Basmah Qazi

Travel Trouble

Cruise couple's costly mistake leaves them stranded in foreign country

Cruise couple's costly mistake leaves them stranded in foreign country

Kevin Rohrer and his girlfriend were enjoying their Caribbean adventure as they explored the culturally enriching city of Havana in Cuba.

But the good times were cut short after they returned to the dock where their cruise ship was supposed to take them on the rest of their four-night voyage – only to realise the ship had already left without them.

The Norwegian Sky cruise was listed on an itinerary to leave Havana at 5pm, so the couple arrived at the dock at 3:30pm, ready to go, but the ship had left earlier than scheduled.

“It was a frightening situation. We were devastated,” says Mr Rohrer in a complaint issued to the cruise company.

“We exchanged money and we took a taxi to the airport. American Airlines told us they wouldn’t take a credit card and quoted us 472 pesos (A$646). We didn’t have that much money.”

After putting all their money together, the American couple were able to book a flight home for two but were not thrilled about their cruising experience being cut short.

It also wasn’t comforting to know that the cruise company left them in a foreign country to fend for themselves, and considering the itinerary said the ship will depart at 5pm, the pair had no idea as to how it could have happened.

But regardless of the frustration and countless complaints, Mr Rohrer and his girlfriend were not going to be given compensation for their experience, according to Michelle Couch-Friedman from consumer rights group Elliott Advocacy, who Mr Rohrer reached out to for help with his case.

Speaking to Elliott Advocacy, Mr Rohrer revealed that after the cruise line had departed, it was then the couple discovered the time to have changed from 5 pm to 2pm. According to him, the company “made no effort to inform travellers of the change".

Ms Couch-Friedman obtained a copy of the cruise itinerary, which was booked through a third party. Turns out Mr Rohrer was correct, as it clearly stated the cruise departure time to be 5pm.

But in a newsletter sent to the couple prior to their journey from the company, it stated all passengers in Havana should be “all aboard (the ship) at 1:30pm.”

The cruise line had changed the itinerary and passengers were informed through their daily newsletter.

But Mr Rohrer stood his ground as he said he never had the opportunity to look over the newsletter before the incident occurred.

“I provided that figure showing the time of ‘all aboard’ news flyer that was sent to our cabin while we ate breakfast on the boat the third day (second day for Cuba),” he said.

“But I didn’t get to read it at the time of the discovery (we had a tight schedule with the Cuban Tour Advocacy). I had folded that flyer and put it in my pocket during our disembarkment from the ship. I read that flyer while waiting for a flight out of Cuba.”

But the cruising company did not budge, as they pulled out the terms and conditions, which read: “In all ports of call, it is also the guest’s responsibility to be back on-board the ship no later than one (1) hour prior to the ship’s scheduled departure time. Please be aware that shipboard time may differ from the port of call and it is the guest’s responsibility to follow the shipboard time. In the event a guest misses the ship, it will be the guest’s responsibility to pay all expenses incurred to rejoin the ship.”

After an investigation by Ms Couch-Friedman, the cruise company claimed that all passengers were informed a month before of the time change through e-documents.

“Additionally, the day before calling into Havana, the Cruise Director announced the new time repeatedly throughout the day and additional signage was placed on the gangway for all those disembarking to see,” the company said.

But Mr Rohrer says that he was not notified of any changes to the schedule.

But despite the circumstances, Ms Couch-Friedman said that the cruise company's contract of carriage was stated clearly during the time of booking, as timings on the itinerary were never guaranteed.

“In the event of strikes, lockouts, stoppages of labour, riots, weather conditions, mechanical difficulties or any other reason whatsoever, Norwegian Cruise Line has the right to cancel, advance, postpone or substitute any scheduled sailing or itinerary without prior notice,” Norwegian’s terms and conditions read.

“Norwegian Cruise Line shall not be responsible for failure to adhere to published arrival and departure times for any of its ports of call.”

Ms Couch-Friedman advised passengers to remain alert as cruise itineraries could change at short notice.

“This is especially important if you have booked your own shore excursion,” she said.

“It may cost a little more money to book the excursion through the cruise line, but you can be certain that the boat won’t sail away without you during your adventure.

“In the end, it’s the traveller’s responsibility to know when to be back on-board that ship. If you miss your cruise home, unfortunately, there’s no one to turn to for a refund or reimbursement.”

Do you think the passengers were in the wrong or the cruise company? Let us know in the comments below.