“Expose Carnival cruise lines for what they’re doing to their customers”

Kelli Schultz wants our help, but she also wants everyone to know what Carnival has done to her.

I can’t help with the first one, but I can definitely do something about the second.

What happened to her? Schultz and about 2,000 other passengers on the Carnival Fantasy didn’t get the vacation they’d booked.

“They notified us late the night before our cruise of ship problems, and changed our itinerary from Mexico to Nassau,” she says. “That’s a much cheaper vacation and one we were not interested in.”

That wasn’t the only thing that left her with a sinking feeling about her cruise vacation. The Fantasy wasn’t just rerouted; it was also delayed.

She explains,

They held 2,000 people in the cruise terminal with no food or water, waiting for a ship that didn’t show until after 9 p.m. People were calling Carnival’s customer service complaining, but they were not understanding or accountable.

They told us they were only authorized by their corporate office to issue us all $50 on board ship credit and 25 percent off a future cruise.

I didn’t get on the ship until after 10 p.m. so I lost that day. Then we went somewhere I didn’t want to go as we had already flown into Miami and had no other plans.

I believe they’re crooks and taking money from people who have no choice. The ship we were on (still not fixed) was loading new passengers later in the day after we disembarked. The ship was supposed to be in dry dock before our cruise, so how it had mechanical issues I’m not sure.

Schultz says that a better resolution would be a $150 refund to cover the missed vacation day. She wants to secure the money for her and the 2,000 other passengers on the Fantasy.

“They made us feel like we should have been appreciative they were still taking us somewhere we didn’t want to go, knowing full well we were unable to cancel due to their last minute notification of our itinerary change and ship problem,” she says.

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Unfortunately, that kind of a refund en masse is, well … a fantasy.

Would the cruise “bill of rights” have helped in a situation like this? Probably not. As you’ll recall, the cruise industry voluntarily adopted a bill in 2013, presumably to avoid almost-certain government regulation.

Among the provisions:

  • You have the right to disembark a docked ship if essential provisions such as food, water, restroom facilities, and access to medical care can’t “adequately be provided onboard.”
  • You have the right to a full refund for a trip that is canceled because of a mechanical failure, or a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early.
  • You have the right to “professional emergency medical attention” onboard.
  • You have the right to timely information updates regarding any adjustments in the itinerary of the ship in the event of a mechanical failure or emergency.
  • You have the right to transportation to the ship’s scheduled port of disembarkation, or your home city, in the event a cruise is terminated early because of mechanical failures.
  • You have the right to lodging if disembarkation and an overnight stay in an unscheduled port are required when a cruise is terminated early because of mechanical failures.

Alas, Carnival’s ticket contract – the legal agreement between Schultz and the cruise line, leaves no doubt about her rights. Simply put, she has none. Carnival reserves the right to “omit or change any or all port calls, arrival or departure times, with or without consent, for any reason whatsoever.”

It’s a gorgeous adhesion contract. A hat tip to the Carnival lawyers for stripping away every single one of Schultz’ rights with the efficiency of a Las Vegas showgirl.

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Speaking of lawyers, her implication that this might be a class action lawsuit is problematic, to say the least. Sure, all 2,000 passengers were inconvenienced by the schedule change, but technically, they signed the one-sided ticket contract when they purchased their tickets. Even the craziest maritime lawyer (and I know a few) wouldn’t touch this case.

And even if there were a provision within Carnival’s ticket contract to refund passengers for schedule changes, it’s unlikely they would compensate a passenger like Schultz for a missed vacation day. Doing that opens the door to a lot of “lost time” claims; doing it for 2,000 passengers is a reportable offense on your next quarterly earnings report.

It’s a shame passengers have to surrender so many of their rights to take a cruise. I’m not sure how thoughtful regulation could solve this problem, but maybe it’s worth a try.

Should passenger cruise rights be regulated more extensively by the government?

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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.

