Dec 05, 2023

Last-minute cancellation: Retirees go from cruise ship to couch surfing

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Retirees Fran and Meredith were left scrambling to figure out a plan after their three-year cruise was cancelled just two weeks before departure. [Source: Sydney Morning Herald / Good Morning America]

An older Australian woman has been forced to couch surf at a friend’s house after the three-year cruise she was due to board was suddenly cancelled.

Fran Paroissien, 75, wanted to spend her retirement travelling the world and making new friends after taking out a reverse mortgage, renting out her Melbourne apartment and booking flights to leave the docks on November 30.

But just two weeks before they were due to depart, cruise officials contacted passengers to say it was called off. 

“I’m disappointed,” Ms Paroissien told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I don’t want to go into a village, and I’m not decrepit enough for a nursing home, so it looked like it would be a good alternative. I was quite excited.”

The Life at Sea voyage was supposed to set sail from Istanbul, Turkey, on November 1 but in October, passengers were advised the new date would be November 11 in Amsterdam, before being postponed again to November 30.

But cruise company Miray Cruises failed to buy a suitable vessel for the voyage before its intended departure, leaving Ms Paroissien waiting on a refund of over $350,000.

Around 111 cabins had been booked ahead of the cancellation with some customers selling their home in the lead-up to the trip, impacting over a dozen Australians and New Zealanders.

But it wasn’t just Aussies and Kiwis impacted by the last-minute cancellation. Meredith Shay, a retired American flight attendant, told Good Morning America that she was on a payment plan of $35,000 per month to stay in one of the biggest rooms on the cruise.

“I packed up my belongings, put them in storage [and] sent four boxes to Miray Cruises.”

In May, CNN reported Life at Sea Cruises Sales and Marketing Director Irina Strembitsky alleged that the 22-year-old ship, which the company owned and intended to use for the November 30 cruise, was deemed “unseaworthy” by an engineer.

Parent company Miray Cruises has since brought a defamation case against those claims but announced it would buy a newer, larger ship.

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On board a Life at Sea Cruises ship. [Source: Life at Sea Cruises]

News outlets allege passengers received a message from the owner of Miray Cruises, Vedat Ugurlu, days after the cancellation claiming the company was unable to purchase the new ship after “investors declined to support us further due to unrest in [the] Middle East.”

“We have tried everything to make your dreams come true.”

Mr Ugurlu said the company was working on finding another suitable ship and “If we will not be able to sail on December 1, we will offer you to sail on another departure date or refund all the payments within a short schedule.”

In the meantime, Ms Paroissien has booked three shorter cruises and hopes by the time they end in April, there will be another affordable long-term cruise she can join.

Living life full-time on a cruise is a common move among retirees, appealing to many battling with a rental crisis and high cost-of-living expenses.

Pensioners Marty and Jess Ansen booked 51 back-to-back cruises on the Coral Princess in June 2022 and have been aboard ever since, claiming it is cheaper than investing in a retirement village. 

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