We booked a cruise and then learned 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.

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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.

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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.

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 Elliott.org.

  • LDVinVA

    Not sure cruise insurance would have covered this cancellation anyway. They decided not to go because it would take too long to get to the embarkation point. That is not what insurance is for! Do your homework, people!

  • Steve Rabin

    Something about this sounds fishy. I don’t see why the travel agency or cruise line should make up for this one–they decided not to go for the sole reason the embarkation point is too far from their home? This one is strictly on the passengers.

  • sirwired

    Did they buy a CAFR rider? If not, insurance would not have helped. Not one bit.

  • Dutchess

    They live on the opposite side of the country! What did they expect?

    On a side note I’m NOT a cruiser but live in the PNW, so I’ve looked into this “river cruise” and why someone would spend $7000 (and up to $16k!) on a paddle boat to visit these cities is beyond me…if you read the descriptions it’s kind of hilarious. Day 1 – Explore Vancouver Washington. Uhmm, yeah visit the Startbucks, the three decrepit antique stores downtown and the “wine bar and deli”. I’ll pass. The site really worth visiting, Multnomah Falls is not even included and must be purchased as an excursion. In the end you get dropped off in Clarkston Washington which is kind of the middle of nowhere and a 2 hour drive to Spokane for another flight home.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “…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…”

    I could be wrong but there is NOT an airport in Vancouver, Washington for “commercial” flights. The airport in Vancouver, WA is Pearson Field Airport which is a small airport for “private” use like scenic flight to Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, etc. and private planes.

    The closest airport is Portland International Airport (PDX) which is across the river from PDX…about a 10 minute drive.

    The OP can fly from PBI to PDX on four airlines (AA, Delta, UA and JetBlue).

    I can recall my first long-haul flight (11 hours) in coach so I can have empathy for the OP for long flights; however, while the total flight time including the layover is 8 to 9 hours…their flight have a connection and a layover. The first flight is under two hours (PBI to Atlanta on Delta or PBI to Charolotte on AA). The second flight is just over 5 hours.

    The real problem here is that the OP acted as on their own travel agent when they went online. I am sure that there are several professional brick & mortar travel agents in their hometown that would have pointed out the time to get to the cruise; pointed out the cancellation policy; etc.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “why someone would spend $7000 (and up to $16k!) on a paddle boat to visit these cities is beyond me”

    I agree.

    I have driven on 84 from Portland out to eastern Oregon a few times on business. Personally, I would drive to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area on 84 so that we could explore the area (i.e. there are 26+ waterfalls; several trails; etc) versus being on a boat.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m…I’m…struggling to get my head around why someone who lives in Florida would not realize that it kinda takes a long time to get to Washington…ya know, the other side of the country?

    Maybe they thought it was Washington DC! (LOL!)

    A good world atlas might have solved this problem.

  • y_p_w

    I found it kind of strange. And 8 hours isn’t really all that bad. I mean – they’re willing to go on a cruise which takes way longer.

    I looked it up, and there are no nonstop MIA-PDX flights. That’s kind of surprising to me. However, even if there were it’s still 5 hours. That seems like a strange reason to cancel over maybe 3 more hours with some of that time waiting at an airport.

  • y_p_w

    Vancouver, WA is actually part of the Portland, OR metro area. It’s right across the Columbia River. American has nonstop flights MIA-SEA, but there’s no regularly scheduled MIA-PDX flights. And it would still be a 5 hour flight, so I’m not sure how changing planes once makes it that much worse.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Yeah…it’s a bit hard to understand why someone would book a cruise that departs from a port literally thousands of miles away, but then, AFTER booking and paying for it, decide to cancel because they realized that the port it departs from is…thousands of miles away. We’re not yet at the point in travel technology that one can travel thousands of miles instantaneously. Maybe someday! :)

  • jsn55

    This is just a bizarre story. Why would these people book their own cruise without knowing any of the details? Did they just start surfing the web one evening and end up deciding to take a cruise? Why would they not seek some advice before booking?
    I’ve used Vacations to Go for an RCCL cruise, and they were fine, a few hundred dollars discount and a bottle of wine in my cabin. But I did the research and knew exactly what my options were. Online booking agents take your order, they will answer questions (I assume); but booking a cruise should be done through a real travel agent, one who specializes in cruises This is the person who is paid by the cruise line, who knows all the ins and outs of cruising, is probably personally familiar with the cruise line you’re looking at, and can make a huge difference in your trip.

  • Lindabator

    I know – beam me up!

  • Jeff W.

    People may differing opinions as to whether or not a cruise is worthwhile, Some like river cruises and others do not. Be it a cruise, or a destination resort, how you get to the location (and for cruises, how you return), you always have to look at the air portion.

    I often see some great prices for cruises that embark from Miami, Vancouver, or Galveston TX, but then when you factor the airfare, those prices look less attractive. The key is research and it looks like they did none.

  • AAGK

    So just a few days before their trip is when they went to book airline tickets? They may not be internet savvy but surely they have a map. Boynton beach prob flies out of ft lauderdale. They are flying further than cross country.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I have driven from PDX to SEA and SEA to PDX and it is a three-hour drive…my preference is to take one of the 22 direct daily flights between these two cities on Horizon.

