Past Guests Sue NCL Over Restaurant Reservations

April 30, 2008

A California woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against Norwegian Cruise Line because she could not get reservations in any of its specialty restaurants on her eight-day cruise on the Norwegian Star. The lawsuit, filed in South Florida's U.S. District Court, claims the cruise line lied to passengers with its advertising and has a secret class system onboard.

Eva Gularte and her sister and mother retained attorney Paul M. Hoffman -- whose Web site's tagline is "successfully litigating cruise industry cases for over 15 years!" -- to sue NCL for damages because their vacation was ruined when they could not dine in Le Bistro, Cagney's or any of NCL's other specialty restaurants on their November 2007 cruise. The suit asks for "compensatory damages ... including the cost of the cruise and costs incidental such as hotel, meals and transportation."

The plaintiffs' argument is that NCL's advertisements state passengers are "free to dine where and when you want" and "you could dine in a different restaurant every night of your cruise." However, suite guests allegedly get preferential reservations, and the plaintiffs argue that these "upper class" passengers effectively take all the tables in the better restaurants, leaving no space for the "hoi polloi." They're suing on counts of fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of implied covenant of fair dealing, and deceptive and unfair trade practices.

NCL has no comment about the case at this time, as it has not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Cruise Critic readers have been discussing the lawsuit for days. Many of them have successfully made reservations in NCL's specialty restaurants when they were not booked in a high-end stateroom, such as the following two readers:

"Whoever wrote 'you snooze you lose' is correct. Everybody has a fair chance and I was not in a suite, but I got my reservations ... in the middle of the day no less!" --LOWTYD

"My DH and I cruised a few weeks ago and we ate in several of their specialty restaurants. We did not get in at peak times, which did not bother us, because we are on vacation, but we still were able to enjoy those venues that we wanted to." --Mylesf

Most Cruise Critic readers think a lawsuit is unnecessary, but do understand the frustration and potentially misleading advertising that is behind it.

"But to play devil's advocate (since everyone else has the exact same opinion), it seems like everyone is saying 'as long as you are flexible, you can get reservations -- it might not be the time or place that you want, but you can get some reservations.' Now, anyone think that is exactly what NCL promises in its ads? I just watched one that said: 'eat where you want, when you want, with whom you want.' Now being an avid reader of these boards, I know what that means, that reservations and flexibility are required etc., etc., etc. But it seems that everyone here also agrees that NCL is promising a little more in its ads than it can deliver." --Tchix

"Though I do not feel the lawsuit is justified, I do believe the complaint is legitimate. The blame should be shared not only with NCL's advertising which would appear to make it simple to dine where and when you would like, but also the passengers who must accept responsibility for not doing their homework. After all, the same problems could occur in your own hometown when you try to make reservations at a familiar restaurant." --Tomct

Is Freestyle Cruising a right given only to NCL's highest-paying guests? Will the line need to change its advertising -- or its reservation policies -- to bring its philosophy in line with reality? Or do travelers need to take advertising promises with a grain of salt and maybe learn to relax on their vacations? We'll keep you posted on the outcome of this case, but in the meantime, feel free to post your opinions on Cruise Critic's Message Boards.

--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor