Who pays for a Disney cruise wrecked by Norwalk virus?

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Let’s say your cruise is cut short by the outbreak of a gastrointestinal virus. You spend most of your vacation quarantined in your cabin. Should you pay for it?

That’s the kind of question I get from a lot of travelers when their vacations are ruined by circumstances beyond their control.

Take Patricia Branham, whose family was stricken with the dreaded Norwalk virus after they boarded a recent Disney cruise.

– Within hours of each other, I fell ill. Next was my 16-year-old granddaughter Sadie. Next, my daughter Amy, followed by my granddaughter’s Hanna, 14, and Addie, 10.

My daughter Amy and granddaughter Sadie had to be taken to the clinic by wheelchair. When I called down for assistance, I was told, “We have two very ill patients that need our attention.” So I waited, and the nurse (who got sick herself) came up to my room to deliver meds. A family member overheard the doctor say “Norwalk Virus,” and that over 200 folks became ill.

We received our letter of 48 hour quarantine — which really didn’t matter as we were sick every remaining day forward, and some remain sick currently. I was with my personal physician on Tuesday and he informed me that if I didn’t improve I would have to go to the hospital and get and IV.

The humiliation we went through was just as bad as the illness. Hanna threw up at the dinner in front of everyone, both our rooms smelled of vomit and diarrhea. Our bedding had to be changed constantly as diarrhea accidents occurred while napping. We had no control of bodily functions and had to make choices to either “sit or lean over the toilet” in the bathroom.

It became very evident that others were falling ill, as the food service was put into “lock down.” All servers had to wear gloves and serve all the food, even the ice cream. To my husband’s horror a food server, in uniform, sick, was coming out of the doctor’s office.

By her account, Disney downplayed the Norwalk outbreak and offered a 15 percent discount for a future cruise.

– Most everyone I have chatted to said I am most likely out of luck. I still owed about $6,700 on my Visa and I was able to dispute that amount until they contact Disney. The total was around $10,700 but you can only dispute what you still owe. I was chatting with my travel agent and she said that on another cruise line something like this happened and the were sued by the cruse line for failure to pay.

At least one attempt at a media intervention failed to resolve this issue, and I recommended that Branham sit tight until Visa made a decision on her dispute.

A few weeks later, I got an update.

– Disney sent me a formal letter saying I am just out of luck as 1) I should have read the fine print, 2) I didn’t purchase Disney travel insurance. I placed a blog on the Disney Line message board, explaining what happened to us and a few hours later they removed it from their site and blocked me from going back on.

No surprise there. So what of the Visa dispute? Several months later, she sent me another note.

– The credit card company sided with us and removed the debt owed. I had purchased a senior trip Insurance and I was covered for the days we were quarantined, which covered my deposit.

We have received two letters from the Disney collection agency demanding their money. We finally sent a rather terse letter back, by registered mail, basically telling them to leave us alone or we would take legal action against them.

Well knock on wood, it has been two months now and all is quiet. Now that could be a good thing or bad thing. I guess I will just have to wait and see. As far as our three granddaughters that we took on the cruise are concerned, they still implore me to never take them on a cruise again.

Hiring a collection agency may seem like such as fashionable thing to do in the travel industry today, but it is really little more than a reflexive response to losing a credit card dispute. I think Branham is probably out of the woods on this matter.

But her case raises an important question: If your vacation goes bad — really bad — should you have to pay?

Visa has answered that question for us: “no.”

I think most courts would side with Branham, too, even though Disney’s cruise contract seems to suggest otherwise.

THE CARRIER AND THE VESSEL SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY DELAY, DETENTION, PERSONAL INJURY, ILLNESS, EMOTIONAL DISTRESS, MENTAL SUFFERING, PSYCHOLOGICAL INJURY, DEATH, DAMAGE, DELAY, LOSS OR DETRIMENT CAUSED BY ACT OF GOD, WAR OR WARLIKE OPERATIONS, CIVIL COMMOTIONS, LABOR TROUBLE, INTERFERENCE BY AUTHORITIES, PERILS OF THE SEA, DELAYS IN CONSTRUCTION, MAINTENANCE OR REPAIR OF THE VESSEL OR ANY OTHER CAUSE BEYOND THE CONTROL OF THE CARRIER, FIRE, THEFTS OR ANY OTHER CRIME, ERRORS IN THE NAVIGATION OR MANAGEMENT OF THE VESSEL OR DEFECT IN OR UNSEAWORTHINESS OF HULL, MACHINERY, APPURTENANCES, EQUIPMENT, FURNISHINGS OR SUPPLIES OF THE VESSEL, FAULT OR NEGLECT OF PILOTS, TUGS, AGENTS, INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS, GUESTS OR OTHER PERSONS ON BOARD NOT IN THE CARRIER’S EMPLOY OR FOR ANY OTHER CAUSE WHATSOEVER EXCEPT THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE CARRIER OR ITS EMPLOYEES ACTING WITHIN THE COURSE AND SCOPE OF EMPLOYMENT.

It’s simple, really. Branham’s family didn’t have a magical cruise that Disney’s brochure promised. As far as their credit card company is concerned, they shouldn’t have to pay for it.