Carnival Cruise Lines endured a negative media frenzy earlier this year when its Carnival Triumph lost power due to an engine room fire and became stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly after, propulsion and power problems affected two other Carnival ships, causing the suspension of a cruise and missed port calls.
In order to convince potentially weary consumers to book a cruise, the line has launched the "Great Vacation Guarantee," a policy that enables dissatisfied passengers to disembark the ship and end their voyage early. They'll also receive a 110 percent refund, free transportation home, and a $100 credit for a future sailing – that is, if they weren't sufficiently spooked to never book again.
Taking a closer look at the new "guarantee" policy, a few things jump out:
To qualify for the refund, transportation, and $100 credit, passengers must notify the ship's guest services desk within the first 24 hours of the voyage. That's not much time. The first day of a cruise tends to be chaotic. People are unpacking, finding their way around the ship and recovering from travel. A Carnival spokesman said the clock starts ticking when the ship departs the port, and that's typically 4 p.m. Twenty-four hours is probably not enough time for most passengers to make an informed decision about whether to stay or go. (But just enough time to make them think they can).
That being said, refunding 110 percent of the cruise fare paid is a nice bonus, albeit a small one. On a five-day Western Caribbean cruise from Miami in mid-December, for example, an inside cabin sells for $219 per person via the Carnival website, thus entitling the customer to an extra $21. Book a suite on that same cruise, for $699 per person, and the bonus refund is close to $70 – pocket change to some, but it could offset some portion of the onboard bill, which is not reimbursed under the guarantee.
The cruise line also pledges to cover return air fare, ground transportation, and hotel costs, if necessary, for those who call it quits. Consider that hotel rates are particularly high in the Caribbean during winter season, when a last-minute stay in a mid-range property can easily run $300 a night. As a result, this actually can have a lot of value, potentially worth hundreds of dollars, depending on the passenger's final destination and whether an overnight is involved.
As a part of the guarantee, Carnival will handle the return arrangements. And if your vacation is coming to a close after just one day, you probably don't need any more aggravation. Let the cruise line figure it out for you.
Our conclusion? The Great Vacation Guarantee is a solid, valuable offer that will entice mostly first-time cruisers to give Carnival a try, without fear of losing money or time.