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I want my port tax back!

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 9 - 2007

Sandi Frehmel-Heim and her husband were looking forward to their April voyage aboard Zenith, a Celebrity Cruises ship. But their cruise turned out to be far from routine. First, their embarkation was delayed for several hours to allow for an intensive ship cleaning after a norovirus outbreak on the previous cruise. Then, a few days into their own sailing, another norovirus outbreak occurred. It was also the vessel’s last cruise under the Celebrity Cruises name, as it was being transferred to Spain-based Pullmantur Cruises, a sister company.

According to Frehmel-Heim, some crew members were downright cranky. Whether it was the added work due to the norovirus outbreak or the ship leaving the fleet, she couldn’t say, but she and her husband were eager to get off the ship and enjoy a scheduled stop in Grand Cayman for some sun and fun. Alas, bad luck struck again. The seas were too rough for the ship’s tenders to take passengers into port and the port call was canceled.

Hey, where’s my port fee?

Frehmel-Heim knew that when a port call is canceled, any government-imposed port fees should be credited back to each passenger’s shipboard account. A few days passed, but there was no credit. When she approached the guest services desk for an explanation, she was told rather curtly that there would be no refunds. She then requested to see the ship’s hotel director.

“I asked him when we could expect a refund of the port taxes since we didn’t enter the port of Grand Cayman and we had prepaid the taxes,” Frehmel-Heim told me. She added that the hotel director wrote down her concerns and promised to get back to her, but he never did. After her subsequent letters and calls to Celebrity got her nowhere, Frehmel-Heim called Tripso for help.

I contacted Michael Sheehan, Royal Caribbean’s associate vice president of corporate communications (Royal Caribbean is the parent company of both Celebrity Cruises and Pullmantur Cruises). Sheehan said that Frehmel-Heim had been told the wrong information and agreed that she was not properly credited for the taxes and fees related to missing Grand Cayman.

Sheehan explained that Celebrity has procedures in place to recalculate taxes and fees anytime there is an itinerary change — whether it occurs before the cruise or while the cruise is underway. “If the recalculated taxes and fees are lower than what guests have actually paid, we refund the difference, typically in the form of an onboard credit,” he said. “Mrs. Frehmel-Heim and her husband will be seeing a $14.22 credit each on their credit card in the very near future.”

How to deal with a port change

When taking a cruise, especially in hurricane season, it’s important to realize that cruise lines can and do change their itineraries for many reasons, including bad weather and rough seas. I checked with Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Costa Cruises, and all give their passengers an onboard credit if a port is missed and another port cannot be substituted. Often the cruise line will also send passengers a notice of the credit.

If you have missed a port and have not received either a credit or a notice of a credit, try to straighten out your account while you are still on board ship. If, despite your best efforts, you are not getting the right answers, send me an e-mail.

Filled Under Ombudsman

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