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Here’s how to get kicked off a cruise with no refund included

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Could you be accused of a crime, convicted and kicked off your cruise without any supporting evidence?

Halfway around the world, Elaine Chan discovered the answer to that question is yes. She and her husband were summarily ejected from their Holland America cruise in Helsinki. The captain accused Chan’s 65-year-old husband of assaulting a crew member. He then ordered the shocked couple to gather their belongings and get off his ship.

Chan wants to clear her husband’s name and get a refund from Holland America.

I promise this story will make you angry. It’s yet another troubling case of a company leveling a wild accusation at a customer and refusing to provide even a shred of evidence to support it. And it’s the consumer who pays the price — financially and emotionally.

Editor’s note: I first reported this couple’s cruise fiasco in July 2018, and it was subsequently covered by many media outlets. This article has been updated to include five things that will get you kicked off your cruise today as it moves to its new archive home here at Consumer Rescue.

Kicked off your cruise? With Holland America, it can happen

With much anticipation, Chan and her husband booked a 24-day cruise on Holland America’s Zuiderdam. But on day five, things went terribly wrong.

“We did not expect our highly anticipated vacation to end as a nightmare in complete humiliation,” Chan explained. “We were kicked off the cruise by the Holland America captain in Helsinki.”

Chan said that at 8 a.m., the captain called the couple into his office. He explained that there had been an incident during disembarkation two days earlier in St. Petersburg.

The captain said that during that incident, several passengers had become verbally abusive to crew members. While leaving the ship, one passenger had escalated the situation by pushing an employee. Another crew member identified Chan’s husband as the person who did the shoving. As a result, they were no longer welcome on his ship.

The shocked couple told the captain that they hadn’t been involved in any incident. The captain was unmoved and told them his decision was final. He ordered them to leave the cruise immediately.

Chan explained what happened next:

Then the captain gave us an envelope with tickets back to San Francisco. He forced us to leave the cruise by 10 a.m. to catch our flight. If we did not leave on time, he said we would miss our flight. So we had no time to plead our case and get more information.

Can you really get kicked off your cruise like this with no evidence or even chance to respond? We’re devastated. My husband didn’t do this. Someone made a mistake and misidentified him. This false accusation has really taken a toll on him. What can we do?

Where is the proof of this cruise ship mayhem?

Since the moment the embarrassed couple arrived home from their aborted cruise, they have been on a mission to prove their innocence.

Initially, Chan felt confident that video cameras on board the Zuiderdam would conclusively prove that they had been kicked off the cruise in error. She begged the executives of Holland America to pull those videotapes. Instead, she received a written explanation of the accusations.

Your husband participated in a scene where staff members were verbally abused. This abuse became physical when he and another guest attempted to push their way off the ship in port at St. Petersburg. As a result, a staff member required medical attention. As stated by the Captain in your verbal interview and in our previous correspondence, this is a violation of Section 4 of the Cruise Contract, and so the decision was made to remove both parties from the ship at the next port of call (Helsinki).

Holland America

Chan and her husband again asked that Holland America review the videotapes. The couple offered to provide photos of themselves on the day of the incident. They hoped that company executives could compare those photos with any videos or photos the cruise line might have of the true perpetrator. Additionally, they agreed to take lie detector tests at their own cost.

Get kicked off your cruise — you’re not getting a refund from Holland America

Holland America declined to provide any evidence to support its claim, but instead concluded its investigation of the case with this email:

While we regret that this final response could not be more favorable, we do hope you will continue to include Holland America Line in your travel plans.

Thank you again for your inquiry. I appreciate this opportunity to assist and hope you will sail with us again soon.

Holland America

This final email stirred up a lot of questions for me.

If Holland America believed that Chan’s husband injured a crew member so severely that he needed medical treatment, why would the cruise line hope this assaultive passenger would set sail with the cruise line ever again?

Something wasn’t adding up.

Can this couple get a refund from Holland America?

Coincidentally, Chan’s request for help landed on my desk at the same time that a somewhat similar plea arrived. Another wife needed help vindicating her husband against a company’s wacky accusations. Lois Kendall reported that her 76-year-old husband had been accused of stealing two pillows from a Choice Hotels franchised Quality Inn. She was outraged that the hotel had targeted her husband with accusations of theft. But even more outrageous was Choice Hotels refusal to investigate and help its loyal customer.

Kendall’s case ended on a positive note once the court of public opinion weighed in under the article in the comments section. Choice Hotels quickly corrected its error and provided a refund and an apology.

In Chan’s case, I hoped that I could get a favorable resolution on a more timely basis. She wished for an apology and a refund from Holland America.

I contacted Holland America and asked for clarification. I pointed out that the couple offered to take a lie detector test. And I asked about the videotape and the curious final email hoping to see the couple soon on another Holland America cruise. I can’t vouch for whether this couple participated in any brawl, but it seems if they did they probably wouldn’t take a lie detector test or beg for the video review.

Can a cruise line kick a passenger off the cruise and keep their money too?

Most cruise lines have terms written into their contracts allowing for the removal of passengers under a variety of conditions. And no refund is provided in most circumstances. Holland America already referred Chan to Section 4 of their HAL cruise contract which says:

Carrier may without liability for refund, payment, compensation or credit, except as provided herein, disembark or refuse to embark You, confine You in a stateroom, quarantine You, restrain You, change Your accommodations or disembark You at any time if, in the sole opinion of Carrier, the Captain or any doctor, You or any minor or other person in Your care during the Cruise, Land + Sea Journey, and/or Land Trip(s), are unfit for any reason for the Cruise, Land + Sea Journey, and/or Land Trip(s), or Your presence might be detrimental to Your health, comfort or safety or that of any other person, or in the judgment of the Captain is advisable for any reason.

