In a court ruling that's shocked Cunard, industry-watchers and Cruise Critic members alike, Terence and Cynthia Milner, from Leeds, have sued Cunard because they were dissastisfied with their world cruise on Queen Victoria in January 2008. The Milners claimed their voyage was ruined by bad weather, sleepless nights and resulting health problems including mouth ulcers and breathing difficulties.
And they won: A Yorkshire Court awarded the Milners £22,000 in damages on top of a £48,240 refund for their world cruise holiday. The couple paid £59,052 for their world cruise on Queen Victoria. (In U.S. currency, the Milners cruise originally cost nearly $100,000; they received $36,000 in damages and got a refund of nearly $80,000).
Cunard is appealing.
The couple had sued Cunard for "loss of enjoyment". A report in the Yorkshire Post newspaper quotes the Milners' solicitor, Sarah Prager, as telling a county court judge that Cunard's brochure led readers to believe they were booking "the experience of a lifetime".
"Instead of a luxurious, stress-free holiday, the claimants received a highly stressful experience trapped aboard a vessel without any settled accommodation," she said. She also reported that Mr Milner described himself as being "in a terrible state" and he and his wife were both "exhausted and inconsolable" after the holiday.
On Queen Victoria, the Milners' troubles began when their cabin floor began to flex with a banging noise in rough weather once the ship had sailed from Southampton. They were offered an alternative, an inside cabin fitted for disabled use, but were subsequently moved to a penthouse suite with butler, where they were allowed to stay until Los Angeles (the suite was booked from L.A.)
According to reports in the British media, the Milners said that they felt "trapped" in the penthouse. Between Los Angeles and Honolulu, they returned to their original, noisy cabin.
The Milners ended their trip early, in Honolulu, where they stayed six weeks in a luxury resort and eventually sailed back to Britain on the QE2 (they presumably didn't feel "trapped" on the older, smaller vessel).
The resulting award has stunned both Cunard and industry-watchers generally. Despite the couple being refunded £48,240 of the £59,052 they had paid for the cruise, the court awarded £2,000 to Mrs Milner for wasted clothing costs (Cynthia Milner is widely quoted in various British newspapers as having spent £4,300 on 21 ball gowns before the voyage, none of which she has worn as they are apparently an unwelcome reminder of her ordeal). They also were awarded £7,500 each for distress and disappointment and £2,500 each for the loss in value of the holiday.
A Cunard spokesman says that the company is not allowed to comment on the award, as the litigation is ongoing. An official statement, however, announces that: "Cunard referred this matter to the Court of Appeal because it gave rise to some technical legal issues that required clarification and we are looking forward to receiving this in due course."
Christopher Lundie, representing Cunard, is quoted by the Yorkshire Post as calling the award "manifestly excessive" and was likely to encourage speculative court action despite calls that damages for disappointment and distress should be restrained and modest. He suggested the correct level of compensation was in the range of £2,000 to £3,000.
Cruise Critic members show little sympathy for the Milners on the message boards. "They should have given them a free cruise on the Titanic," quips Wineshipper, while member cruiserbryce says sarcastically: "Wow...trapped in a penthouse, stormy sea conditions...Cunard certainly failed these people...maybe they should try another line if Cunard was so bad."
Member Temple1, however, offers the voice of reason: "I don't know about you folks, but if I paid that kind of money for a cruise I would certainly get my knickers in a knot over being moved to an inside cabin. It should be interesting when the rest of their story comes out. So far we've heard the Cunard version.
"I'm not saying they deserved anything more than a refund, but an interesting story."
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor