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Cruise Ship tour scams

Notes by Donald K. Burleson


Note: This web page is an internet literature review and opinion editorial written by a non-lawyer and it should not be construed as legal advice.  Consult a qualified attorney for any legal questions, not this web page.

A review of cruise ship excursions and tours

Many cruise ship ports have dozens of tour operators and they compete fiercely for inclusion and endorsement by the cruise ship lines.  The revenue can amount to millions of dollars per year and there are lots of scams.

The cruise ship lines carefully certify all of their endorsed shore excursions and tours for safety, value and professionalism and they charge you a fee for warranting all shore tours. 

The cruise ship lines want to ensure that you have a good time and they charge you add-on fees for their endorsement and warranty.  If you are unsatisfied with your cruise ship shore excursion you have many rights, and the cruise ship lines will offer you a full refund and many perks if you are treated poorly on a shore tour or excursion.

Tips for booking shore excursions

Many shore excursions may book-up quickly and most cruise lines have a toll-free telephone line whereby you can guarantee your reservations for any shore excursions.

Once guaranteed with your credit card, the cruise ship line is obligated to provide the tickets and you are entitled to substantial compensation for any failure to honor your reservations.

Just like the airlines, some cruise ship lines over-book their shore excursions, and should you have an “involuntary bump” you are entitled to a full refund and a certificate towards a future shore excursions (of an equal or lesser value), just like airline overbooking.

Your rights on cruise ship tours

If you have a complaint about your shore excursion, remember that the cruise line has certified all tours and excursion operators for safety and good value.  The cruise line adds a markup fee to the actual costs of the tours in return for certifying that you will receive a high-quality tour experience.

See the web site Cruise Bruise for details on your remedies for shore excursions and tours gone bad.

If a cruise ship excursion operator has provided you with sub-standard service, you may be entitled to obtain compensation for lost time, pain and suffering, emotional distress and lost port time.  In most cases, documented excursion complaints entitle you to a full-refund plus coupons for free future cruise excursions. 

Documenting your cruise ship tour complaint

Justice suggests that the amount of your compensation is directly proportional your degree of emotional distress, physical discomfort and physical injury.  The cruise operators are very grateful for properly presented and documented complaints and they may immediately issue you a full refund and free vouchers for future cruises and tours.  If you present a clear and convincing case to the shore excursion desk, they are authorized to reverse the charge and compensate you for lost time, emotional distress and physical injury. 

The top-shelf cruise lines want you to complain and they will reward you for your feedback because it gives them an opportunity to re-evaluate the tour operator and prevent potentially devastating future claims. 

Once the cruise line has received a complaint about a tour or excursion they should fully investigate and resolve the complaint.  Remember, the cruise ship lines rely heavily on word of mouth for future sales, and this is reflected in their records with the Better Business Bureau, a reputation that they are very anxious to protect.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease

The cruise lines are all about maximizing profits and many of the cruise ship lines count-on the timidity of their passengers to minimize compensation to unsatisfied tour customers.

The cruise lines are very aware that a shore excursion is a once in a lifetime experience for many passengers and they have reserved significant funds for passenger compensation.  Some cruise lines require that you file a formal complaint in-order to receive compensation for a bad experience, while others simply require an in-person visit to the shore excursion desk.

Tips for problems in compensation claims

Some of the less scrupulous cruise lines will balk at a refund request, hoping that you will not have the Moxie to demand your rights.  If you meet resistance at the shore excursion desk, remember that their goal is to move you aside, where you may simply be ignored until you depart in frustration.  Here are my tips for maximizing complaint outcome:

  • Negotiate - DO NOT threaten legal action.  This will shut them down and end any informal compensation.
  • Explain – Explain the exact nature of your complaint and the amount of emotional or physical distress that you experienced.
  • Assert - Do not relinquish your place at the front of the line.  They want you to step-aside, where you may be ignored.
  • Escalate - Demand to speak with a supervisor immediately, and DO NOT relinquish your place in line until you have received satisfactory resolution.
  • Negotiate - DO NOT threaten legal action.  This will shut them down and end any informal compensation.
  • Explain – Explain the exact nature of your complaint and the amount of emotional or physical distress that you experienced.
  • Share - Don’t be afraid to share your bad experiences with other passengers waiting in the line.  You may save them a miserable experience.  Make it clear that you have the legal right to stand near the shore excursion desk and share your experiences with fellow passengers.

If you are unfortunate enough to be riding with a failing cruise line that fails to satisfy your complaint, keep-in-mind that they may be in collusion with the tout operator to rip-off the customers.  Here us how you can assert your rights to fair treatment.

Ignore the unenforceable gibberish

Some of the more unscrupulous cruise lines will have legalese buried in their shore tour literature that is blatantly contradictory and non-enforceable.  For example, some state that they are not an agent of the shore excursions, even though they act as an agent.  I’m told that the legal term for this type of contradictory clause is “LSIYAAI” (let’s see if you are an idiot):

“Crumbum cruise lines are NOT and agent of the shore excursion operators, notwithstanding that we advertise, promote, represent, accept funds and allow them to place the Crumbum logo on their signage”

Obviously, this is nonsense, and not enforceable in any court of law anywhere on the planet.  If you are given the excuse “we are not an agent of the tour operator”, make sure to mention hat the cruise line promotes, advertises, accepts money on their behalf and allow their logo to be placed on their signage.

