Can you get a refund for your cruise over a dirty balcony?

A dirty balcony caused this couple to leave their cruise

If you find heavy soot on the balcony of your cabin, should you be able to leave the cruise and get a refund? Rafael Rottiers and his wife believe so. They insist the filth on the railings and floor of their cabin’s balcony aboard Costa’s neoRiviera endangered their health. So they abandoned the ship days before it ended.

Now that the couple is back home, they want a refund. But what exactly was that document the two signed before leaving the cruise?

Rottiers’ plight is a reminder to all travelers whose plans include a cruise this summer. Not all cabins and their locations are created equally. So it’s essential to acquaint yourself with the floor plans and available room information of your intended ship before booking. Otherwise, you too might find yourself faced with intolerable conditions that end with an expensive, premature jump from your ship.

Celebrating an anniversary with a 15-day Indian Ocean cruise

This misadventure began after the couple decided to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary by taking a cruise. Having enjoyed other Costa cruises in the past, the duo settled on an Indian Ocean sailing. The 15-day journey would begin and end in Bombay, India.

The soot on the balcony forced them to leave the cruise before it was over. This was their intended itinerary
The intended itinerary of the couple’s anniversary cruise

With much anticipation, the Rottiers flew to Bombay in January of this year. Their disappointment with the ship and cruise began soon after boarding Costa’s neoRiviera.

Problems with the Panorama Suite aboard the neoRiviera

“We paid for an expensive suite on this dream cruise to the Maldives,” Rottiers recalled. “Unfortunately, the whole thing turned into a disaster.”

As soon as Rottiers opened the door to his cabin, he was disappointed. The spacious suite with the panoramic views looked very different from what he was expecting.

“This was a much smaller Panorama Suite as we had already experienced on two other ships with Costa,” Rottiers explained. “We expected that a cabin labeled as Panorama suite would be the same as on the other Costa cruises.”

Rottiers complained to guest relations about the discrepancy. A Costa representative assured him that the cruise line had assigned the couple to the correct cabin on the neoRiviera. On this particular ship, the Panorama Suite does not have the same dimensions as on the cruise lines’ other vessels.

This anniversary cruise wasn’t getting off to a good start. But things were about to get much worse.

“There was unbearable loud hammering and construction works just below our suite the next morning,” Rottiers told me. “We are not complainers; in fact, we are tolerant people. But after several hours I reported it. The next morning the same noise happened again. After I reported it this time, the workers finally stopped it on the second day.”

But the worst, and what ultimately led to the couple leaving the cruise permanently, was yet to come.

A dirty balcony: black soot on the railings and floor

Around the third day of this increasingly disappointing cruise, Rottiers’ wife discovered black soot on the balcony. This debris was accumulating on the railings, floor, chairs and windows as well. When she wiped down the balcony railing, the tissue turned black.

The heavy soot that the couple found on the railing of their balcony.
The heavy soot Rottiers found when she wiped down the balcony.

Now Rottiers went back to the guest relations area to make yet another complaint. He wanted the soot removed from his balcony. He says that someone was sent to clean their outdoor area, but the next day the filth reappeared. To document the problem, Rottiers filmed his wife wiping down the railings, floor and furniture of their cabin’s balcony to reveal the heavy soot.

When Rottiers wiped down the floor, she found more soot.
Rottiers’ wife wiped down the floor of the dirty balcony, too.

A few days later, Rottiers says, his wife began experiencing breathing problems.

That’s when the couple determined that the soot problem on his cabin’s balcony was not just an aesthetic one. His wife’s coughing was becoming worse, he says. They both assumed that the debris was settling into their lungs as well. The Rottiers began to contemplate leaving the cruise at the next port and flying home.

But when Rottiers tried to connect to the internet to figure out how to quickly fly home, he hit another roadblock.

“I paid for the internet package,” Rottiers said. “But it wasn’t accessible from my suite. I had to go into the hall.”

The lack of internet was one more complaint that sent Rottiers to guest relations.

We want to leave the cruise — and we want a refund

After a disappointing day excursion in the Maldives, Rottiers says that they made the final decision to leave the cruise.

A scenic cruise to the Maldives turned out to be docking at a construction and industry sites (Military, Coal, extremely dirty, etc…). We decided to leave the cruise permanently in Colombo, Sri Lanka, [on day 10]. We wanted to leave before then when we were anchored at the Maldives. But I couldn’t find a suitable flight back to Brussels at that moment.

Rottiers made his final trip to the customer relations desk on the neoRiviera and announced their intentions to leave the cruise. He also told the representative that he expected a full refund for this cruise fiasco. The Costa crew member told Rottiers that she could not refund his cruise. The couple could leave right after Rottiers signed a “Break of Voyage” declaration.

Rottiers says he was fine signing the form, although it was in Italian and he wasn’t sure what it said. Only later, he says, did Costa inform him of the contents of the document. The Break of Voyage document states that if a passenger leaves the cruise early, Costa will not provide a refund.

I was asked to sign this document to be given back our passports, which were held at reception. This is what I believed I was signing. It sounded normal to me. So I assume that this is a deception from Costa, and at least not informing a passenger about what they are signing.

After signing the Break of Voyage declaration, the couple disembarked the neoRiviera one last time and headed to the airport. Once home, they began an ill-advised campaign with Costa that ended up in the legal department almost immediately.

“Black poisoning exhaust soot” polluting the whole ship?

By the time, Rottiers’ request for help hit the Elliott Advocacy helpline, Costa had already sent his case to its legal team.

