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Should I get a refund for port charges when the cruise line doesn't call on all scheduled ports-of-call?

Dear Anita,

I just returned from an Orient Lines cruise taken on March 27, 2001. It was the Grand Pacific segment of their around the world cruise. My travel dates were February 22 through March 27, 2001. All went well except for the fact that we missed three ports due to a cyclone—two in Fiji and one in Western Samoa.

In defense of Orient Lines, I completely understand that weather is out of their control, and they did give us an additional port (Raiatea) that wasn't on the original schedule. I appreciate that gesture, but feel, since we paid for three port charges and only had one, we should receive a refund in at least the amount of the two port charges. Not to mention that going to Raiatea didn't compare with Fiji and Western Samoa. Most likely, I will never have the opportunity to go to Western Samoa again, so missing that port was particularly disappointing.

Finally, Orient Lines advertised that when we were at Christmas Island, we'd have a beach BBQ; but in reality, what we had was a bowl of fresh fruit and punch. Although I don't imagine anyone suffered from a lack of food, the issue here is the false advertising or inaccurate picture that they portrayed. Having spent thousands of dollars for this trip, it was distressing to observe them being stingy! Thank you for any assistance you can give on this.

Kay B.
Calgary, Canada

Dear Kay,

It is very disappointing when you don't get the exact cruise you planned, especially if you miss a scheduled port-of-call. As you noted, it's not the cruise line's fault when weather goes bad. As cruise lines print in their terms and conditions, they have the right to change the itinerary should it become necessary. However, consumers need to be aware that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to such "fine print"—each cruise line varies in policy regarding port-fees.

Nevertheless, because most cruise lines will issue a refund, I was puzzled as to why Orient Lines did not refund you for the two ports-of-call that were not substituted. I contacted Orient Lines regarding your situation. Here's part of their response:



" …As a destination-oriented cruise line sailing to some of the most exotic ports in the world, the safety of our passengers, staff and crew is always our first priority. We do share Ms. Bieber's disappointment in missing three ports of call during Crown Odyssey's Grand Pacific CruiseTour this past March, but the very safety of our passengers and crew was of paramount concern to our Captain as weather conditions in the South Pacific worsened.

Port charges are assessed to cruise lines whether or not a port of call is reached. This is similar to the fee levied by hotels when guests, for whatever reason, fail to honor a reservation. As we explain in the Terms and Conditions section of our brochures, there are times when factors beyond our control, such as weather, make it necessary to amend our scheduled itineraries. We regret that we are unable to offer Ms. Bieber a refund of the port charges….

Sincerely,

Michael Coleman,
PR Manager, Orient Lines
"

After I received this response, I contacted Orient Lines again to clarify why they did not refund the port charges. Orient reiterated the fact that since their destinations are not as mainstream as other cruise lines, they are subject to much stricter foreign government standards that determine whether they can refund. In the case of Fiji and Western Samoa, it appears that those islands opted not to return the port fees, therefore, Orient Lines could not refund the passengers.

Again, each cruise line varies in policy regarding port-fees. As stated in their terms and conditions clause, travel to certain destinations does carry some slight risks.

As for the beach BBQ turning into fruit salad, Orient Lines again appears to be subject to the island and what it can provide, which is also stated in their terms and conditions. As they wrote to me, "We make every effort to operate our CruiseTours as planned. With brochure printing deadlines so very far in advance of our actual sailing date, there are occasions when local conditions—as was the case on Christmas Island—prevent us from executing our plans."

While the cruise didn't go according to the original plan, without question, Orient Lines executed the safest and best alternative for their passengers. One of the best aspects of cruising is the ability to change course in the face of bad weather and salvage a vacation, something the tourists riding out the cyclone in the Fiji resorts would have envied. Again, happy sails on all your future voyages!


I hope I've been helpful. Happy travels!

Anita Dunham-Potter

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