Montreal man’s dream cruise to China sours as company changes plans, won’t refund his trip

Shortly before the coronavirus outbreak became news, Gary Fleischer booked a cruise with stops in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

With large swaths of China now under quarantine or travel restrictions, Miami-based Oceania Cruises has since changed the itinerary for that trip. Now instead of stopping in China, passengers will disembark in Singapore and the Philippines.

The coronavirus is still spreading, however, and as he reads stories of other Canadians stuck aboard quarantined cruise ships, Fleischer said his interest in taking a cruise has plummeted.

He contacted Oceania Cruises to ask for a refund, but the company refused his request.

“We should not be obligated to go on a vacation that endangers our health,” said Fleischer.

The retired Côte-Saint-Luc resident planned to travel with three other seniors, all of whom are in their 70s. 

“At a certain age, you become more susceptible to all the viruses,” he said. “Who would risk their lives on what is supposed to be a dream vacation?”

Fleischer said the new itinerary doesn’t interest them and isn’t what they paid for.

We definitely don’t want to do a one-way trip.– Gary Fleischer

“Our priority was to go see China,” he said.

“Why should I be obligated to visit the Philippines, which I’m sure is a very nice country but of no interest to us.”

“Honestly speaking, if they offered me this trip for free, I wouldn’t take it.”

The cruise is set for May 24.

He said as a returning Oceania customer, he’s willing to take a credit to be used against another cruise in the future, in lieu of a full refund.

Oceania’s 1,250-passenger cruise ship Marina arrives at the Port of Miami. The company says it is taking every precaution to avoid risk to Asia-bound passengers. (AP Photo/Miami Herald, Walter Michot)

However, the company says it has taken the necessary precautions to avoid any risk to passengers.

“The safety, security and well-being of our guests and crew is our number one priority,” Oceania told CBC News in a statement.

Prevention measures include barring any guests or crew member carrying a Chinese, Hong Kong or Macau passport from boarding its ships. 

In addition, no one who has “traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 30 days of their voyage” will be allowed aboard.

The company says it has put in place pre-boarding health evaluation measures and has added “additional cleaning and disinfection protocols on board all voyages.”

All itineraries that call in mainland China for the next six months are currently under review, it said.

But Fleischer says that’s not good enough.

“The Oceania seems to be more concerned about the dollar and not worried about killing off its guests,” he said.

“We definitely don’t want to do a one-way trip.”