Refund owed after Vantage Travel cruise runs aground?

Vantage Deluxe World Travel’s website showcases a number of river and sea cruises to scenic locations around the world. Cruisers can take family vacations or go on themed excursions tailored to various interests, including art and culture, history, nature, safaris, religion, health and fitness, culinary and wine-based cruises. (This isn’t an exhaustive list.)

The list doesn’t include “ongoing repairs,” “running aground,” or “having no hot water for three days.” But Clarence and Janice Cheatham experienced all of this on an 11-day Vantage “Best of Burgundy, Beaujolais & Provence” cruise. And that’s not what they paid for.

Apparently the boat required ongoing work that was so disruptive that the tour passengers were forced to vacate the boat for their own safety. They had to make unscheduled overnight stops because the boat could not sail on.

Then the boat ran aground. The crew had to take time out to get it off the beach and back into navigable waters, which prevented the cruisers from reaching and enjoying scheduled ports of call.

And for three days, the Cheathams and other passengers could not shower because no hot water was available.

As Clarence Cheatham puts it, “Effectively our entire tour was disrupted by ongoing problems with the river boat.”

The Cheathams emailed Vantage, requesting a refund of their $4,000 cruise fare.

Vantage responded with an unsigned form email promising that “One of our specialists will be following up with you within 24-48 hours.” But 48 hours passed with no contact from a Vantage specialist.

The Cheathams emailed Vantage again, and received a response from an employee of Vantage with the title “Email Correspondent.” Her email read:

Please note both your below email has been forwarded to our Post Trip Quality department. The normal response time is 7-10 business days which may be why you have not heard back from your initial email on [date]. We are sorry for the delay but will have them contact you as soon as possible.

Thank you for your continued patience.

After two weeks passed with no further contact from Vantage, the Cheathams contacted our advocacy team for assistance in getting their fare refunded.

The Cheathams didn’t indicate to us whether or not they had travel insurance (Vantage does offer the Vantage Travel Protection Plan). But even if they did, Vantage’s insurance should cover their losses – assuming that they are entitled to a refund of their cruise fare.

Vantage’s Tour Participation Agreement contains the following disclaimers regarding liability for schedule changes:

We reserve the right to modify tour itineraries and substitute hotels and accommodations without liability to Vantage. Included features may not be available for all departures. If a vessel is not able to complete the scheduled itinerary due to low water, high water, mechanical breakdown, or other reason, we reserve the right to modify the itinerary …

Additionally, Vantage may, for any reason, without prior notice, cancel a cruise; deviate from the scheduled ports of call, route and timetable; call or omit to call at any port or place or cancel or modify any activity on or off the vessel; … or change the date or time of sailing or arrival, change the port of embarkation or disembarkation, shorten the cruise or substitute a vessel or other transportation or lodging. Vantage is not responsible for any losses you may incur as a result of such cancellations or deviations. … Vantage reserves the right to change the itinerary of the tour without prior notice.

So Vantage is reserving the right to not be responsible for the problems on the boat that disrupted the Cheatham’s vacation. And the Terms and Conditions don’t make any promises about the condition of the boats to be used during any cruise.

But it’s no excuse for their failure to provide their passengers with a boat capable of making the tour — or their marooning the Cheathams in silence when they requested assistance.

Unfortunately, the Cheathams’ case is one among several we have recently received regarding Vantage Travel. Its personnel appear to have abandoned ship when it comes to providing customer service.

Should cruise companies be legally responsible to passengers for refunds in the event of cruise disruptions?

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