Foreign passport holders seen entering Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt, first since war began
Dozens of foreign passport holders could be seen entering the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt on Wednesday. It appeared to be the first time foreign passport holders have been allowed to leave the besieged territory since the start of the Israel-Hamas war more than three weeks ago. (AP video by Najib Jobain) (Nov. 1)
Janet and Joe Sherwood’s bucket list trip became a burden.
The couple booked a Nov. 29 cruise from Istanbul to Dubai with Oceania Cruises, but in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, the cruise line – like many others – adjusted its plans, altering the itinerary dramatically. The roughly three-week sailing aboard the Riviera ship, set to visit Haifa, Luxor, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, only retains about half of its original ports, including the start and end points.
After calling Oceania last week, the Hoschton, Georgia, couple said the line told Joe that they also could apply the more than $20,000 they spent to another cruise as long as they rebooked by Nov. 30. But two days later, after Janet heard from another passenger that the offer had been rescinded, Joe called back and was told the same thing.
Oceania Cruises declined USA TODAY’s request for comment.
The couple is among several Oceania guests who have struggled to get refunds or compensation in the wake of drastic changes to planned sailings. Multiple guests said they felt locked into cruises they wouldn’t have chosen to take.
After appealing their case, the line’s Vice President, Global Guest Services, Carlos Ortega told the Sherwoods Oceania would not issue any compensation or future cruise credits for canceled reservations.
“As all of our itinerary changes were carefully evaluated with the guest experience in mind, the revised voyages feature culturally rich and historically significant ports across Italy, Greece and Turkey, full of UNESCO World Heritage sites, unique culinary experiences and cultural treasures,” he said an email last week, which the couple shared with USA TODAY.
“It’s a terrible situation, and I certainly feel sorry for the people who are living there and having to deal with this. It’s just horrible,” said Janet, a 77-year-old real estate agent. “But I feel like that really doesn’t affect the decision (Oceania made on how to handle) this.”
Janet said the trip cost more than they would normally spend but included destinations like Israel and Egypt, where she had wanted to go for years. She said being on the financial hook for a much different trip she would not have booked feels wasteful.
She also has safety concerns. The U.S. State Department has multiple travel advisories in place for the region, and issued a “worldwide caution” for Americans overseas last month.
They contacted American Express, their credit card company, who Janet said tentatively offered to reimburse around $18,000 – though the request is still pending. The couple also bought travel insurance through Oceania but said their policy would not cover those kinds of itinerary changes.
Oceania told Joe the line would refund the taxes the couple paid if they decide not to go, though the couple did not know how much that would be, and credited the price of excursions for canceled ports.
“They’re within their legal right to do what they have done,” Janet said. “But it isn’t right.”
Jared Feldman, owner of travel agency Jafeldma Travel, told USA TODAY in June that the contracts guests agree to when they book are “very cruise line friendly.” But while the lines may not owe passengers compensation, they sometimes offer it as a goodwill gesture.
On most Oceania cruises, passengers must pay 100% of their cruise fare for cancellations made 60 days or less before departure, along with any optional facilities and service fees, according to the line’s guest ticket contract.
The Sherwoods received notice of the most extreme itinerary changes to their Nov. 29 sailing on Oct. 20, 40 days before.
‘Getting something completely different than what you bought’
Steven Alves and Jeff Hull had to fight for a refund on their cruise. The Florida couple booked a 40-day sailing with Oceania from Barcelona, Spain, to Singapore to celebrate 22 years together.
The stops included many first-time destinations for the pair, including Haifa; Luxor, Egypt; and Aqaba, Jordan. “We booked it for the itinerary,” said Alves, who is 52 and works in business consulting.
Oceania altered most of the first half of the Nov. 18 sailing aboard its Nautica ship. The line also made changes to the second half.
Alves said the line initially declined to refund any of the more than $35,000 they spent on the cruise. They heard that other guests had received an offer for a future cruise credit, and their travel agent told them Oceania said they could apply their fare to a future voyage if they rebooked by Nov. 30.
But two days later, the couple was told by Oceania the policy had changed – hours before being notified about major itinerary revisions, Alves said. Their travel agent did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
The new portions of Alves and Hull’s itinerary centered more heavily on Italy, where they have been before, and at one point included more than a week straight of sailing. Alves spent hours canceling car and hotel reservations for overnight stops at ports the ship will no longer visit.
Cruise travel insurance: Why you might not want to buy it through the cruise line
After they appealed their case, Ortega told Hull last week that the line was not issuing future cruise credits or penalty waivers at that time for changes related to the war.
“We understand the disappointment these revisions may have caused but hope that our guests and travel partners share in the understanding that these circumstances are outside of anyone’s control,” he said in an email, which Hull shared with USA TODAY.
However, the couple’s travel agent called on Thursday to tell them the line had reversed course and will issue them a full refund.
“It’s a horrible thing that’s going on,” Alves said of the war.
“But our stance is, the cruise line should understand that you’re getting something completely different than what you bought,” added Hull. “And this is not something cheap. It takes a lot of time to do, a lot of planning.”
Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at email@example.com.