A wife rejects her husband’s surprise anniversary “Cuban Explorer” cruise — but can he get a refund?

Richard Peterson surprises his wife with a Holland America “Cuban Explorer” cruise for their 40th wedding anniversary, but he fails to check the itinerary or the cancellation terms. So when his wife rejects this gift, he is in a bit of a bind. Can we help?

Question: I booked a cruise in August 2017 on Holland America Lines (HAL) as a surprise for my wife for our 40th wedding anniversary. We would be traveling in December 2018. She has always wanted to visit Cuba, so I booked the 11-Day Cuban Explorer.

I told my wife of our plans the day after I booked the cruise and paid the deposit. She looked online at the itinerary and realized the ship spends less than one full day in Cuba; even though it is listed as the 11-Day Cuban Explorer. All other cruise days are in the Caribbean. My wife does not want a Caribbean cruise.

I contacted Holland America the very next business day, after the Labor Day weekend and we requested a refund of our deposit – $600. I was then notified that the deposit was non-refundable. I contested the listing as false advertising. HAL refuses to refund me.

I am out $600 for a deposit made 18 months before a cruise. I work very hard for $600, and truly hate to see it thrown away. Holland America customer service is very difficult to deal with and are sticking with the deposit is non-refundable. If this was truly a Cuban cruise and not a Caribbean cruise, we would take it. I need an advocate and hope you can assist. Richard Peterson, Lutherville, Md.

Answer: How disappointing that your special gift to your wife was not as well received as you had hoped. I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t point out that you should have taken a look at the itinerary before you purchased this thoughtful present.

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I took a look at Holland America’s 11-day Cuban Explorer and agree with your wife that this cruise doesn’t explore much of Cuba.

In fact, the entire trip “explores” Cuba for just several hours.

But since you had the entire itinerary available for your review prior to confirming your plans, it was puzzling why the course of this cruise seemed to be a surprise to you.

It appears that you simply assumed that an 11-day Cuban Explorer would thoroughly explore Cuba.

With ports of call in Belize, Honduras and Cayman Islands, a better name for this cruise could be the “11-day Caribbean Explorer.”

Of course, the other error you made was not to familiarize yourself with the cancellation policy.

When you contacted us for help, I asked to see your contract. Unfortunately, the bad news was located in a prominent box at the bottom of the page. Your $600 deposit was nonrefundable at the time of booking.

You told me that you understood these terms, but you wanted to contest the contract because of the misleading title of the cruise.

I wasn’t convinced that this was a fight you (or I) could win since the itinerary was never concealed by HAL.

You also posted your story to our help forums to see what others might think of your dilemma. Understandably, the general consensus was that you had made several missteps, but that you might have a chance at receiving a credit with HAL.

It turns out that HAL was open to this compromise.

After I contacted the company on your behalf and described your problem, the cruise line offered you a $600 credit to be applied to a future cruise.

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You were dissatisfied with this resolution because HAL put a restriction on your credit that it must be applied to a new cruise within the next year. You told me that you would be pressing HAL to allow you to have an open-ended credit — one with no expiration date.

Given all your wrong moves with this booking, I declined to push HAL for further concessions, and I wished you luck with your pursuit. In this situation, HAL went beyond what the contract stipulated and treated you fairly.

Your story serves as a reminder to fellow cruisers to read all the terms of your booking before handing over your credit card for a deposit. These contracts are legally binding even if you neglect to read the document.

I wish you and your wife a wonderful 40th anniversary, and I hope you are able to find a suitable HAL cruise to celebrate.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at Elliott.org.

  • John Baker

    So you get him a credit for a non-refundable deposit and he’s still not happy? Glad you walked away.

  • AJPeabody

    Perhaps some time within the year the OP may find an acceptable cruise. But not reading the itinerary?

  • SirWIred

    Given the faults on both sides, I’d say that the $600 FCC ain’t bad. There are plenty of non-Caribbean HAL cruises; why must it be an open-ended credit? The itineraries are unlikely to be much different next year.

  • Kairho

    Or what I have done: give her a “voucher” “good for one ” which she has the option of “cashing in” or not. After nn years of marriage I have learned that all major decisions MUST be mutual decisions.

