Visa glitch; Africa 2000 saves the day

This item appears on page 24 of the September 2011 issue.
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By far, the company most recommended by those who responded to our “Person to Person” request for a good, reliable guide in Cape Town, South Africa, was Africa 2000 Tours (Knysna, South Africa; phone +27 44 3841262), owned and operated by Gill and Graham Maskell. What a find!

My husband, Gerald, and I had them make private arrangements for us for Nov. 16-20, 2010. The cost of $7,222 for the two of us included airfare, Johannesburg-Nelspruit-Cape Town; a three-night safari at Kruger’s Nottens Camp (all-inclusive), Nov. 16-18; two nights at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel in Cape Town, two days of touring the Cape Town area with Gill and Graham in a luxury vehicle, and all transfers. We paid for our food while in the Cape Town area.

All this preceded a 31-day cruise aboard Princess Cruises’ Ocean Princess, Nov. 22-Dec. 22, with stops in South Africa, Mozambique, Réunion, Mauritius, Oman, Dubai, India, Kuala Lumpur and, finally, Singapore. (Gill and Graham also recommended a local guide in Mauritius, who met us at the ship and took us on a delightful tour.)

Princess offered a five-day overland tour in India involving flying from Dubai to Delhi and Agra and rejoining the ship in Mumbai. We signed on for this tour. The literature from Princess indicated that each passenger was responsible for obtaining his or her own visa, but there was enough ambiguity in the wording that I decided to double-check exactly what we were supposed to do.

I called the Princess Cruises’ reservations number (800/774-6237) in early October and was told by customer representatives that the ship would obtain group visas for both India and Mozambique. (Unfortunately, I did not make a note of the names of the representatives to whom I spoke.)

I also checked with my travel agent, who called Princess and was told the same thing and who later stated that nowhere in our cruise-booking confirmation page from Princess did it indicate “visa required.”

In Cape Town on Nov. 21, Gerald and I went to the ship, planning to stay on board the night before departure. We were told by one of the purser’s representatives that because we did not have a visa for India, we could not board unless we agreed to sign a letter stating the following:

“As you do not hold a valid a (sic) Tourist Visa for India which is required for your travel on Ocean Princess Voyage 7026, Indian Immigration will be able to let you embark the Ocean Princess on the following conditions: You will not be allowed to go ashore in Mumbai, India on 15th December 2010 or may be required to disembark in an earlier port before Mumbai. Princess Cruises will not be held responsible for any consequences with regards to the above. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you, but I am sure you understand this matter is completely out of the ship’s control, as it is the requirements of Indian Immigration law.”

We requested to speak to the First Purser, Antonio Barbato. Our explanation to him that we had been told by Princess representatives that the ship would get the visas fell on deaf ears. In no uncertain terms, he told us we could either sign the letter or not board the ship. We felt that Mr. Barbato was especially brusque and rude.

We signed the letter under duress so we could board the ship.

We had planned to spend the 22nd touring Cape Town with Gill and Graham before the ship sailed at 5 p.m. When they heard what had happened to us, they did everything humanly possible to help us obtain India visas.

They took us to the Kodak shop for pictures and then proceeded to Visas International (47 Strand St.) in downtown Cape Town. There, Gill arranged for us to complete the required forms, which she then had couriered to the Indian Consulate in Durban in the hope that we could pick up our visas there when the ship arrived in two days.

Our two visas cost a total of ZAR3,875 (then about $554). The charge for all the effort that Gill and Graham made on our behalf? Nothing! It is nearly unbelievable the effort these two people went to in order for us to obtain visas for another country. We did pick up our visas in Durban.

(I do know that one couple disembarked in Mauritius and spent five days there obtaining visas for India. They then flew to Dubai at their own expense and reboarded the ship prior to its sailing to India.)

As it turned out, our visas for Mozambique were obtained by Princess and the fees ($25 each) charged to our shipboard account. We had expected the same service regarding the India visas.

Despite the setback with visas, we had a delightful cruise across the Indian Ocean. However, the real highlight of our trip was our interaction with Gill and Graham Maskell. I have traveled for many years and owned a travel agency at one time, and I’ve never encountered two people more dedicated to taking care of their clients. They are top-notch!

