Tempted by a ‘free cruise’? Keep this in mind

By Lew Toulmin
This item appears on page 58 of the November 2014 issue.

Two-night, one-day cruises from Florida to the Bahamas are offered on the ex-Baltic ferry Bahamas Celebration, which holds 1,250 passengers in 502 cabins.

According to the website www.bahamascelebration.com, the ship departs every other day from Palm Beach, sailing at 6 p.m., arriving at 8 a.m. in the Bahamas “for a full day of fun activities” and then departing that same day at 6 p.m. for arrival back in Palm Beach at 7 a.m. the next day. In other words, these are cruises for night owls. 

A number of wholesalers promote the two-night, one-day Bahamas cruises. One such company is Caribbean Cruise Line (2419 East Commercial Blvd., Ste. 100, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308), which offers the cruises aboard the Bahamas Celebration for free or at low cost. The Bahamas Celebration is the flagship of Caribbean Cruise Line, as stated on the line’s website, www.caribbeancl.com

(By the way, Caribbean Cruise Line is not connected with the well-known line Royal Caribbean International or the former American Canadian Caribbean Line.) 

The offers for free or low-cost cruises from Caribbean Cruise Line come to potential passengers via phone solicitations, mobile phone texts and mass mailings across the US and Canada. The offers usually promise a “free two-night cruise for two” from Palm Beach to Grand Bahama Island and appeal to first-time and budget cruise travelers. 

But “free” doesn’t really mean “free.” To begin with, there are the mandatory and other potential charges, which are revealed in the fine print: $59 per person for government taxes and fees (nonrefundable), a $25-per-person administration fee, a gratuity fee of $10 per person per day, $25 per bag for excess or overweight luggage, a parking fee and (my favorite) a $12-per-person-per-day fee for fuel oil if the cost of crude oil exceeds $40 per barrel. According to www.oilenergy.com, the last time the price of oil was that low was 2004!

Another thing to be aware of is that the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has given the wholesaler Caribbean Cruise Line an “F” grade, on a scale of A+ to F, citing six reasons, including “business has failed to resolve underlying causes of a pattern of complaints” and “1,418 complaints filed against business.” (See www.bbb.org/bbb-directory and, in the Search bar, type “Caribbean Cruise Line,” then click on “Read BBB’s Headquarters Review.”)

At this writing, the BBB complaints for Caribbean Cruise Line cover 267 pages. Typical complaints include that of a respondent on Feb. 6, 2014, who stated, regarding the cruise line, “I have been receiving calls in the middle of the night for months” and “they refuse to stop.” 

So why would phone solicitors pester people in order to give away a free product? Because, according to complainants on the BBB site and Yelp.com, the entire enterprise is really about pushing Florida timeshare presentations. 

The BBB complainant stated that “the original solicitation” said “nothing about a timeshare” but that, later, a timeshare tour and presentation were insisted upon as a condition of getting the “free” cruise.

A number of complaints posted on the BBB site and at Yelp also indicated that phone solicitors tried to “upsell” customers to higher-price cabins without revealing the full facts or each new price. 

One reviewer on Yelp was very negative, stating, “I was called, even though my number is on the ‘do not call’ lists…” He described telling the supervisory phone solicitor that the cruise line had a poor rating by the Better Business Bureau, after which, he said, “The supervisor… immediately hung up on me.”

To be fair to Caribbean Cruise Line, it does seem to clear BBB complaints, often giving back some or all of the funds involved after a respondent has filed a formal BBB complaint.     Φ

ITN sent copies of Mr. Toulmin’s article to Caribbean Cruise Line, which did not respond.

Due to Lew Toulmin’s time commitments working in the Prime Minister’s office in Port Vila, Vanuatu, this will be the last appearance in ITN of his column “The Cruising World.” ITN wishes Lew well in his endeavors.