They booked a cruise. Then they found out how long it would take to get to the port.

When Carole Schachter and her husband booked a cruise vacation in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, they were looking forward to winding along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. But they didn’t factor travel time to the ports of embarkation and disembarkation into their plans — or a penalty for canceling their trip.

Schachter’s case is a reminder to cruisers that getting to and from the ports of embarkation and disembarkation is the passengers’ responsibility, not the cruise line’s. And they also need to consider the cost of cruise cancellations before finalizing their plans. Otherwise, they may forfeit significant amounts of money with no way to recover their costs.

Schachter and her husband booked a paddle ship tour operated by the American Queen Steamboat Company through Vacations To Go (VTG), a Houston-based online travel company that bills itself as the “World’s Largest Cruise Agency.”

But the Schachters, an elderly couple from Boynton Beach, Fla., canceled their cruise when they discovered that the only flights available to Vancouver, Wash., the port of embarkation, on the day before the cruise were eight to nine hours long. Being airborne that length of time, the Schachters decided, was just too much for them to handle.

The Schachters had purchased a travel insurance policy, but they canceled it as well — unwisely, as it turned out. After canceling the insurance coverage, they learned that they were subject to a $2,300 cruise cancellation penalty, even if they were to rebook their trip — which the Schachters felt was exorbitant. According to Schachter, no one had previously told them about this penalty.

Related story:   My flight was delayed, so I did a chargeback. Was I wrong?

With only days to go before the beginning date of the cruise, the Schachters felt trapped. They asked our response team advocates for assistance in getting the penalty waived.

Vacations To Go’s terms and conditions indicate that:

The cruise lines, airlines, hotels, tour operators, car rental companies, and travel gear and accessory manufacturers on this site are third party providers, and VTG has no control whatsoever over their actions or inactions. VTG is not responsible for third party failure to perform, breach of contract, or any action, intentional or negligent, which results in any loss, injury, delay or damage to you or your property or to anyone traveling with you, or to the property of that party…

You acknowledge that upon receipt of fare by third party provider, provider accepts the passenger subject to the terms of the provider contract.

And American Queen Steamboat Company’s terms and conditions provide that for cancellations:

Guests who must cancel their voyage or any part of their vacation package for any reason, including medical or family reasons, are subject to the cancellation fees as outlined below… All cancellations are subject to a $250 per person administrative fee per cruise and/or per segment if a multiple cruise booking.

Cancellation Policy
Days prior to departure Per Person Cancellation Fee
Up to 91 days $250 per person Administrative fee
90-61 days 50% of gross fare
60-31 days 75% of gross fare
30-0 days 100% of gross fare

Despite these policies that made getting the penalty waived extremely unlikely, our advocates agreed to reach out to Vacations To Go on the Schachters’ behalf. We heard back from the chairman and CEO of Vacations To Go, who agreed to have a manager investigate the Schachters’ situation.

Related story:   I was bumped from my Spirit flight. Wasn't I?

Unfortunately, that’s the last we heard from either the Schachters or Vacations To Go. We don’t know if American Queen Steamboat Company agreed to waive or reduce the cancellation penalty. But we are writing about this case to warn all cruise passengers to investigate all aspects of a trip before making final arrangements, including getting to and from ports of embarkation and disembarkation and cancellation penalties, and not to cancel travel insurance coverage without this information.

Don’t leave — or stay — home without it.

Editors note: This is one of our most visited columns of 2017. We’re republishing some of our best stories this week.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • SirWired

    I wonder how long they thought it would take to get there. 8-9 hours to get from FL to the Pacific Northwest on a connecting flight is exactly how long I’d expect it to take. (Direct flights from MIA to SEA are 6 hours already.)

  • Bill___A

    Vancouver, WA is right across the river from Portland, it isn’t an obscure place at all. I’m not sure why these people thought it would be difficult, it would have been a nice trip – and now they are spending far more time trying to get their money back. I find it difficult to sympathize with them. They made a lot of unwise decisions, which is regrettable…

  • Annie M

    VTG is another large online booking company that apparently didn’t “hand hold” these folks. The documents these people received had to spell out the cancellation policies. Having to take a connecting flight to the airport should have been thought about well before booking any cruise.

    Good reminder that sometimes people need more than a do it yourself online company to thoroughly understand policies. River cruises almost always have nonrefundable deposits.

  • Maureen Revene

    define “elderly.” i say this as an old person but seriously is this the first time they’ve ever traveled?

    please, no matter the age, don’t travel without travel insurance.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    It depends. On a recent trip to Houston on Southwest for $100 each roundtrip, travel insurance would have been a waste, since if there was a problem, we could reschedule the plane fare, cancel the directly booked hotel rooms for no cost, and would not have been out a penny. We are planning to join a tour in Europe somewhere this year, and that many thousands of dollars trip will certainly be secured by travel insurance.

  • DChamp56

    “Schachter’s case is a reminder to cruisers that getting to and from the ports of embarkation and disembarkation is the passengers’ responsibility, not the cruise line’s.” is partially incorrect.
    If you purchase your air through some cruise lines, they guarantee to get you to the port, and home.

  • Dutchess

    Isn’t this the second article about people canceling their Columbia River cruise because the transit time was too long? In fact, it is the second time we’ve read the same article about the same couple!!! What’s up Jennifer? You wrote about this couple on Aug 11, 2017.

  • cscasi

    True that is; however, the time frame that these folks were facing might still be the same and they did not want to be flying for that length of time. I think they should have investigated everything first and after having done so, due diligence, they would have known about the flight times required.

  • cscasi

    Interesting, considering that Chris just stated here today that their case load has gone through the roof.

  • joshua82

    The story is a reprint.

  • Steven Weil

    We have been on two American Queen voyages, both time we were given full information about the port of embarkation as well as when we should arrive (check in the day before at the hotel, one night at that hotel was included), While we choose to get our own Air transportation our travel agent said the American Queen offered to handle this as well. As for not knowing that you would have to Fly Across the country to get there seems that would be the fault of the traveler not the travel agent or American Line. By the way both cruses were wonderful both boats and staff did a great job and we plan on making another voyage soon. We have been on river cruses in Europe as well and while Europe may have more history and old stuff to see American Queen compares well and the services can not be surpassed.

  • jerrymandel

    Flying to Vancouver, WA? How silly. It is a suburb of Portland, OR just across the river. Don’t those people know how to read a map or look it up online? Anyone could take taxi from the airport.

  • DChamp56

    I agree with that, but IMHO, the blanket statement is still incorrect to post.

  • SirWired

    I’m sure the airport they had in mind was Portland. But it still takes 8-9 hours to get there from FL (no direct flights.)

  • Pegtoo

    It’s unfortunate they didn’t realize the problem until “days to go before the beginning of the cruise”. $$$$

  • joycexyz

    Sounds like they may be geographically challenged. South Florida to the Pacific Northwest…hmm. Or perhaps they expected to be beamed up by Scotty.

  • joycexyz

    Maybe they thought they could take a taxi for the whole trip. Unbelievable!

  • C Schwartz

    I am sure there will be an increasing caseload given all the problems air travel has had recently.
    I suspect it takes some time for the volunteer advocates to go through the cases and documents and then the time to act on the complaint.

%d bloggers like this:
Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.