Three-year cruise canceled weeks before setting sail, prompting passenger backlash

(NEW YORK) — Less than two weeks before its maiden voyage, Life at Sea Cruises announced it had canceled its three-year voyage after delays and logistical challenges, leaving passengers who spent tens of thousands of dollars stranded.

Life at Sea Cruises said it will make repayments in monthly installments to passengers from mid-December, but customers who had prepared for the trip of a lifetime are speaking out about the implications of the sudden cancellation.

The cruise was finally due to set sail on Nov. 30 from Amsterdam, after the original Nov. 1 departure from Istanbul was delayed and rescheduled.

Meredith Shay, a retired flight attendant who had been preparing for the adventure, told “Good Morning America” she was on a payment plan of $35,000 per month to stay in one of the biggest rooms on the ship.

“How did I feel about it? Devastated, disappointed, sad. I packed up my belongings, put them in storage, sent four boxes to Miray Cruises,” Shay explained of her efforts before the trip was canceled.

ABC News obtained messages passengers received from the owners of Life at Sea’s parent company Miray Cruises saying the company was unable to purchase a ship after “investors declined to support us further due to unrest in [the] Middle East.”

On Nov. 20, in another update from Miray Cruises owner Vedat Ugurlu to passengers, he said the Life at Sea Cruise trip was canceled.

However, in a statement to ABC News, Ugurlu said nothing had been canceled, only postponed until the spring.

“We just had to extend our approval,” he said. “Because as you know, three year cruises is a mega project. The reason for this is our vessel capacity — needed to exceed more than 600 cabins. And right now we only have 104 cabins.”

The company also told ABC News that anyone who wants a refund will receive it, including money spent on acquiring visas and other travel expenses. They also said people who have already paid will have a cabin when they set sail in May 2024. They are also inviting everyone on a separate, shorter cruise free of charge next summer.

The cruise was set to make stops in 135 countries on all seven continents. Prices started at $87,000 per year for double occupancy, according to the company’s website.

Keri Witman told “GMA” that she already paid $32,000 toward the trip and sold her home.

“The minute I saw an ad, I thought, ‘This is really right up my alley,"” Witman said. “I owned a house. I had needed knee surgery, so I expedited all of those things. I sold my house. Got rid of most of my things.”    

Leading up to the cancellation, the cruise line kept passengers informed with frequent webinars.

During a webinar on Sept. 6, 2022, former CEO Kendra Holmes said, “What percent of cabins have been sold? We’re right around 50% right now so we’re making good pace for where we want to be at this point in time.

But Miray Cruises’ owner told ABC News this week they had only 150 passengers for a vessel with over 600 cabins.

Holmes resigned last week, according to CNN, days before Ugurlu officially announced the cancellation.

Ashley Kosciolek, a senior cruise writer at The Points Guy, told “GMA,” “It was three years or nothing. I think any time somebody tells you you have to fully commit, sight unseen, it should give you pause.”

 

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