The Free Cruise
We've seen spokesmodel Carmen Electra touting free cruises on TV, received the award booklet mailing (with its official-looking stamps of approval from The Islands of the Bahamas, Alamo and Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort) and discovered the offer while browsing the Web. We're told that collecting our free cruise is easy: Call an 800 number, or fill out a form, and it's time for two nights of zero-cost cruising.
Naturally, "scam" might be the first thing that comes to mind with such an offer. And it quickly becomes apparent that the * means it's not actually free. It'll cost you a minimum of $59 per person for government fees and port taxes. There's nothing necessarily untoward here; the government taxes and fees are clearly stated, and $59 per person for a two-night Bahamas cruise - which includes accommodations, all meals, entertainment and a call at Grand Bahama Island - still seems like a decent deal for a quick getaway.
Still, 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. Cruise Critic did some research - and attempted to book a cruise - to help you determine whether the offer is a scam or a good deal.
First, a bit of background:
What is Caribbean Cruise Line, Anyway?
Let's clear up a key point of confusion right away. 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. But the difference between line and wholesaler seems to be blurry at best, with numerous complaints on sites like Cruise Critic, complaintsboard.com and ripoffreport.com conflating line and seller. It doesn't help that each has a telegenic spokesmodel - Daisy Fuentes for Celebration and Carmen Electra for Caribbean.
As a travel wholesaler, Caribbean Cruise Line is licensed and bonded in the State of Florida, "Fla. Seller of Travel Reg. No. ST-37425." (Though, there are timeshare marketing outposts in locations where the company is registered; for instance, in New Jersey, it's registered by the New Jersey Real Estate Commission.) Regardless of the official license, the charges against Caribbean Cruise Lines have been fast and furious - consumers have had difficulties getting refunds, been subjected to aggressive sales tactics, discovered that salespeople had misrepresented cabin locations - and many equate the two companies or confuse one for the other.
Angelina from Pennsylvania, who booked an extended-stay vacation after seeing Carmen Electra touting the cruise on TV, told us a horror story, which included more than five hours of timeshare presentations that they were not told they'd have to attend. "You have to go, or you will not be allowed to get on the cruise ship if you don't, " she told us.
Florida's Division of Consumer Services has record of at least 40 complaints, the content of which we've yet to receive in the form of a public record request. Moreover, the Better Business Bureau gives Caribbean Cruise Line and "F" - and the BBB has documented 459 complaints filed against the business, 396 of which have been considered resolved. Still, according to a spokesperson at the Florida Attorney General's Office, the body responsible for responding in earnest to those consumer complaints, no official investigation has been opened or closed on Caribbean Cruise Line.