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Booking a 30-day cruise is a commitment. It’s a major investment of time and money. It’s not something that most people go into lightly. You’re putting your faith in that cruise line. Global events happen and what was safe when you booked may no longer be safe when it comes time to sail. When your dream cruise becomes a nightmare, what can you do?
Nathan Diller with USA Today recently reported on just this situation with an upcoming Oceania Cruises journey – Stuck with a $20,000 bill? Oceania guests struggle for refunds amid major cruise changes. Mr. Diller told the story, centered around Janet and Joe Sherwood, a couple from Hoschton, Georgia, who booked their dream cruise to the Holy Land and Middle East with Oceania Cruises. This story really connected with us as we are frequent Oceania cruisers, also live in Georgia, and after seeing their photo realized that we have actually sailed with the Sherwoods previously and spent an enjoyable evening talking to them at an adjacent table in the Grand Dining Room. (The Sherwoods were not contacted by me and did not participate in this article)
We’re all aware of the horrific events that took place in Israel on October 7 and the ongoing hostilities in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The instability and rockets are now crossing borders as sparks of the conflict seem to be starting fires throughout the region. The situation is changing by the day without any signs of de-escalation on the horizon.
The impact of the Israel-Hamas conflict began to appear broadly in the travel industry within days of October 7th. On travel behemoth Booking Holdings Inc.’s November 2 investor call, they noted that travel demand had been diminished by the war. David Goulden, Booking Holding’s CFO said, “Globally, we saw a slowdown starting the second week of October, due to cancellations, drop in new bookings after the start of the war in the Middle East.”
The cruise industry is not immune. On November 1, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) reported earnings and said that it would cancel visits to Israel for the rest of this year and into 2024. The company, which owns Norwegian Cruise Lines, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas cut its revenue forecast for the year from 80 cents per share down to 73 cents based on the impact of the conflict in Israel as well as the wildfires in Maui. NCLH competitor Royal Caribbean Group has also canceled sailings to Israel and said that the cancellations would reduce earnings for the year by 3 cents per share.
On a recent earnings call Harry Sommer, CEO of NCLH said “One of the main strengths and differentiators in our industry is our ability to reposition our assets, which is what we’ve done with the heightened tensions in the Middle East.” He continued, “The safety and well-being of our guests and crew members are without a doubt our number one priority.”
But this story isn’t about corporate profits, it’s about us, the Frequent Floaters. We all hope that our favorite cruise lines will do the right thing when global events take place that require major changes like our recent experience with a major change to an upcoming Oceania Cruises itinerary. NCLH and Oceania Cruises find themselves in rough waters after they announced major changes to upcoming cruises after the final payment was due. On one sailing, the changes included cancelling a handful of countries and even more ports from the itinerary substituting with some additional stops in Italy, Greece, as well as nine straight sea days.
On another, slightly shorter sailing, this one starting in Istanbul on November 29th, the percentage of sea days is even more extreme relative to the length of the cruise. Embarkation in Istanbul is also tricky currently given the government of Türkiye has not condemned Hamas for the October 7th massacre and has criticized Israel for its response.
I’ve been in contact with a passenger booked on the most impacted cruise who has asked to remain anonymous, so we will refer to her as Helen. Helen and her husband wrote that they booked the $19,834 cruise, as well as $8,000 in non-refundable airfare, two years ago focused on the Middle East that was supposed to travel from Istanbul to Dubai with stops in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Now all of the port visits in these countries have, understandably, been cancelled.
When Helen’s travel agent reached out to Oceania Cruises about the dramatic changes to the itinerary and their desire to cancel she said “we were offered the opportunity to cancel and get a full credit towards a future cruise to use before the end of 2025, but must be booked by Nov 30, 2023.”
Helen and her husband took a few days looking at future cruises that appealed to her and would work with her schedule and then had her travel agent reach out to re-book. When the travel agent called Oceania they were then told that the offer was no longer on the table and that standard cancellation policies would apply. This story is a common one on the cruise chat rooms that focus on Oceania Cruises.
An Oceania Cruises’ Spokesperson provided the following statement in response to my request for comment: “The safety and security of our guests and staff is our utmost priority and we have adjusted itineraries as necessary given current events. Our cancellation policy remains per our terms and conditions.”
Helen, who is well-traveled and no stranger to the Middle East, takes issue with Oceania’s stated focus on safety. She wrote me saying, “I am shocked that Oceania feels it’s appropriate and safe, to take the few passengers they will have on that cruise, through the Suez Canal, Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden, past Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman on their way to Dubai. Just last week Saudi Arabia shot down a missile that was launched from Yemen on its way to its target, and missiles from Yemen are continuing on.” She continued, “Is this where luxury cruise ships should be? Not to mention there are war ships in the area! These waters are not safe!”
There are unconfirmed comments on several cruise chat rooms that some travel agencies and credit card companies are offering partial or full refunds to impacted passengers while still others claim that some passengers have been successful in re-booking with Oceania. No one has commented yet on any success filing a claim through travel insurance. We will continue to follow this specific issue as well as the broader challenges for cruises in and around the Middle East.
I sympathize with the frustration and disappointment of Helen and her fellow passengers and acknowledge the financial impact to the cruise lines of these changes on top of the massive financial losses they have experienced over the past few years due to the pandemic making these lesser impacts more significant than they were in the past. I also need to acknowledge that there’s no doubt that the issues of these cruisers and cruise lines cannot begin to compare to the colossal scale of the tragedy that has been taking place in the Holy Land. I’ve long believed that one of the biggest personal and societal benefits of travel is the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives and ultimately realizing that as different as we may seem we also have an incredible amount in common.
Please let us know if you have had your cruise itinerary been impacted by the global events going on throughout the world and what if anything your cruise line has done to inform you and any compensation they’ve offered. – Michael
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