Can I get my money back for a bad cruise?

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By Christopher Elliott

Marcia Krantz wants her money back for her Celebrity cruise. She sailed to the Galapagos last year but didn’t enjoy it. And then her replacement cruise to Europe also tanked.

Under most circumstances, I would hesitate to take a case like this. If you took two cruises and stayed until the end, then you’re stuck with them, right?

Well, maybe not.

Krantz’s case might be special. Her request for either a full refund or credit for her cruise also begs a question or two:

  • What does Celebrity promise its customers?
  • What if your Celebrity cruise isn’t what you expect?
  • Do passengers deserve a refund even when a cruise line fulfills its contract?

And I should warn you before we get started, this is not an easy case. After you’ve had a chance to review all the facts, I’ll ask you if I should take her case. 

So let’s dive in.

“It was so hot that the ice kept melting”

Krantz had a series of negative experiences on Celebrity, starting with a cruise to the Galapagos in January 2023.

“It was a bucket list cruise for us,”  she explained. 

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Things started to go wrong when they arrived at the airport in Atlanta for their flight to Quito, Ecuador. They’d splurged for Delta One business class seats, which they booked through Celebrity. But Delta swapped out the aircraft. They ended up in “Comfort Plus” seats. 

When they boarded their ship and checked into their cabin, it felt like the inside of a pizza oven. The air conditioner in her cabin was out of commission, and Krantz ended up staring at another kind of bucket for the rest of her journey. An engineer brought in a pail filled with ice cubes and a fan.

“It didn’t work,” she says. “It was so hot that the ice kept melting.”

Worse, her partner, Howard, fell ill for the next four days. (Related: Banned by their cruise line because of CBD candies. But you’ll never guess what happened next.)

“He had an upset stomach. The ship’s doctor gave both of us COVID tests daily over three days. They were all negative, but I was restricted to our cabin for one day and he was for three-plus days.”

That’s not much of a cruise.

What did Celebrity promise her?

I’ve been to the Galapagos and have seen the ship Krantz was on, the Celebrity Xpedition. It’s a massive luxury ship that all of the other cruise lines look at with a combination of envy and disgust.

They’re envious because the Xpedition is a gorgeous vessel with every amenity you could want, including:

  • A personal suite attendant.
  • Premium bathrobes, linens and towels.
  • A pillow menu.
  • Full in-suite dinner service.

You get the idea. It’s pure luxury. And it’s not cheap. Prices for a Galapagos cruise in May start at around $15,000 per person. (Here’s our guide to taking a cruise.)

Oh, and the disgust part. Well, here’s the thing. Although it only has room for 48 passengers, the Xpedition is nearly 300 feet long, weighs 2,842 tons, and has a 25-foot draft. It towers over all the other ships in the Galapagos.

To put this into perspective, Ecuadoran authorities limit vessels plying the waters of the Galapagos to 100 passengers or fewer. And there are ships that can carry up to 100 passengers (I was on one of them). But they’re just about half the size of the Xpedition.

In other words, Krantz paid a lot of money for an over-the-top experience in the Galapagos. Instead, she got confined to quarters in the heat.

Travel advisor to the rescue

When Krantz returned from her cruise, she told her travel advisor what had happened. The Delta downgrade. The COVID tests. Being confined to her cabin. The ice buckets.

Her travel advisor was horrified. She got on the phone with her Celebrity rep and negotiated a $4,000 cruise credit, good for one year.

Krantz accepted the credit and booked a European cruise for next May. But Celebrity canceled the cruise and returned the credit to her account.

So Krantz booked another cruise on the Celebrity Equinox, leaving from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in January and making stops in several smaller islands in the Lesser Antilles.

And then tragedy struck.

Celebrity was “uncaring”

The Equinox was to set sail on January 8. 

“We timed it to return on January 18 in time for mom’s 101st birthday in Florida,” she says.

But on January 1, her mother passed away.

“I was certainly in no mood for a cruise,” she says. “I quickly reached out to our travel agent as I was rushing down to Florida at the end of December as my mother was entering hospice care. She contacted Celebrity in the hopes that we could get the credits back to use at another time.”

Celebrity refused.

Krantz checked with her travel insurance company, but it would not cover her credit, either.

