We booked a cruise and then learned how long it would take to get to the port

When Carole Schachter and her husband booked a cruise vacation in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, they were looking forward to winding along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. But they didn’t factor travel time to the ports of embarkation and disembarkation into their plans — or a penalty for canceling their trip.

Schachter’s case is a reminder to cruisers that getting to and from the ports of embarkation and disembarkation is the passengers’ responsibility, not the cruise line’s. And they also need to consider the cost of cruise cancellations before finalizing their plans. Otherwise, they may forfeit significant amounts of money with no way to recover their costs.

Schachter and her husband booked a paddle ship tour operated by the American Queen Steamboat Company through Vacations To Go (VTG), a Houston-based online travel company that bills itself as the “World’s Largest Cruise Agency.”

But the Schachters, an elderly couple from Boynton Beach, Fla., canceled their cruise when they discovered that the only flights available to Vancouver, Wash., the port of embarkation,  on the day before the cruise were eight to nine hours long. Being airborne that length of time, the Schachters decided, was just too much for them to handle.

The Schachters had purchased a travel insurance policy, but they canceled it as well — unwisely, as it turned out. After canceling the insurance coverage, they learned that they were subject to a $2,300 cruise cancellation penalty, even if they were to rebook their trip — which the Schachters felt was exorbitant. According to Schachter, no one had previously told them about this penalty.

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With only days to go before the beginning date of the cruise, the Schachters felt trapped. They asked our response team advocates for assistance in getting the penalty waived.

Vacations To Go’s terms and conditions indicate that:

The cruise lines, airlines, hotels, tour operators, car rental companies, and travel gear and accessory manufacturers on this site are third party providers, and VTG has no control whatsoever over their actions or inactions. VTG is not responsible for third party failure to perform, breach of contract, or any action, intentional or negligent, which results in any loss, injury, delay or damage to you or your property or to anyone traveling with you, or to the property of that party…

You acknowledge that upon receipt of fare by third party provider, provider accepts the passenger subject to the terms of the provider contract.

And American Queen Steamboat Company’s terms and conditions provide that for cancellations:

Guests who must cancel their voyage or any part of their vacation package for any reason, including medical or family reasons, are subject to the cancellation fees as outlined below… All cancellations are subject to a $250 per person administrative fee per cruise and/or per segment if a multiple cruise booking.

Cancellation Policy
Days prior to departure Per Person Cancellation Fee
Up to 91 days $250 per person Administrative fee
90-61 days 50% of gross fare
60-31 days 75% of gross fare
30-0 days 100% of gross fare

Despite these policies that made getting the penalty waived extremely unlikely, our advocates agreed to reach out to Vacations To Go on the Schachters’ behalf. We heard back from the chairman and CEO of Vacations To Go, who agreed to have a manager investigate the Schachters’ situation.

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Unfortunately, that’s the last we heard from either the Schachters or Vacations To Go. We don’t know if American Queen Steamboat Company agreed to waive or reduce the cancellation penalty. But we are writing about this case to warn all cruise passengers to investigate all aspects of a trip before making final arrangements, including getting to and from ports of embarkation and disembarkation and cancellation penalties, and not to cancel travel insurance coverage without this information.

Don’t leave — or stay — home without it.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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