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By The Way
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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Crystal Cruises forced to reroute another ship: ‘They just screwed everyone over’

The cruise line, which avoided a seizure in Miami last week, made another unplanned trip to the Bahamas

(Rebecca Blackwell/AP)
4 min

A second ship operated by the struggling luxury line Crystal Cruises carried customers on an unplanned diversion to the Bahamas as the company continues to face fallout from an alleged $4.6 million of unpaid fuel bills.

Last week, the Crystal Symphony bypassed Miami for Bimini instead of submitting to a seizure in response to an arrest warrant issued by a federal judge. Crystal Serenity arrived in Bimini on Monday after being turned away from Aruba, where it had planned to end its voyage Friday. According to Crystal Cruises, the port denial came as a surprise.

“Although Crystal Serenity was cleared to arrive in Aruba on Friday with all services paid for in advance and even though there are no reasonable risks or claims made against the vessel, local officials informed the company late Friday afternoon that the ship will be not permitted to dock in Aruba as scheduled,” Crystal spokesman Vance Gulliksen said in a statement.

It was the latest setback for the cruise line, which announced last month that it was suspending ocean cruises through the end of April after parent company Genting Hong Kong filed on Jan. 18 to dissolve the company.

Peninsula Petroleum sued Crystal Cruises and a sister line in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida the next day for allegedly defaulting on fuel payments.

A cruise line hadn’t paid its bills. It diverted 700 people to the Bahamas to evade capture.

Crystal Serenity left Miami on Jan. 17 for the first leg of a world cruise that was meant to last as long as 116 days. Gulliksen said the initial part of the voyage had been scheduled to end Sunday in Aruba. He said the company’s management team spent “hours” trying unsuccessfully to get permission to dock Friday.

Instead, the ship headed to Bimini, where passengers were sent to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on a ferry. The company paid for an overnight hotel stay and said it would reimburse the guests for airline change fees.

“There are simply no words to express our deep regret and disappointment,” the company said in its statement.

For travel adviser Steven Shulem, the canceled world cruise was all too familiar. He was about two months into a world voyage on the ship in March 2020 when the cruise ended early in Australia. Shulem, 60, who was already living a nomadic life, stayed for 17 months.

He said he knew Crystal wasn’t “a very solid company financially,” but he thought it needed the revenue from the extra-long cruise too much to cancel it. He had planned to sail the entire 116 days of the 2022 trip; several of his clients were on board, along with more than 100 others whom he was hosting as part of his affiliation with a travel agent network.

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In an interview from Anguilla, where he is staying before boarding a new cruise, Shulem said everyone on the Serenity found out by email on day three of the trip that it would end early in Aruba. The ship skipped several ports; the captain told passengers they avoided Jamaica because “we owe them too much money,” Shulem said. When asked about this comment, Crystal Cruises restated that there were no claims made against the Serenity.

Travelers scrambled to make arrangements to get home, and Shulem coordinated a plan to move passengers onto a ship operated by another luxury line that would be in Aruba at the same time.

Then they found out Aruba wasn’t accepting their ship.

“My clients were spending over $100,000 on this world cruise, and they just did this to them,” said Shulem, whose company is called Strictly Vacations. “It was horrible.”

He described a chaotic scene when the ferry brought passengers from Bimini to Fort Lauderdale, with luggage in a big pile and disorganized hotel arrangements.

“They just screwed everyone over so, so bad,” he said.

Gulliksen acknowledged that there were “challenges” when the ferry arrived.

“We take great pride in providing six-star service to our guests until they arrive home, and the recent situation at Port Everglades certainly did not live up to our high standards,” he said. “While a number of factors that were out of our control came into play to create these unfortunate circumstances, in the end our guests did not have the experience they have come to expect from Crystal, and ultimately that falls on us.”

Still, Shulem said, the attitude — and hope — on board was that everyone would return for next year’s world cruise. He has booked it already.

“You’ve never seen brand loyalty like you have with Crystal,” he said. “We’re all hoping they come back.”

Another of the company’s ships — the smaller, expedition-focused Crystal Endeavor — remains at sea. Its Antarctica cruise is scheduled to end Friday in Ushuaia, Argentina.