SUZANNE POWELL
Stone Mountain, GA

 

ITN e-mailed copies of Ms. Powell’s letters to the Manager of Media Relations at Princess Cruises (24305 Town Center Dr., Santa Clarita, CA 91355) on Jan. 18 and received no reply.

In updates to ITN, Ms. Powell e-mailed the following.

 

I wrote Princess Cruises on Dec. 30 requesting, in addition to two complimentary days on a future cruise, a refund of $800 for our expenses. (Two visas, $554, plus two photos, $10, plus two round trips by car to the Indian Consulate in Durban, $250, totals $814. Procured in advance, our visas would have cost about $70 each; if Princess had been willing to discuss this claim with us, we would have taken that $140 into account. Also, our total does not include reimbursement for the touring we were unable to do around Cape Town.)

In response, Sandi Smith of Princess’ customer relations department called me on Jan. 31, 2011. We spoke about 20 minutes, but, from the outset, Sandi said that Princess would not consider reimbursement for our out-of-pocket expenses. She said, “It is the responsibility of each passenger to prepare the necessary travel documents appropriate to their itinerary.” Of course, this is not always true, as Princess obtained the necessary visas into Mozambique for all the passengers.

I explained to Sandi about the calls I had made to Princess’ Reservations and she said the cruise line had no record of these calls and that it is Princess’ policy for reservations agents ‘to post such information on the passenger record.’ Neither did she have any record of the call our travel agent made to Princess on Oct. 18.

I asked Sandi to e-mail me the information she and I had discussed so there would be a written record. In the e-mail I received, Sandi apologized, in her words, “for any inconvenience or misunderstanding you have experienced related to the documents required for your voyage.”

She continued: “I hope you will understand that visa requirements are not part of the policy and procedures of Princess Cruises but, rather, stipulations determined by the governments of the countries and ports being visited, as outlined in our Passenger Contract. Therefore, we are unable to fulfill your request for reimbursement for the costs incurred for the Indian visa.”

Sandi added, “As a gesture of goodwill, I have created an onboard credit in the amount of $200 per person for you to use on a future sailing.”

As an Elite member of the Captain’s Circle, with over 200 sailing days, I am very disappointed in Princess.

SUZANNE POWELL

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

By far, the company most recommended by those who responded to our “Person to Person” request for a good, reliable guide in Cape Town, South Africa, was Africa 2000 Tours (Knysna, South Africa; phone +27 44 3841262), owned and operated by Gill and Graham Maskell. What a find!

My husband, Gerald, and I had them make private arrangements for us for Nov. 16-20, 2010. The cost of $7,222 for the two of us included airfare, Johannesburg-Nelspruit-Cape Town; a three-night safari at Kruger’s Nottens Camp (all-inclusive), Nov. 16-18; two nights at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel in Cape Town, two days of touring the Cape Town area with Gill and Graham in a luxury vehicle, and all transfers. We paid for our food while in the Cape Town area.

All this preceded a 31-day cruise aboard Princess Cruises’ Ocean Princess, Nov. 22-Dec. 22, with stops in South Africa, Mozambique, Réunion, Mauritius, Oman, Dubai, India, Kuala Lumpur and, finally, Singapore. (Gill and Graham also recommended a local guide in Mauritius, who met us at the ship and took us on a delightful tour.)

Princess offered a five-day overland tour in India involving flying from Dubai to Delhi and Agra and rejoining the ship in Mumbai. We signed on for this tour. The literature from Princess indicated that each passenger was responsible for obtaining his or her own visa, but there was enough ambiguity in the wording that I decided to double-check exactly what we were supposed to do.

I called the Princess Cruises’ reservations number (800/774-6237) in early October and was told by customer representatives that the ship would obtain group visas for both India and Mozambique. (Unfortunately, I did not make a note of the names of the representatives to whom I spoke.)

I also checked with my travel agent, who called Princess and was told the same thing and who later stated that nowhere in our cruise-booking confirmation page from Princess did it indicate “visa required.”

