Don’t I deserve a refund for sailing on an infected ship?

Robert Dockery’s eastern Caribbean cruise on Holland America’s M.S. Maasdam got off to a bad start when it was delayed in order to conduct a “supersanitization.” It came to an even worse conclusion when Dockery and his wife became “deathly ill” with a gastrointestinal virus and remained in their stateroom, subsisting off Jell-O and toast.

Holland America apologized and offered the couple an upgrade on a future cruise, subject to availability. Dockery wants more — and he wants me to help him get it.

I don’t know if I can, or if I should. Maybe you can help me figure this one out.

Let’s get a few housekeeping details out of the way first.

Here’s the Centers for Disease Control report on the outbreak, which happened on the cruise preceding Dockery’s.

Also worth noting is Holland America’s cruise contract, the legal agreement between Dockery and the cruise line. It basically says he has no rights to a refund.

For his 11-day cruise, Dockery reserved a deluxe veranda suite and paid $8,382.

Here’s what happened next:

Shortly after our arrival at Port Everglades, we were informed that boarding would be delayed because the ms Maasdam was being “supersanitized” because on the previous cruise there had been a serious outbreak of the Norovirus.

The authorities for Holland America assured the boarding passengers that the delay was necessary in order to comply with strict CDC regulations designed to ensure our health and safety during the up-coming voyage.

While this was not the most welcome news, we took the Holland America officials at their word and subsequently joined our fellow passengers to board the ms Maasdam.

Two days later, both Dockery and his wife were “deathly ill,” he says. “It was virtually impossible to enjoy the rest of the cruise,” he says.

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“Indeed, the lingering effects of the illness forced us to seriously contemplate leaving the cruise in Barbados and flying back to Miami from Bridgetown,” he adds.

After his return, Dockery sent a polite letter to Holland America, describing the sick cruise and asking for compensation. The cruise line apologized and offered a space-available upgrade on a future cruise, which is entirely insufficient to him.

He’d like to get half his money back, and here’s why:

• The Maasdam was known to have a Norovirus problem but was quickly set out to sea again.

• By his own count, at least 100 passengers from the previous cruise were allowed back on board for a do-over cruise.

• There same crew ended up servicing both cruises.

I’ve reviewed the letters between Dockery and Holland America. With each missive, he becomes a little more insistent, finally invoking his law degree and threatening a lawsuit. I’m not sure if the last few messages were as productive as he would have wanted them to be, since the cruise line didn’t bother responding to them.

None of this should have happened, of course. Cruise lines that “supersanitize” a vessel should experience no new Norovirus cases — otherwise “supersanitize” means nothing more than putting on a good show for the CDC inspectors — and passengers on the cruise following a deep cleaning deserve special protections or guarantees that their voyage won’t end in illness.

I can definitely understand Dockery’s disappointment, and I agree with him that Holland America could have done more.

But what? Should it offer him a do-over? Or refund part of his cruise fare, as he requests?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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