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I got the worst view on the cruise ship! Can I get a refund?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Sevil Macmot found the view from her guaranteed oceanview cabin aboard Costa Cruises Mediterranea stunningly terrible. She says her dream vacation was ruined when the cruise line assigned her to the cabin with the worst view. Instead of Norwegian fjords and the deep blue sea, she saw hanging lifeboats and technical equipment out her window.

Now Sevil wants to know who selected her for this disappointing cabin with the worst view — and why.

Oh, and she wants a refund, too. But is that a reasonable request?

Sevil’s tale is one that should give pause to anyone currently planning a cruise and looking for a good deal. Although there are plenty of bargains available, it’s imperative to make sure you understand precisely what you’re booking. Otherwise, you, too, might be setting yourself up for a giant letdown when you open the door to your cabin.

Booking a Guarantee Oceanview cabin on a cruise through picturesque Norway

Early last year, Sevil began planning for her summer vacation. She had decided to take a cruise through Northern Europe.

A search on the internet brought up a company called American Discount Cruises. Browsing through the offerings, she found a nine-day cruise leaving from Amsterdam on Costa Cruises. The price for a Basic inside cabin fell within her budget and, after a little deliberation, she decided to book.

But as Sevil scrolled through the various screens, a pop-up advised her of a great opportunity. If she paid just $600 more, she could upgrade to the Guarantee Oceanview cabin category.

Mulling it over, Sevil thought about gazing out her cabin window as the ship navigated the narrow waterways between the picturesque mountains of Norway. That vision made her decision easy: The oceanview cabin would be well worth the extra money. She clicked on the button for the upgrade to the Guarantee Oceanview cabin category and completed the booking.

Soon Sevil received all the documents for her journey, and she eagerly anticipated the upcoming adventure.

The view from this cabin is terrible! Where is my guaranteed oceanview?!

This cruise ship passenger says she got the worst view on the vessel.
The path of the cruise through Norway’s fjords. This passenger thought she had booked a guaranteed oceanview cabin.

Several months later, Sevil flew to the Netherlands to begin her journey through Norway.

Checking in for the cruise was a breeze, and Sevil followed the ship’s map to her room. She was looking forward to settling into the cozy cabin — the one with the front seat view of Norway’s fjords.

And then Sevil opened the door to her assigned room.

As she peered into her cabin for the first time, her eyes focused immediately on the window. There, on display was rusted equipment — she couldn’t see even a sliver of ocean. What she saw was nothing like the view she had, for months envisioned her guaranteed oceanview cabin would offer. In fact, she could not have imagined a more unappealing view for her dream cruise.

“This was definitely the worst view on this cruise ship. I could only see a piece of ocean to the far right,” Sevil recalled. “And that was only if I climbed on the bed, crooked my head, and smashed it against the windowpane.”

Sevil was sure there was a mistake with her cabin assignment and quickly made her way to guest services. She explained to the Costa representative that her reservation was for an oceanview cabin — guaranteed.

The Costa Cruises’ representative sympathized but explained that there was no error. According to the agent, Sevil’s assigned cabin was considered an oceanview room.

Sevil was stunned.

There was no possible way for Sevil to enjoy the terrible view from her cabin on this cruise. The turn of events crushed all of her expectations.

The view out this porthole on the ship does seem pretty bad. No view, but life boats and other cruise ship equipment.
The terrible view that confronted this cruise ship passenger when she opened the door to her cabin.

“Why did you assign me to the cabin with the worst view on the ship?”

Now instead of relaxing aboard the Mediterranea, Sevil was filled with anger. She turned her sights on the online booking agent she used to reserve the cruise.

Sevil hoped the company could quickly correct its error before she spent even one night in the unacceptable accommodations. She asked that they reverse their mistake and to move her out of the cabin that had, what she believed to be, the worst view of the entire ship.

Unfortunately, the response from American Discount Cruises soon dashed Sevil’s hopes for an easy fix. There was no error. Costa Cruises had assigned Sevil to the cabin with the obstructed view because of the terms of her contract.

Based on the description of the room assignment that you chose to book, Costa chose to assign a room that has an obstruction. Since you booked a Guarantee Basic Stateroom, and [the instructions on our site] advised you there was a chance that you could be assigned a cabin with an obstruction, there is no service failure that has occurred here. The stateroom you were assigned was within the description of the room type you selected. We hope despite the obstruction, you are still enjoying the light coming into your room, and the many other features that Costa Mediterranea has to offer.

American Discount Cruises

Sevil’s dream cruise was off to an unpleasant start, and she definitely was not enjoying it.

Many travel fiascos can be avoided by reading the contract

Now Sevil went through all the terms and conditions of her cruise contract and her reservation with American Discount Cruises. She realized that it was a critical error not to have read the documents before she booked the trip.

Of course, Sevil certainly is not the first traveler to overlook all the terms of a confirmed booking. Unfortunately, our advocacy team receives many requests for help from consumers caught in similar situations. These distressed travelers all have one thing in common: They neglected to read the contract — until it was too late.

What is a Guarantee Basic Oceanview cabin anyway?

With growing anger, Sevil read the information about the Guarantee Oceanview room category. She suddenly felt duped.

It would seem like common sense to assume that if your contract says you’ve booked a Guarantee Oceanview cabin category that you’ll be staring at the ocean from your cabin. But as Sevil found out, that is not necessarily the case.

A Guarantee Oceanview cabin is simply a guarantee that the passenger will receive a cabin in the oceanview category or above. In exchange for a slightly lower price or the lure of a potential upgrade, the cruiser agrees to allow the cruise line to select their cabin. This scheme allows the cruise line flexibility to fill cabins at its discretion.

