March 1, 2002
What happens when you book cabins on a “theme” cruise -- in this case one that promised daily jazz performances by well known stars -- and none of them show up?
It happened -- just recently -- to passengers on a five-day Caribbean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas. “We had a disappointing cruise,” writes Leslie Fletcher of Gainesville, Fl., who’d been one of about 125 passengers to buy into a “Smooth Jazz Cruise.” “Disappointing is an understatement. No jazz performers showed up. Two days after we left we got a hand-delivered letter to our cabins from Clear Sound Productions, the sponsoring company, that all shows were canceled.” The company had promoted the jazz cruise by offering two performances a night, jam sessions, a kickoff concert, artist meet & greet sessions, and private parties with musicians including Chaka Khan Wayman Tisdale, Marion Meadows, Marcus Johnson, Jared, Ken Navarro, and Keiko Matsui.
A veritable house-of-cards collapse, begun with the events of September 11, resulted in a “funds” problem and the organizer could not pay performers who then decided not to attend. But the company, Tennessee-based Clear Sounds Production, whose staffers, its president says, were scrambling to find replacements, did not alert the travel agents who booked passengers until the very last minute. As a result, most of the cruisers didn’t find out until they were already on board.
Should they get a refund? Clear Sounds has offered to refund the extra surcharge these passengers paid, on top of cruise fare, for the entertainment, as well as provide future credits. In the case of a refund on the cruise itself, alas, no.
These days, it’s much more common to find theme cruises, like this jazz voyage, that are organized by outside producers like this one (Royal Caribbean only provided group cabins to travel agents who teamed up with Clear Sound) -- whether travel agencies or entertainment companies -- and that involve just a portion of passenger rather than all of them. But this can be riskier than relying on a cruise line, which has more pull than smaller organizations. And while smaller operations can be riskier, Carnival’s Jennifer de la Cruz says theme voyages are still worth checking out. “We have hundreds upon hundreds of travel agencies who do theme cruises that go well,” she says, adding that passengers should still do some homework on the company organizing the entertainment. “Ask the company (or agency) for their credentials and for references from those who’ve participated. A little background checking never hurts.”