Celebrity Century Passengers Charge Cruise Line Has Left Them Stranded Again

November 23, 2010

(12:10 p.m. EST) -- When rudder damage forced Celebrity Century to cancel its 12-night Mediterranean cruise last month, passengers were essentially stranded in Europe -- left on their own to make arrangements home from either Villefranche or Barcelona during a period of limited available flights and French transportation strikes. Now, many of the same passengers are wondering if Celebrity Cruises has abandoned them yet again, given that promised reimbursements for unforeseen out-of-pocket expenses do not seem to be forthcoming.

The original cruise was canceled after only two days, and Celebrity passengers were promised full refunds of the fare paid, a 25 percent future cruise credit, $100 for incidentals, $250 to cover their airline change fees, bus transportation to Barcelona and, supposedly, additional refunds for flights home they had to arrange on their own.

But on a 75-page thread on the Cruise Critic boards, members are crying foul over the speed of reimbursement process and what they see as a complete lack of communication from Celebrity. CrackerjackCruisers sums up many travelers' frustrating experience with the cruise line when he posts, "We have written twice to Guest Relations, with copies to [Celebrity Cruises President Dan] Hanrahan and [Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard] Fain, asking for full reimbursement. These letters have included copies of our bills and documentation regarding our sailings. We recently sent a third letter and documentation to Corp. Guest Relations, with a copy to [Adam] Goldstein, [Royal Caribbean International President and CEO] . To date we have received no response." Member spud357c also echoes an oft-heard sentiment, saying, "Celebrity appears to have adopted a policy of ignoring everyone's communications, saying nothing and refusing information on the belief that people will eventually get tired of asking and will simply forget about things and 'go away.'"

Although some posters state that they have received compensation from the cruise line, many others are writing in that they're getting the run-around from both Celebrity, whose reps are giving contradictory information, and their travel insurance companies. The way Celebrity has handled the issue, both during the cruise and afterward, has not made many previous fans happy. 9stilton posts, "Right at the outset Celebrity took the decision that 'business / commercial' reasons were more important than 'moral & customer service' issues." And many are hesitant to cruise with the line again. Tikibird says, "The way they handled this crisis certainly makes me reluctant to book with them," while Ghstudio writes, "Personally, my wife and I have already convinced at least two couples to sail on Princess or HAL instead of Celebrity just by telling them, accurately, how Celebrity 'helped us' in this situation. None of our friends wants to risk being treated the way we were, even though the chances are small."

So what's going on? We spoke to Celebrity spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez, who explains the delay in reimbursements: "Due to the number of guests submitting claims, as well as the amount of time it takes to review the information, fulfilling the claims might be taking a bit longer than guests would prefer. However, guests should rest assured that we are working to fulfill all claims as expeditiously as possible."

At press time, Celebrity's Customer Service department had not answered Martinez's request on our behalf to provide us with statistics on how many claims had been received and how many filled. It's unclear how long it will take to process all the claims.

Martinez also re-confirmed the line's refund policy: "We will also cover any reasonable additional incidentals a guest might have incurred [beyond the $100 that was previously given], up to three days after they disembarked the ship. For example, a guest might have had to pay more for their return because flights in the original fare code were not available, or a guest was required to stay in a hotel to await a return flight home. For these additional expenses, guests are required to submit receipts."

So despite what readers may conjecture, Celebrity says it is still taking responsibility for out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the sudden need to book flights home.

While it's clear that passengers on the ill-fated Century cruise are angered by the situation, Celebrity isn't the only line that's been taken to task following a cruise that does not go as planned. Here are some previous instances of cruises-gone-bad where the line's response was deemed unsatisfactory.

When a major earthquake in Chile in February 2010 shut down the main airport in Santiago, Princess Cruises did not cancel its upcoming departure of Star Princess or offer any fare refunds, forcing passengers to seek alternative ways to meet the ship or appeal to their travel insurance policies for a refund.

In September 2008, when Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston, forcing Carnival Ecstasy and Carnival Conquest to head to New Orleans instead of their Texas homeport, Carnival Cruise Lines did not give passengers much assistance in getting home. They could either debark in New Orleans and find their own way home (Carnival did not arrange for buses either back to Texas or even to the New Orleans airport) or choose to wait until the ships could return to Texas, where passengers then had to find their own way home from the Houston cruise port -- often to discover that their cars left in the Galveston cruise port lots had been severely damaged.

In July 2005, as Hurricane Franklin was bearing down on Bermuda, Royal Caribbean made a last-minute decision to re-route a five-night Bermuda cruise to chilly Canada. Not only were passengers not informed of the itinerary change in advance (so no time to swap those bikinis for sweaters), but they weren't allowed to cancel without penalty at the pier. The only compensation passengers received were $45 in port charges.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

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