Cruise ship MV Lara
Courtesy of Miray Cruises
A unique offering to cruise around the world for three years – which was in danger of running aground earlier this year – now boasts a larger ship.
But the prices are also higher.
And some passengers who have already booked berths for the 130,000-mile cruise due to set sail in November — as well as potential passengers — told CNBC they were concerned about another new wrinkle in the selling point: the obligation to board the ship MV to go Lara in a port outside the United States.
This requirement would allow Life at Sea Cruises and its parent Miray Cruises to avoid paying a performance bond required by the Federal Maritime Commission for cruise lines loading passengers into US ports.
Such guarantees compensate boarding passengers in the US in the event that cruise lines do not complete the booked voyages.
In March, Life at Sea originally offered what it called “the world’s first – and only – three-year cruise” aboard predecessor ship MV Gemini.
Prices started at $29,999 per year for individuals sharing an inside cabin for the cruise, rising to nearly $109,999 per year for a larger suite. Gemini is expected to call at 375 ports in 135 countries and seven continents after its departure on November 1st. Gemini had seated up to 1,074 passengers.
Two months later, customers who had signed up for the voyage were stunned to learn that Mikael Petterson, then Managing Director of Life at Sea, and the rest of his team had left the Miray subsidiary over a dispute over whether the Gemini qualified to process the trip and the status of an FMC bond.
Petterson told his Facebook followers in May that the Gemini is “completely unseaworthy and will never complete a round-the-world voyage.”
“I decided three weeks ago to refund everyone their credit card deposits,” Petterson wrote in a public post on Facebook.
Petterson’s comments dismayed many who had signed up for the trip, including a man who had started selling his home to pay for the trip.
Barbara, a Florida resident who paid a deposit for the cruise, withdrew from the trip in May, following the lead of a number of other passengers. She has requested that her last name not be used in this article for privacy reasons.
“Rather risky for me,” Barbara said when asked why she dropped out. She said she has rebooked on a competing three-year cruise with Victoria Cruises aboard the Majestic.
At the time, Miray Cruises denied Petterson’s characterization of the Gemini and also promised that the voyage would go as planned, although it was not clear if the Gemini or another ship would be involved.
View of a cabin aboard the MV Lara cruise ship.
Courtesy of Miray Cruises
Miray Cruises also sued Petterson in a Florida court with claims alleging, among other things, defamation and harm to business relationships.
Petterson, who is fighting those civil lawsuits, declined to comment to CNBC.
“The unseaworthy comment never had any validity,” Miray CEO Kendra Holmes told CNBC.
“The MV Gemini has always been considered seaworthy, as this proves [Passenger Ship Safety Certificate] “Just last week, the Gemini was inspected as planned and the PSSC certification renewed.”
Despite this, Miray Cruises does not use the Gemini and recently told its customers that the company will instead put them on the Lara, which has room for 1,250 passengers. Miray said it offers 85% of the ship’s available berths “to allow our residents to be comfortable and enjoy all of the common areas without feeling crowded,” Holmes said.
“Shortly after the announcement in March, which received unprecedented positive response, we knew we needed to acquire a larger ship to meet the high demand for our voyage,” she said.
Holmes said that passengers who originally booked voyages when the Gemini was the proposed ship “have switched to the MV Lara at the price they originally booked in their cabin.”
However, she added: “As with any trip, prices are steadily increasing. The earlier residents book the trip with us, the lower the price will be.”
how much more
Shirene Thomas, a North Carolina resident who booked a three-year Life at Sea cruise operated by Miray Cruise
Source: Shirene Thomas
Effective immediately, Miray was offering people who would share an inside cabin a berth for $38,513, a price increase of more than 28% for that option aboard the Gemini. Outside cabins and balcony cabins have also increased in price.
One woman, Shirene Thomas, who booked a berth aboard the Gemini months ago at the price originally offered, told CNBC that she is in the process of making her final cruise payments after Lara will be the ship.
Thomas, from Wilmington, North Carolina, used her retirement money to travel and sold and donated most of her belongings.
While she almost dropped out of the voyage after controversy over the original plan to use the Gemini for the cruise, Thomas has now committed himself to the voyage.
Thomas, who is in her fifties, gave up her career in community service and has been an avid traveler all her life. After college, she tried a cruise as her first official vacation from work and has been a cruise junkie ever since. Although she has lived in or visited almost 70 countries, there are many more on her wish list and the 135 countries included in this project will include all of them and then some.
“I understand that the turmoil due to staff turnover has understandably unsettled some, but I feel the Life at Seas team has been honest, transparent and extremely communicative in speaking to everyone about the situation,” said Thomas. “You’ve held countless webinars to answer questions and ease people’s fears and have been very approachable.”
Though nervous about what to expect on the voyage, she said, “Those fears are overshadowed by the excitement of being a pioneer aboard this first-ever world residence-at-sea adventure.”
Thomas said she is particularly “looking forward to the volunteerism and humanitarian opportunities that are part of Life at Seas’ mission.”
But since there’s no US performance guarantee, she also uses her credit card to pay for the cruise, hoping this gives her a chance to get her money back if the cruise is cancelled.
“I know nothing is 100% secure,” Thomas said.
But she added, “Everything points to reality.”
“I trust that if it didn’t work out, they would give us our money back,” Thomas said.
From Miami to Istanbul
Other people CNBC spoke to raised concerns about the lack of a performance guarantee from Miray Cruises, which is now encouraging passengers to start their voyage in Istanbul on November 1 and board in Barcelona four days later.
Miray Cruises originally offered its customers the opportunity to board the Gemini in Miami.
However, by opting out of this US port, the company was able to avoid paying a performance bond.
“There are no deposit requirements for a cruise anywhere other than the United States, and if you were sailing on Miray Cruises or any other cruise line from a non-US port, you would not pay a deposit,” said Holmes, the CEO of Miray.
“Also, an FMC bond doesn’t cover everyone on the ship — it only covers passengers embarking in the United States,” Holmes added.
“When we began accepting residency applications, we found that the number of residents applying to embark in a US port was extremely small and that most of our US citizens expected to embark in Europe. That number had dropped even further as people didn’t “want to miss the first 15 days on board with their new neighbors,” she said.
When asked why Miray, after initially offering embarkation in Miami, switched to Freeport in the Bahamas, Holmes said: “Most of our residents chose to embark in Europe – either for our planned pre-departure celebrations in Istanbul or at our second embarkation point.” in Barcelona.”
She said fewer than a dozen passengers out of hundreds had requested embarkation in Miami.
“Given this small number and the flexibility of these residents, we have moved embarkation to Freeport, Bahamas, to add more days in South America to our itinerary,” said Holmes.