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'I felt abandoned’: Passengers scramble after Royal Caribbean cruise ship out of Baltimore is canceled

An Indiana mother and son taking a five-day cruise to Bermuda found themselves stranded over the weekend in Baltimore when a Royal Caribbean ship experienced mechanical problems, canceled the cruise and forced thousands of passengers to disembark.

The ship, the Grandeur of the Seas, departed Saturday as planned. But the ship soon “experienced a technical issue with its propulsion system and was forced to discontinue the sailing and return to Baltimore for necessary repairs,” Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Melissa Charbonneau said in a statement Saturday. "We understand this is an unfortunate inconvenience for our guests and sincerely apologize for the interruption in their travel plans.

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According to the company website, the Grandeur of the Seas has a maximum capacity of 2,446 passengers.

“The cruise was sold out,” said Lisa Rinker, 55, of Indianapolis, who was treating her adult son to the cruise as a combined birthday and Christmas present.

“I feel like we’re being punished because their equipment broke. And that’s not our fault. Now we have to fight just to get home. After all is said and done, I’ll be out close to $1,000 for a trip that didn’t happen.”

The canceled cruise is just the most recent patch of rough water experienced by Royal Caribbean this summer.

In July, 18-month-old Chloe Weigand fell through an 11th-story window to her death on the Freedom of the Seas while the ship was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In published reports, the toddler’s parents have blamed the cruise line for leaving a window open in an area in which children were playing.

And earlier this week, Hurricane Dorian forced both the Royal Caribbean and Disney cruise lines to change some of their itineraries, angering some passengers.

Rinker said the Grandeur of the Seas never got far from port. Shortly after pulling away from the dock, the ship began moving in circles, she said. At around 8 p.m. Saturday, the captain announced that the cruise had been canceled. Passengers were told they could choose to leave the boat immediately or remain on board overnight and disembark at 6 p.m. Sunday.

When passengers returned to their state rooms, they found a letter promising to reimburse them for the cost of the cruise (which, for Rinker and her son, totaled $3,000) and for any items they’d purchased from the company in advance, such as shore excursions. In addition, the company offered to reimburse domestic passengers up to $200 and international passengers up to $400 to change their flights and up to $200 for one night’s stay in a hotel room.

Passengers also will receive a credit for a future cruise based on the fees they’ve already paid, according to the letter signed by Thordur Thorsson, Grandeur’s captain.

“We know how much time and effort go into planning a vacation,” the letter said. “We’re terribly sorry you didn’t get to enjoy the full experience we had planned for you."

But the cheapest air fare Rinker could find back to Indianapolis cost her $700 for two tickets, or nearly twice the $400 she expects to receive from Royal Caribbean. She won’t get reimbursed for her stay in a Baltimore hotel the night before she boarded the cruise ship, for the luggage fees she paid, for their meals, for parking at the airport, or for the other incidental expenses involved in planning a week’s vacation.

She acknowledged that many costs could have been avoided by purchasing travel insurance. But she thinks Royal Caribbean should have gone “above and beyond” to help its passengers get home safely.

“My son and I were sitting on these little benches [in the Inner Harbor] at 10:30 at night trying to make hotel and plane reservations from our cell phones,” she said. “We don’t know anybody in Baltimore. I felt abandoned. If my son hadn’t been with me, it would have been kind of scary.”

She’s not sure if she’ll take Royal Caribbean up on its offer for a future cruise.

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“I love cruises,” she said.

“This is probably the 15th cruise I’ve taken, and about 10 of them have been on Royal Caribbean. I’ve never had any problems before. So I’ll have to wait and see how I feel after I get home. But right now, I am not at all happy.”

Royal Caribbean officials were unavailable for comment Sunday.

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