People get ripped off all the time. They either fight it, or forget about it because they decide it isn’t worth the effort.
When my wife and I paid more than $220 for a Fourth of July fireworks and dinner cruise that never actually cruised, I chose to fight for a full refund.
Let this be a cautionary tale to always do your due diligence, even before booking something as innocent as a river cruise.
For $222.95, we were promised a cruise along the Hudson River off New York City on the Star Of Palm Beach. The price was supposed to include “VIP” tickets for a “VIP” table, access to an open bar and a buffet-style dinner from which fireworks watchers could “oooh!” and “ahhhh!” at the pyrotechnic display as they danced, drank, and generally were merry.
Didn’t work out that way.
Here’s how it went down.
After purchasing the tickets, hopeful cruise-goers are told to line up at the dock by 5 p.m. for a 6 p.m. boarding of the ship. This year, the line stretched out under the sun, in 90 degree temperatures. We waited.
Until eventually 6 p.m. came and went like a summer intern, with no sign of the Star of Palm Beach.
6:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m. Still no sign of the ship and we watched the other lines dwindle as their boats came, loaded them up, and left. At around 7 p.m. there was a flurry of activity as the front of the line swung around and started heading for another dock to line up. They were told the ship would be loading there. Off we went …
… where we waited some more. But at least it was out of the heat. Now it’s 7 :05 p.m. and the boat is an hour late.
Folks were understandably getting testy at this point.
We continued to wait with no notification from the staff as to what was going on or where the ship was. We started to see staff ferry food boxes and DJ equipment past us onto the dock. Hopes were raised. Then at around 7:30 p.m. the boat docked. Excitement! The crowd settled down a bit until a worker announced that everybody had to move back to the original line, and that only the food and staff would be loading here due to safety concerns.
People were not happy. You can see crew staff here trying to tell people who refuse to leave the line to go.
They eventually gave in and went to line up in the old line. They weren’t happy campers.
So we waited some more. And some more. The ship was still docked at the other pier. The fireworks were supposed to start around 9 p.m., and we knew if the ship didn’t leave soon we might not be in a great spot to watch them.
Still, we waited. It was still hot out. No announcements. No water.
The ship finally pulled up to the dock where we were lined up. At least the view looked pretty from there.
Crowding began as staff started actually letting people onto the ship. But they never announced that the boarding began, only that “Those wearing VIP bracelets come to the front!” which further enraged the agitated crowd. There was no such thing as VIP in this line.
By this point we debated even getting on the ship; thought about calling it a day. But we decided we’d paid for a cruise, and we’d waited this long so we were going to get our cruise no matter what. Were we wrong.
Finally, we boarded. By this time it was about 8:25 p.m. We shuffled on board and found our “VIP” table — keep in mind we paid extra for the VIP tickets — only to find it was a small table inside the ship next to grimy windows you can barely see out of. OK, no problem. We agree we’ll get some drinks as we wait to ship off. We got a few Coronas in plastic cups, lined up for some truly horrible buffet (more on that in a bit) and sat down next to the excessively loud DJ booth.
8:45 p.m.. We still hadn’t left the dock. One of the passengers told us he’d heard the ship actually wouldn’t be leaving the dock, because the pier is situated directly across from where the Macy’s fireworks barges are shooting off their loads, and the Coast Guard won’t allow any more ships to leave.
That was the final straw. We got off the boat. The party “cruise” wasn’t happening. The ship wasn’t leaving. We just paid $222.95 to watch the fireworks from the shore on the docks.
Docked or on the river, this ship wasn’t meant for great fireworks viewing anyway. There was no room on the cramped top deck and you couldn’t see anything from the dance floor area. Regardless, some people still chose to remain on the ship to at least get some (now) very expensive drinks.
We watched the fireworks from the shore and they were spectacular, then we fought the crowds on the street to get home.
