Should you receive a refund if you hate your cruise so much that you get off the ship early? What if you leave the cruise before it even sets sail?
Lori Rutt and her husband maintain that if intolerable conditions push you to leave a cruise ship, a refund is owed. She says only hours after they boarded their first cruise ever, they chose to disembark — never to return.
So what went wrong that caused them to jump ship?
This tale points to the importance of understanding the terms and conditions of your cruise contract. If you decide to leave your cruise early, you won’t just lose your vacation plans. Abandoning the cruise will likely mean you’re abandoning the money you invested in it too. And, as Lori discovered, you can’t depend on a credit card chargeback to save the day.
Taking their first cruise — and hating it
Lori and her husband spent almost a year researching and planning their first cruise. The couple set their sights on an adventure through the Croatian islands.
“We have traveled extensively, but we are not really the ‘organized tour’ type, so we had never done a cruise before,” Lori explained. “But to see the islands, we felt that a small ship cruise would be our best bet. We selected the company Sail Croatia based on its great reviews.”
Lori says that she and her husband chose Sail Croatia’s Elegance cruise from Dubrovnik to Split. This cruise is advertised as “luxury at sea” for mature adults.
Of particular interest to the couple was the assurance of air-conditioning in the luxurious suites.
With great anticipation, Lori and her husband arrived at the harbor in Dubrovnik to begin their cruise. She says that when they boarded the ship, they were first offered lunch in a common area.
Everything was going well — until the crew took them to their cabin.
It was all downhill from there.
What’s wrong with this cruise cabin?
“So we first entered our cabin at 2:30 p.m.,” Lori remembered. “We immediately noticed that it was very warm and stuffy inside. We tried to adjust the air conditioning, to no avail.”
Lori says she also noted that a lightbulb was burned out in one of the overhead fixtures. Then a clothes hook on the wall detached when she touched it. Soon, she looked in the shower and saw what seemed like ‘black mold” in the corner of the stall.
So far, Lori wasn’t impressed with her first cruise.
The couple set about to find someone who could assist with fixing the air conditioning and cleaning up the room. But Lori says most crew members had taken other guests on a walking tour of Dubrovnik. The only person left on the ship was the bartender. He told the couple things in their cabin could be fixed later when the crew returned. He could only help them with a drink.
Lori and her husband had dinner reservations at 7 p.m. in town. They left the ship and returned around 9:30 p.m. At that time, the couple reported all their concerns to Boris, the onboard manager.
Boris told the duo that all his sailors were off-duty for the rest of the evening. But he walked with Lori and her husband to their cabin to take note of their complaints. Lori says he agreed the room was hot and stuffy and he suggested they open the windows. Boris told them the crew would address their problems in the morning.
And then, Lori says, she and her husband spent a very uncomfortable night in the harbor.
Hate your cruise? Don’t press the eject button just yet.
When Boris left their cabin, Lori and her husband opened all the windows and hoped that would cool things down. She says it didn’t. And opening the windows caused an additional problem.
Once we opened these windows, bright blue lights shone directly into the cabin through both of them. Sleep was not possible. So both my husband and I got up around 2 a.m. and began to discuss our options.
So far the couple hated everything about the cruise — and it hadn’t really even begun. By 3 a.m., they decided to leave the cruise. The ship was scheduled to set sail north toward Split at 7:30 a.m. Lori and her husband agreed they would not be on board for that journey.
Lori says over the next few hours, she and her husband packed their things and then roamed about the ship.
We knocked on doors. We were anxious to tell someone about our decision to leave the cruise. No one at all was around, and all doors were locked. This really concerned me, as mentioned in my initial email. What if we had had a serious emergency? We felt completely on our own and without any help from Sail Croatia.
Finally, around 7 a.m., Boris reappeared. The couple explained that they would be getting off the ship. They would not be sailing on the cruise. Lori says Boris was pleasant and helped them carry their bags off the boat. He didn’t try to persuade them not to leave the cruise.
The cruise set sail without the couple, and they set about making alternative plans. Lori says she fully expected that Sail Croatia would be refunding the $3,500 they paid for the aborted cruise. She emailed her contact at Sail Croatia and waited for the refund confirmation.
Get off the ship early? That won’t lead to a refund.
Lori had sent a plea for help to a general email address at Sail Croatia at 3 a.m. from the ship during their one uncomfortable night.
At this point, we just want to get off the boat as soon as possible, and get a complete refund. We will not be continuing on the cruise tomorrow and will speak to the first staff member we can locate tonight or at first light.
By now, Lori and her husband were not confident that Sail Croatia could correct any of the problems. In the morning, before they left the cruise, Lori sent another email to Sail Croatia about their intentions to abandon the ship.
Several days after they left the cruise, Lori received the bad news. That’s when a spokesperson from Sail Croatia explained that, as per the cruise line’s terms, the couple would not qualify for a refund. She pointed the couple to the information on the website that details how problem resolution is handled. Lori and her husband hadn’t followed the first crucial step — they never gave the crew a chance to correct the problems. Instead, the couple had hurriedly left the cruise before the crew could respond.
FYI: This protocol ( requiring a traveler to report problems and allow the company to respond before pressing the eject button) is not unusual and makes a lot of sense for travelers and businesses across the industry. In fact, preemptively abandoning a Vrbo or Airbnb vacation rental, hotel, or cruise before giving the company, manager, or host a chance to fix the issue is a mistake that many consumers have made who contact our team.
But in this case, Costa’s response astounded Lori as she hadn’t read those terms.
Her next step was to call her credit card company. She filed a chargeback dispute for the entire cost of the lost cruise.
