Her cruise to Cuba was scuttled, but what about the refund?

Pearls Seas Cruises is one of several businesses that "lack the authority" to operate the trips to Cuba.

10 Jan Her cruise to Cuba was scuttled, but what about the refund?

There are specific rules that a company must follow and a special certification it needs to run a cruise. When Pamela Gillet booked her dream cruise to Cuba with Pearl Seas Cruises, she assumed the company had secured permission to run the trip it sold her.

We consistently advise our readers to do their research, but in this case Gillet needed to go beyond the terms and conditions for the cruise line. She needed to know whether the company had complied with U.S. law. The fact that she didn’t cost her $528. Can we help her get it back?

Three weeks prior to her scheduled embarkation date, Gillet had not received final documents, so she called Pearl Seas Cruises. She was told that one cruise had already been canceled, and a second one would also be canceled. The company admitted that it had not received the required certification to sail, but couldn’t tell Gillet for certain if her cruise would sail.

One week prior to the embarkation date, Gillet was finally given the bad news: The cruise had been canceled. The company refunded the full amount that Gillet paid for the cruise, but then she requested a refund on the amount she paid for a nonrefundable hotel stay one night before the cruise embarked and nonrefundable flights to Ft. Lauderdale.

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Approximately 90 days after she requested a refund of these costs, Pearl Seas Cruises told her that her request was “still under consideration.” While we don’t specifically list contact information for Pearl Seas Cruises (our research team is on it, though), Gillet says she knew that Pearl Seas is owned by American Cruise Lines, and we do list its contact information on our website. I’m not sure ACL would have helped her either, but it might have been worth a try.

What might have helped Gillet was researching the company with which she planned to travel, to determine if it had the authority to operate the trips. Travel to Cuba has been problematic for decades. It’s the only country to which U.S. citizens are banned from traveling — even travel to North Korea isn’t currently banned.

Travel to Cuba and the prohibition of financial and commercial transactions by U.S. citizens was enacted in 1963 under President Kennedy. The travel ban was lifted in 2009 when President Obama lifted restrictions for Cuban-Americans, allowing them to visit relatives and provide financial support to their families in Cuba. Americans of non-Cuban descent were still generally prohibited from traveling to the island neighbor.

In January 2011, what is now known as the “people-to-people” travel rules were enacted, expanding the categories of people who were allowed to travel to Cuba to include U.S. citizens pursuing “purposeful travel,” including academics, religious groups, students and charities. At this time, most travel to Cuba was through affinity organizations like alumni associations, as well as through churches or cultural groups.

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After the “diplomatic thaw” near the end of 2014, travel rules became even more relaxed, allowing Americans to travel to Cuba. In March 2015, MasterCard became the first company to unblock credit card use in Cuba, and later that month the first direct U.S.-Cuba charter flight was operated by Sun Country Airlines. Airbnb began listing rentals around Cuba the following month.

Although travel restrictions have clearly relaxed, operating tours to Cuba still requires a People-to-People license. Unlike the other 11 categories of authorized travel to Cuba, the People-to-People license allows any American to legally travel to Cuba, as long as they have a full schedule of activities that enhance contact with Cuban citizens and result in “meaningful interaction” between American and Cuban citizens.

Frank Rodriguez Junior
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