New?

Is that cruise line free airfare deal really free?

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 25 - 2010

You’ve seen the ads in the fancy travel magazines or perhaps you received a mailing or even a phone call encouraging you to choose a cruise line because it’s offering free airfare. Is that free airfare for your cruise really free? Maybe not.
Read the rest of this entry »

Filled Under Advice, gallery, Ombudsman