But the unusual nature of this accusation is that it came days after the event. The captain blindsided Chan and her husband with charges the couple could not defend themselves against.

It seems questionable that a passenger assaulted a crew member and the employees made no accusations at the time of the incident. And since almost everyone has cell phones with the capability to take photos and videos, there should be some documentation of this event. What about a photo of the perpetrator making his getaway down the gangplank?

The bottom line: Getting kicked off your cruise = no refund

Holland America refused to respond to any of my requests for a statement about this case. As I’ve pointed out many times, when trying to fix a consumer problem, it’s best not to mention an attorney unless you actually have one. Often once a lawyer is mentioned, company executives refer all future correspondence to their legal department. And that legal department typically will not respond to a consumer advocate. Chan did allude to a lawyer in one of her later emails to Holland America.

Unfortunately, it appears that neither a refund from Holland America nor an apology will be heading this couple’s way. Chan says this experience has been like a bad movie from which they can’t escape. She hopes by telling her story, she might find some solace in the court of public opinion.

Post-publication update: I caught up with Chan nearly a year after she and her husband were kicked off their cruise to see if HAL had ever followed up.

Hi Michelle,

No, Hal never contacted us. We did not proceed with legal action either due to the fact that the legal cost most likely would exceed any refund we could get. Having our story shared on your website helped us a great deal in terms of finding peace in our mind and finally being able to move on with our life.

Elaine Chan

Top things that can get you kicked off a cruise

It isn’t often that I receive complaints from cruise ship passengers who have been kicked off the ship mid-way through the trip. But it can and does happen. However, we often hear from distraught would-be cruisers who get rejected before they even boarded the ship.

Here are the top four things that can lead to getting the boot from the boat before or during the cruise.

Not having the correct identification

Nearly a week goes by when I don’t receive a complaint from a distraught would-be cruise ship passenger who failed to read their cruise contract or verify the necessary requirements for their particular itinerary. 

From passengers who have flown across the world without the necessary visas to enter the country where their cruise ship was waiting to travelers who brought the wrong or expired documents to the embarkation point, we’ve seen it all. But the outcome is always the same: no cruise and no refund. 

How to avoid this completely avoidable fate? Always check with the U.S. State Department for entry requirements to all destinations on your cruise. Don’t forget to check every part of your itinerary, or you (like this couple on Holland America’s Westerdam) could end up getting offloaded mid-cruise on the other side of the world. 

And who do you suppose will pay all the expenses for you to get home? You guessed it: YOU.

Showing up too late to board the ship

Running a close second to the disappointed travelers who contact us after they’ve been denied boarding their cruise because of the lack of correct documentation are the ones who pushed their luck and showed up too late to board the cruise. Some of these disappointed vacationers have been stranded in foreign destinations like Cuba and Mexico. While others never even got to board the cruise in the first place. 

How to avoid this fate? Never fly to your ship’s embarkation destination on the same day the cruise is set to begin. And make sure to check your cruise ship’s daily schedule while on board. Remember, cruise itineraries are always subject to change. If you don’t want to find yourself standing on the dock wondering what happened to your cruise ship and how you’re going to get home, pay attention to those overhead announcements, newsletters placed under your cabin door, and signs you’ll see on the way off the boat as you leave for excursions. 

Bad behavior on the ship

Of course, if you behave badly on the ship, you should expect you’ll be off-boarded, as happened to the couple in our story today. A good lesson here is if you see riff-raff going on, it’s best to remove yourself from the equation. Don’t stand around watching, or you could also be considered part of the mix, and you’ll be removed from the cruise as well. 

How to avoid this fate? Basically, just behave like a dignified adult on your cruise. Don’t drink too much, be polite to others (passengers and crew), and don’t bring prohibited items onboard the ship. If you’re unsure what you can carry on board the vessel, review your cruise contract — all will be revealed there!

Being too pregnant

Most cruise lines welcome pregnant women onboard — but only until they reach the 24th week of their pregnancy. As one of our readers recently found out, if you show up too pregnant for your cruise, you’ll be denied boarding. Not only will you not get the vacation you were planning, but you’ll also forfeit the cruise fare. Similarly, babies, less than six months old (and for some cruises 12 months old) are not allowed to sail.

How to avoid this fate: Be aware of the restrictions for your cruise. This information will be found in your cruise contract. If you’re pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, keep in mind you won’t be able to board the ship after you reach 24 weeks.

Becoming sick

Although your cruise ship will have a sick bay, these medical suites have limited capabilities. Regular readers of my column may remember the case of an NCL passenger who became quite ill and needed a blood transfusion. He was removed from the ship in St. Kitts and taken to a hospital, where he refused the transfusion, preferring the cruise line provide it. Yes, he expected NCL to give him a blood transfusion. Of course, that wasn’t possible, and he was denied reboarding. 

Remember to always obtain travel insurance for your cruise because if you are removed from the ship in a foreign country for medical reasons, you’ll need to find your own way home. Of course, if you need emergency treatment abroad, you’ll quickly realize how critical trip insurance is. Many countries will only treat a passenger if they can prove payment.

But even worse? If you receive treatment and aren’t allowed to leave the hospital until you pay or prove insurance coverage. (See: Hurt on vacation? Don’t make this traveler’s mistake!)

How to avoid this fate? Make sure you’re healthy for travel before you embark on a cruise. A ship is not where you want to be if you have a health crisis. So if you have any concerns about your suitability for cruising, check with your doctor. And keep in mind that even the healthiest people can become sick or injured abroad (or before the journey even begins). Trip insurance can protect you against life’s unexpected calamities — before and during your cruise. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)


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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.