Just days before the coronavirus shut the entire cruise industry down, John Buchan and his husband boarded MSC’s Grandiosa. They were looking forward to a relaxing voyage through the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, things started going wrong immediately when they opened their cabin door and found a naked couple already inside. But within hours, that shock was overshadowed by another unpleasant surprise. That’s when MSC summarily canceled their cruise and forced the couple off the ship before it even set sail.
Now over a year later, Buchan is still waiting for the vouchers the cruise line promised to send. So he’s turning to the Elliott Advocacy team in the hopes that we can find out what went wrong.
Planning a Mediterranean cruise — before the pandemic
Long before any traveler had ever considered that a global pandemic could actually ground the cruise industry, Buchan booked the Mediterranean adventure. The round-trip voyage would begin and end in Barcelona.
“A few days before we were to board the Grandiosa, MSC sent us an unusual message,” Buchan recalled. “It said, if we wanted to cancel our cruise, we could do so with no penalty.”
Canceling was not in the couple’s plans. They were greatly anticipating their Mediterranean voyage. And by the time they had received this email, they had already flown to Spain for pre-cruise exploring.
So they ignored the email.
Surprise! Someone is already in our cabin’s bed
Since this was to be the couple’s first voyage aboard the Grandiosa, they were eager to set sail on the impressive-looking ship.
But soon, things went all wrong.
We made our way through the ship and arrived at our cabin door. We swiped our key and popped the door open to find a shocking scene. There was a naked couple already in our bed! Our purser was kind enough to find us another cabin.
It was definitely a weird way to start our cruise. After we set our things down, we went to have a bite to eat and a drink.
Unfortunately, that restaurant is where the entire journey came to an unbelievable and screeching halt.
MSC: “Gather your belongings and leave the ship. We must cancel this cruise.”
As Buchan and his husband relaxed with a drink, a new, unpleasant surprise hit them. The MSC public announcement system began to blare an alarming proclamation.
If you embarked in Barcelona, you must leave the ship now. Please gather your belongings and disembark. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.
At first, the couple was confused by the message. After all, there had been no indication at check-in that MSC might cancel the cruise.
“Imagine sitting at a bar on a cruise ship and hearing that you’re being forced to leave,” Buchan offered. “It was truly a confusing and frustrating situation.”
But the repetitive announcement made it clear that they were indeed being forced off the cruise. There would be no Mediterranean voyage in the couple’s near future. MSC required all passengers who had boarded in Barcelona to get off the ship.
Only passengers who boarded in Barcelona were ordered to get off the cruise. Later we read an article about our sailing and found out what happened. The ship did set sail to the next ports but only to disembark passengers. The Grandiosa never returned to Barcelona — the Spanish government ordered it to leave Spain.
Other than the PA announcement and crew banging on cabin doors, there was no written notice. It was mass confusion — this disembarkation was really a COVID super-spreader event. No one knew what to do. Some passengers were standing and blocking the gangway. We just went to our cabin, gathered our things and [carried our bags] off the ship.
Forced off the cruise in Spain — now what?
Standing on the dock, the bewildered couple scrambled to find a hotel and plan their trip home ASAP. They soon saw news reports that following the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic on March 11, many European countries, including Spain, intended to go into a complete lockdown.
Buchan and his husband did not intend to spend that lockdown abroad.
So they made their own arrangements and got home just in time to avoid that fate. Two days after the couple was forced off the cruise ship, on March 14, Spain went into a full quarantine lockdown.
“As soon as we left the Grandiosa, we knew we had to get home right away, but there was no assistance from MSC at all,” Buchan recalled. “Truly terrible customer service.”
Where are the cruise vouchers MSC promised us?
If the couple thought that MSC’s disappointing customer service would only be limited to the emergency brought on by the sudden declaration of a worldwide pandemic, they were wrong.
Despite MSC’s promise of a full refund or a future cruise voucher within 15 days, neither arrived.
In fact, almost a year later, and after multiple attempts by their travel advisor to secure the future cruise voucher, they were still empty-handed.
That’s when Buchan sent his request for help to the Elliott Advocacy team.
Can the Elliott Advocacy team track down this missing cruise voucher?
When Buchan’s plea for help landed on my desk, I found it perplexing. Throughout the pandemic, most cruise lines have been pressing hard for their passengers to accept a future credit. In fact, in many cases, we’ve seen vouchers automatically issued to passengers by cruise lines that owe the travelers cash refunds.
- Can the cruise line cancel my trip and keep my money?!
- This coronavirus cruise cancellation was a big $8,697 mistake!
However, Buchan had been more than happy to accept the voucher for a future cruise from MSC. All the cruise line needed to do was confirm the credit.
