Cruise guests booked on a record-breaking 1000-day sailing have said they feel betrayed after the organising company pulled the plug on the trip, just weeks out from departure. After several delays, would-be passengers are now being told they don’t have a ship.
Life at Sea Cruises postponed the inaugural three-year voyage from Istanbul from November 1 to November 11, then again to the end of this month.
Now the company has admitted to passengers it had no ship to sail and would be refunding guests.
However this reimbursement, announced on November 17, will be little compensation for passengers following the last-minute cancellation - many of whom had sold houses and possessions for the promise of a long-term cruise.
CNN reported that 111 cabins had been sold aboard the ship prospectively named MV Lara’ Several were already in Turkey waiting for the start of the much-delayed sailing.
“There’s a whole lot of people right now with nowhere to go, and some need their refund to even plan a place to go - it’s not good right now,” one anonymous passenger said.
It was revealed that Life at Sea Cruises was still tendering to buy the ship AIDAaura up until one month before the initial departure date. It was not revealed that they had been unsuccessful in their bid until earlier this month.
Life at Sea Cruises said it would be refunding the passengers in instalments, to be completed no later than February next year. The company has offered to pay accommodation and return travel from Istanbul up to December 1. Some passengers say they no longer have homes to return to.
One furious passenger said that the communication had been poor, even after the announced cancellation. It was only last Tuesday traveller Andy Garrison said they had received “as close to an official announcement as is ever likely to happen.”
The passenger, who has been recording his thoughts on the fiasco via his would-be travel blog, says some guests face significant hardship and are unable to pay for travel home.
“People have sold, rented, or mortgaged their homes to be able to take this trip – which isn’t going to happen now.”
With a planned round-the-world itinerary calling into 140 countries, the overhead was around $65,500 per passenger, per year.
Life at Sea cruise cut short over lack of ship
Earlier this year the Herald reported that operators Miray Cruises - which run the Life at Sea brand - were intending to sail the record-breaking itinerary aboard the MV Lara, then named MV AIDAaura.
The 1400-passenger ship had been intended to operate at a reduced capacity of under 85 per cent, to maintain quality of experience for guests. However the 111 cabins sold for November was well below this threshold.
The Lara was to be bought from German cruise brand AIDA. Passengers had been told that the sailing was to be postponed after the sale was taking longer than expected.
On September 28, itinerary planner Robert Dixon and Captain Petridis said that they were in Germany closing the deal, via video update on their social media channels.
“In two days’ time, we will own this vessel … and from here in Bremerhaven, Germany, we will head to Rotterdam for refit. Will be in Istanbul to welcome you aboard our 1095-day, 382-port, 140-country global adventure of a lifetime.”
There have been no further updates on the company’s social media.
Three weeks later, the day before the cancellation, it was announced that the ship had been bought by Greek cruise line Celestyal Cruises.
Miray Cruises told media that they would be looking for a replacement vessel but the December 1 deadline was no longer possible.
Vedat Ugurlu, CEO of Life at Sea’s parent company Miray Cruises, told USA Today the company was “in talks to acquire a similar vessel”, however the project would not be going ahead in its current form.
“In case we weren’t clear, the Life at Sea cruise trip is cancelled,” said COO Ethem Bayramoglu.
There was a flurry of cancellations in May, after operators cancelled the planned sailing aboard MV Gemini and pushed up the entry price. In September the company said there was “no shortage of enquiries” about the itinerary and they had intended to operate the 1000-day sailing on a rolling basis, with an updated itineraries every four years.
Now the “never-ending cruise” has become the cruise that never was, with hundreds of passengers left in the lurch.