What many travellers don’t realize is that “ticket” you get when booking your cruise is actually a “contract” that can run more than a dozen pages – with more mentions of the word “liability” than most of us would care to count. Unfortunately, it’s not until something unforeseen happens that you find out how stuck you are. But if you know what you’re signing away, you may be able to protect yourself. Here’s a sample of just five of the rights you sign away when you buy a cruise ship ticket. We’ll use a Carnival Cruise contract as an example:
First off – the right to privacy. You give the company the right “at all times with our without notice” to search your bags and personal effects. Furthermore, the company has the right to use pictures and videos of you any way they want. So, don’t be surprised if you see yourself in an upcoming cruise ship brochure!
You also give up the right to be compensated in the event your jewelry gets stolen or your luggage gets accidentally dropped in the ocean. The ticket contract limits the company’s liability for lost or damaged bags and their contents to 50 dollars per guest or 100 per stateroom. You can buy added coverage by declaring the value of what you bring onto the ship and paying five per cent of the value. Word of advice: leave the valuables at home.
You also have no right to “rely on your vacation”. Carnival can cancel any cruise at any time according to its contract. You’ll be owed a refund if the cruise is completely cancelled, or a partial refund if the company simply changes its mind about a certain port of call. But there’s no additional refund in the contract for airfare home.
Want to sue the cruise line for any reason? Good luck. Like most consumer legal contracts these days, a Carnival ticket contract includes an arbitration clause that requires you to submit claims via a lengthy process and only if you do it before a certain deadline, which most people are unaware of.
If you sign an international contract – like the passengers onboard the ill-fated Costa Concordia likely did when they boarded – you also sign away the right to ask for any kind of sizeable punitive damages. Most international contracts are subject to an agreement called the “Athens Convention” which limits liability to about 80- thousand dollars U.S. You can bet the lawyers in that case will try to blow through that rule pretty quickly.
So, the key with cruising: be aware of your rights, or lack thereof, before your board and you won’t have any surprises.