coronavirus

Chicago-Area Cruise Travelers Battle for Vacation Refunds

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Amid the coronavirus outbreak, concerns and cancellations that go along with it, a Lakeview couple said a third-party booking agent threatened to keep their $3,400 if they didn't set sail on a cruise next week.

Chris Barker and Bobby Schafer booked their Celebrity Cruise through a third-party planner, Atlantis Events. The couple was scheduled to leave for the Caribbean next week for a 7-day cruise. But when the coronavirus started making global headlines and left a Princess cruise ship in limbo at sea, Barker and Schafer decided to cancel their trip. 

“It was the whole thing being stranded at sea," Barker said. "Being quarantined afterward, I was not in a position to be it that situation."

"The fear got real," Schafer told NBC 5 Responds. "It really doesn't feel like a vacation if you're worried something will happen." 

Barker said when he reached out to Atlantis Events to cancel, the emailed response he got back left him stunned:.

"The cancellation fee is currently 100% of the total cost. Thus, we advise those inquiring to cancel to try to resell their cabin first to avoid the full penalty."

"The only option for me is to forgo the full fare or sell my cabin," Barker said. "And that, in itself, I take issue with. Selling my cabin is not an option. It just doesn't seem rational or reasonable."

At that same time, Celebrity Cruises was offering credit toward a future cruise, but Atlantis Events wasn't budging.

“It just felt like they did not want to work with us," Schafer recalled.

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"There's no manual for this that tells you what to do, but at the end of the day, I think we all know what's the right thing to do in situations like this and it’s just so apparent they're not making a good decision,” Barker said.

NBC 5 Responds asked California-based Atlantis Events why no refunds or credits, when its partner Celebrity Cruises was offering just that.

And how, in the midst of a pandemic, could customers resell cabins to avoid penalties?

The company did not answer NBC 5 Responds' questions, but in a statement said it is "closely monitoring global developments" and is "fully focused on protecting the health and safety of our guests and crew members."

On the day after major industries like Broadway and professional sports leagues announced they would shut down, Atlantis told NBC 5 Responds that Barker and Schafer’s cruise was "planned to operate as scheduled."

Atlantis Events then reversed course after the cruise industry voluntarily ground to a halt, agreeing to offer customers a full refund. For the couple, that means they are no longer on the hook for a $3,400 vacation they had no intention of taking.

“It did leave a bad taste in our mouth,” Schafer said.

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