5 On Your Side

Cruise ship passengers have few rights

Posted April 15, 2010
Updated April 16, 2010

A sea turtle in Grand Cayman, horseback riding on the beach, a Jamaican sunset – those are vacation moments Donna Pair would have liked to have photographed while on a Carnival cruise in January.

Cruises trail airlines for customer rights Cruises trail airlines for customer rights

Although Grand Cayman and Jamaica were on the itinerary for the five-day trip aboard the cruise ship Destiny, Pair never got to see those sights.

"It's just nothing spectacular about what we did take pictures of," she said.

Pair and her husband took the trip with four other couples. Their problems began in Maimi, she said, when they left four hours later than scheduled. Later that night, they were told that the ship was running slower than normal because of a propulsion issue.

"They canceled Jamaica, told us they were going to take us to Grand Cayman, (but then) submitted another letter under our door: 'Sorry, couldn't fix the propulsionary system, so we'll not be going to the Grand Caymans,'" Pair recalled.

Instead of swinging around the western Caribbean, Destiny spent only a day at Nassau, Bahamas, which is less than 200 miles from Miami. The other four days, Pair and her fellow travelers were on the ship.

"If I'm going to go on a cruise, I want to go somewhere," Pair said.

As reimbursement, Carnival gave each passenger a $75 credit to use on board. Pair says that made her feel "disgusted," especially since she has learned that it wasn't the first time Destiny had propulsion problems.

WRAL's 5 on Your Side found a propulsion problem dating to 2000. Guest complaints started picking up last September and continued even after Pair's cruise. In February, Carnival canceled two weeks of cruises to repair the problem.

Because of the history of issues, Pair believes guests deserve a partial refund.

"I think at least 50 percent, because we didn't make our ports," she said. "The port they took us to was very disappointing."

Multiple calls and a meeting with Carnival representative, though, didn't help.

Carnival spokeswoman Joyce Oliva apologized in an e-mail to WRAL and called the ship's mechanical problems "infrequent events." She did not answer questions or respond to calls.

Oliva wrote that the guests' "shipboard experience" was normal. She refused to refund any of the $1,400 Pair had paid.

So what rights do customers have when their cruise doesn't go as planned? Not many, 5 on Your Side found.

Based on the fine print on tickets, cruise ship passengers don't have any right to compensation if the ship's itinerary is changed.

Passengers can file a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission, but that agency can only pass along the complaint to the cruise line. The agency cannot make a cruise line do anything.

The Federal Trade Commission also accepts complaints about cruise lines. The agency, however, does not get involved in resolving individual complaints. The FTC examines the complaints for patterns that could trigger an investigation.

Pair said she doesn't plan to take another cruise on Carnival.

"Vacations are supposed to be fun. They're not supposed to be stressful," she said. "We spent a lot of money, and it's like, who cares?"


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  • BigUNCFan Apr 20, 2010

    Most cruise ships fly foreign flags like Liberia which are notorious for no regulation of the industry.

    You really for the most part are at their mercy. The boat goes where it wants when it wants and you are out of luck if you want to go to a port and that port is canceled.

    Also, you have little to no rights on the ship itself. You are no longer in the US or on a ship with registry in the US so are not under the protection of the US constitution or govt. Buyer beware.

  • BEACH Apr 20, 2010

    I have been on 13 cruises with Carnival and have been very pleased on all the shop except the Glory,we were on the Lido deck and heard running water all the time. Any cruise ship can change the ports, not just Carnival, I love cruising cannot beat it for the money it you book far ahead. Hope u next cruise goes better.

  • mommyto3 Apr 19, 2010

    We booked a cruise on Carnival Destiny in August 2009 to sail Jan 30 2010. Our destinations were also Jamaica and Grand Cayman. We found out 2 days prior to leaving that the destination had been changed to Cozumel, Mexico and Costa Maya, Mexico. We were very disappointed but decided to go anyway because all our family and work arrangements had been made. We received a $100 on board credit to use. We were not happy at all with the cruise. Not only the destination was a problem but the food was disappointing and there was a frequent septic odor while on our trip. We will not book another Carnival Cruise as well!

  • jkparrish Apr 19, 2010

    you cant cruise and think of the ship as a shuttle bus, you have to cruise for 50% of the experience on the cruise ship. Its people who are too set on the destinations then the ship itself that always complain when it doesn't go their way... If you want to go to a specific destination and see specific things.. go to that spot directly..

  • RDUTEC Apr 19, 2010

    Two words cruise insurance. It doesn't cost that much, and will protect you in such cases of cancelled cruises or abreviated or changed cruises. Have taken a cruise on the Carnival Sensation, and had a wonderfull time. The crew treated us as royalty and the food was teriffic. Would never take a cruise without insurance though.

  • Whatever Geez Apr 16, 2010

    They were all smiles in the pictures they were showing! She is trying to paint this lovely picture of sitting on Grand Cayman Island....you only spent just a short period of time anywhere you go on a cruise ship...and before you book, read the reviews on plenty of websites; don't bring up those "issues" after the fact. These ships sail out and come back in; once you get off they clean the heck out of hte ship for more passengers to come on and set sail once again.....You got 150 on board credit so why complain about that, even if you didn't spend it on board credit, the last morning, you will have a check waiting for you underneath the door....yeah I'm sure its dissapointing just like it was to me but a vacation is a vacation!

  • Whatever Geez Apr 16, 2010

    well, if you are going to "not" go on Carnival bc of this story...well good luck cruising anyways. It can happen...people these cruise ships dock and their out again that same day....and thats every cruise line. Carnival is good at doing things for you if things don't go right....quit complaining.

  • Whatever Geez Apr 16, 2010

    I have been on 4 Carnival Cruises and one coming up and we had a propulsion problem and couldn't go to the Cayman Islands but it says in fine print.....can change. Out of the 4 cruises, two of them have changed places on us.....what can you do? You spend the majority of your time on the ship anyways....HOWEVER, both cruises that were changed, we got a 100 dollar credit per person on the ship and free drinks for a couple of hours...not complaining here!

  • msudawg Apr 16, 2010

    Just finished booking my next cruise with Carnival. This will be our 3rd cruise with Carnival and we absolutely love it. This is definitely the best vacation for the money and we travel often. We have sailed on 2 of their older ships and have never had a problem. The only time I had a problem cruising was for my 10th wedding anniversary. We booked 6 months in advance and the night before we were supposed to leave on the Norwegian Majesty we got a phone call that the cruise was cancelled because of mechanical problems and the ship had no air conditioning. Our bags were packed our kids were shipped to Grandmas and this was a New Years Eve cruise we had to scramble to find somewhere else to go on short notice. It took us a long time to get our money back. I would never consider Norwegian after that fiasco. So I can see how problems would make a person never want to cruise again. We decided to try Carnival and loved it and are sailing with them for the 3rd time in 169 days :)

  • mjjunk Apr 16, 2010

    Wow. I will be going on a honeymoon soon, and was weighing our options - with going on a cruise being one of them. At least now I have one less option to consider. The prospect of spending the only vacation I have taken in the last 5 years captive on-board a ship that I really only wanted to use for sleep, not a permanent attraction, is pretty daunting. It sounds like the cruise lines are shooting themselves in the foot with their policies.