New Jersey Files Suit Against Royal Caribbean

June 16, 2006
The State of New Jersey has filed a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean on behalf of 53 passengers who sailed last year on Voyager of the Seas. The lawsuit, brought by New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs and the state attorney general's office, targets a cruise on that ship which, in response to the approaching Tropical Storm Franklin, swapped its itinerary from a trip to Bermuda to a voyage to Canada/New England (see Cruise Critic's coverage of the story in 2005).

The crux of the complaint, which alleges consumer fraud according to a copy of the suit obtained by Cruise Critic, is the sudden change of itinerary. Royal Caribbean executives had made the decision on the Sunday departure the day before -- and had posted the news on its Web site later that evening, but made no other effort to alert passengers until they were handed a letter upon boarding the ship. The company refused to offer passengers the option to cancel without penalty (those who held Royal Caribbean travel insurance were able to cancel, but even they would only recover 75 percent of the money they spent). And while it credited each passenger with a $45.20 refund for the difference between port taxes in Bermuda and Canada/New England, it did not offer any compensation for the difference in fare.

While no apples-to-apples itineraries exist to prove this point, Cruise Critic did compare on the cost of a five-day Bermuda cruise in 2006 on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas vs. a Carnival Victory five-day trip to Canada/New England. Minimum-cost cabins started at $499 and $420 respectively.

In a statement, Royal Caribbean responded:

"The press release issued by the New Jersey Attorney General's office fails to mention several key facts regarding the July 24, 2005, Voyager of the Seas sailing:

"The existence of Tropical Storm Franklin and the fact that on July 23 the National Hurricane Center was forecasting that the storm would become a hurricane that would likely intersect the path of our ship, either sailing to or while in Bermuda.

"A final decision regarding the ships itinerary was not made until Sunday morning, July 24. This was the day of departure and the time during which guests were traveling to the ship. Therefore, the company was unable to contact guests in advance and provide them with accurate information regarding the ships itinerary.

"Although weather conditions in Canada were cooler than Bermuda, storm conditions in Bermuda would have prevented guests from partaking in warm-weather activities.

"All guests were provided a letter prior to boarding the ship that informed them of the predicted hurricane and the modified itinerary.

"All guests were provided more than a $45.20 refund of port taxes and fees. After the cruise, all guests were provided a 25 percent discount on a future Royal Caribbean sailing.

"Royal Caribbean has an obligation to avoid threatening sailing conditions that could endanger the lives of guests and crew members.

"We fully understand and appreciate that some guests were disappointed by these circumstances beyond our control. Because of our obligation to ensure the safety of our guests and crew members, we could not knowingly sail into a predicted hurricane.

"Similarly, because of our desire to avoid sailing our guests through rough seas created by the storm along the U.S. East Coast, the cruise was redirected to ports of call in Canada. Our ticket contract, which each guest receives, as well as our sales brochures, specifically outlines our ability to make such itinerary changes under these unusual circumstances."