The Guarantee cabin assignments are usually doled out a few days or occasionally a few weeks before the cruise. And part of the agreement when a cruiser books a Guarantee stateroom is: You get what you get within your chosen category or above — and you don’t complain.

Save money booking a Guarantee Stateroom, but it’s a gamble

Unfortunately, there are almost always undesirable cabins within each category on every ship.

Among other things, the cabins that may be assigned to passengers booked in the Guarantee category may:

  • Have an obstructed view
  • Be near noisy equipment or an elevator
  • Be in the vicinity of a late-night disco or restaurant
  • Have an unusual shape or configuration because of the structure of the ship
  • Have a balcony that gets covered with the soot from the smokestacks of the vessel

Many cruisers book a Guarantee Stateroom in the hopes that, in the end, they will receive an upgrade to a higher category. Others book this category to save a bit of money. The passengers who reserve this category always have a chance of getting a zonk for a cabin. But on the other hand, they also have a chance of the cruise line upgrading them to a higher level category if the lower level category becomes filled.

Booking a Guarantee category on a cruise is always a gamble. But it’s one that many seasoned cruisers who understand all the risks love to take.

However, it was a gamble that Sevil had no idea she was taking. She only wanted an oceanview cabin and she thought that is what American Discount Cruises guaranteed her when she booked the Guarantee category.

But throughout the cruise, each time Sevil peered out at her terrible view, she was reminded of what she now knew: Booking a Guarantee Oceanview category doesn’t mean a guaranteed unobstructed oceanview cabin.

Is this the worst view on the entire cruise ship? There is a tiny bit of ocean to be seen.
Does this cabin have the worst view on the cruise? Sevil believes so.

And once Sevil returned home, she focused all of her fury on the online booking agent.

Did the booking agent select this cruise cabin with the terrible view?

Somewhere along the line in this cruise fiasco, Sevil became convinced that the booking agent chose this cabin with the terrible view for her. This belief is what led her to demand a refund from the company.

I paid extra $600 for literally “a hole in the wall.” I understood that the cabin could be anywhere on the ship and any size within the category. But you guaranteed me an “oceanview” cabin. It was you that took this cabin, not Costa Cruises.

You ruined my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enjoy the fjords coming and going. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Hiding behind EV description, which did not say a word about obstructed view.

Sevil ended her letter with a demand for a refund of the $600 that she paid for the “upgrade.”

Fact: lose the Guarantee cabin gamble, you won’t get a refund

In its response to Sevil, American Discount Cruises (ADC) explained that passengers who select the Guarantee category are agreeing to let the cruise line choose their cabin. ADC does not choose a cabin for any traveler. The company’s online booking form details this information during various steps that Sevil took while self-booking her cruise.

[A pop-up occurs] when you select a rate that has specific restrictions, such as a guarantee cabin or a non-refundable rate. In your case, your rate was a non-refundable Guarantee Oceanview. Within the pop-up, it states that location [of your cabin] is determined at the cruise line’s discretion. You can’t proceed with booking your reservation until you select “Continue,” thus confirming that you have reviewed any important information included in the pop-up.

American Discount Cruises

Later pop-ups in the reservation process instruct the traveler to read through the terms and conditions. There is no way to proceed to the next screen until the customer clicks the box that indicates they’ve read and agree to the terms.

“Within the terms and conditions, there is a specific section about Guarantee categories,” the ADC representative explained. “It states, “Please note that depending on the category you end up assigned to, some accommodations may have obstructed views.”

The bottom line: A Guarantee Oceanview category is not the same as a guaranteed unobstructed oceanview

ADC ended their correspondence with Sevil by reiterating that she received a cabin, selected by Costa Cruises in its oceanview category. Regrettably, the cruise line assigned her to a cabin with an obstructed oceanview, but that was part of the gamble of the lower price cabin. The ability to select a specific cabin comes at a higher cost.

American Discount Cruises turned down Sevil’s demand for a refund. The representative suggested that in the future, she not use the Guarantee category feature if she would like a specific type of room.

And although Sevil requested that our team ask American Discount Cruises to refund the cost of the upgrade to the cabin with the worst view on this cruise, we’re unable to do so based on the terms and conditions of her contract. What we can do is use her unpleasant experience to help others avoid the same disappointing cruise fiasco.

How to avoid getting the cabin with the worst view on your cruise

  1. Read all the terms of the booking and your contract: As previously mentioned, it’s critical to read through all of the terms of your booking, especially warning pop-ups. The information that Sevil needed to know about her cruise category was contained in those documents. Unfortunately, she hadn’t taken the time to go through the lengthy terms and conditions.
  2. Use a travel advisor: Because Sevil had booked her cruise online, she never actually spoke to anyone about the details. This lack of guidance led to the unfortunate cruise fiasco that followed. Sevil had a specific vision in mind for this journey, and a professional travel advisor could have made it happen. Using a travel agent who has experience with your particular destination or mode of travel can minimize vacation disappointments — including unwanted terrible views. Consumers can find recommendations for skilled agents who specialize in cruises through the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) website.
  3. Don’t book a Guarantee or Basic category cabin: If a specific view, location or style of cabin is a critical component to the enjoyment of your cruise, don’t book the Guarantee (mystery) cabin category. Pay for the category in which you can select your exact cabin before your cruise begins.
  4. Visit cruise forums and sites: Visiting forums, such as Cruise Critic, where experienced cruisers share their insights into various ships and specific cabins, can provide valuable information to travelers, especially to novice cruisers. CruiseMapper is also a great resource. It has a section filled with detailed descriptions and depictions of cabins on almost all cruise lines.
  5. Google your intended cruise: In today’s internet-obsessed world, everyone loves to review everything. Travelers can use this to their advantage by using their computer’s search engine. Type your intended cruise into your browser, and you’re certain to find lots of helpful and interesting details from fellow travelers. (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.