NBC 6 is airing a story about Caribbean Cruise Line alleging that the company routinely offers essentially "free" cruises via unsolicited phone calls or vouchers in the mail, and deceives the public by not disclosing hidden fees.
It also claims that businessmen behind the scenes at the travel company have been in trouble for deceiving customers before.
The story is a bit confusing because the Caribbean Cruise Line, although technically active with the Florida Department of State, essentially went out of business after the Bahamas Celebration ran aground on October 31st while departing from Freeport, ripping a hole in the hull. In December 2014 it was announced that the newly formed Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line would operate the MS Grand Celebration which would replace the old damaged ship.
Local news ABC-7 Fort Meyers is reporting that "scammers" are sending out text messages claiming that you have won a "free cruise."
Of course, there is no such thing as a truly free cruise but it seems like some people forget that.
The news station explains that "the scammers text you and tell you you’ve won a cruise. But when you call the number, a customer service representative says all you have to do is pay the $60 port fees. They suggest for you to put it on your credit or debit card – just give them the number."
"Don't do it," says Sgt. Dana Coston with the Cape Coral Police Department. The news station calls them "crooks" looking for "free money" from victims.
The telephone number involved, according to the news station, is (305) 749-5493.
Give them a call and listen to the sales pitch. Just don't get talked into giving them your credit card number!
Last year I published a couple of articles entitled And the Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has an Image Problem. One of the stories we covered involved a NCL passenger who had to cancel his cruise because his brother died and was being buried on the day of the cruise. NCL refused to permit him to cancel without paying the entire fare. He then suggested that he be permitted to donate the cruise to a child with cancer. NCL said no, and then sold the cabin to other passengers. That's right, the cruise line made a double profit off of the death of a customer's brother. Really sick.
But after I published the article, a number of readers emailed me and said that the passenger should have protected himself by buying travel insurance. Although they seemed to be rather heartless about the matter, the readers were probably right. Cruise lines have carefully drafted their passenger tickets over the years to protect themselves against claims arising out of all last minute cancellations, so its prudent to always buy insurance for your cruise.
But what happens when the insurance companies try to weasel out from paying a claim for a missed cruise?
You can hire a lawyer, but insurance companies aren't scared of lawyers. Insurance companies have lots and lots of lawyers who sole purpose is to screw the policyholders out of their claims.
The best bet is to contact your Congressman or Congresswoman and go to the press. Insurance companies hate bad press and government scrutiny, which brings us to this story.
A soldier in war zone Afghanistan, Jeremy Radtke, and his wife Jamie purchased a cruise with Princess Cruises. Jamie's mom is a travel agent who convinced them to buy insurance, which was a smart move because a rocket attack caused soldier Radtke's flight home to be canceled.
Jamie them made a claim for the missed cruise with the insurance company, which advertises specifically to active duty military. In response, she received a voice mail message for her husband (then back in the war zone) stating:
"Hi this message is for Jeremy. Jeremy, this is Shane and I'm calling in regards to travel insurance claim that was filed and we were finally able to do a review of that claim. Unfortunately we were not able to extend benefits on the claim."
Understandably upset, Jamie had the foresight to complain to her Senator in Florida, Mike Fasano, who wrote a letter to the insurance company, stating in part:
"It is important for you to know that Mr. Radtke is active-duty military and is stationed in Afghanistan. This soldier, whose life is on the line each and every day to protect the freedoms that you and I enjoy, planned the cruise during a scheduled two week leave period. This leave is the only time he was able to come home and spend time with his wife.
I find it unconscionable that your company would deny a claim by anyone with a legitimate claim, especially active duty service members who frequently have to deal with changes in leave time . . ."
Jamie also took her story to Channel 10 Investigators in Tampa who contacted Travel Guard. The insurance company claimed that it never denied the claim and was allegedly just waiting on some paperwork. It offered no explanation for the voice message. Once confronted by the Senator and the TV crew, Travel Guard said that it would go ahead and cover the claim. Jamie then received a check for $3,600.
If a travel insurance company will play games with a member of the U.S. military who puts his life on the line fighting the Taliban, do you think that it will treat your family any better?
If you have been taken advantage by a cruise line or cruise insurance company, don't get mad. Get even. Lawyers can't always help. Call your elected officials. Call a team of action investigators at a local television station. Tell the company that's trying to steal your money to explain themselves to a TV camera.
Amy Zetina, a hard working mother of three in Kentucky, responded to an ad which offered a "free cruise."
Ms. Zetina was taken for a ride, but it wasn't on a cruise ship.
It turns out that "Caribbean Cruise Line" offers “free” Caribbean cruise package, with some ads featuring Carmen Electra promoting a "free" cruise.
Ms. Zetina received a packet in the mail telling her that she was the lucky winner of a "free" cruise, including a $1,300 voucher. She agreed to pay only for port taxes and then gave her credit card number over the telephone. The cruise company then began sucking money out of her account.
Ms. Zetina did not know that 458 customers had lodged complaints against Caribbean Cruise Line. Nor did she know about it's "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau. An investigation by the television station revealed that the company made unauthorized charges against customers' credit cards.
After Ms. Zetina contacted the television station, she called the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General's office and the local police. Only then did she get her money back.
Moral of the story? There are no free cruises in life. And when someone rips you off, fight back.
Enjoy the official ad of Caribbean Cruise Line with Carmen Electra (in Spanish - Cruceros Gratis!)
PS: There have been criticism of marketing scams by "Caribbean Cruise Line" which is not a cruise line at all but a marketing company which also sells time shares in the Bahamas. We last mentioned this company two weeks ago in a story about an affiliated company, Celebration Cruise Line - Report of Rape on Bahamas Celebration Cruise Ship.
The Sun Sentinel reports that Florida charged travel agencies in the state with using unlicensed agents to sell bogus trip insurance policies through a company called Prime Travel Protection Services, of Colorado. Prime Travel, which apparently was never authorized to do business in Florida, went out of business in 2009 and is in liquidation. Hundreds of Florida travelers were left with unpaid claims.
Many of the consumers bought the policies before going on cruises. Obtaining valid insurance for cruise vacations is a prudent thing which we recommend cruise passengers consider before cruising.
Prime Travel claimed that it offered "trip protection" and not travel insurance, which must be approved by regulators and underwritten to ensure claims will be covered. The consumers who bought the bogus policies had no recourse when their claims were not paid.
The state warned the agencies to stop selling unauthorized insurance or face penalties including a $50,000 fine. The newspaper reports that the six agencies cited this week offered policies through Prime Travel or its affiliates. They agencies include:
According to the Sun Sentinel, the agencies charges include JB Travel Inc. of Boynton Beach, St. Lucie West Travel of Port St. Lucie, Ahoy Cruises of Jacksonville, Diana's Travel South of Spring Hill, Sandra Demore / CruiseWithSandy of Port Orange, and Four Seasons Tours and Cruises of Largo.
The newspaper also reports that in the past year, state officials cited additional agencies for similar problems. One of the agencies, Palm Coast Travel of Lake Worth and its affiliate Smartcruiser.com, were charged with initially giving travelers AccessAmerica trip insurance policies, then transferring customers to companies not authorized in Florida to offer coverage - including Prime Travel.
When the media began reporting on the bogus policies last year, Palm Coast Travel filed a defamation lawsuit against one of the aggrieved consumers who complained, as well as veteran travel writer, Christopher Elliott, who covered what appears to be a scam in his widely respected travel website "Elliott."
Mr. Elliott indicates that he made a public records request for information regarding the state of Florida’s case against Palm Coast Travel, and will release the information on his website. This will be interesting reading.
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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