Why won’t Princess refund my sick cruise to nowhere?

Jim Sullivan’s family cruise vacation on the Crown Princess took a turn for the worse when the ship suffered a Norovirus outbreak in February. That’s hardly uncommon; we’ve had seven reported cases this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But Sullivan thinks this one was mishandled so badly by Princess that he’s entitled to a refund.

It was supposed to have been a special occasion for his family — perhaps the last real vacation with his father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. They wanted a memorable cruise, but not this kind of memorable.

On Feb. 3, his travel agent phoned to say the Crown Princess was returning to port with “many sick passengers” and that there would be a delay in the ship’s departure from Fort Lauderdale because the ship needed to be sanitized. It cast off six hours later than expected.

The scene on the ship was unsettling: Employees wore surgical masks to prevent infection and served buffet meals with latex gloves. Biohazard bags were “strewn” throughout the ship. And the captain made numerous announcements requesting “diarrhea and vomit samples” from infected passengers.

Sullivan says the Crown Princess skipped the first port of call in the Bahamas because of its late departure, and on Feb. 7, the day they were supposed to arrive in Curacao, the captain announced the ship was “still infected” and that they were canceling the rest of the cruise. Princess refunded his cruise fare (but not his tips and incidents) and booked his family’s flights home. He considers that to be only a partial refund. (I updated this paragraph to clarify what he means by “partial refund.”)

But not before his brother-in-law got sick.

“This cruise should never have left Fort Lauderdale,” he says. “If they had canceled the cruise before we departed, it would have been less stressful than what we experienced on this ship for 4 1/2 days with nothing to do — we didn’t reach one port of call. We would have gladly rebooked for another cruise.”

Requests for a full refund from Princess and a claim with his travel insurance company were rejected. The policy didn’t cover outbreaks as a trip interruption, which technically, this would have been. In a letter sent to Sullivan, a Princess representative said his situation had been “properly” addressed and that “no further refund or compensation will be forthcoming” from the company.

Princess is right. According to its passage contract, it could sail out into the middle of the ocean with a ship filled with Ebola patients, and it would still be fulfilling its contract. But that doesn’t mean it’s right.

On the other hand, Sullivan’s request for a full refund, including all incidentals and airfare, may be too rich. There must be some middle ground. But apparently we are not going to find it on this grievance.

I thought I would ask Princess to review this case one more time, to see if it would consider helping Sullivan recover part of the cost of his vacation. It didn’t respond to him or to me, and I now have no choice but to put this into the “case dismissed” file.

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