    Since the OP lives in Boynton Beach, the closest airport is PBI but you are right that they could fly out of MIA directly to SEA and then take one of the 22 daily flights from SEA to PDX on Horizon Air

    Regardless if the OP flies out of PBI or MIA, they are still going to have a total flight time of 7 to 9 hours.

    The direct MIA to SEA on AA is a 6 hr & 35 min…with an hour layover and a 45 minute flight from SEA to PDX on Horizon Air…the total flight time will be at least 8.25 hours (6.5 +.75 + 1.0).

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Palm Beach International Airport is the closest to Boynton Beach…from the center of Boynton Beach to PBI is 14 miles (Source: travelmath_dot_com); whereas, FLL is 37 miles away from the center of Boynton Beach. Depending upon where the OP lives in Boynton, FLL could be closest.

    14 miles: West Palm Beach, FL (PBI) Palm Beach International Airport
    37 miles: Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
    64 miles: Miami, FL (MIA) Miami International Airport

  • Annie M

    One of the most ridiculous stories you’ve had in awhile. The time to look into this is before you put a non refundable deposit on a cruise.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Totally agree…if you are not an expert, don’t want to do the research and etc…it makes sense to use a professional brick & mortar travel agent that is an expert on cruises when selecting a cruise, booking a cruise, etc. so that you can have the best experience.

  • Mel65

    I’m baffled. Do they not own a map? Who purchases a cruise with ZERO planning or thought? This isn’t a candy bar off the impulse rack. SMH.

  • MF

    Without belittling this elderly couple, it seems that little meaningful consideration has been given by the commentators to the idea that they may be cognitively challenged. But many did note that there seemed to be ‘holes’ in the story.

  • jim6555

    FLL probably has as many domestic flights as MIA and is much closer to Boynton Beach. The best connections are on AA through DFW. They take about 8 hours outbound, 7.5 hours on the return.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) with is the closest to Boynton Beach with service from Delta, AA, United and JetBlue…from the center of Boynton Beach to PBI is 14 miles (Source: travelmath_dot_com); whereas, FLL is 37 miles away from the center of Boynton Beach. The OP has three airports to select from…convenience, price, schedule, etc.

    In regards to this case, the question is what was the OP thinking about travel time from the southeast tip of the US to the northwest corner of the continental US.

  • Carchar

    I found Fort Vancouver worth the visit and there are actually some nice restaurants in the original Vancouver.

  • finance_tony

    I’m really surprised they would advocate for such a ridiculous excuse.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    It this couple is cognitively challenged then they shouldn’t have access to the Internet where they can make purchases that have consequences. Yet they were not cognitively challenged to contact this website for a refund.

    Your response reminds me when a teenager run a stop sign and hit my car then speed away a few years ago…her father said that his daughter has a learning disability that is why she didn’t stop and waited for the cops…the learning disability didn’t prevent her from getting a driver license but her learning disability prevents her from driving her vehicle correctly and following the laws of driving correctly.

  • greg watson

    I think that an exception of some kind may have been made & V T G didn’t want the Schachters to disclose that…………..hmmmm !

  • joycexyz

    Any cruise lists the ports quite plainly. How did they think they were going to get to the first one—“Beam me up Scotty”? Or perhaps they lack knowledge of geography and thought the Pacific Northwest is not so far from Florida? Sounds like an impulse buy and subsequent remorse. They are owed nothing.

  • joycexyz

    Or a grade-school knowledge of geography.

  • joycexyz

    Always an excuse to avoid responsibility.

  • Mel65

    If they are cognitively challenged to the point where they are making impulse purchases for thousands of dollars, then someone should have taken their credit cards away and they need keepers.

  • MF

    Clearly you’re not there Mel, but independence is something most are not willing to give up. This is a ‘shades of grey’ kind of issue, not a binary kind of choice. And at what cost to dignity do we deprive others of their free will?

  • MF

    “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you lay the blame” Not everyone gets the idea of self-responsibility, I wish it was practiced a little more often.

  • Mel65

    I frequently have days when I think I am totally there! I get your point however but at what cost do we allow people to potentially harm themselves financially in order to retain some illusion of Free Will and dignity? If people are seriously cognitively impaired to the point where they are making poor choices that could impact their Financial Security that’s a far bigger issue than we can hope to address in this forum. The people in this story though, didn’t seem cognitively impaired so much as impulsive and then regretful.

  • Annie M

    Do you mean CFAR – Cancel for Any Reason? Cancellation doesn’t automatically start the refund policy either – they still need to file a claim and they wouldn’t get 100% back with CFAR anyway.

  • Annie M

    American river cruises are ridiculous – the prices are extremely high especially compared with what you get on a European river cruise. Most of these American river cruises stop at places I have never even heard of. Terrible value.

  • sirwired

    Oops; yes.

  • RightNow9435

    I have gone from Seattle to Portland many times….I have and will always drive. Flying(counting time to the airport and wait times) would be a lot more than 3 hrs.

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