After a tough year, Carnival Cruise Lines is fighting back with a money-back guarantee that will give unhappy passengers a 110 percent refund, free transportation home and more. But that's only if they ask for the refund within the first 24 hours of a voyage.
Some travel agents are certain the offer will boost Carnival's bookings. They said passengers have already benefited from lower rates on that line and others since Carnival's ill-fated Triumph cruise out of Galveston, Texas, in February.
"The whole idea is to entice first-time cruisers," Carnival president and chief executive officer Gerry Cahill said. "It's always a hurdle to get someone to cruise the first time. We'll do something like this to get people over that hurdle."
The Miami-based cruise line said the new Great Vacation Guarantee allows guests to end their voyage early for any reason and receive 110 percent of their money back.
Carnival will pay for the guests' return air transportation from the next port of call — including ground transportation and hotel accommodations, if necessary. Government taxes and fees will also be refunded, Cahill said. Each passenger will also receive a $100 shipboard credit for a future cruise.
The initiative comes after a series of Carnival problems, including the debacle of the Carnival Triumph seven months ago. After an engine fire knocked out power, the cruise turned into five days adrift. The more than 4,200 passengers endured overflowing toilets and food shortages before being towed into Mobile, Ala., with the ship running on limited generator power.
Cahill noted that the company sails 1,500 cruises a year and the stranded Triumph was one incident.
Those passengers were refunded their cruise fees and were given a free future cruise and $500.
"There was an impact," Cahill said of the Triumph. "It did impact people who never took a Carnival cruise. We think we're on the road to recovery now."
Uf Tukel, co-president and founder of Icruise.com, said Carnival's rates have dropped 25 percent since the Triumph's problems. Other cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean cut their rates for last-minute bookings to as low as $549 for a seven-day cruise that previously ran $999, Tukel said.
Facebook followers of John Heald, Carnival's senior cruise director, had a mixed reaction to the promotion. Some praised it, but others worried that it will be abused by those looking for a free cruise.
As for possibility that some will abuse the program, Cahill said, "We have confidence that very few will take us up on it."