  • SirWIred

    In my family, for gifts that either haven’t arrived yet or aren’t something you can wrap, a large, heavy, object goes into a box, and we attach a cheesy and horrible rhyming poem to the gift telling the recipient all about it. (Sample opener: “Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, no creature was stirring, except for a mouse. ‘A gift has been ordered, but the it’s not on the sleigh! We must put something under the tree, we must find a way!’)

  • El Dorado Hills

    I concur with Chris’ staff. Husband was fortunate to get a one-year open voucher for a “non-refundable” cruise deposit. I believe this individual does not have much experience with cruises. The purpose of a cruise is shipboard life with various stops during the cruise. If he wanted a trip where is wife could explore Cuba he needed a Cuba tour trip, not a cruise. Also agree that when a spouse commits to a trip for his/her partner he/she needs to be certain it is the trip desired – one that has been discussed between they as “something they would like to do someday”.

  • Donald Filiault

    I can’t understand why anyone would book a cruise that was refundable. In most cases, if you cancel a cruise at more than 3 months before the sailing, you get a refund. There are hundreds of Travel Agents who operate this way, and any savvy cruise customer knows who they are and what their cancellation policies are.

  • Pegtoo

    I think you meant “non-refundable”.. and I agree. I didn’t know HAL’s policies were so strict. Not typical at all.

  • Kevin Nash

    I can’t understand why anyone would book a cruise without looking at the itinerary. In most cases, if you look at the cruise itinerary, you realize where the cruise is actually going. There are hundreds of customers who operate this way, and any person with a modicum of common sense knows that reading the cruise itinerary is the first thing he or she should do before placing a non-refundable deposit.

  • Lindabator

    they offer PLENTY of refundable deposit options, but I think this client only looked at lowest price, and did not consider the restrictions, which they make CRYSTAL clear more than once during the booking process

  • Lindabator

    This is a special lower rate, and it is VERY clear several times throughout the booking process what the restrictions are – I think h chose cheapest, and never bothered to consider the implications

  • Dutchess

    “How disappointing that your special gift to your wife was not as well RESEARCHED.”

    How do you book a cruise without looking at the ports of call? I suppose it’s possible Mr Peterson isn’t very good with geography and didn’t realize the ports listed weren’t actually in Cuba but still. HAL solution was generous for someone who obviously failed to look at the details.

  • Blamona

    Either way, really the wife is going to reject a nice surprise gesture? She’s high maintanence. Surprised they lasted 40 years. Why not go on cruise and enjoy, and plan 45th as land based people to people trip. What a great husband to try

  • She is “high maintenance” because she doesn’t want to spend joint money on something she doesn’t want? That she doesn’t want to spend her precious time on an activity she doesn’t want?
    It’s gaslighting to try to shame someone by saying “you should be grateful” when it is clearly something you don’t want.

  • jim6555

    I’ve booked two cruises in the past two years, one on Carnival which owns Holland America and the other on MSC Lines. I remember that the initial deposit for both cruises was fully refundable up to 90 days before sailing. Have the rules changed?

  • BubbaJoe123

    Could have been worse – the letter writer could have bought his wife a diamond ring, and then been outraged when it turns out the ring part isn’t made of diamond.

  • fairmont1955

    It was nice of you to to try to fix his stupid, and smart of you to walk when he got indignant.

  • BubbaJoe123

    What if she doesn’t like cruises? Lots of people don’t.

  • LeeAnneClark

    My thoughts exactly.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m going to name this entire article “A Story of Ingratitude”.

    First, there’s the ingratitude by the wife of a lovely gesture made by her husband. If my husband bought me a cruise for our anniversary, I’d sure as hell go on it, even if it wasn’t a perfect itinerary.

    Second, there’s the ingratitude by the husband, of a hardworking consumer advocate who, for no compensation, managed to get the cruise company to go beyond what was contractually agreed upon by the customer and give him his deposit back, in the form of a voucher.

    Seems ingratitude is a theme for this couple!

    By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a cruise company giving an open-ended voucher. Every time I’ve heard of a voucher being offered for any reason, there was always a time limit on it. I don’t think their financial department would be happy with leaving that money sitting out there with no idea of when it will be spent.

  • Blamona

    If after 40 years the husband doesn’t know that, they have bigger problems

  • BubbaJoe123

    So, why are you assuming that she’s “high maintenance”?

  • greg watson

    Something doesn’t add up……………….maybe he wanted a Caribbean Cruise………….and thought his wife would go for it…………….the itinerary is the first thing you check……………before paying a deposit………..hmmm

  • The Original Joe S

    when one goes cheap, one gets the bottom tier…..

