Tweet (5:15 p.m. EST) -- When Carnival Cruise Lines announced this morning that Carnival Splendor -- which was crippled by an engine room fire last week -- would have to cancel all cruises through the January 9, 2011, sailing, it left a lot of questions unanswered. How exactly would refunds or rebookings work, especially for holiday cruises? What's happening to the ship's crew, including cruise director and blogger extraordinaire John Heald? And what exactly needs to be fixed on Splendor? We reached out to Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen for the full scoop on what's going on and how you can best salvage your cruise. Here's what you need to know: The Ins and Outs of Refunds and Rebooking
Passengers have the option of simply taking the refund of their cruise fare and 25 percent future cruise credit and figuring out their travel plans at a later time. Or they can opt to apply the refund and the credit to another Carnival sailing, departing at a similar sail date or anytime within the next 24 months. However, passengers are subject to prevailing rates, which means if the cruise you'd like to switch to costs more than you paid for the Splendor cruise -- even for a similar sail date and cabin category -- you will have to pony up the difference out of pocket. However, you can use the 25 percent credit to help reduce the rate to some extent.
But will Carnival be able to accommodate everyone who wishes to reschedule for a cruise departing between now and mid-January? Gulliksen tells us that "Carnival's ships typically operate at full capacity so available space on other ships for similar departure dates may be limited in some cases." He did say that travelers planning cruise ship weddings were the first to be contacted about rescheduling and most of the weddings scheduled on Splendor have already been accommodated on other Carnival ships.
The most difficult swaps are likely to be holiday cruises, as Carnival has now canceled Splendor's Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's departures.
"We will do our best to accommodate as many guests as possible, based on availability," says Gulliksen. "There is still some availability on our holiday sailings should guests wish to book those cruises." However, we know historically that cabins that can accommodate third and fourth berths tend to sell out first on holiday cruises, so families looking to share cabins may have the most difficulty rebooking.
We checked Carnival's Web site, and we're seeing fares for most categories on similar seven-night cruises -- but out of ports such as Tampa, San Juan, Galveston, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. It will be more difficult for West Coasters to find comparable cruises from California ports: three- and four-night Christmas and New Year's cruises from Los Angeles have already sold out of balconies. We're seeing some availability for all cabin categories on Carnival Spirit's seven-night Christmas cruise and eight-night New Year's cruise, both departing from San Diego. But fares are steep -- insides start at $999 and $1,279 for Christmas and New Year's, respectively. Thanksgiving cruises have even less availability.
There was also some confusion over airfare reimbursement. Here's the deal: All travelers who booked through Carnival's air/sea department will get fully reimbursed for their airfare, as will travelers who bought nonrefundable tickets and cannot use them (provided that passengers present appropriate documentation). For passengers who incur change fees, Carnival will refund up to $200 per person. Gulliksen did not know at press time whether change fee refunds would be in cash or as a refundable onboard credit.
The Skinny on Splendor Repairs
For those curious about the ship itself, Carnival has not provided much more information. According to Gulliksen, "A team of investigators from the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Transportation Safety Board, Carnival and representatives from the ship's flag state [Panama] are on board working to determine the cause of the fire. We can tell you that the focus is on the number 5 diesel generator in the aft engine room but the exact nature of the malfunction is still being investigated. A comprehensive assessment is under way with a large team of skilled technicians. Damage was limited to the aft engine room and switchboard rooms."
The company and its investigators are still determining what repairs need to be made, as well as when and where the ship will go into wet dock, dry dock or both.
We asked how accurate the mid-January return to service date was. Gulliksen's reply: "Our best estimate is that the ship will be ready to return to service on January 16 based on the necessary amount of time that will be required for repairs." However, this date is still an estimate, which we interpret to mean that repairs could take longer depending on the team's findings.
What's Happening to Splendor's Crew?
Carnival Splendor's crew, which by most accounts did an admirable job of keeping passengers safe and entertained during the fire fiasco, will be splitting up. Some crewmembers with technical or hotel expertise will be staying with the ship to provide support during the investigation and repair period. As many as possible have been sent to work on other cruise ships; others will get new assignments as positions become available or go back to work on Splendor in January.
Those unable to be acccomodated on another ship immediately will be getting a needed break as Carnival will be flying everyone home. Gulliksen says, "We are told that the crew response was positive onboard when announced that they will be home for the holidays with their families." However, the crew will not be paid for time when they are not under contract and actively working for Carnival.
Cruise Director John Heald has also gone home to his wife and baby girl in the U.K. and plans to be onboard Splendor for its January 16 cruise. He reports in his blog that he "will be back in the States at the end of the month to film a piece at St. Jude Children's Hospital and for meetings about the Bloggers cruise number 4."
-- by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
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Splendor Cancellations: How They'll Impact the Crew, the Cruise Ship and You
November 16, 2010