This attorney notes that these disclaimers are not always enforced and that injured cruise ship passengers can receive awards from the cruise line for injuries on shore excursions:

"You may be entitled to recover even if you are injured while off the cruise ship on a shore  excursion.

Typically the fine print on the back of the ticket contains statutes of limitations  (time deadlines to file a lawsuit) as well as venue locations (cities where the lawsuit must be filed). 

If you are injured aboard a cruise ship and wish to make a claim, you must act quickly so that the statute of limitations does not expire. "

This site notes that the promotion of shore excursions may shift liability to the cruise lines:

"Some courts have held that a disclaimer for an on-shore excursion may not be enforceable if the passenger relied upon representations or warranties regarding the safety, competence, and reliability of on-shore suppliers of travel services"

Suing for an excursion rip-off

If you don not receive satisfaction for your losses on a cruise ship tour, your cruise ship contract requires that you sue within a specific jurisdiction (e.g. Miami).  To understand the extent of cruise ship complaints we need only look at the reports and recommendations of the Better Business Bureau.  As we see, the ratings vary widely:

  • Carnival Cruise Line – The better business bureau in Miami notes:  "Based on BBB files this company has an unsatisfactory record. Specifically our files show a pattern of no response to customer complaints, a failure to eliminate the basic cause of complaints and misrepresentation of marketing practices brought to their attention by the Better Business Bureau."
  • Costa Cruise Line - The Miami BBB notes "Based on Better Business Bureaus files this company has responded to any complaints brought to their attention by the Better Business Bureau, however one complaint remains unresolved."
  • Freestyle Cruises - The Miami BBB notes "Based on BBB files, this company has a satisfactory record with the Bureau. The Bureau has processed no customer complaints on this company in its three-year reporting period."
  • Norwegian Cruise Line - The Miami BBB notes: "Based on BBB files, this company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to a failure to respond to complaints. The Better Business Bureau met with the company on November 18th, 2004 due to the recent increase in complaint activity concerning customer service issues. The company informed the Bureau that they have taken action to correct the underlying cause of the complaints.  When evaluating complaint information, please consider the company's size and volume of business. The number of complaints filed against the company may not be as important as the type of complaints and how the company handled them. The Bureau processed a total of 353 complaints about this company in the last 36 months, our standard reporting period. Of the total 353 complaints in the last 36 months, 96 of those were closed in the last 12 months."
  • Radisson Seven Seas Cruises - The Miami BBB notes "Any complaints processed by the Bureau in its three-year reporting period have been resolved."
  • Windjammer Barefoot Cruises - The Miami BBB has a SATISFACTORY rating: "Based on BBB files, this company has a satisfactory record with the Bureau. Any complaints processed by the Bureau in its three-year reporting period have been resolved."

References on cruise ship tour excursion liability

These are unverified web references relating to compensation for poor cruise ship shore excursions and tours. 

  • This case is a class action lawsuit alleging that the cruise lines are pocketing money from shore excursions:

"Lipcon's lawsuits, which are similarly worded, also says many passengers are overpaying for the services provided. "At no time... did the defendants inform the class that [they] may be able to obtain the same and/or similar shore excursions at lower prices than the defendants were charging and collecting for the shore excursion," each lawsuit says.

Lipcon's lawsuits cover the last three years. During that time, he said, roughly 19 million passengers purchased shore excursions on the Carnival ships that are targeted by the lawsuit."

  • Rams v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Inc., 17 F.3d 11, 13 (1st Cir. 1994) (one-year time limitation does not apply to accidents during shore excursions).

  • 125 F. Supp. 2d 1375, 1377 (S.D. Fla. 2000) (passenger injured on catamaran trip while on excursion from cruise; notwithstanding Carnival logo on catamaran and crew member shirts, cruise ship disclaimer of ownership or control of catamaran company enforced);

  • Mashburn v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 55 F. Supp. 2d 1367, 1370 (S.D. Fla. 1999) (day trip to Coco Cay Island owned by cruise line; passengers rented Sea-Doo, signed waiver and were injured in accident; no negligence found);

  • Dubret v. Holland Am. Line Westours, Inc., 25 F. Supp. 2d 1151, 1153 (W.D. Wash. 1998) (bus accident during shore excursion; disclaimer of liability enforced).

  • Long v. Holland Am. Line Westours, Inc., 26 P.3d 430 (Alaska 2001) (passenger fell during land tour of museum; maritime law does not govern land tour; choice of law clause in tour contract stating that “except when maritime law applied, the contract would be construed according to Washington state law” was rejected and the law of Alaska applied.




Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

Suggestions?  We are always seeking new tips for the professional at leisure, and any suggestions would be most welcome.  If you find an error or have a suggestion for improving our content, we would appreciate your feedback. 

Copyright � 1996 -  2010 by Donald K Burleson. All rights reserved.