Can I write a happy ending to this Celebrity horror story?

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By Christopher Elliott

If they gave an award for the longest complaint letter, then Cornelia Stumpf’s missive to Celebrity Cruises would definitely be a leading candidate.

At 3,661 words, it is an epic-length tale of a vacation gone wrong — a tale to which Stumpf would like me to help her write a happy ending.

A litany of concerns

“The biggest and most pressing item for this letter is the issue that the Celebrity Constellation broke down with a mechanical failure of one of the turbines on the second day of the voyage in the port of Key West on Dec. 15,” she wrote in a complaint to Celebrity.

The problems were well documented in the local media, which reported the Constellation had technical issues with one of its gas turbine engines. As a result, it stayed in the Southernmost City an extra day.

As I review her lengthy email to Celebrity, it seems Stumpf is bothered by many things, from the contradictory statements made by the crew after the mechanical failure to its proposed resolution.

For example, the cruise line sugarcoated the Key West delay, saying it would give passengers extra time to enjoy the city. It gave travelers misleading information about the status of their departure and bent some facts about the revised itinerary. In the end, she says Celebrity headed to Nassau instead of Mexico.

Here are her demands

I expect a compensation from Celebrity for a minimum of 50 percent of my paid rate/price of my cruise including taxes and port charges, as I did not get to the port I had booked and my vacation was totally ruined, the money I spent wasted, due to the fact that the mechanical failure of the Constellation ruined my vacation, did not bring me to the port of call which is sold as the highlight of the cruise, and kept me over 38 hours waiting for repairs in a navy pier location.

I do not consider being docked for over 38 hours, in addition to the regular stop in Key West, as cruising, it is docking due to repair and does not warrant CRUISE EXPERIENCE. I could have booked a nice hotel in Key West and been on a beach if I wanted to stay in a place for over 48 hours. I elected cruising, not staying!!!

AirAdvisor is a claims management company. We fight for air passenger rights in cases of flight disruptions all over the world. Our mission is to ensure that air passengers are fairly compensated for the inconvenience and frustration caused by delays, cancellations, or overbooking.

Then, she goes into excruciating detail about exactly how Celebrity let her down.

I’m impressed by the saga. She leaves nothing to the imagination. It is a classic laundry-list of complaints that seems to be common among cruise passengers.

But her main point, which I think is perfectly valid, is this: She booked a cruise to Cozumel; she got a cruise to Nassau.

“A day sitting at a naval dock in Key West, waiting for updated information, is not a relaxation day in my opinion, nor is the port of Nassau a replacement for the Mayan highlights of Cozumel,” she says.

Can Celebrity just change the itinerary? Yes. Here’s the relevant language from its ticket contract, the adhesion contract between the cruise line and its passengers.

Carrier may for any reason at any time and without prior notice, cancel, advance, postpone or deviate from any scheduled sailing, port of call, destination, lodging or any activity on or off the Vessel, or substitute another vessel or port of call, destination, lodging or activity.

Carrier shall not be liable for any claim whatsoever by Passenger, including but not limited to loss, compensation or refund, by reason of such cancellation, advancement, postponement, substitution or deviation.

Stumpf phoned Celebrity to complain.

Here’s how it responded

It is never our intent to create difficulties for our guests and we make every effort to avoid any itinerary changes or delays. In this case, it was necessary for our shipboard team to delay the departure due to a mechanical failure. However, we did our best to find a suitable alternative to the original port of call. Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.

During our conversation I shared with you that we will not be able to offer you compensation for the missed port. However, we would like to extend an offer of $75.00 Onboard Credit per person, as a goodwill gesture, due to the inconveniences encountered with your stateroom. (Here’s why two readers believe they were scammed by Celebrity Summit.)

Ms. Stumpf, I am sorry for your unpleasant experience. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and good intentions, things do not go the way we had hoped. I can assure you we will continue to improve our services to meet the needs of our guests. We truly hope to have the opportunity of welcoming you back again.

That’s not enough for her

Doesn’t the cruise industry’s “bill of rights” entitle her to some kind of compensation? Celebrity apparently thinks not. (Here’s what you need to know before booking your next cruise.)

I’ve read and re-read the correspondence between Stumpf and Celebrity, and it appears the cruise line initially didn’t offer her any kind of compensation because they didn’t abbreviate her cruise. A refund of port fees? No, because Celebrity still had to pay port fees in Key West and Nassau. Celebrity doesn’t think there’s anything to refund.

I can certainly understand Stumpf’s frustration, although the laundry list novel probably didn’t help her cause. The cruise wasn’t what she booked and she deserves some compensation. The onboard credit will buy her a nice bottle of wine, if she ever cruises on Celebrity again.

Something tells me she won’t.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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