Carnival Cruise Line Decision to Issue Last-Minute Refund Unusual

November 28, 2012

(4:10 p.m. EST) -- Carnival Cruise Lines' decision to offer full refunds for passengers who want to cancel their December 2 sailing aboard Carnival Glory is largely unheard of, according to John H. (Jack) Hickey, a maritime attorney based in Florida.

"It is highly unusual for a cruise to offer a full refund ... so close to the sailing date," Hickey told Cruise Critic.

On November 26, Carnival sent e-mails to passengers traveling as part of a partial charter for a drag-themed sailing on Carnival Glory. The e-mail warned the group, which had booked through Al and Chuck Travel, that they would not be permitted to dress in drag onboard, stating the line strives "to present a family-friendly atmosphere."

Carnival reversed course November 27, lifting the ban on dressing in drag and citing a "miscommunication" between the cruise line and the charter company. Carnival apologized and offered a full refund of cruise fare and reimbursement for any nonrefundable travel-related expenses to anyone booked on the cruise, regardless of whether they were members of the group.

"This move was to head off a public relations nightmare," Hickey said.

This isn't the first themed cruise that has attracted unwanted headlines for Carnival. In 2009, Carnival Elation hosted a much-discussed "Cougar Cruise," aimed at matching older single women with younger men. While the charter company that pitched it called the three-day sailing -- which drew roughly 300 passengers to the themed sailing -- a success, Carnival banned future "cougar" cruises.

At the time, Carnival said it didn't have a problem with the theme, citing business reasons for the decision.

Experts and Cruise Critic members speculated the decision was based more on Carnival's traditional focus on family fun.

It's not clear how many people had booked to go on Drag Stars at Sea -- 2012 Caribbean Adventure -- Revenge of the Wench Cruise.

Partial charters, meaning other, nongroup passengers are also sailing on the ships, are common. Cruise lines generally don't inform other passengers that a group of any size will be part of any sailing.

Some Cruise Critic members posting on the forums suggested the offered refunds could lead to fewer passengers sailing December 2 on Glory.

Satxdiver wrote: "I just wonder how carnival will handle this if the entire group or a very large proportion decides to take them up on their offer to refund all the money for a departure of next Sunday. They could possibly but not probable have a half filled ship meaning a big loss for that particular cruise."

Cruise Critic has reached out to Carnival to determine whether any passengers requested the full refund.

What do you think? Weigh in on the Cruise Critic message boards.

--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor