When Your Dream $20,000 Cruise Becomes a Nightmare – Oceania Dramatic Changes to Itinerary Due to Global Conflicts

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Oceania Riviera in Corfu Greece 2017

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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.

When Your Dream Cruise Becomes a Nightmare

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.

a schedule of a ship

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!”

Istanbul Turkey Hagia Sophia Vestibule Mosaic 2023
Hagia Sophia Vestibule Mosaic – Istanbul, Türkiye 2023

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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16 COMMENTS

  1. Not the cruise lines fault…No one reads the terms and conditions and then gets mad when companies do not want to go bankrupt over refunds.

  2. Our recent cruise was impacted by Venice a their rule to not dock ships nearby( Barcelona Is doing the same) It was a change that was not communicated to us early on! It caused much delay in getting to San Marco etc! We had to take the cruise line bus then find a water taxi (10 euros each way) to get there. The bus line took 40-50 minutes each way as the drivers needed long breaks. On the bus back to the ship they had to drop us at the customs terminal and go thru security( watches off phones out any other devices out! Then walk to the ship to go thru hero security also!, Even worse was the disembarkation. Again bussed to the cruise terminal 35 minutes away. Dropped at customs to find luggage and then go outside and walk to another bus outside the gates as the drop off bus could not re- load us!, crazy stuff for a vacation. If these ports do not want tourists the ships should not bother to stop there!

    • @Dee – Sorry to hear that Venice and Oceania haven’t figured out how to make the experience docking there a good one. I know a lot of people want to experience Venice as part of a Mediterranean cruise; but I agree, if they’re going to make it difficult I would rather embark in a nearby port like Trieste which was really simple with a port right in the center of town.

  3. Michael, we are in a similar situation with Oceania. we have a cruise from Abu Dabi to Mumbai. 12/29 – 1/9. Stops in UAE, Quatar, Oman and Mumbai. They have cancelled the Oman stops, leaving us with an additional day at sea. My big concern is the majority of our trip is in the Persian Gulf, which as I am sure you know, is bordered on the east by Iran. In my calls with. I have called Oceania, they are not allowing me to rebook or cancel. I am not sure what we are going to do. We are $20K into the cruise plus $14K for airfare on Emirates (I have not called them yet). I am still hoping that they will cancel the trip, but I suspect, if that happens it won’t be until mid-December. If Oceania doesnt do the right thing, I suspect they will lose a lot of repeat customers.

    Thanks for the post. Please put me on your distribution list. I would like to stay up to date with what others are doing.

    • @Jeff Sporkin – Thank you for sharing your situation with us. Given what Oceania Cruises have said/done thus far I really doubt that they will cancel your cruise. They clearly built their holiday calendar for two ships around Dubai as an embarkation/disembarkation port. I also saw that Qatar is opening a brand new cruise terminal which may have also factored in to Oceania prioritizing this region.

  4. Hi Michael – thanks for posting this article. My wife and I are on this same cruise (Istanbul to Abu Dhabi) in November and think that Oceania is taking advantage of passengers through a contract technicality. I believe that the intent of being able to change ports is to prevent customers from asking for a refund if one or two ports are missed due to weather or some other issue beyond the company’s control.

    In this particular case, Oceania, for all intents and purposes, has cancelled the entire “Holy Land & Arabian Jewels” cruise and replaced it with a new one called “Classical Eastern Mediterranean”. The very fact that they re-branded the cruise is proof that it is a different cruise than they marketed, and they know it. They then took advantage of the contract clause to move all of the passengers from a cancelled cruise to a completely different cruise in order to prevent giving refunds. They may be within “the letter of the law” contractually, but this is an unethical business practice on their part, and everyone can see it.

    To see how the cruise was originally marketed up until they had 100% of customer’s money with no option of refund, go to this cached (older version) of the Oceania website -> https://cc.bingj.com/cache.aspx?q=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.oceaniacruises.com%2Fmiddle-east-cruises%2Fistanbul-to-dubai-RVA231129%2F&d=4712897994243279&mkt=en-US&setlang=en-US&w=a6RuoIlyqsFfLfyswocAsLOOqxK5KIiH

    • @Joe Caracci – Thank you for sharing the original itinerary, I wasn’t able to find it. I agree with you that the standard Terms & Conditions have historically been there to capture when you can’t make it into port due to weather, a port is overbooked and needs to be substituted with another, etc. though it’s also been used on Baltic cruises for example to terminate stops in Russia following their invasion of Ukraine. This case takes it to the extreme. They’ve completely changed the cruise up to and including the name, the extreme number of sequential sea days, etc.

      A couple questions for you and others impacted by these changes:
      1) Would you be comfortable if the cruise were still going to Saudi Arabia and Oman and bypassing Israel and Egypt given the current environment in the region?
      2) Would you accept if Oceania were to add more Mediterranean ports and reduce the 9 straight sea days? (I don’t think they need this many in order to end in Dubai on the debarkation date)
      3) What if the cruise were to end in Dubai with several overnights in port?

