7 Clauses to Beware of in Your Cruise Contract
If you ever want to feel confused, outraged and powerless all at the same time, just read your cruise line's ticket contract.
"Carnival's first response was that we didn't have travel insurance," she says. She protested. The cruise line responded again, this time blaming Mother Nature. "They said they can't control the weather," she says.
No kidding. Carnival's ticket contract specifically says it can change arrival or departure times without notice, for any reason whatsoever, including weather. "Carnival shall have no liability for any compensation or other damages in such circumstances," it adds.
"Carnival is not at fault because they were delayed by an act of nature," says
Cruise contracts are filled with clauses and supported by laws that the average passenger doesn't know about. If they did, they might think twice before setting sail. The paperwork addresses everything from what the cruise line owes you when something goes wrong (not much) when it's responsible for your well-being (hardly ever) to where and when you can sue them (in a faraway court, and almost never).
"No one reads the fine print," says
"There are no consumer protections in the ticket," adds maritime attorney
So what do you need to know before you set sail?
Your laws aren't our laws. That's not hyperbole. It's literally true, according to
Don't hold us to the brochure. The ship may -- or may not -- keep the promised schedule. This is perhaps the most irritating contract provision. Here's
The quack who treated you isn't our problem. Most medical care on cruise ships is perfectly adequate. But just in case it isn't, cruise lines have a clause that say they aren't responsible for the malpractice of the ship's doctors. Have a look at paragraph 13 of Princess' passage contract: "Doctors, nurses or other medical or service personnel work directly for Passenger and shall not be considered to be acting under the control or supervision of Carrier, since Carrier is not a medical provider. Similarly, and without limitation, all spa personnel, photographers, instructors, guest lecturers and entertainers and other service personnel shall be considered independent contractors who work directly for the Passenger." In other words, when a doctor's negligence leads to the death of a family member, the cruise line is off the hook.
"The passenger is left with the problem of having to bring a claim against the doctor who inevitably is not a U.S. citizen, often has no insurance, and is not subject to personal jurisdiction here in the U.S.," says Walker.
Kids and retirees are second-class citizens. The survivors of children or retired passengers who die on cruise ships have no right to compensation except for burial and funeral expenses, according to Walker, who recently wrote about this quirky provision on his blog. It turns out that when passengers die on the high seas, the "Death On The High Seas Act" applies. "It limits the recovery of the surviving family members to what is called pecuniary losses," he says. "This means that only lost wages and burial or funeral expenses are permitted." If you're a child or a retiree, and not earning wages, the only compensation is for the costs of the burial.
Want to sue us? Come to
Time is short. There's a one-year limitation period to file a claim, and a six-month period to write a letter to the cruise line when the passenger has been injured, says Walker, the maritime attorney. "This is a relatively short period of time, compared to the statute of limitations of most states," he says. "
If you think that's bad, get this: Experts agree that the contracts are getting worse. "In the last decade, cruise lines have had to tighten the reins," says Bentz. "Contracts have gotten a little longer and a little less customer-friendly." That means we may one day look back on 2010 as a time when cruise lines still cared about their passengers.
I have a sinking feeling that might be true.
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