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When you are 21, you are not thinking about retirement, not at all. You are thinking of making some money so you can go out and party with your friends. Retirement is for old people, retirement is light years away, and anyway you only have enough money for a pint of Black Sheep and a Domino’s Thin Crust. So don’t worry, enjoy your pint and your Uber Eats delivery, yeah, retirement is light years away.

And then it’s not.

It comes along way too quickly. You were 21, but then time moved on, you moved in with your girlfriend and bought a dog. You worked some more, changed jobs, got a better salary and worked some more. If you had any sense at all, you would have been putting money aside for your retirement. Because, you’re not 21 any more, your hair is turning grey, and retirement is here.

We’ve saved, we have a pension so now we can do what we like. Let’s go on holiday! We’ve been to Ibiza, Corfu, Orlando and Marbella already, so where now? Mexico perhaps, the Caribbean? Dubai? No, not Dubai.

But wait what is this we’ve seen on the internet? A cruise! A cruise is for old people isn’t it? Old people who are retired, not for people like us, who are, oh wait a minute, old and retired. But it’s a cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong, via Vietnam. That sounds good, places we never been to but would love to visit. A trip of a lifetime. Let’s just email for a quote. Then they call, a smooth taking salesman tells me it’s a year away and I only have to put down a small deposit, book now pay later. So I book, with an online cruise company based in south London, exciting isn’t it! You pay some more, then some more again, then the balance and now it’s nearly time to go.

And then it’s not.

Instead we have COVID-19, and lockdown. The smooth talking salesman calls. ‘Sorry your cruise has been cancelled, but no problem, move to another one. There is one similar in a years time, how about that’? So we agree to that. ‘But’, he says, ‘this won’t last long, how about a European cruise this summer.’ Well, okay then. We find one we like, book it, and have to pay for it. And then it gets cancelled. Two cruises booked, none taken. We phone smooth talking salesman, he’s not available. We speak to someone else and ask for a full refund of our cancelled European cruise. They say we can have a refund. UK Law states they have to refund it within 14 days. Phone calls, long waits to talk to someone, emails that go unanswered, more emails, more calls and we are told they are sorry for the delay, but we will get our refund. More calls, more emails, nothing. Then an email promising our refund by a certain date. Date comes but refund does not. Eventually we do, finally, get the refund, 5 months later! The service from this company is terrible, their communications even worse.

This does not bode well for the re-arranged cruise – it’ll go ahead won’t it? No it won’t, it’s cancelled. So we rearrange again, new cruise, new cancellation, and then the same again. In total we have booked five cruises with this online company, all with the same cruise line, Crystal Cruises. This is ridiculous so let’s have a refund. So we call to talk to the smooth talking salesman, but he’s no longer with the company. We talk to someone else who says no refund can be given, our money is now regarded as ‘Future Cruise Credit’, but we can spend it on a cruise. So, reluctantly, we book a sixth cruise. This one looks good though, we are emerging from the pandemic, cruising is starting again, and there is no reason this cruise will be cancelled.

And then it is.

The parent company of Crystal Cruises goes into liquidation, swiftly followed by Crystal Cruises itself. This is crazy, we started paying for these cruises in early 2019, here we are three years later, with no cruise to go on, our money is not refundable and is surely now lost.

And then it’s not.

I discover that all money paid to book a Crystal Cruise in the United Kingdom, is paid through a UK agent who is ABTA bonded. I contact them and ask if ‘Future Cruise Credit’ for a company in liquidation can be repaid. Yes they say, and it will be refunded today, but only to the agent you booked with!!

Not good as we have to talk to the online cowboys again. So I email, they reply 14 days later to say that they are passing my email to customer services who will contact me. They don’t. I call them to be told that the waiting time is at least one and a half hours, but that I can use their ‘Web Chat’ service for instant help. I use that only to find I am number 13 in the queue. I wait for an hour and a half before someone connects with me. I explain at length what has happened, and point out that I know they have had my money returned to them. Eventually they promise to refund me within 14 days.  13 days later I receive two emails from them, saying they are making two payments to my bank account. Excellent news, except that the two refunds add up to only about half what they owe me. Further emails from me elicit a reply that I will receive the balance shortly. It’s a further week until I do.

So three years after the first payment, 6 cancelled cruises and many hours of my time wasted, I have a full refund but still no cruise. Never again will I contact these useless online ‘cruise specialists’.

Sharna McKay

Sharna McKay – Kuoni

Now the good news. Completely fed up with these online cowboys, as soon as cruise six was cancelled, we go to see someone who we can actually talk to, at Kuoni – Metrocentre. There we talk to Sharna McKay. Sharna is an expert in booking great holidays for great people, and she also booked one for us! We still wanted to go on a cruise, so we found one with Silversea. Sharna arranged it all for us, booked our flights, got us a discount, and some on-board credit too. Excellent, thank goodness for Sharna McKay! This cruise looks great, but with our track record, and a war in Europe, it’ll be cancelled.

And then it’s not.

This is Kuoni, and this is Silversea, a whole different ball game. So did we go? Yes we did. Was it worth it, the three year wait, the cancellations, the delays? My next blog post will answer that.


Top photo: Portofino, Italy.
Below, Silversea Silver Spirit moored off Portofino.
Silver Spirit