Sharon Rudolph, 52, packed eight suitcases for “the vacation of a lifetime” aboard the Norwegian Escape cruise with her 78-year-old mother and two children. Her dreamy expectations quickly deflated when the cruise ended abruptly after the ship ran aground in the Dominican Republic Monday.
The former travel agent is one of the thousands of passengers who were told Tuesday their cruise was canceled days before it was meant to conclude Saturday. Passengers were provided with a general plan to disembark and head back to the U.S. on charter flights from Puerto Plata.
Days after the cancellation was announced, some passengers are still in the Dominican Republic trying to make their way home.
Rudolph told USA TODAY the situation has become more than just an inconvenience and sad end to the trip.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE WAS CANCELED MID-SAILING: That didn’t mean passengers could leave immediately.
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“They are stranding us at the port, because they are sailing away,” Rudolph said from the ship Friday morning before disembarking. “We will be left in the hot sun until a bus arrives to take us to the airport.”
That poses further difficulties for Rudolph and her mother who have medical conditions that can be exacerbated by heat. Their flight is scheduled at 7:30 p.m.
Stephanie Keller, who is also scheduled to depart at 7:30 p.m., told USA TODAY from the port in Puerto Plata that an estimated more than 1,000 passengers were still waiting to go to the airport hours after disembarking.
“We are sitting in the port waiting for buses for our charter flights,” she said. “They kicked everyone off the ship before noon. And then they sailed away.”
Norwegian Cruise Line has not replied to multiple requests for comment from USA TODAY.
At the port, airport: Chaotic scenes
Joann Lynn, who landed in Orlando just before 3 p.m., sent USA TODAY a photo from the airport.
“Ludicrous that no one is here from Norwegian,” she said. “People have stood in line for two hours only to be told they are in the wrong line and it was a stampede to shift to other side.”
Meanwhile, outdoors at the port in Puerto Plata, Keller said she had just purchased a burger for $25. “They gave us nothing when we got off ship,” she said around 3:00. p.m. “Just one bottle of water. With hours to wait.”
No one from Norwegian Cruise Line is there, to Keller’s knowledge.
“The people of Puerto Plata are very nice (and) helpful,” she said. “We were told not to leave this area (because) it isn’t safe elsewhere. I think most people are just shocked that we were booted so early, in a foreign country (and) with such lack of info.”
Passengers are worried, Keller continued, that the planes may not arrive at the airport and that
Compensation offered by the cruise line isn’t enough, some travelers say
NCL offered a full refund for the trip to passengers and offered credit for a future cruise. But it isn’t helping much.
“A refund is quite literally the least they could do,” Rudolph said. “A future cruise credit is worthless, because after a person has been literally abandoned dockside with her 78-year-old disabled mother and her two minor children, there’s not much after that to convince her to book again.”
Other passengers say that the package offered is sufficient but it doesn’t takeaway from the stress of the situation.
“Financially, I think they went above and beyond what was even necessary but logistically it was a freaking nightmare,” Lynn said.
“It was horrible,” she said. “Everybody was in good spirits until about yesterday because how long can you go on with miscommunication or no communication.”
Lynn added that she hopes it’s a wake-up call for Norwegian to make sure no one else has to go through something similar in the future.
Similarly, Keller said she was happy with the compensation but not with the way the cruise line went about getting its passengers home.
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Passengers are frustrated with the situation. Can they do anything about it?
The short answer is “no,” according to Jim Walker, an attorney who runs Cruise Law News.
“It seems (that) if they’re being offered a free cruise and future cruise credit that is about as fair as they can receive with the circumstances,” Walker said.
He added that “practically speaking” no maritime attorney would take up a case against the cruise line for a passenger that feels inconvenienced.
“If you go on a cruise and you get off with your life and you haven’t had some terrible medical mishap that’s been mangled by the ship or doctors you’ve had a good cruise in my perspective,” Walker said.
“Without a physical injury, you’re really at the mercy of the cruise lines offering any type of settlement or resolution,” he continued. “You don’t have any leverage.”
Michael Winkleman, another cruise attorney, agreed that it’s not a situation that would warrant a lawsuit. But he doesn’t think a future cruise credit and a refund are enough.
“I certainly think they should utilize their travel agent or deal directly with the cruise line to throw in some additional perks,” Winkleman said. “It’s kind of under the umbrella of bad things happen. So the question becomes how do you make it better?”
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