Expectant parents Kerry and James Scarpinito were looking forward to a relaxing vacation this month on a Royal Caribbean cruise — until Zika get in the way.
So instead of having fun on the much-anticipated journey, the couple was forced to cancel their babymoon — the last vacation before their newborn arrives and have their disappointment exacerbated by the cruise lines hardline posture against full cash refunds.
Royal Caribbean offered the Scarpinitos a voucher for a cruise to be taken in the next two years — a trip-up they say they will not take with a baby.
I understand they want you to cruise again, said Kerry Scarpinito, who lives in Staten Island, N.Y. But this is not the way to build me want to go.
The Centers for Disease Control has now advised pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant to avoid travel to Miami-Dade County whenever possible, as well as travel to the Bahamas, other Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — all popular cruise destinations. Port Miami is considered the Cruise Capitol of the World, with nearly 4.9 million cruise passengers this past fiscal year.
The Zika virus, spread by the bite of a mosquito, has been proven to cause devastating birth defects, including microcephaly and other severe fetal brain abnormalities. Researchers are now reporting children whose mothers were infected with Zika while pregnant may face other challenges not immediately evident.
The Scarpinitos had no choice but to cancel.
I know cruises and infants dont mixture, said Scarpinito, explaining her reluctance to use the voucher and travelling with her child. I feel like they are banking on customers like me not cruising and not employing the voucher. I feel like Im being scammed.
The couple, who had use loyalty points to book the trip, wont get those back either. After Scarpinito complained( and FoxNews.com reached out for commentary ), she was offered the $200 -plus that she and her husband had pay money fees and taxes on the trip, but received only a voucher for the $300 -plus they paid for a cabin upgrade.
Airlines have been more flexible in the wake of the CDC’s unprecedented proclamation. JetBlue, on the other hand, provided a full air fare rebate immediately. I didnt even are required to provide a doctor’s note, Scarpinito said.
But cruise vacations are expensive, and big liners are relunctant to enforce flexible policies that could hurt the bottom line. Big-ship cruises typically average $100 per day per person, according to CruiseCritic.com.
Generally cruise line cancellation policies are quite strict, leaving little room for refunds, said Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor of CruiseCritic.com. Given that there are very few pregnant passengers who may be facing this matter, McDaniel believes cruise lines are likely trying their best, though she was unable to offer insight as to why some people may be encountering difficulties on certain lines.
In the case of the Zika virus, many lines have adjusted their policies to allow for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to cancel their trips, ” said McDnaiel.
Carnival Cruise Line, which has 25 ships, will issue refunds to pregnant women and their traveling companions on a case-by-case basis, as will other Carnival brands — including Princess, Costa, Holland America and Fathom. They also may give refunds to those trying to conceive.
We are trying to be flexible and understanding, given the situation, said corporate spokesman Roger Frizzell, adding that thus far, any such requests have been pretty mild, with no impact on their brands cruise business to date
Windstar Cruises, which attracts a lot of honeymooners on its sailing yachts, also is evaluating refunds on a case-by-case basis. Hotels are offering refunds, as well. Every hotel in Miami has been gracious about rebates, said Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, one of New York Citys largest travel agencies.
Airlines are addressing this issue through direct communication with their clients, said Jean Medina, a spokesman for Airlines for America, which represents the airline industry. Delta and Southwest are among those offering refunds.
Royal Caribbean wouldnt commentary beyond referencing its Zika policy: Royal Caribbean will assist any pregnant women who do not feel comfy sailing to countries affected with the Zika virus by providing alternating itinerary alternatives. This may include providing guests with a future cruise credit, valid for two years, so that they may re-schedule their voyage for a later date, with no penalty.
Norwegian Cruise Lines policy is similar. Nothing is being offered on NCL and Royal Caribbean to those trying to get pregnant, unless they have bought a cancel anytime travel insurance policy. Those policies typically cost 40 percent more and will cover up to 80 percent of a customers non-refundable deposit, said Daniel Durazo, spokesman for Allianz Global Assistance USA. Fear of contracting Zika is not something that a standard travelling insurance policy would encompass. The exception would be a female policy holder who becomes pregnant after they purchase their policy and is traveling to an region impacted by Zika, he said.
But if cruise lines, which have not announced plans to alter port routes away from zones affected by Zika, start permitting exceptions for some, others could take advantage of the loosened restrictions.
A few of the behemoth lines feel that if they start refunding some passengers it would open up a can of worms, defining a precedent about opening the door to money refunds which would hurt their bottom line since they never give rebates, offered Jack Ezon, whose luxury travelling agency Ovation Vacations volumes many cruises.
Cruise lines always promote guests to buy insurance for that very reason. The problem is that, even for people who bought insurance, Zika is not covered by most policies.”
I do think it will turn young people away from cruising especially since hotels and airlines are almost all cooperating with refunding people in full, Ezon indicated
Since Zika can be transmitted by sexual contact, the CDC also recommends women and their partners preparing to have children avoid travel to areas with Zika — a directive that has given pause to couples trying to get pregnant. One engaged couple posted on CruiseCritic.com what many likely are believing whether to cancel their Caribbean cruise honeymoon as our desire to start a family is our priority.
The CDC has just announced that $6.8 million will be awarded to national public health partners to assist country, tribal, local and territorial jurisdictions with their Zika responses.
But no one is expecting a quick or easy solution.
The cruise lines cant control such a situation and neither can I, said Kerry Scarpinito. The message they are sending is that they dont care about their passengers.”
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kids Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kids Guide to NYC has just been released.
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