“A few days after the funeral, and still in mourning, we took the cruise rather than lose $4,000,” she says. “As you can expect, it was a sad and lonely cruise and I did not want to be on the ship. We felt we had no choice.”

“Celebrity,” she adds, “was uncaring.”

What does Celebrity promise its customers?

Celebrity claims to be the “best premium cruise line.” It promises customers an escape in total luxury:

  • Dine in a new restaurant at every meal.
  • Relax in spaces thoughtfully designed to the last detail for comfort.
  • Find your well-being miles away at sea.

“Our 16 award-winning ships offer unique experiences in more than 300 destinations on all seven continents,” it says. (Related: Am I being scammed by Celebrity Cruises?)

By contrast, Celebrity’s cruise contract — the legal agreement between you and the cruise line — makes no such offers. Instead, it is crystal clear that even being confined to your quarters with an air conditioner that doesn’t work does not entitle you to a refund or even an apology.

So there’s a gap between the promotional language of Celebrity’s website with its slick video and the reality of what Krantz received. 

And that’s the world in which many of our readers live. They’re lured in by the promises of absolute luxury. But then, when things go wrong, their hopes of a bucket list vacation are dashed on the cliffs of the cruise contract.

What if your Celebrity cruise isn’t what you expect?

Resolving a problem with Celebrity Cruises is a little bit like trying to fix a problem with your business class seat. If the cruise line was strictly selling you passage from one port to the next, it would be a fairly straightforward question: Did they get you there?

But Celebrity makes other promises in its promotional material that suggest you’ll have the best cruise ever. And even though there’s no mention of this in its legal contract, customers are right to hold the cruise line to those promises. (Related: Dad passed away — is his cruise refund sunk?)

But how?

Review the contract and deck plans

Celebrity’s promotional machine is impressive. I have to be honest — after seeing the video, I want to go on one of its ships. But don’t be fooled by the hype. Read the cruise contract. Check the deck plan. Review the rooms and take note of all the amenities that are and are not included. In other words, know what you’re getting before you cast off.

Give the staff a chance to make things right

Don’t hesitate to let your cabin attendant know if there’s a problem. The hospitality team is there to ensure your vacation is enjoyable, so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. If you have any problems, appeal to a manager. If that doesn’t work, send an email to one of the Celebrity executive contacts while you’re still on board. Give the cruise line every opportunity to make things right.

Let your travel advisor know

Your second call should be to your travel advisor. Your agent took a commission from the cruise line or got a consulting fee from you — or both — so that person should be deeply concerned if you are unhappy. A qualified travel advisor can call the Celebrity rep and raise hell if necessary. If you’re sitting in your cabin watching the ice melt, you want your travel advisor on the case now — not when you get back to the mainland. (Related: Why won’t Celebrity Cruises cover my therapy bill?)

Take matters into your own hands

Social media can be a powerful tool for righting the injustices of the world. And when your luxury cruise you’ve saved up for turns into a nightmare, it’s time to head over to Facebook, X, or anywhere else your online friends congregate. You might even consider contacting a trusted consumer advocate.

If things are unbearable, you may have to leave the ship and find your own way home. Before you do that, call your travel advisor and your travel insurance company to see if they can help. Don’t exit the ship without a plan; you might have a hard time getting back home.

Should I advocate for a refund?

I feel for Krantz. She had a disastrous Galapagos cruise and was then forced to take a Caribbean cruise only a few days after her mother died.

So what should I do? I emailed her to clarify. Was she really asking for a full refund — even though she’d taken the cruise?

Yes, she was.

“This is a borderline case,” I replied. “I will have to consult with my team and with our readers to see if we can do something about it.”

This is not easy.

On one hand, Celebrity sold Krantz something it could not deliver. Her premium airline seats to Ecuador were premium economy. Her suite was a sweatbox. Then the cruise line gave her a year to redeem a voucher and showed no mercy when her mother died. This is not what I would call an ideal Celebrity cruise.

On the other hand, Celebrity fulfilled the obligations under its contract. It made Krantz a reasonable make-good offer, which she accepted. Also, the cruise line isn’t responsible for Delta changing her aircraft or for her unfortunate personal circumstances, yet it feels as if she is asking the cruise line to share some of the burden.

So it’s over to you, my friends. Should I ask Celebrity to either refund Krantz’s money or give her a credit? Or should I turn down her case?

What should I do about Marcia Krantz's cruise?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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