This was a cruise that never cruised. The organisation was horrible, the staff rude and unhelpful, all of which could almost have been forgiven had the Star Of Palm Beach actually cruised.
To add insult to injury, I got food poisoning from the buffet food. Two doctor’s visits, 10 days out of commission and a loss of 13 pounds later, the doc says it was bad food. The only food I’d eaten that day was the buffet.
This is where things get even more tricky.
No concern for the customer
We reached out to Oncruises.com, which re-directs to parent company Wesell.com. You wouldn’t know that Oncruises is a proerty of Wesell.com by visiting the Oncruises website, which makes it doubly difficult to understand who it is you’re supposed to talk to. For two days we repeatedly called and left messages with customer service and emailed through their contact form for a request to discuss a refund for the cruise that wasn’t.
Finally, the following week we were able to get through to a customer service representative named Aoise who was very apologetic and promised us a full refund. All we had to do was fill out their online form and they would get back to us Monday. We did as asked, but recieved no call or email that week. This week, we called and left a message on Wednesday, and again called on Friday, when we were finally able to get through.
It was a much different story this time.
Aoise informed us that Wesell.com couldn’t reimburse us for any more than 40% of the total ticket cost. When confronted with the fact that she previously said there would be a full refund, she flatly stated she never said that, and there was nothing more she could give. After going around for another 10 minutes, we asked to be escalated up. She put us through to her supervisor Christina Anderson (no relation!) and we explained the situation anew.
Christina restated that they could only “refund what we took in from the event itself,” and the best she could do was 50% of the total ticket cost.
I asked her if this policy is in their terms and conditions and she said that everything is there when you purchase a ticket.
This is actually all that is listed for refunds under Oncruises terms and conditions:
There is no mention of the maximum 40% protocol that was stated by customer service. What is interesting though, is that they will only refund if an event is canceled. Both customer service reps used this as the basis for not giving a full refund for the Fourth Of July Cruise, as the “party event” still occurred on the ship, just at the dock.
This simply isn’t the case though, as the event was billed as a cruise, and this cruise never happened. The cruise was canceled. The ship never made it out. Not one person on that ship would qualify that event as not being canceled.
To top things off, despite repeated requests as to why the ship was so late in the first place, no answer was ever given.
We asked if there was another contact we could reach out to for this story, and were given the email address for somebody in Wesell.com’s business development office. When we asked for the name of the CEO, we were told it is Eddie Miller, but a quick search came back with “Miller Ilya” as the CFO, and were also told that they would not give out his contact information “under any circumstances” even after we informed them this would be published as a story about Wesell.
At this point, we’ll consider ourselves lucky to get back even the 50% refund from cruise that never cruise, the event that “wasn’t canceled.”
Here’s what we should have done differently …
Companies hidden behind layers of smaller properties and those that filter their customers through layers of unresponsive and unhelpful representatives that only results in more backtracking and penny pinching aren’t companies that you should give your money to.
Judging from our experience, it’s obvious Wesell.com is going for the absolute bottom line and taking advantage of those people who have the misfortune of signing up for one of their cruises or “events.” The way they’re doing business now, there’s no recourse for the consumer to push back. Except through getting the word out that you’ll likely have a better time sitting at home with friends or family than to ever consider booking anything through one of Wesell.com’s properties.
Your first warning should be the Yelp reviews and the Trip Advisor reviews. Should you for some reason not heed the warnings of either, let this story be a cautionary tale as to the full experience we had booking through Wesell.com’s Oncruises.
In our case, it was a New York City 4th Of July fireworks cruise and from beginning to end, the entire experience was a total disaster. Wesell.com’s questionable refund policy and travesty of a customer service department is a clear indication of a company that cares little about their customer’s experience with their brand.
If you have had a horrible experience with a business, fight back if you have the energy. That’s the only way other folks out there end up having less of a chance of getting ripped off. If you’re unable to resolve an issue on your own, you should consider filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
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