Sydney couple Brian and Kerrie Wexham thought they had Christmas sorted – a stay in New York then on to the Caribbean aboard the majestic Queen Mary 2, taking in the gorgeous islands of the region.
Then last Sunday, they switched on the TV to see the devastation Hurricane Irma had created.
Mr Wexham called Cunard to sympathise, but point out there was no way the islands of the Eastern Caribbean could be rebuilt by Christmas. He felt it was wrong to be living luxuriously on the Queen when residents were doing it tough.
But his calls went unanswered or diverted to a call centre in The Philippines.
Their itinerary takes in the Eastern Caribbean islands of St Thomas, Antigua and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, most of which have been devastated by Irma, a grade 5 hurricane said to the worst to hit the Atlantic in 10 years.
While seeking clarification about their itinerary, and whether it would be re-routed to another region, all Kerrie Wexham received was a ‘cut and paste’ copy of the company’s cancellation policy that states they will forfeit 25 per cent of their $20,000 fare if they cancel now – and 50 per cent if they cancel by September 25.
A friend who is travelling with them is in the same situation and has also had not contact.
The Wexhams have checked with their travel insurance provider as to where they stand if they cancel the cruise (which forms part of a much-longer holiday in the US including New York accommodation and attractions) only to be told they must receive an official statement from Cunard first.
The Wexhams will no doubt be the first of many across all cruise lines to question forward bookings, and whether they can still go ahead as planned.
Most – including Cunard – are urging cruise passengers to wait and see, as it is still to early to tell what may happen.
Norwegian and Carnival Cruise Lines both issued statements on September 12 regarding refunds and future cruise credits for passengers affected by cruises that were cancelled or rescheduled in the week Hurricane Irma hit.
NCL has re-routed all its Eastern Caribbean cruises to the Western Caribbean (Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel (Mexico), Honduras and Belize are the most visited ports) until November, when presumably they will reassess the situation.
One of its ships, Norwegian Escape, spent three days at the port in Cozumel waiting for the all clear to cruise back to the States, where it was expected to dock today (September 13). NCL’s Miami headquarters also reopened today.
Carnival Cruises Lines cancelled seven cruises scheduled to depart from Florida ports in the four days from September 7, giving all passengers full refunds, while guests who were booked on three other cruises that week, but did not travel due to flight cancellations, received cruise credits. CCL also delayed the departure of some of its shorter cruises that were heading to the Bahamas (which narrowly escaped the worst of the hurricane) by a few days. The company has not made a statement regarding the future of Eastern Caribbean itineraries beyond mid-September.
Both NCL and CCL ships are delivering urgent supplies to islands including St Thomas, St Kitts and Grand Turk
Winds of up to 290 kph cut a south-to-north swathe through the islands beginning on September 6 and eventually hitting the US coast four days later, killing an estimated 55 people.
A Cunard spokesperson said, “It is only days since Hurricane Irma passed through the Caribbean and the overall impact on destinations and itineraries is still being assessed. It is still more than two months to Cunard’s currently scheduled visits to affected destinations which allows time for a proper assessment of whether the itinerary will need to be amended and the extent of any changes. While normal terms and conditions currently apply to bookings, we stand ready to adopt a flexible approach should this become necessary.”
A spokesperson from Royal Caribbean said the company is currently aiding those in need in the Caribbean and will then be assessing the situation.
“We are mobilizing ships and supplies to help people in need. Adventure of the Seas made a humanitarian stop in St. Maarten on Sunday and Majesty of the Seas made a humanitarian call in St. Thomas Tuesday and is stopping in St. Maarten on Friday to provide supplies and also assist in transporting evacuees in St. Maarten to safety. Additionally, we have Empress of the Seas ready to assist Key West.
“Given Hurricane Irma’s impact to St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Key West, we will be working on alternative ports for future sailings until these islands have fully recovered. We have communicated all changes on sailings through the end of September directly with guests that have itineraries with port calls to these islands.
“As the situation remains fluid, and each island is working diligently to get back up and running, we will continue to communicate any port changes approximately four weeks prior to departure.
“Our normal cancellation policy applies for future bookings, however all reasonable requests will be considered on a case by case basis.”
MSC was also contacted regarding their plans for future Caribbean itineraries.