  • The Original Joe S

    Common sense is not common…………..

  • The Original Joe S

    Ah, alla dem Espanish names sound da same dere, Edith!

  • The Original Joe S

    Military Sealift Command Lines? Roll on to a Ro-Ro? Do they let you play with the tanks on the ship?

  • The Original Joe S

    Good points.

    Where’s his hat???????????????

  • mcb48204

    I don’t think that booking travel surprises is ever a good idea. Talk to the intended recipient and research it together. Two heads are better than one.

  • mcb48204

    I agree that Mr. Peterson was lucky to get the voucher under the circumstances.

    If he chooses to use it, he will however require much additional luck. I looked at what HAL guarantees. They guarantee very little. Industry-wide, the cruise lines promise much more than they are required to deliver. Look at their contracts. He might want to spend thousands of dollars on something else.

  • mcb48204

    Not to mention that HAL isn’t required to stick to the itinerary.

  • Kevin Nash

    You have never heard of MSC Cruises, a subsidiary of Mediterranean Shipping Company, one of the largest shipping companies in the world?

  • MF

    Wait, wasn’t this the plot from an episode of ‘All in the Family’ with Archie & Edith Bunker?

  • The Original Joe S

    Nope. Never heard of ’em. No desire to know of ’em. Ever since we got caught in a typhoon in the English Channel on 11 Nov 77, my stomach has no desire for any more boat rides. Cooped up on a ship with thousands of other people, with no escape, is not my idea of fun.

  • C Schwartz

    Do not buy an expensive non-refundable surprise gift for anyone.

  • Annie M

    I am so happy to see you stopped after contacting HAL once. This guy made multiple mistakes, admittingly knowing the deposit was nonrefundable but also had the itinerary in front of him when he booked it because it is printed on the second page of his confirmation yet complained when HAL went out of their way and gave them a credit to use within a year?

    Can we say Greed? Why couldn’t he book another cruise for the same dates?

    This guy has to be in the top one or two most ungrateful consumers you’ve tried to help here.

  • Annie M

    His wife seems as ungrateful as he is. I would have been thrilled if my husband surprised me with a cruise anywhere for my

  • Annie M

    That’s correct. He could have paid a higher price and had a refundable deposit. He chose the cheaper option with a nonrefundable fare.

  • Annie M

    The confirmation copy also usually has the itinerary and stops printed on it.

  • Annie M

    I just read his forum post. He knew there was another cruise on HAL that did more days in Cuba- it just didn’t fall on his anniversary. In his own words:

    “Holland America does not offer a Cuba-only cruise. They do offer one with more than one-day in Cuba; however, I am traveling for my 40th wedding anniversary on the date of the cruise we booked; therefore, another date will not work. The one we selected said Cuban Explorer; however, only one partial day in Cuba out of 11.”

  • Annie M

    The cruise lines are now coming out with another tier of pricing with fully nonrefundable deposits. These are priced very low and deposits are non refundable.

    These same cruises still offer refundable deposits but the cruise price is higher.

    So you now have to decide if you want the lowest price with a totally non refundable deposit or pay more and have a deposit that can be refunded.

  • Annie M

    And airlines don’t give open ended vouchers either. But apparently this guy thinks he’s better than that.

  • jim6555

    Another way for cruise lines to extract even more money from their customer’s pockets.

  • KennyG

    Or to give people more choices as to how much risk/reward they are willing to take. Of course, someone could purchase a totally non-refundable fare and simply assume that the contract they agreed to is meaningless since they are not subject to the same “rules” as the rest of us typically are.

  • Fishplate

    I don’t get all the outrage at the spouse? Why didn’t she want the cruise? Because she wants to go to Cuba, and her husband knows that. He booked a once in a lifetime cruise, and it wasn’t to the one place she wanted to go.

  • Altosk

    A wife that turns her nose up at a cruise vacation? Spend that $600 as a retainer for a divorce lawyer, bro!

  • kanehi

    If the wife wasn’t happy, just get someone else to go with you. Then she’ll regret for not going.

  • Annie M

    Not really. They are giving the client their choice of how cheap they want to be. This is no different than the airlines that now sell basic economy seats. Lower prices with trade offs.

    That makes it even more important to buy third party travel insurance when you opt for non refundable deposits.

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