But what had happened instead was that MSC alienated its Voyager Club passenger and ignored his travel agent.
I’m not sure why MSC ignored my request and also my travel agent’s request for the cruise voucher. MSC forced us to leave our cruise and gave us no assistance at all. Then they didn’t even follow through with the promised voucher. MSC should have handled everything better.
These missing cruise vouchers frustrate a travel agent
It was clear from the paper trail that MSC’s refusal to issue the promised refunds also greatly frustrated Buchan’s travel agent.
I hate MSC. I’ve been complaining for five clients. No FCC yet — I asked higher up for help.
I’m still b**** to MSC. They had me email some various departments.
Did I tell you how I hate MSC? They didn’t handle this situation well at all. (Various emails from Buchan’s travel agent.)
“The passengers were forced off the cruise, so where is their voucher?”
I reached out to the MSC team to see if we could figure out what had gone wrong for their passengers.
One of your passengers contacted our team asking for help securing their promised cruise vouchers. John Buchan boarded the Grandiosa on March 12 with his family/friends in two cabins. Unfortunately, MSC canceled the sailing because of the pandemic. This sudden cancellation forced the couple off the cruise ship just 4 hours after boarding.
As of today, they’ve not received a voucher, future cruise credit, or a refund for the canceled cruise. Can your team have a look and see what happened here?
Thank you!😊 (Michelle to MSC)
The good news: Here’s your cruise voucher
And soon, the good news came for Buchan and his companions.
I just received word that my future cruise vouchers are finally in my account from MSC. Thank you for your help.
And now Buchan is looking forward to rescheduling his cruise. He’s hopeful that things will go positively in the second half of 2021 — and so are we. 🚢😊
What you need to consider if you have a cruise voucher to spend in 2021
There will most certainly be new and likely confusing cruising requirements worldwide when the cruise industry resumes operations. So it will be more critical than ever for passengers to do their research long before showing up at the dock.
Before the pandemic, we received tons of requests for help from bewildered cruisers. These travelers overlooked critical details in their cruise contracts, travel insurance policies, and other documentation. These oversights caused many of those passengers to miss their cruises and lose their cash.
So you can avoid that same fate in 2021 and beyond, here are some cruising tips to consider.
- Insure your cruise.
Many travelers erroneously believe they don’t need to insure their cruise because they’re healthy and have no intention of missing the trip. But it’s crucial to remember that travel insurance is meant to protect you against unexpected events. Passengers should also keep in mind that medical care onboard a cruise ship is quite expensive, and personal insurance likely won’t cover that treatment. (See: Can you cruise with Medicare? This passenger has a painful warning). Don’t forget to read through the entire travel insurance policy to make sure you’re fully covered. Check out Christopher’s guide to finding the best travel insurance policy to fit your needs.
- Consider specialty insurance to protect against itinerary changes and other surprises.
If you intend to be one of the first travelers back on the water in a cruise season that will most assuredly be unpredictable, you may wish to consider specialty insurance. Most travel insurance policies sold today are “named perils” policies. That means coverage will only be provided for specific events named in the policy. Passengers are frequently shocked to discover that the destinations on their cruise confirmation are not necessarily where they will end up. ( See: These itinerary changes ruined my cruise! I want a refund.) But specialty insurance policies can cover you for things such as cruise itinerary changes and other surprises. For instance, Nationwide offers a travel insurance policy for cruisers that will provide reimbursement for itinerary changes and/or missed prepaid shore excursions, among other things. And although Cancel for any Reason (CFAR) insurance is much more expensive than a standard policy, it may be worth the investment during this unusual time in history. You can compare travel insurance policies on a site like InsureMyTrip.
- Read the terms of your cruise contract.
Make sure to read through the entire cruise contract well before the day of embarkation. Vaccination and/or COVID testing requirements will likely be part of any cruise contract in 2021. But the contract may also outline other new rules. To ensure that you’re up to speed with emerging protocols, read that cruise contract as if it were a New York Times bestseller.
- Carefully review the information on the website of the United States Department of State.
Be aware that entry, transit, and return requirements are rapidly changing. Travelers should frequently visit the US Department of State to check the eligibility requirements for all destinations on their itinerary — right up to the day of departure. In 2021, it’s not sufficient to check this information only at the time of booking.
- Check with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
One more resource to include in your post-quarantine travel planning is, of course, the website of the Centers for Disease Control. Here, you will find all the latest recommendations to help reduce your chance of exposing yourself to unnecessary risks. The CDC also has a frequently updated page dedicated to cruise ship travel. It’s important to note that as of the most recent update, the CDC continues to recommend that all people avoid cruising — worldwide. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)