  • Ceenite


  • kathymcn

    Insurance does not cover that type of thing

  • I was recently on an Air Canada flight that pulled a few meters from the gate, and then sat there for four hours (from 5:30 until 9:30 pm, so, dinner time) due to a mechanical problem. Online, it was showing the flight had “departed on schedule” because we were no longer at the gate! In those four hours we were offered one 20-gram bag of pretzels and a cup of water. The plane then returned to the gate, but as the airport considered us to be an “international arrival” (seriously) we had to clear customs, with our bags. It was two more hours before they were able to get the bags off the plane, during which time we had no food or water (despite our requests) and were left to stand or sit on the floor, as there was no seating at the baggage area. It was midnight by the time we were able to get out and procure food and water for ourselves. On the plane and in the baggage claim area there was NO information available for us, and when we got through customs we found the airport staff had called police to protect them, told us they wouldn’t help anyone in person, and that we had to phone Air Canada for help. We also received a flyer that literally said, “Because this incident was out of the airline’s control, you are not entitled to compensation.” Since when is a mechanical error out of an airline’s control?

    I understand that problems occur, but there should be laws that require travel providers to treat their paying customers in humane ways, by providing sufficient food, water and seating, during delays, whether they are “on board” or in other environments like a port, airport, train station or bus station (with a particular emphasis on places where the passenger can’t just leave on their own accord, like after security in an airport). Changes to contracts for reasons within a travel provider’s control, like a mechanical problem (as opposed to say, a hurricane!), should also result in compensation for the passenger, who might have chosen a different service or service provider if they’d had the opportunity.

  • Barthel

    Chris, you say that a lawyer would not take this case as a class action law suit because of the restrictive agreement the passengers signed. If they had a jury trial, they might win. Juries tend to be sympathetic to people who have been wronged financially.

  • taurus7125@aol.com

    Don’t take a cruise FLY

  • Éamon deValera

    The cruise terminals have water fountains. Excessive drama in complaints makes me doubt everything.

  • Éamon deValera

    Juries also tend not to be idiots. This woman isn’t missing a hand, she was inconvenienced by a few hours. They offered her some free food and drinks on the ship by way of voucher and a discount on her next cruise so they can show they can get a ship out of port on time.

    I don’t know of any attorney who would take such a case unless he could bill hourly.

  • Barthel

    Juries tend to rule in favor of the plaintiffs when they sue large companies. They feel it’s a case of a poor person getting over on the rich.

  • mbods2002

    So sorry this happened to you, horrible treatment. Just another airline who hates their customers and we have absolutely no recourse but to boycott, if possible. What is wrong with our laws that the travel industry can treat us this way and we have no other choice but to take it. My husband and I hardly ever fly/cruise anymore, and when we do, it’s with Southwest. We usually vacation close to home for just the reasons you mention above.

  • Phyllis Morris

    I am really getting tired of hearing this litany of “buy insurance” for the resolution of every issue. Insurance is a money grabbing legal scam. One should not have to continually purchase insurance for every aspect of their life. Let’s see – I have health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance, homeowners insurance, water main insurance, medicare a&b, auto insurance, water heater insurance, furnace insurance, use to have professional liability insurance (until I retired). Now if I rent a vacation house I need travel insurance just in case there is a hurricane or medical issue or if I am flying somewhere or sailing somewhere. But wait – read the fine print – the insurance covers very little and has so many pages of exclusions and exceptions it’s essentially worthless. My homeowners insurer has told me I need separate flood insurance and earthquake insurance as they no longer cover those items. Where I live there has never been a significant earthquake and I live on the top of a hill. When will this insanity end – my rant of the day. Sorry.

  • Alan Gore

    What the call to “buy insurance” really means is, “Screw you, traveling chump, if you want the good service you remember from years ago, buy whatever insurance it takes to get you that service should a problem arise!”

  • Alan Gore

    Isn’t that situation what the new tarmac delay regulation is supposed to prevent? Or did this not happen in US?

  • Interesting. This happened in Canada, but I see that Air Canada does have a Tarmac Delay Plan that they failed to adhere to in my case (unless they actually consider twenty grams of pretzels to be adequate food for passengers stuck on the runway for four hours?).

  • Phyllis Morris

    So true. I am renting a vacation house three hours from where I live. I was advised by the rental agent to purchase travel insurance to cover my rental cost if I can’t go. I just would like to recover the cost of the house if I can’t go.So I looked into it. The cost was ridiculous as they added on several items I don’t need or want. I don’t need emergency medical care or medical evacuation coverage and the policy won’t pay for hurricanes or other weather related unless the govt. declares a mandatory evacuation.

