Consumer Issues: Art Auctions, IDs, Smoking

| May 23, 2005

Art Sbarsky, CruiseMates Consumer Affairs Editor, answers letters and comments on key issues posted by readers. If you have a question about cruising, send it to .

JL writes: Tell me what you think about those art auctions on the ship. I enjoyed the cruise (my first one), especially the auctions -- but I spent too much money. Do I have any recourse in getting a refund? I do not want a credit. This was Park West Auction that has its home office in Michigan.

Art says: I do not know what Park West's policy is, but I doubt that a "buyer's remorse" refund is going to happen. You can check their brochure or directly with them and hope for the best.

JJ writes: We will be cruising for the first time Oct. 31-Nov. 11, to the Mexican Rivera. Is it true that it will be pretty warm (some say around 80), but that the return to San Diego before going to San Francisco could be rough? Also, what about insurance for the trip? Are we talking health and baggage or the whole thing? (My husband has a defibrillator in his chest.) We don't anticipate a problem, haven't had one for eight years. But if we decide to do this, what are the general policies, or do the different cruise lines have different guidelines? We are going to be on the Dawn Princess.

Art says: Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I'm not able to forecast the weather or water conditions. But Dawn Princess is a very stable, very large ship and unless there's a huge storm, you should be OK. To be safe, take the generally available over-the-counter medications for seasickness with you.

As for insurance, you may want to evaluate what Princess offers and see how you feel about it. Only you can judge the likelihood of needing it. If you buy it and don't use it, write it off as part of your trip expenses. If you buy it and use it, you'll be happy you did. Obviously, if you do not buy it and need it, you're out of luck.

IJ writes: I have looked into Carnival Cruises and RCI to cruise with my 13-year-old twins. My travel agent will not book the cruise because I am a single mom with two children who have an absentee Dad. I live in Ohio. The law states that the mother has sole custody. My travel agent insisted that a notarized letter from the father, stating I can take my children on the cruise, is required. Without getting too complicated, the whereabouts of Dad for the last 12 years is unknown, plus he does not support my children. HELP! What do I do? What is actually needed given my scenario?

Art says: I wish I could help, but I can't give legal advice. Practically speaking, if you have a lawyer, I'd check to see what the rules are. I'd also suggest you check with the cruise lines you are interested in and see what they say. If they say it's no problem -- and you might want to get that in writing -- you shouldn't have a problem. If you get that info from the cruise line, and your travel agent still won't book it, you may have to change agents or book directly.

CP writes: I am writing about a statement I saw in a recent interview on the Internet concerning the Fantasy cruise ship. It said they keep your passports on the ship while you go ashore in Nassau, Bahamas. If that is true, how are we going to show proof of being on the cruise ship or whenever anybody needs to see our ID?

Art says: Often, a ship will hold onto your passport to help them expedite local customs procedures island by island. Make a Xerox copy of your passport and keep it with you when you go ashore (actually, having a copy of your passport in each piece of luggage is a good idea just in case a bag goes missing somewhere along the line). You will also have an ID card from the ship that you must take with you every time you go ashore. Another very useful piece of ID is a photo driver's license.

MAH writes: I heard recently it is becoming a fad to "tip" crew members with prepaid calling cards. It is said they appreciate those that can be used in the U.S. and Canada. What are your thoughts on this? At my Sam's Club, I can get cards worth many minutes for as little as 2.85 cents per minute. Do you think this would be OK to use as tips? If so, would it apply to all crew members, dining room as well as cabin crews?

Art says: I still believe the universal language for tips should be cash. Cash is valid anywhere (even if the crew member deals with exchange rates). But if you know a crewmember would like a phone card or some other non-cash tip, then it's up to you. Take the amount you would use for the phone card and give it to the crew member.

HB writes: My family has been invited by relatives to a cruise in April on the Carnival Ecstasy. Since all three of us have respiratory problems and can't be around smokers, we requested non-smoking staterooms. Of course, Carnival doesn't offer them and allows people to smoke in their staterooms. Since I grew up with a father who smoked 20 hours per day (I'm not exaggerating), I know smoke cannot be "cleaned" out of a room. We've never been able to take a cruise before; we're excited, but we're concerned that the level of smoking will prevent us from enjoying our cruise, and we're ready to send our regrets to the family. When I called Carnival, they were not concerned. I wondered how big a problem this is for those of us who can't tolerate cigarette smoking.

Art says: I know people who travel with their own portable air purifiers. It's not a perfect solution, but it may help you in your stateroom. So does Lysol or any other smoke-masking agent. Carnival is one of the best lines at controlling smoking in the ships' various public rooms. It's up to you, but I'd say give it a shot. But if you're at all concerned, your health does come first.

OK, I'm off the soapbox for this month. If you have any comments on these or other issues, please let me know. Send a note to my e-mail address listed above.

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