  5. My husband and I are booked on the Istanbul to Abu Dhabi Oceania cruise departing Istanbul on November 29. We booked directly with Oceania and added on a pre-cruise tour in Istanbul, an overland tour in Egypt and a post-cruise tour in Dubai as well as 18 excursions. We also booked business class air through Oceania. The cost of all this was almost $50,000, with the cruise itself comprising about half. When the war broke out, we were informed by Oceania that the Israel ports would be canceled. A little later, they informed us of the very significant changes which eliminated most of the Middle East ports and substituted numerous Greek ports and sea days. Two additional significant changes to the itinerary have ensued. Oceania did not then, nor have they ever initiated any communication with us regarding a refund or even Future Cruise Credits. When I called my agent there to indicate my extreme displeasure with the changes Oceania had made to the itinerary, I was told that I could get an FCC for the price of the cruise but would lose the cost of all three overland tours and airfare. This loss would have been about $20,000. I spoke with our agent several more times, most recently on approximately October 30, and was told the FCC was still available to us for the cruise only and that the offer would not be good after that day.

    Of course, our contract does allow Oceania to make changes to the cruise itinerary. And despite what many people say (including one who posted just above), of course I had read the contract and was well aware of this. However, the fact that one party to a contract has the technical legal right to do something does not make it right. Further, the very extensive nature of the changes Oceania has made, coupled with the fact that they have actually renamed the initial 20-day leg of this cruise, might well be found by an arbiter (or court) to exceed their legal rights.

    Additionally, I think Oceania has handled this situation terribly. First, they should have offered everyone the opportunity to either: 1) take the new cruise itinerary with a generous FCC for a future cruise; or2) receive a full refund or an FCC for what they had paid including cruise and add-ons. Second, the complete lack of communication and the inconsistency in how Oceania has treated passengers is appalling. One couple, from the USA Today article, managed to get an actual refund. Others were offered FCCs only to have the offer rescinded within only a couple of days without any notice. Others, like us, were offered only partial FCCs.

    As for us, we decided to take the cruise and make the best of a bad situation. We have also decided that we cannot possibly do future business with such an unethical company. I have already cancelled the Around-The-World cruise we had booked for 2025 and will cancel a long, very expensive cruise we have booked for next summer as soon as I am positive that no FCCs are forthcoming. Our boycott will include all NCL companies, although all their actions with regard to this cruise clearly evince a total lack of concern for us or other passengers or any future business we might bring.

    I thank you for your attention to this matter and hope you will continue to publicize this issue and inform your readers of the very poor way Oceania is treating its customers.

    • @Amy – It sounds like you and your husband were huge fans of Oceania Cruises before all this having booked the Around-the-World and another extended cruise. It’s a shame the way this has been handled. I’m also shocked that they wouldn’t work with you on the overland tours and flights when you were looking to cancel. I know that this cruise given it’s length appealed to a lot of die-hard Oceania cruisers. Would you mind sharing what level of status you have in Oceania’s Loyalty Program?

      • Actually we have only taken one other 17-day Oceania cruise so we are still at a very low loyalty level (blue I think). However, have taken quite a few cruises, including several on Oceania’s sister line, Regent. I think we are Silver there. In fact, we were on a RSSC cruise when Covid struck in Jan and Feb 2020 and they took very good care of us. They had to terminate our cruise several weeks early but gave us a very generous refund, covered all the out-of-pocket expenses we incurred getting home, and a generous FCC. That is why I am so shocked at the treatment from O regarding this current situation.

  6. Our Regent Seven Seas cruise Nov 10-dec1, on their ship navigator, Istanbul to Dubai has been totally rerouted like sister company, Oceania’s Nov 29 sailing. They finally notified us of the completely changed itinerary on Nov2. Left us waiting 25 days not knowing what would happen. No cancellations offered! No fcc! Take the altered (now Greek island cruise) or kick rocks. We cancelled. Lost our entire 60,000$ investment for their grand suite. We will never cruise with Regent, Oceania, or NCL again. What they did was in extremely bad faith…forcing people to take an itinerary that didn’t remotely resemble what was purchased! Shame on Regent! Their management team should be fired!

    • @Marie Holtby – Sorry to hear that you lost your entire $60,000 investment in a Grand Suite by cancelling. I can only imagine how disappointed/angry you must be with RSSC and the entire NCLH group.

  7. Oh Marie. How terrible. I am so sorry. I cannot imagine having to walk away from that much money. I am with you on never doing business with any part of NCL again.

  8. We had a similar ternary on NCL Dawn sailing from Istanbul to Dubai on November 24th. We started out with 14 ports and it is down to 9. They still claim that we will make our 3 ports in Egypt and 1 in Saudi Arabia!!!!! NCL has refused to give the guests any options. NCL again is forcing people to pay FULL PRICE for a trip that is not what was agreed upon. NCL will never, ever get my business again.

  9. This is what cruise lines do. Oceania is ruining its reputation with its cruisers and future cruisers. I have never cruised with Oceania, but will make a point of never doing so based on their behavior here. Yes , they have the power to do so based on the contract clause, but this was not what it was designed for. I’ve been on cruises where we lost ports due to weather or a broken ship part. This is totally different. Having your cruise turn into 9 sea days in a row is not
    fair. Your suggestion of 3 nights in Dubai is not equal to what they had either. If you gave people the option to cancel to a certain date and yank it early, you are not acting fairly. I booked a HAL TA and was notified the cruise was canceled by emailed. I canceled my airfare and hotels. A month later, I got an email saying the cruise was not canceled, it was a mistake. Subsequent communications with HAL had them maintaining the cruise WAS NEVER CANCELED! So Oceania will lose a huge chunk of its consumer base from this. Its just like Viking’s policy of changing river cruises to bus tours at the last minute without notifying the cruisers or RCCL not having cabins for booked cruisers in Australia and giving substantially inadequate compensation. Corporations can do these things , but should they?

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