  • 42NYC

    The problem is. Carnival cruise ships are not under the jurisdiction of the United States (except for when they’re in a U.S. Port or domestic waters). They intentionally register the ships in Liberia or panama or another country due to their lax standards.

    Should the Liberian government regulate cruise ships. Perhaps but good luck.

    In this case I think “one nights” cost of the cruise should be refunded and maybe another goodwill gesture for being held up in the cruise terminal all day. As far as the itinerary being switched unfortunately you aren’t owed anything this is clearly stated in the contract.

  • KarlaKatz

    I’m not much of a “let the government take care of us all” kind of gal, but the cruise industry has become reminiscent of the robber barons of old, and it’s time for a spanking.

  • Chad boyle

    Seriously? What is happening to america? Grow up, have a good time no matter where your at.. it’s you sue happy people who give this country a bad name. I would be pretty happy with the 25% off our next cruise wich would be roughly 6 to 700 dollars, but your gonna cry because you can’t have it your way and get 150? Not happy with what cruise lines have to face? There’s plenty of nice resorts in Mexico for you to fly to! Let me know how many rights you get down there.. Yes it’s unfortunate, I’ve had to face simular, read and understand the contract before you sign! Simple as that..

  • Altosk

    There’s a reason cruise ships register themselves in the Bahamas–cruise companies pretty much own those governments and can push through any sort of lousy legislation they want. Until the US stands up and refuses to let these ships dock in our ports if they don’t agree to certain basic terms, it will continue.

  • Altosk

    Especially with the lack of reporting of deaths/injuries/sexual assaults on ships.

  • Altosk

    Yeah, cabotauge laws need a close look at it because they affect airlines, too. I would love for Cathay Pacific to become a domestic carrier here.

  • e santhin

    Many people are unaware that a cruise line per cent off offer on a future cruise is not what they think. It is only that amount off the basic fare not including port charges, taxes, etc. As for insurance it is a real rip off as explained in other postings. Common sense will eliminate some of the worst. The need for medical evacuation insurance is so remote it may be the insurance industries biggest profit generator. In the off chance death occurs on a trip anywhere simply have the person cremated and return the remains in your on board carry.

  • pauletteb

    The only reason I would ever take a cruise is if it were the ONLY way to visit somewhere I really, really wanted to go . . . and then only on a small ship. Being at sea on a mega ship with a few thousand other people? I’d rather have a root canal.

  • cscasi

    I tend to agree about the U.S. based health insurance. Many will cover you for things that happen while you are out of the country, but you have to file and provide all the documentation required by the, Of course, if the documentation provided is in a foreign language, then you may have to pay to have it officially translated in order for the insurance company to accept it.
    Some companies will try to help arrange payment to the foreign hospitals and facilities, but many want guaranteed payment up front ( I am sure they have been bitten before by attending to people and then not getting paid). Great if you have an acceptable credit card (hope it isn’t one that charges an additional 3% foreign transaction fee on the amount charged). But, you still have to get reimbursed by your medical insurance company and sometimes the additional documentation needed/required is harder to come by if one has already left the country where treatment was provided.
    So, is it better to buy travel insurance with primary medical coverage and you do not have the hassle? What happens if you have to be flown home or if you become deceased. Coverage is provided in the medical section of most travel insurance policies (depending on what you select). To me, it is just peace of mind. I know I may never need it, but if I do I believe I am as well protected as I can be for those issues.

  • Tom McShane

    Yep, exposing them would be redundant. The company has Cruise Line in its name. That should be warning enough.

  • Susan Schaefer

    Chris, there are 2 important pieces of information that you were not given.

    First, Carnival offered FULL REFUNDS before embarkation to anyone not wanting to go on the cruise with the altered itinerary. She decided to go anyway and accepted their offer of a $50 per person onboard credit.

    Second, Carnival offers a vacation guarantee, if she complained before arriving at the first port, Carnival would have flown her home at their expense from the first port plus given her a full refund.

    She opted for the offer of the $50 per person onboard credit and accepted the changed itinerary, and loss of a FEW HOURS (not even a full day) on the ship.

  • Tanya

    Careful when you say many, I think many more do not cover you internationally any longer. It is being dropped by most plans. Heck, there are even plans that will not cover you if you are in a different state. Read your policy carefully, e-mail and get things in writing if you have questions about your medical policy. But please do not say that many policies cover you abroad, they do not any longer.

