Australians who paid up to $15,000 deposit to secure a promised long-term berth on Victoria Cruises Line “world’s first affordable residential ship” fear for their deposits.
Victoria Cruises Line passengers have been demanding their money back after the promised voyage – and ship – failed to materialise. The cruise has been rescheduled several times after it maintained it failed to reach the 80 per cent capacity required.
There has been only one successful refund so far.
“We’ve bailed,” passenger Taryna Wawn told Cruise Passenger from her home in Perth, where she and her husband recently retired. “We were aware of the risk but were still willing to take the chance.”
Wawn deposited US$10,000 (AU$15,000) on April 13, 2023 into an account in Budapest, Hungary. After an initial scheduled departure from Port Everglades on July 1, 2023, the cruise was pushed back to September 1, then again to December 1.
The line has now promised a departure of July 26. That’s more than a year after it was first supposed to leave. After numerous postponements, the Perth couple requested cancellation of their booking on October 9, 2023.
Victoria Cruises Line website says it has a 90-day refund policy. Wawn is still waiting.
“We are not anxious, we are ok, we are not putting our life on hold. But we are trying to keep our morale up,” she said. “It’s $15,000!”
She has also shown Cruise Passenger a raft of correspondence which some could interpret as belligerent and hectoring.
NSW residents Graham Whittaker and Garda Hemming, currently sailing around New Zealand aboard Holland America’s Noordam, are not holding their breath about their AU$15,000 deposit.
“We’ve resorted to taunting them now,” said Whittaker, a former journalist and Royal Navy sailor who knows his way around boats. “Taunting them is the only way we have been getting replies.”
In various emails, the pair said they had also been told that the line did not own a ship. Victoria Cruises Line announced last year it was purchasing two former HAL-Holland America ships. Originally the MS Veendam, the Aegean Majesty was supposed to be relaunched as Victoria Majestic.
The couple had initially inquired about Miray, a residential cruise ship venture by Life at Sea which also ran into trouble. But they said they looked Victoria Cruises Line was the safer option with a European registered ship.
Dream life eluded
The dream of a life or retirement at sea has so far eluded almost all but those on the ultra luxe World. It sells expensive suites and has been sailing since 2002. Many well-known personalities, such as Ros Packer, own apartments on the vessel.
However, the demand is there – which explains why a number of new ventures have tried it. The question is: can you make the numbers work to sustain a lasting business?
Cruise Passenger contacted Victoria Cruises Line and was told by a Viktoria Ollram that they would respond to questions on Monday.
In the past, the line has hit back at attempts by respected industry journals like Cruise Industry News, claiming “discrimination” because it is European.
“We have sent a legal letter of demand to them through a Hungarian lawyer,” said Hemming, although the local legal system is slow, she added.
An October email from the company outlined various misfortunes. That includes low occupancy rates, “misbookings”, “false bookings”, cancellations, imitators and a “Google Bug” as the reason behind the postponement.
Any missing refunds have been blamed on bank transfer failures or refund form errors.
“In recent months, several new companies have emerged that have copied much of the VCL concept, which has contributed to the loss of passengers and to the fact that the load factor has not developed as planned,” the company claimed in one email.
“The new PR company that we agreed to launch the new campaign with is a month late because technical problems prevented them from launching the new campaign. We are confident that the new PR campaign will be launched soon and that occupancy levels will increase.”
Other investigations reveal a captain who has heard nothing since an initial job offer. Any indication of reporting the anomalies to authorities or media has been met with legal threats or police action.
“The media platform is not the place to seek a resolution to complaints,” Marcell Herold, Vice President, Victoria Cruises Line posted on the company website.
“VCL Company will take the necessary legal action in all cases where it can be proven that a customer is publishing false, alleged or true allegations in the media.
“In several cases, we have received blackmail letters demanding money from us because otherwise, they would post fake content on the internet that would discredit VCL. In these cases, we filed a complaint and took legal action.”
Affected passengers have now started a Victoria Cruise Residents Facebook forum page which has 270 members. Wawn is one of its administrators and has listed 28 people who have requested a deposit. Only one has been repaid, Florida resident Janie Coffey.
Consumer advocate goes into bat
“A lot of these people are desperately trying to get their money back but have been offered nothing but excuse after excuse,” Glezer said.
The popularity of cruising means many are tempted by the long-term sail opportunities, with the failed Miray just one circulating. Victoria Cruises Line promised to provide cruisers the opportunity to rent luxury suites/premium staterooms for a minimum of six months.
“With a start-up the risk factor will be higher,” said Glezer. “Have you done your due diligence? You have to ask yourself if this is an honest and reputable company? Have they run a cruise before? Are they a legitimate company? Do they have any credibility?
“And when you do ask a legitimate question or ask for a refund, threatening lawsuits and police action shows an extreme level of unprofessionalism.”
Background of Victoria Cruises Line
Early last year Victoria Cruises Line announced it was entering the ocean cruise market with two former HAL-Holland America ships.
“Throw your current lifestyle overboard!” the website proclaimed. “Become the globetrotter you’ve always wanted to be as a resident of our luxury cruise ship. Sail for a minimum of 6 months, or as long as you desire!
“Life on our cruise ship can be less costly than living on land, especially when you take into consideration your housing costs, utilities, internet, food, maintenance and other amenities that are all included with your monthly rental.”
Victoria Cruises Line claimed it had acquired MS Veendam and MS Ryndam, and renamed them Victoria Majestic and Victoria Amazing, respectively.
While it claims to be headquartered in Limassol in Cyprus, Greece, Victoria Cruises Line LLC is registered to an address in Budapest, Hungary.
Cruise Mapper has the 28-year-old Aegean Majesty (which was supposed to be Victoria Majestic), with a capacity of 1620, currently in Aigio, Greece. But it looks like it is going nowhere.
It is still advertising bookings on its Facebook page and on the website.
- Victoria Cruises Line is not associated with Victoria Cruise Lines which currently operates on the Yangtze River with seven ships.