The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 10, 2013

Sinking feeling over free cruise that isn’t

By Jim Birt

By Joanne Arbogast

The Daily Item


Free cruise offers are nothing new. The latest one in circulation was received last week by a Lewisburg couple. Designed to look like a boarding passbook, the attractive offer — a two-night round-trip cruise out of Palm Beach, Fla., to the Bahamas, with all meals, entertainment and activities included — from Caribbean Cruise Line is appealing.

So appealing the couple didn’t immediately toss it away but instead wondered if it really could be real.

It actually is real. But there are plenty of strings attached.

The offer is being issued by Caribbean Cruise Line, but according to www.cruisecritic.com, “Bahamas Celebration Cruise Line is the actual name of the line on which you’ll be sailing. Caribbean Cruise Line is not a cruise line at all, but the name of a wholesaler that’s touting the free cruise.”

Know what you are getting into before you ever call the toll-free number provided “within the next 72 hours,” as you are urged to do, and wind up providing your credit card number to the smooth salesperson who answers the phone at the other end.

First, read the fine print on the offer:

“This is an offer to sell travel ... to promote specific hotels and resorts in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.” and “this advertising material is being used for the purpose of soliciting sales of the vacation ownership plan.” As a travel wholesaler, Caribbean Cruise Line is, in fact, licensed and bonded in the Florida.

You will be required to spend a night or several at the specific hotels and resorts. They entice you by including a “travel credit voucher” for $1,300 in your boarding passbook for just this purpose. It looks like a check but in small print, sideways, it states: This is not a check. It can only be used to “extend your stay” in Florida and the Bahamas — at the selected hotels/resorts (meals not included).

Sign up within 48 hours and they’ll throw in another getaway to both  Las Vegas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, too!

But know that in order to get the second and third getaways, you must first fulfill the initial one’s requirements and that is your attendance at “a fun guided tour of a beautiful vacation ownership resort” in Fort Lauderdale.

Other than the time you’ll spend sitting through sales promotions, how free is this free offer?

For one thing, you’re on your own getting to Florida.

The rest is in the fine print.

“Bahamas Celebration reserves the right to charge an additional fuel supplement of up to $12 per person per day without prior notice” and you will be responsible for government taxes and port charges.

If you are still interested, you have to put some money down. It took about 10 minutes for Mandy, the “ticket agent” who answered the number listed on the offer, to get to that part. She was a charming and convincing saleswoman, talking up the fabulousness of the cruise and extended-stay offers.

She estimated the port charges and government taxes at $59 per person, or $118.50 per couple — the same amount as noted in the passbook fine print — and then asked for a credit card number.

You have to decide whether it’s a good deal, but cruisecritic.com warns that people have had “serious complaints when trying to book the offer, ranging from confusion about which company is making the offer (Caribbean Cruise Lines, which sends the deal, or Celebration Cruise Line, which operates the ship) to forced timeshare pitches and misleading pricing.”

n Do you think you’ve been scammed? If so, contact the police and the  Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, Bureau of Consumer Protection, at (800) 441-2555. Let us know so we can help others avoid finding themselves in a similar situation. Send your story to Joanne Arbogast at The Daily Item, 200 Market St., Sunbury, PA. 17801, or jarbogast@dailyitem.com.