  • Tanya

    I only say to purchase insurance when someone cannot or does not want to lose out on the money spent for vacation. I do not think insurance helps with everything. Also, if you have medical conditions, it is wise to have trip or international medical insurance coverage just in case something happens.

    Life happens on trips and everyday just living. Sometime things can inconvenience us more than others. If you cannot afford that inconvenience, then you can purchase insurance to offset your cost. All insurance is a gamble, it was actually a rich person’s sport for many years.

    Case in point, I’m traveling in a few months to Vegas and (gasp) I have not taken out trip insurance, my medical insurance will cover me in the US (I checked), I am willing to be out the $$ if I cannot go or something happens, and I am willing to take on the risk that the trip falls through, something happens and I am stuck. However, this summer, I have a long trip to Europe planned. It is a much higher cost. I would not be comfortable losing out on all the money I spent nor does my health insurance cover me internationally, so I have taken steps to protect myself by procuring the correct insurance policy. I hope to not have to use it, but peace of mind is worth quite a bit.

    So no, insurance does not fix everything, nor do I think it is warranted in all situations. I do think that if I don’t get it, then why should a company who is presumably not negligent be any more responsible than I am for taking out a policy or reimbursing me for costs? Aren’t I, as the traveler who knows all my plans and costs in a better position to protect myself against unknown delays/cancellations?

  • Ben

    How does this not have a ton of upvotes?

    “within 24 hours of the start of your cruise” limits the utility in many cases and would have many consumer advocates up-in-arms, but it would’ve been the perfect solution in this case.

    Of course, it’s too late for Kelli now, but anyone who sails on Carnival should keep this in mind in the future.

  • Ben

    That information definitely changes the story a bit as she had some alternative. I still sympathize with Kellie, though, not really a good option between a disappointing cruise or forfeiting all the money she paid for non-cruise travel expenses.

  • Rob Belles

    They blew it. They should have exercised the Great Vacation Grantee: http://www.carnival.com/about-carnival/vacation-guarantee/faq.aspx
    They went on the ENTIRE vacation, THEN they want their money back. Like going to a restaurant, eating the entire meal, and then complaining it was not what you ordered.

  • DF

    People really need to read their cruise contract before they sign, it clearly states that changes can happen. As far as being given $150 refund that seems excessive, they were give $50 credit, add that to 25% savings on the next cruise and it will add to more then $150. As far as the no food or drink goes in the terminal there are vending machines. Get over yourself and quit being so entitled. Consider yourself lucky that you got to go on a vacation because there are many who never get to.

  • Lynn Boor

    I was also on that sailing. She was not held hostage in the terminal without food or water as she alludes to. Carnival announced about 3 or 4 PM that the ship would not be arriving to the terminal in Miami until much later. They also announced that Carnival was providing free shuttles to the nearby Bayside Marketplace Mall so you could get something to eat and drink. (yes, at your own expense). We had cases of water brought to the area where we were sitting since the vending machines were empty. They told us what time the last shuttle would be returning so that you were not late. Also, an email was sent out the night before notifying passengers of the situation and offered a full 100% refund if you did not want to travel. Yes, for some of us, it was too late since we were already in Miami but the offer was made in addition to the $50 per person on board credit and the $25% off a future 4 or 5 day cruise. It was not the perfect situation and no, we weren’t thrilled with the port changes but we were still able to cruise and made sure we still had fun. How many people can’t take a cruise in their entire life! Chill out lady..you don;t derserve anymore than you have already received.

  • Reality

    NOOOO, do not get the US government involved. They screw up everything they touch. The cruise lines need to step up to the plate and self regulate in the best interest in the customers and the rewards will come back to them two fold.

  • Lindabator

    BUT this cruise would have visited Key West and Cozumel, and they had to skip Cozumel, so CANNOT by law just visit Key West, so they at least substituted the Bahamas

  • IGoEverywhere

    It is time for new rules and regulations to protect the passenger. I believe it is also time to realize the rip-off that the current cruise lines are providing it’s passengers is for real. RCCL Carnival lead the way for excuses and Princess with the nor-virus, so how are the still getting the passengers?

  • Kairho

    Nice to get the Rest of the Story.

