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My dream 60th birthday cruise has become a war-zone – why can't I get a refund?

Kevin Turnock and his wife are due to meet a P&O cruise in Sydney next month which is currently scheduled to return to the UK through the Red Sea
Kevin Turnock and his wife are due to meet a P&O cruise in Sydney next month which is currently scheduled to return to the UK through the Red Sea

Kevin Turnock, a P&O Cruises’ customer, wrote to the Telegraph on January 11, 2024.

“Although the dangerous situation in the Red Sea is reported on a daily basis, many travel companies are not providing their customers with updates and some are not even responding to customer enquiries. Clearly this is not acceptable, especially when families are spending huge sums of money with these companies and are obviously worried and concerned by the situation.

“Our situation is as follows: P&O is operating a world cruise on the ship, Arcadia. The ship left the UK this week on the first leg of its cruise to the USA and Caribbean. My wife and I are due to meet the cruise in Sydney and depart for the UK on February 22, 2024. The Arcadia is scheduled to transit the Red Sea and Suez Canal on its return to the UK.

“Unfortunately, there currently appear to be almost daily missile and drone attacks on shipping in the Red Sea area and I can’t imagine P&O sending a big white ship complete with Union Jack livery through the area anytime soon.

“I have been trying to contact P&O since November for an update to try and determine if my cruise will be cancelled (as many cruise lines have already announced for itineraries involving the Red Sea), re-routed via Africa (as at least one cruise line and multiple commercial shipping companies have already done), or cut short and passengers flown home from say Singapore or Sri Lanka.

“However, to date, I have typically received no response or, in one case, a message which states: ‘We are constantly reviewing the situation, any amendments that may need to be made to any of our itineraries will be communicated to our guests.’

“In our case the cruise is booked to celebrate our 60th birthdays so we would need sufficient time to make alternative arrangements, should the cruise be cancelled. We are sensitive to the possibility as we have had a previous trip cancelled only 48 hours before the departure date.

“I do not understand why the company is so reluctant to provide a meaningful update or engage in a conversation. I appreciate there may not be a definitive decision available but the options being considered should be available by now and maybe a right to request a penalty-free refund should be made available.”

A spokesperson for P&O Cruises said:

“We are monitoring the situation on a daily basis and we will advise guests should any changes to the itinerary become necessary.

“The safety, security and wellbeing of guests and crew is our absolute priority.  Should we decide to change the itinerary based upon our own assessment of the situation or on the basis of advice given by authorities such as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), for example, we will inform guests of the revised itinerary and any other impact on the cruise, as appropriate.”

Greg Dickinson, Senior Travel Writer, advises:

The situation in the Red Sea is ever-changing, and highly volatile. Just last week, the UK and US launched airstrikes on Houthi military bases in Yemen. It is understandable, therefore, that P&O Cruises is taking a cautious approach and following the FCDO advice on the matter. As it stands, the Arcadia is scheduled to pass through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal in early April.

You and your wife are understandably frustrated and are keen for answers, particularly given that the holiday is for a big double birthday celebration. At this stage, however, your options are limited.

Because you are due to join the cruise in less than 90 days, you are unable to transfer your itinerary for an alternative cruise. If you choose to cancel unilaterally, you will only receive a partial refund.

Since you are due to join the cruise on February 22 (just over a month from now), you would have to pay a 75 per cent cancellation fee (P&O Cruises staggers its cancellation fees based on the proximity of the departure date). This would amount to a loss of many thousands of pounds.

This US Navy handout photo taken on April 29, 2015 shows the USS Laboon
'The situation in the Red Sea is ever-changing, and highly volatile' says our expert - AFP

P&O Cruises reserves the absolute right to alter its schedule after departure. Given that the Arcadia has already set sail from Southampton (on January 6) and is currently en route to the Caribbean, clause 43 in the Terms and Conditions is the crucial one for you and your wife.

“After departure, P&O Cruises does not guarantee that the ship will call at every port on the itinerary or follow every part of the advertised route or schedule or that every part of the Package will be provided. P&O Cruises reserves the absolute right to decide whether or not to omit any such port(s) and/or to call at additional ports and/or to change the advertised route, schedule or Package.”

P&O Cruises adds that, if it is unable to provide a significant proportion of the package (avoiding the Suez Canal and rerouting around Africa, for example): it will “make suitable alternative arrangements, at no extra cost to the Guest, for the continuation of the Package.”

If it is the case that you and your wife do not accept the rerouting plans “for good reasons”, P&O Cruises will “where appropriate, provide the Guest with transport back to the place of departure or to another place to which P&O Cruises and the Guest have agreed.”

Because the situation in the Red Sea is an unavoidable and an exceptional one, outside of the control of P&O Cruises, it is unlikely you would be entitled to any additional compensation.

Your best bet, for now, is to keep in close contact with P&O Cruises, and also to keep a close eye on what other cruise companies are doing. Fred Olsen Cruises says it still plans to sail through the Suez Canal in April: “Nearer to the time, if there is any escalated risk, we will of course implement a contingency plan,” it said. Viking Cruises, meanwhile, has cancelled its world cruise’s scheduled overnight call into Haifa, Israel, but for now, the preceding Suez transit in April remains.

It goes without saying that, if you do board the Arcadia on February 22, you and your wife should make sure you have comprehensive insurance cover.

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