George Staby and his wife traveled from Arizona to New York and boarded a Silversea ship, expecting an enjoyable cruise through New England and Canada. But Tropical Storm Jose, which became one of the longest-lived Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history, had other plans for the Stabys.
The changes made to the itinerary — and Jose’s choppy seas that sickened his wife — led to a ruined cruise, says Staby. He wants a 25 percent refund and reimbursement of his wife’s medical expenses, but does Silversea actually owe him anything?
Knowing that Tropical Storm Jose was churning in the Atlantic and expected to head up the coast, Staby watched the weather reports closely and called the cruise company several times in the days prior to his cruise. Silversea repeatedly told him it had no plans to cancel the cruise, so Staby and his wife flew to New York and embarked the ship, expecting to sail. They didn’t.
The cruise director informed guests late in the afternoon that the ship would sail the following day, but it spent day two in port, as well.
The ship finally sailed on day three of the scheduled cruise, but Staby tells us that it was anything but the luxury cruise they had expected:
…we stayed two extra days in port in New York City, departed but were told to expect 20 plus foot waves, and then changed course to a southerly direction. As a result, my wife got so sick (as did others on board) that we had to hire the ship’s doctor to come to our cabin. We were on deck six and sea water was hitting our sliding door. In total, we spent three extra days on the ship (two in port and one at sea) and missed four scheduled ports of call and associated tours.
I’m sure the Stabys were also scared. I’ve been on several ships in rough seas, but the only experience that compares to Staby’s was a trip across the infamous Drake Passage, when I watched 25-foot-high waves hitting the windows on the ship’s bridge. The captain confined guests to their cabins, and I suddenly appreciated my doctor’s suggestion that I take anti-anxiety and motion sickness medicines with me.
After Staby’s ship turned south to avoid the storm, the crew substituted four ports of call for the scheduled ports that the ship could no longer include. Staby didn’t like the ports that were offered, but Silversea doesn’t guarantee any ports. In fact, Silversea includes in its passage contract a long list of reasons why it doesn’t have to stick to its published itineraries:
Passenger acknowledges and agrees that the scheduled itinerary for the Voyage and the announced departure and arrival times are not guaranteed.
Carrier reserves the right to substitute another vessel for the scheduled Vessel whether or not owned or operated by Carrier.
Any part of this Ticket and the Voyage is subject to cancellation, delay, modification, or port-of-call cancellation for any reason of and including but not limited to, stress of weather, prevailing weather conditions, exigencies of safe navigation, navigation through regulated waters, ports and channels, Force Majeure, acts of God, labor conflicts, war, hostilities, blockages, explosion, fire, collision, stranding or foundering of the Vessel or breakdown of the Vessel or failure of or damage to the Vessel or its hull or machinery or fittings howsoever and wheresoever any of the same may arise or be caused, or civil commotion, acts of terrorism, riot, insurrection, arrest, order or restraint by governmental authorities (including due to the actions of port officials), requisitioning of the Vessel, political disturbance, acts or threats of terrorism, inability to secure or obtain or failure of supplies including fuel, strikes onboard or ashore, airline strikes, docking difficulties, congestion, customs or immigration restrictions attributable to the travel documents, health certificates, or nationalities of persons onboard, directions of underwriters, search and rescue, medical disembarkation of crew or Passengers or any other circumstances beyond Carrier’s control.
A captain’s decision
The captain has full control of a ship’s itinerary and will change course to avoid areas that could endanger the ship or her passengers. But neither the cruise line nor the captain is responsible for illness, and Silversea also addresses illness in its passenger contract:
CARRIER IS NOT LIABLE FOR INJURY, ILLNESS, OR DEATH OF ANY PASSENGER UNLESS DIRECTLY CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OR WILLFUL MISCONDUCT OF CARRIER.
In reality, no one can predict seasickness. I’ve seen people get seasick on a river cruise in perfect weather. And I’ve seen people on a ship in high seas who thought it was better than an amusement park ride.
Staby acknowledges that Silversea’s contract excludes bad weather and missed ports from the list of reasons that he would receive a refund of his unpleasant cruise, but he’s a former travel agency owner and a frequent Silversea cruiser, so he appealed to what he hoped would be the company’s desire to retain a good customer.
He wrote a long email to Silversea, including a recap of their experience and all the reasons they were disappointed. The company never responded. He could have reached out to the executive contacts we list for Silversea, but he contacted us instead.
The (partially) good news
Our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, advocated this case personally. She suggested that he follow our advice on writing a complaint letter, which he did. Silversea offered a $1,000 refund, but Staby wanted 25% of his $16,000 fare as compensation for this ruined cruise.
Friedman appealed to our contacts at Silversea to see if they would reconsider the offer, and it responded with an additional $1,000. Staby accepted. I know it’s a small consolation for this ruined cruise, but given that the itinerary changes were made for the safety of the ship and her passengers and it owed him nothing, I think this gesture of goodwill is worth considering.