In Cape Town on Nov. 21, Gerald and I went to the ship, planning to stay on board the night before departure. We were told by one of the purser’s representatives that because we did not have a visa for India, we could not board unless we agreed to sign a letter stating the following:

“As you do not hold a valid a (sic) Tourist Visa for India which is required for your travel on Ocean Princess Voyage 7026, Indian Immigration will be able to let you embark the Ocean Princess on the following conditions: You will not be allowed to go ashore in Mumbai, India on 15th December 2010 or may be required to disembark in an earlier port before Mumbai. Princess Cruises will not be held responsible for any consequences with regards to the above. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you, but I am sure you understand this matter is completely out of the ship’s control, as it is the requirements of Indian Immigration law.”

We requested to speak to the First Purser, Antonio Barbato. Our explanation to him that we had been told by Princess representatives that the ship would get the visas fell on deaf ears. In no uncertain terms, he told us we could either sign the letter or not board the ship. We felt that Mr. Barbato was especially brusque and rude.

We signed the letter under duress so we could board the ship.

We had planned to spend the 22nd touring Cape Town with Gill and Graham before the ship sailed at 5 p.m. When they heard what had happened to us, they did everything humanly possible to help us obtain India visas.

They took us to the Kodak shop for pictures and then proceeded to Visas International (47 Strand St.) in downtown Cape Town. There, Gill arranged for us to complete the required forms, which she then had couriered to the Indian Consulate in Durban in the hope that we could pick up our visas there when the ship arrived in two days.

Our two visas cost a total of ZAR3,875 (then about $554). The charge for all the effort that Gill and Graham made on our behalf? Nothing! It is nearly unbelievable the effort these two people went to in order for us to obtain visas for another country. We did pick up our visas in Durban.

(I do know that one couple disembarked in Mauritius and spent five days there obtaining visas for India. They then flew to Dubai at their own expense and reboarded the ship prior to its sailing to India.)

As it turned out, our visas for Mozambique were obtained by Princess and the fees ($25 each) charged to our shipboard account. We had expected the same service regarding the India visas.

Despite the setback with visas, we had a delightful cruise across the Indian Ocean. However, the real highlight of our trip was our interaction with Gill and Graham Maskell. I have traveled for many years and owned a travel agency at one time, and I’ve never encountered two people more dedicated to taking care of their clients. They are top-notch!

SUZANNE POWELL
Stone Mountain, GA

 

ITN e-mailed copies of Ms. Powell’s letters to the Manager of Media Relations at Princess Cruises (24305 Town Center Dr., Santa Clarita, CA 91355) on Jan. 18 and received no reply.

In updates to ITN, Ms. Powell e-mailed the following.

 

I wrote Princess Cruises on Dec. 30 requesting, in addition to two complimentary days on a future cruise, a refund of $800 for our expenses. (Two visas, $554, plus two photos, $10, plus two round trips by car to the Indian Consulate in Durban, $250, totals $814. Procured in advance, our visas would have cost about $70 each; if Princess had been willing to discuss this claim with us, we would have taken that $140 into account. Also, our total does not include reimbursement for the touring we were unable to do around Cape Town.)

In response, Sandi Smith of Princess’ customer relations department called me on Jan. 31, 2011. We spoke about 20 minutes, but, from the outset, Sandi said that Princess would not consider reimbursement for our out-of-pocket expenses. She said, “It is the responsibility of each passenger to prepare the necessary travel documents appropriate to their itinerary.” Of course, this is not always true, as Princess obtained the necessary visas into Mozambique for all the passengers.

I explained to Sandi about the calls I had made to Princess’ Reservations and she said the cruise line had no record of these calls and that it is Princess’ policy for reservations agents ‘to post such information on the passenger record.’ Neither did she have any record of the call our travel agent made to Princess on Oct. 18.

I asked Sandi to e-mail me the information she and I had discussed so there would be a written record. In the e-mail I received, Sandi apologized, in her words, “for any inconvenience or misunderstanding you have experienced related to the documents required for your voyage.”

She continued: “I hope you will understand that visa requirements are not part of the policy and procedures of Princess Cruises but, rather, stipulations determined by the governments of the countries and ports being visited, as outlined in our Passenger Contract. Therefore, we are unable to fulfill your request for reimbursement for the costs incurred for the Indian visa.”

Sandi added, “As a gesture of goodwill, I have created an onboard credit in the amount of $200 per person for you to use on a future sailing.”

As an Elite member of the Captain’s Circle, with over 200 sailing days, I am very disappointed in Princess.

SUZANNE POWELL