  • Éamon deValera

    No, actually they don’t. Juries follow the law and it is the exceptions you hear about not the thousands of civil actions resolved every day. The McDonald’s coffee burn case (which was settled for much less than the jury awarded) made news. The findings for the defendant, be it corporate or a person seldom are noteworthy.

    You’re suggesting juries are gullible dolts easily swayed by deep pockets, and I can’t buy that. Jurors are fine, bright people who can and do make informed decisions every day.

  • Éamon deValera

    Insurance is a scam? If you give me ten dollars and I’ll repair any shoes you damage in the next year is that a scam or does that save you from having to pay the shoemaker for a broken heel?

    Why do you have water main insurance, I’ve been an insurance regulator for quite some time and I’ve never heard of a personal lines water main policy. You also have water heater and furnace insurance? I doubt those are insurance at all, but it is convenient to call them that. They are maintenance plans. You pay a fee and they repair your appliances at a set cost. That isn’t insurance.

    You’re required by law to have health insurance – not that I think that is a good idea- but it is the law. You have ‘health insurance’ and Medicare? I think you mean Medicare supplement. You should also get Medicare part D as if you delay signing up there is a penalty each month when you do finally sign up.

    I hope your professional liability is occurrence and not claims made as even retired professionals should carry professional liability insurance if it is on a claims made basis. You could be sued today for some negligence years ago and not be protected. Most professional liability is on a claims made basis. If you’re not in practice of course your premium will be substantially lower.

    Flood and earthquake have never been part of any homeowners (HO-n) policy, this shouldn’t be news to you.

    It seems like you’re mad at yourself for buying insurance. The only required insurance is automobile liability (in most states) and the Obamacare mandate. You don’t need homeowners, earthquake, flood or any other insurance to protect your property. Your bank may require it if they hold a mortgage, but there is no law requiring it.

    Service plans for appliances, and cars, and any ‘extended warranty’ are available and never required. If you feel they will be of value, purchase them. If you don’t think you get a reasonable ROI then don’t.

    We can all assume risk, or pay someone else to assume the risk for us.

    I have homeowners, automobile, professional liability, health, and a personal umbrella. I don’t ‘insure’ my appliances or get flood insurance. I am willing to retain some risk. I read the insurance policies from cover to cover and if I don’t understand something I write the agent or insurance company for clarification (those written clarifications are as binding as the policy).

    I don’t get travel insurance if I spend a small amount on a vacation or rent a car. I can afford to lose a few thousand dollars, but renting a car exposes me to huge liability both for damage to the vehicle and liability for injury to others. While an umbrella policy covers liability worldwide, a travel insurance policy for less than a hundred dollars will cover a month of primary rental insurance – and offer a myriad of other benefits that I feel is a reasonable return on my investment.

    Risk :: reward is the key. $87 v. $100000K liability cover for car accident or cruise ship fire or trip delay of 37 hours that requires two unplanned overnight stays at an airport hotel seems like a good trade off to me.

    The insurance policy is always available before you pay, or if not there is a cancellation clause that will return your money if you’ve not begun your trip. Read the summary descriptions carefully, buy what you need, and if you find you’ve chosen an inadequate policy once the documents arrive cancel. Communicate only in writing with the insurance company (email is fine) as they are bound by any promises they make and the writing memorializes the writings. If the insurance company fails to live up to their end of the bargain contact your state’s insurance regulator, they will gladly make the insurance company toe the line.

  • Éamon deValera

    Contact your homeowners agent, they may have something to offer. They can certainly advise you if your HO policy covers that cabin (it probably does). The shop around for a policy that meets your needs. You can always get exactly what you want – but be forewarned it may be more expensive than a package which includes helicopter evacuation from Mt. Kilimanjaro. Package policies are almost always cheaper.

    I found a policy that will cover a rental cottage or cabin for two weeks, with cover for weather (making travel to the destination unreasonably dangerous [unreasonably has a specific legal definition – but it is the same as an average person would understand it])or natural disaster (declared) as well as accident insurance of $100K but omitting any rental car liability for $103 for four weeks in the beginning of April.

  • Éamon deValera

    Well it does, but not for the few hours the consumer noted. I’d just bring a book and a granola bar or two. If it was a day or two then insurance could certainly cover it.

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