Schedule Changes, Security, Supplier Defaults

Tim, Have you heard from many Princess travelers regarding the Sea Princess change from the Southern Caribbean to the west coast? My husband and I cruised on the Dawn princess two years ago on its Southern Caribbean itinerary. This time we decided to stay with Princess, but to do a different itinerary on the Sea Princess. We booked, paid, and got our air transportation when, lo and behold, they moved the ship. With tickets already bought, we had no choice but to accept the same itinerary on the Dawn Princess. Can they just cancel like that after you have paid? Is there no protection for the consumer? Jan

Dear Jan, Yes indeed, Princess changed the deployment of the Sea Princess and she is now based on the west coast. All cruise lines reserve the right to change itineraries, cancel sailings or substitute a comparable ship or itinerary at their discretion. Unfortunately, the events of September 11th have had a profound effect on travel, and the cruise lines are doing their best to keep passengers safe and satisfied, while at the same time trying to stay in business themselves. In my opinion, during these uncertain times, staying flexible and accepting changes without consternation or worry are the keys to an enjoyable cruise.

 

Tim, Since we have a cruise planned to the Caribbean for Dec. 10, 2001, we found your article on cruise line security measures quite reassuring. We will be sailing on the Ocean Princess. From your article it appears that Princess Cruises uses Gurkahs as their security force. Is that going to the extreme? How is the security at Antigua, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Maarten and St. Thomas? With the recent anthrax scare, do you know if the ships would be equipped for any such threat? Hopefully, this will all be behind us by December. Shirley Robbins

Dear Shirley, Princess isn't going to extremes; they've been using Gurkahs for many years. Why? Because as security forces go, they are beyond compare. Princess and all the other lines have always taken security seriously. Most lines had to do very little to escalate to the current state--a testament to their high level of awareness and readiness. My sources tell me that the levels of security are right where they want them to be, or they wouldn't be calling at these ports. Anthrax? Yes, the cruise ships are prepared, as they have fully equipped medical centers stocked with antibiotics. Personally, I feel safer on a ship than here in New York City!

Tim, We are booked on NCL's Norwegian Wind from Singapore to Sydney, scheduled to depart December 15. Scheduled stops include two ports in Indonesia. Considering the current unrest and animosity toward the U.S. there, will NCL hold fast to that itinerary, or are they likely to alter it and bypass Indonesia? Contacts with personnel at NCL have netted us nothing, but I suspect that you might have access to such information. Thanks, in advance, for any help in putting our minds more at ease. Charles A. Wilmot

Charles, All cruise lines are monitoring security conditions and threat risks around the world, and will never place their passengers, crew or ship in danger. While the itinerary may not necessarily be changed in advance, you can rest assured that if the situation warrants at the time, the ship will not call at any ports where there's a potential threat, political unrest or lax security. If current conditions persist in Indonesia, NCL will bypass the port and find a suitable alternative or spend the day at sea.

Tim, Many people charged Renaissance cruises on their credit cards through travel agents, and the cruises didn't happen after the line shut down. According to posts on message boards at this site, the card companies and travel agents are responding to these claims inconsistently, even for those in the same circumstance. The cards (especially AmEx) and travel agencies (especially AmEx) seem to have the philosophy of initially denying all claims, hoping the customer will go away. Only those who fight on get any results.

This raises questions as to planning for the future. The lines have overbuilt in recent years, and bookings are way down, due as much to the economic slowdown as the terrorist threat, so other lines may go belly-up. We usually take a midwinter cruise to a sunny area, and the real bargains usually require full charge at booking -- even though sailing may be months away. This year, we are hesitant, due to the fear of more bankruptcies and the potential loss of our entire fare. This is another reason to investigate refund policies of the major credit cards. I've read that some travel agents carry insurance that protects those who booked a line that goes bankrupt; information on this would be helpful, too. Rich

Dear Rich, Quite simply, don't take no for an answer. There were some problems with the initial request for credits on credit cards due to the fact that many customer service representatives didn't differentiate between a cruise and a sweater bought at Macy's. The best thing to do is request to speak with a supervisor. Most supervisors had a better handle on the situation and to date, I don't know of a single person who was left out in the cold by their credit card company.

The biggest hurdle seemed to be the average 60-day window that the credit cards have for disputing a charge. Cruises and some other travel arrangements are unique in that they are paid for well in advance, often well outside the 60-day window. It seems that the credit card companies initially stumbled, along with some travel agents, but from what I can tell, most passengers are being credited. American Express has officially stated that all passengers who charged with their cards will be protected.

As for future cruising, just be sure to use a credit card and purchase third party insurance that cover "supplier default" (bankruptcy). Many insurers have dropped that coverage, but some, such as Access America, still provide it.

Tim, I have heard about the security procedures for passengers on cruise ships, but what about the crew? Bin Laden's boys could be cleaning our cabins or serving our meals. How much scrutiny is given to the crew? Are they getting a second look in view of the September 11 events? I am not afraid to cruise; I think it is a nice oasis from all the media hype and nonsense... but I do have that concern. Thanks, MP

Dear MP, The cruise lines have long been conducting, and are continuing, thorough background checks of anyone they hire, including personnel aboard ship and ashore.

Tim, With the new Freestyle Dining on NCL, how does a single person avoid sitting alone each night until he makes some friends? Al

Dear Al, When you enter the dining room, simply ask the maitre d' to place you (if possible) with other passengers. He should be happy to comply.

Tim, Is this a good time to take a cruise? Since the attacks on NYC and Washington, are there any special deals? Should we feel safe? Brian & Stephanie

Dear Brian & Stephanie, Ultimately, safety is a personal matter: Only you can decide if you feel safe. Personally, if it were not for obligations at work, I would be jumping from cruise ship to cruise ship at this point. Prices are at an all-time low. I've seen four night sailings on Majesty of the Seas beginning at $149 per person, and seven nights on the Infinity for $499 and $599. There are Christmas and New Years cruises on Holland America beginning at $699, and balcony cabins on the Carnival Destiny for $999--including round trip airfare. Cruise security has been stepped up worldwide, and with prices this low, I'm convinced that it's never been a better value. For me, it's an unbelievable combination, and I would feel safer on a cruise than I do here at home in lower Manhattan. Hope this helps!



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