How did it get there so quickly? Well, unfortunately, Rottiers had never read our publisher Christopher Elliott’s guidance on fixing your own consumer problem. That article lays out the foundation of successful advocacy and reveals the tactics our team uses every day to reach favorable resolutions.

But since Rottiers had not read Christopher’s consumer problem-solving tips, his self-advocacy attempts veered wildly off course. His initial correspondence to Costa contained a laundry list of complaints — big and small. And he made unsubstantiated accusations that guaranteed the case’s spot in the legal department: He claimed the soot on his balcony was poisoning the entire ship.

Understand that my wife meanwhile was in the room, coughing her lungs out, and urging me to get us off of this horrible ship asap.

YOU DO NOT REPLY TO THE BLACK SMOKE AND THE BLACK POISONING EXHAUST SOOT COMING FROM THE SHIPS ENGINES THAT POLLUTE THE WHOLE SHIP AND THAT WE HAVE CLEARLY DOCUMENTED IN PICTURES AND VIDEOS, AND THE HEALTH PROBLEMS THAT IT CAUSES.

Inexplicably, after this dire statement, Rottiers turned the topic to the internet that didn’t work.

Note: If you are trying to convince a company that they’ve done something egregious like poisoning you, bringing up nonfunctional internet only serves to devalue your complaint. It is critical to stick to the most significant issue in any problem-solving mission.

And there was one other significant error in Rottiers’ problem-solving approach.

Within days of the couple arriving home, Rottiers had uploaded his self-made video that illustrated the soot on the balcony to Youtube. It’s never a good idea to begin a public shaming campaign while you are attempting to get a company to respond positively to your complaint. This type of tactic will almost always fail.

The Elliott Advocacy team responds

When I went through Rottiers’ complaint and read his desired resolution (a full cruise refund), I suspected that would not be possible. The couple left the cruise early, but not until the 10th day of the journey. They completed the majority of their anniversary cruise.

And then there was also the problem of the “Break the Voyage” document that Rottiers signed. According to Costa, it says he understood he would not be receiving a refund for the balance of his cruise.

The fact that Costa had sent his case to its legal department was yet another roadblock. We know from experience that once a case hits the legal department of a company, it’s likely that only an attorney can intervene on behalf of the consumer.

But I continued to read through all Rottiers’ documents.

Regular readers of this site know that I’ve never taken a cruise. So I always use my fellow advocate Dwayne Coward as my encyclopedia of cruise information when I mediate a cruise case. To my noncruiser eyes, Rottiers’ soot-on-the-balcony video didn’t look so shocking since it is in an outdoor area. So I asked Dwayne, as an experienced cruiser, what he thought.

And that’s when Dwayne was able to shine a new light on this case.

“Google rear-facing balcony cruise soot”

“It is a common issue with the rear facing balconies on cruises,” Dwayne explained. “That is the path the soot blows to from the smokestacks. We noticed it on one cruise when we had a rear balcony, but the view was worth it. Google rear facing balcony cruise soot.”

When I “Googled” that phrase I was inundated with a plethora of similar stories — passengers who loved their fabulous panoramic views at the back-end of the ship but… the soot appears to be an unavoidable problem because of the location of the cabins in relation to the smokestacks.

But Dwayne had more insight.

“The soot accumulation mostly occurs when the ship is in port while getting ready for departure, where it has time to settle,” Dwayne told me. “When the ship is moving, it blows out to sea. It isn’t something that would happen throughout the cruise.”

A dirty balcony will not result in a refund even if you leave early

I spoke to Rottiers and explained why this is not a case that we could successfully mediate. Now he had a different idea and asked if I thought he should develop a webpage to force Costa to respond.

I can easily just go ahead, create a new website, write the story, list all the things, put all the videos online and make sure it goes viral, so it gets seen by millions of people warning them about the health dangers and the malpractices and below 0 customer service and deceitfulness they use. That I can do in one day, and send it to them.

Unfortunately, many consumers have become convinced that they can quickly build a viral social media campaign against a company to resolve their problem.

I know a few things about the way search engines work and I can tell you that hitting one million page views on any piece of media is not something that would happen “in one day” — unless you’re Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian. So please don’t rely on that tactic to solve your consumer problem.

As I pointed out to Rottiers, this article about the couple that was kicked off their cruise in Helsinki received tons of traffic (not a million pageviews — not even close). However, it was picked up by many major media sites, but still, HAL refused to address the situation. So It is highly unlikely that Rottiers’ video will compel Costa to refund his cruise.

Your rights if you leave a cruise before it’s over

Unfortunately, for Rottiers, the facts were not on his side even if he had not signed the Break the Voyage document. The terms and conditions of every major cruise line state that if you leave the cruise before it’s over you should not expect any refund. And Costa’s early disembarkation policy is the same:

Leave your cruise early -- you aren't getting a refund
If a guest “interrupts a voyage that has already started, the Guest shall not be entitled to any refund

We’ve seen that policy in action many times here at Elliott Advocacy — stories of passengers leaving their cruises early (many times against their will) and walking away empty handed:

Before you board your next cruise, make sure to familiarize yourself with your cruise line’s terms and conditions. Another enlightening document to consult before taking a maritime adventure is Cruise Line International Association’s Passenger Bill of Rights. You may be surprised by the limited rights passengers have when they board an international cruise.

The bottom line: If you choose to leave your cruise before it’s over — even over a dirt balcony — don’t expect a refund.

Would you leave your cruise over heavy soot on the balcony of your cabin?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

 

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend