When she arrived back home after weeks stranded at sea on board the Pacific Princess cruise ship, passenger CJ Hayden, a San Francisco-based author and business coach, submitted a refund request right away.
By her reckoning, she and partner Dave Herninko were owed around $37,500.
“They weren’t going to charge us for the days that we spent floating around the Indian Ocean with nowhere to go,” Hayden tells CNN.
The Pacific Princess set sail back in January for a 111-day round-the-world voyage that was curtailed in mid-March when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the cruise industry.
Denied entry in several ports, the Pacific eventually docked in Perth, Australia on March 21, with most passengers, including Hayden, disembarking on flights that weekend. The ship’s operator, Princess Cruises, said there were no known cases of Covid-19 on board.
Hayden and fellow Pacific Princess passengers say they were told they could apply for 100% of their refund back in cash, plus a matching amount in credit against future trips – known as Future Cruise Credit (FCC). Alternatively, they were offered 250% in credit against future trips.
Hayden opted for the former option. She and Herninko say they were also owed for air tickets back home, excess baggage fees, money for prepaid land excursions that never happened and port taxes and fees.
Hayden says she chased up the cruise line three weeks after the refund request as she hadn’t heard anything and was subsequently told by Princess Cruises she should expect to wait 30 days.
A month later, Hayden had heard nothing further. She checked in again and was told 60 days.
Fast-forward to end of June, and Hayden says it’s been 99 days and counting. She’s received her credit, but her cash is nowhere to be seen.
Lengthy delays in processing refunds
And she isn’t the only one who’s been affected.
While stuck at sea, Hayden and Herninko formed tight bonds with fellow stranded travelers. Back home, the former shipmates remained in contact and these other Pacific Princess passengers told Hayden they too were waiting to receive refunds.
Browsing online cruise message boards and social media, Hayden realized the issue extended beyond the Pacific Princess. Other Princess Cruises passengers and passengers from other cruise companies were also vocal about long waits.
Frustratingly, while waiting for refunds, they’ve watched cruise operators advertise new excursions. Some of those trips were later cancelled after industry body Cruise Lines International Association extended a “no sail order” until September 15.
Hayden says she has complained to the California attorney general, the US Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Maritime Commission.
Princess Cruises director of public relations, Negin Kamali, told CNN that guests had been updated on the refund process via social media and email.
She pointed toward the cruise line’s latest statement on the topic, dated June 22.
“Because we respect our guest’s money and time, processing refunds has remained one of our top priorities since our company paused operations,” the statement read.
Princess Cruises said it had had to “ramp up our systems capabilities” in order to handle the volume and complexity of refunds.
The cruise line said that almost 60% of refunds had been completed and that reimbursements and credit were handled separately.
“Therefore, it’s normal to receive one at a different time than the other. In many circumstances, your full Future Cruise Credit amount will be made up of two or three separate FCCs,” reads the statement.
Cash refunds may also come in a series of payments, the cruise line added.
Kamali told CNN that Hayden’s refund was processed June 19 and she should receive it within five to seven business days.
A widespread issue with delayed refunds
Other cruise passengers who spoke to CNN said they had also faced long wait times with no sign of money. Others have received part, but not all, of their owed cash or credit.
David Hidding, who canceled a family Princess Cruises trip to Alaska in March, received a refund last week.
He says he’s frustrated by how the situation was handled.
“I explained that in over 90 days, we had received zero communication from anyone with Princess- which was unacceptable,” Hidding tells CNN. “No apologies, but [a Princess Cruises advisor] reiterated that they have been swamped with issuing refunds.”
Retired business analyst Judy Schmitz, from Iowa, was also on board the Pacific Princess. She opted to receive 100% of her refund back in cash, plus the matching amount in credit.
She’s received the credit, says Schmitz, but she’s still waiting for her cash refund, which she calculates as roughly $33,500.
When she returned home from being stranded at sea, Schmitz was busy looking after her ailing father, who later passed away.
“Until all of the money is refunded to me, I won’t be able to exhale,” she says.
Iowa-based nurse Christina Golston, who is waiting for a refund from Carnival Cruise Line, set up a Facebook page to connect passengers waiting for refunds from Carnival Corporation, which owns Princess Cruises – alongside Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America and Costa Cruises.
“There are a lot of people like me that love to cruise but we are in need of our money for bills now, due to loss of work or reduced hours worked,” says Golston.
Carnival Cruise Line representative Vance Gulliksen told CNN that at the beginning of the pause in service, the “sheer volume” of refunds had caused delays.
“But we have continued to automate and streamline the process and collaborated with our bank processor to work more efficiently,” Gulliksen added. “For the most part, we have worked through the backlog and feel that we can now process and issue refunds in a much more timely manner. We certainly appreciate our guests’ patience in this unprecedented interruption to our business.”
‘Much higher volume than normal of refund requests’
New York civil servant Julie Huang says she is waiting for a refund from Norwegian Cruise Line for a voyage she never embarked on.
Huang submitted her refund request in March – a claim for $9,100 on behalf of herself and several family members. She received an automated response that informed her she should allow 90 days for the request to be processed.
Day 90 came and went in the penultimate week of June, but Huang had received no updates. After failing to get through via telephone, she Tweeted Norwegian.
She says she was dissatisfied with a response that cited the high number of refund requests being dealt with.
“There are 90 days’ worth of missed opportunities for them to proactively let me know that they needed more time,” says Huang. “I’m cool with it, I believe our money will come back eventually. But I’m going to lose a little bit of faith right now, if they respond like that, and I didn’t appreciate it.”
“I’m more hung up about their response than I am about the money,” she adds.
Norwegian Cruise Line told CNN the cruise line had a “much higher than normal volume of refund requests to be processed” due to the unprecedented situation.
“Refunds are being handled by voyage departure date and according to the date that refunds were initially requested. Our team is working tirelessly to finalize these refunds back to the original form of payment as promptly as possible,” reads a statement provided to CNN.
“Regrettably, we are experiencing delays with our ability to deliver within the originally communicated 90-day time frame and want to set proper expectations with our ability to deliver. We greatly appreciate our guests for their understanding and patience.”
Still, while many cruisers are frustrated, some travelers, such as Robert Sohns, haven’t been put off by the experience of being stranded at sea or waiting for money.
Sohns was also on board the Pacific Princess, but unlike Hayden and Schmitz, he opted to get refunded fully in credit against future cruises.
He had to wait 90 days, but the roughly $36,500 credit is now in his Princess Cruises account, and a further $36,500 of credit is in his wife’s account.
“We were just hoping they didn’t go into bankruptcy,” says Sohns. “We just bided our time, knowing they’d get to us eventually.”
Sohns and his wife have put their credit toward a 2022 Pacific Princess world cruise, aiming to replicate the 2020 voyage that should have been.
“We’ve probably been on close to 100 cruises in the last 50 years, and half of those have been on Princess and we’ve always known that there’s a potentiality for things going on on the ships, but this is just so atypical.”