Q: Why did VACAYA make this decision prior to publication of final cruise industry safety protocols?
A: Celebrity is part of the Royal Caribbean Group, which established a Healthy Sail Panel consisting of globally recognized experts to develop a science-based approach for a healthy return to service. The panel submitted their plan to the US government and are currently awaiting approval to return to service November 1, 2020. Though the final safety protocols for cruise ships sailing in early 2021 have not been issued, the final rules will likely include capacity limitations in terms of passengers and venue utilization. These restrictions, though vitally necessary for safety, will make it impossible for us to provide our guests with the cruise experience they’ve come to enjoy with VACAYA.
Q: Will Guests who previously cancelled be able to reinstate their reservations?
A: Guests who previously canceled our ’21 Caribbean Cruise will have the opportunity to reinstate their reservation for a nominal fee that covers the hard costs of our administrative fees, booking fees, and the credit card fees associated with their original reservation cancellation. This $200 per person reinstatement fee will be subtracted from the penalty you paid when you originally cancelled and the remaining balance from that penalty will be applied to your new booking. Please note that with all reinstatements you’ll receive a new Reservation Number and likely a new stateroom (if your original one is no longer available). Upon reinstatement, you will have the option to pay for your reservation in full or stretch your payments out until November 2021 with our interest-free monthly payment plan. We ask that you please give us the time necessary to set up everything behind-the-scenes that will allow us to handle this particular bit of business. We’ll send details and instructions out before the end of the year.
Q. I cancelled Caribbean 2021 a while back. Can I reinstate to another VACAYA trip other than Caribbean 2022?
A. While our reinstatement program is centered around rebooking guests to Caribbean 2022, we’re willing to make this one-time exception to apply the same rules to moving you over to another one of our announced 2021 or 2022 trips, minus the same hard cost fees we outlined above. Please note that this new reservation would be nonrefundable once made due to the unique nature of the balance transfer.
Q: Can I just cancel and get all my money back?
A: Our Terms & Conditions allow us to hold our cancellation penalties exactly where they are today through the rescheduled event. However, with the cruise now over 500 days away (as of Oct 14, 2020), we have made the non-precedent setting decision to reset our cancellation penalties. So instead of the penalties being 50-60% (depending on when you originally booked) at this time, they’ll reset to 10% according to our new Terms & Conditions (published July 10, 2020). Our Terms & Conditions allow us to fully reschedule trips as challenges arise – whether that be a pandemic as we’re experiencing now, foul weather, problems with a vessel, etc. In agreeing to our Terms & Conditions, you have given us the ability to reschedule, but as we hope you’re seeing, it is being done with great care and consideration – just like our cancelled 2020 Lisbon Cruise and our rescheduled 2020 Iceland Cruise.
Q: Can I just dispute the charges on my credit card?
A: Disputing a credit card charge is never the right option. The hurt it does to a company like VACAYA is almost incalculable – requiring us to spend hours preparing the responses to the disputes, not to mention all the fees involved with their processing. In addition, disputes jeopardize our credit score and our relationship with our credit card processor, which is vital to us being able to operate. The Terms & Conditions you sign when booking with us are our binding contract with you. 99 out of 100 times VACAYA wins credit card disputes, but occasionally a credit card company may wrongly side with their customer. In the rare cases where a credit card company decides against VACAYA, we send those lost disputes to a collection agency for processing (as we’ve done since the very beginning). We never want our guests to be hounded by collectors, but in cases such as these, we’re left with very few options for recovery. In addition, no one who disputes a valid charge with us is allowed to travel with VACAYA again until that money owed is repaid in full.
Q: Will we still be sailing out of San Juan?
A: Not likely. There are only a couple long-shot scenarios that may see us sailing out of San Juan. However, as we craft our new itinerary, we will definitely keep San Juan on our short list of possible ports of call for the rescheduled cruise.
Q: If not San Juan, where is the cruise likely to sail from?
A: We don’t yet have the answer to this obviously important question, but it’s likely to be somewhere in South Florida – either Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale or The Port of Miami. Once Celebrity has laid out their final deployment schedule, we’ll know definitively. What we do know already is that many of their ships will be scheduled for shorter 4- and 5-night cruises. So carving out a 7-nighter makes for a bit of a challenge schedule-wise as traditional Saturday or Sunday sailings give way to sailings that now begin/end on a weekday.