Filing a chargeback after you leave the cruise you hate won’t help.
Unfortunately for Lori, the facts of this case weren’t on her side for a credit card dispute.
The Fair Credit Billing Act allows consumers who have paid by credit card to initiate chargebacks to dispute billing errors.
If you hate your cruise (or your cruise’s shore excursion), that isn’t a billing error. Inefficient air conditioning is also not a billing error. As a result, Lori lost her chargeback case.
This loss blindsided Lori.
I learned that the consumer protections that many cards tout aren’t of much help when the quality of services received is in dispute, as opposed to that of tangible products.Lori R.
Lori says that her credit card company explained that it would only find in her favor if Sail Croatia agreed to issue a refund.
Obviously, it didn’t.
“Visa would not proceed with our dispute,” Lori explained. “Of course, we don’t have a refund voucher, because no refund was offered to us!”
As per the terms of the FCBA, this dispute did not qualify for a reversal.
Contacting our consumer advocacy team for help
Wondering what to do next, Lori scrolled through the internet, and that’s where she found some cruise-related cases that I had tackled (or tried to tackle) for other passengers. Her next step was to send a request to our advocacy team and ask for help.
I reviewed Lori’s request for help, and I had bad news as well. She and her husband had not given Sail Croatia an opportunity to correct any problems. A maintenance person and a housekeeper could have fixed most of the complaints on her list.
Lori agreed about the maintenance issues, but she said the air-conditioning problem was unbearable. She pointed out that days in the hot Croatian sun would require a cool haven where they could retreat. She and her husband could not bear the thought of days without an efficient air-conditioning unit.
As a consumer advocate, before I take a case to a company for mediation, it’s important that I establish that there is a foundation for the consumer’s request. In this situation, I believe that Lori and her husband left the cruise too soon. Just hours after boarding and with the crew distracted by other tasks, Lori and her husband made the drastic decision to leave the cruise.
I broke the news to Lori that we couldn’t accept her case. But she wasn’t willing to give up yet.
Persistence is a pillar of successful problem-solving
Lori responded to me with one of the pillars of successful problem-solving – persistence.
“I know you recommend being persistent when you have a problem with a company,” Lori said to me. “In the interest of ‘persistence,’ I feel that I must take at least one more stab at making our case.”
Lori asked me to please re-review the paper trail and all the terms of the cruise. She hoped that we could find some foundation to base a mediation attempt with Sail Croatia.
As I have pointed out in past cruise stories, I have never stepped aboard any cruise — ever. My propensity for seasickness has prevented me from attempting such an adventure. But my colleague Dwayne Coward has taken many cruises. So I often rely on his expertise in these cases.
I sent Lori’s paper trail to Dwayne and asked for his opinion.
Unfortunately for Lori, Dwayne concurred with me. Lori and her husband had not given the cruise line sufficient time to correct any problems on the ship. The couple had left the vessel before the crew had begun their day.
But Dwayne had further insight.
“Having lived and cruised in Europe, on European cruise lines,” Dwayne pointed out. “AC is not used or thought about in the same way as Americans, which may be part of the issue here.”
To support his stance, Dwayne offered a Washington Post article that highlights just how drastically American and European views diverge about air-conditioning.
Dwayne’s point is an important one. American travelers to Europe should not expect air-conditioning to mean the same thing there as it does here.
Contacting Sail Croatia
But because of Lori’s persistence in following the problem-solving guidance we offer consumers, I decided to contact Sail Croatia for an explanation.
In its response to my inquiry, Marijana at Sail Croatia explained why Lori wasn’t entitled to a refund.
Thank you for allowing us to explain, Michelle.
Our representative advised Lori and Alvaro that the matters that she brought to his (Boris) attention, would be resolved in the morning. Unfortunately, they left at 7.30 a.m. and we were never given the opportunity to resolve anything. They simply left. The normal process if the crew are not able to fix a problem, is to escalate it and we look for solutions, cabin or ship change, gestures of goodwill and in the very worst case a refund.Sail Croatia spokesperson
She went on to explain that Sail Croatia would have been committed to correcting the problems during the day if the couple had remained on board. Because they left the ship, they didn’t give any crew member the opportunity to fix the problems.
Sail Croatia maintains that they have a high approval rating on TripAdvisor and in their own customer satisfaction surveys.
“Although we are not perfect, we do strive for high standards,” Marijana wrote to me. “If we can improve on our processes then we are always open to feedback and suggestions.”
The bottom line: Hate your cruise, you probably won’t get a refund
Lori later found out that the captain had a key to the air conditioning control panel. The captain could have corrected the stuffy cabin situation once the ship set sail. Lori says it’s too bad that no one conveyed that simple fix to them that night. She says if it had they likely would not have left the cruise in Dubrovnik.
And even though we weren’t able to reach the resolution she wanted, Lori still wanted her story told.
“As I said from the very beginning, I really want our story to be heard, so that hopefully other travelers can learn from it,” Lori says. “Between our experience, and reading some of your cruise fiasco stories, I think this may have been our first and last cruise!”
Remember, if you’re faced with unpleasant conditions on a cruise, in a vacation rental, or hotel (even if you absolutely hate it), it’s critical to give the company a chance to correct the problem. And if a fix doesn’t seem possible, then make sure to clarify the fate of your investment before you press the eject button. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)
Need assistance with your own travel fiasco? Send your request to the Consumer Rescue advocacy team here, and we’ll be happy to help you too!
*Before you go: Here’s Consumer Rescue’s guide to planning and taking a cruise in 2023 –– so you can avoid your own fiasco!