Q: What does “deployment” mean?
A: “Deployment” is the cruise industry term that defines when and where each ship in their fleet sails over a given season. For example, Celebrity Summit had been deployed to sail 7-night cruises out of San Juan from November 2020 to May 2021 and from Bayonne, NJ to Bermuda June 2021 through October 2021. Deployment is one of the most complicated pieces of a cruise line’s operational plan because of the many factors that go into the decisions, from port availability to fuel costs.
Q: Are there any other options?
A: If you’d like to avoid all cancellation fees, you have the opportunity to sell your trip on the open market via social media groups or other channels. If you choose to do that, you’re only responsible for a $150 name change fee. Simply put us in touch with the person you’d like to sell to. Additionally, if you conduct the financial transaction between the two parties, we’ll waive the name change fee altogether.
Q: What’s the difference between a charter cruise event being “cancelled” versus “rescheduled”?
A: One of the fundamental elements of every contract signed by a charter cruise company like VACAYA with a cruise line like Celebrity is the ability of the cruise line to change the dates, ship, port of embarkation, ports of call, etc. of the charter due to myriad reasons. And the reason we have a similar clause in our contract with you (our Terms & Conditions) is because at any time and for any covered reason, the cruise line can adjust any or all of the previously mentioned items. As we discussed in our Primer Blog… in myriad cases, the cruise lines hold most of the cards. This is a prime example.
Many have asked about the way other companies have handled this crisis (between February and September 2020) and why this seems different with VACAYA. That’s because at its core, it is different. Many other charter cruises were actually cancelled outright by the cruise line, with no alternative cruise option offered (primarily because there was no end to the pandemic in sight and the cruise lines had no idea when they would return to service). In those cases, the cruise lines returned all of the charter fees to the charterer (usually within 90 days) and the charter companies passed those refunds back to their guests. In the case of VACAYA’s 2021 Caribbean Cruise and with a return to service being rolled out in the near future, Celebrity took their contractual option to reschedule our charter event. That means every dollar we’ve paid Celebrity for this charter event moves forward to the rescheduled event. None of those funds come back to us.
Celebrity is in the process of finalizing a major redeployment of their fleet. And while they likely know where we’ll ultimately land, they’re not at liberty to tell us until those announcements are made publicly. They will announce the changes in two rounds – one early next week and the second in early November. Somewhere between those 2 announcements, we’re likely to learn our specific path forward. The reason they couldn’t tell us right from the start is because they have tens of thousands of non-charter passengers booked on soon-to-be-affected cruises, and our premature announcement would have jeopardized their ability to effectively serve those affected guests. So as we explained… we’re announcing this along with them, as we learn. We certainly could have waited till their second announcement and shared everything then, but imagine for a second the absolute chaos that would have ensued if during their first announcement they made a proclamation that impacted our sailing. With no information or advance word from us, people would have lost their minds. That wasn’t an acceptable path for us, so we shared what we knew when we knew it.
We fully recognize this rescheduling is a hard pill to swallow for some – especially when nearly everything has changed, but by the letter of the agreement (and in turn the law), Celebrity has exercised an option. That creates a trickle effect on the VACAYA side, with us contractually obligated to accept those changes. But what we’ve done on our side is to try and make this as pain free as humanly possible. As we explained earlier, our Terms & Conditions allow us to hold to the current penalty regardless of the situation surrounding the rescheduling. That would have been 50-60% for most people. And even though we offered multiple off-ramps to make each guest whole, we just couldn’t do that penalty-wise to our guests. So we made the difficult financial decision to roll back the penalty to its absolute minimum – 10%. For most guests who booked under our prior Terms & Conditions (which were made more consumer friendly in July 2020), that minimum would have been 15%, but we took it even further and leveled things out for everyone at rock bottom.
We can’t say this enough… we WISH we had a billion-dollar war chest, but as a young company facing extraordinary circumstances during a pandemic, we have to play the cards we’re dealt in a way that allows us to continue to operate. But we’ve played the best hand we could with the cards we’ve been dealt.
And please don’t read this in any way to be a slam against Celebrity. They have been great partners throughout this crazy time, but ultimately they had to do what’s right for their business – a business that went from generating tens of millions in revenue each week to $0 overnight. These are unprecedented times that call for unprecedented solutions and for any of us to survive, we all have to work through this together.