Left at the port: Royal Caribbean passengers denied boarding due to overbooked cruise

Jai Raynor’s vacation ended before it even started.

The 23-year-old, based in Brisbane, Australia, planned to take a Royal Caribbean International cruise on Tuesday with his wife, Kaitlyn, to celebrate her university graduation. But when they arrived at the terminal for an eight-night South Pacific cruise from the Australian city aboard Quantum of the Seas, they were told they couldn’t board.

The couple was given a letter informing them that the line was “unable to allocate a stateroom number to your reservation,” according to a photo of the document. Rayner said they had booked a guarantee cabin, which allows passengers to pick their stateroom type – often at an advantageous price – but not a specific room. The cruise cost them nearly $1,900.

Raynor and his wife were among several passengers unable to sail.

The letter outlined several options, including waiting “on standby” to see whether a room would be assigned and a $100 credit to use on board. The couple opted to stick it out, but after around an hour and a half, Raynor said workers at the terminal told them there were no rooms available because the cruise had been overbooked.

“It was absolutely crushing,” Raynor, who works in banking, told USA TODAY.

Royal Caribbean originally offered guests a full refund and a future cruise certificate worth 25% of their fare, according to the letter. But after Raynor contacted the line and posted about the incident on social media, the cruise line amended the couple’s compensation, giving them the full refund plus future cruise certificates worth their full fare and complimentary Deluxe Beverage packages.

A Royal Caribbean spokesperson told USA TODAY that demand for the sailing “went beyond the rooms that were available.”

“Unfortunately, efforts to accommodate all those who wished to sail fell short for a group of our guests, and some were unable to sail as planned,” the spokesperson said in an email. They did not specify how many guests were impacted, but Raynor estimated around 13 other “families or groups” were waiting for rooms and 11 were ultimately denied boarding.

All impacted guests were given options, including rebooking on alternate dates or getting a refund and future cruise credit, the spokesperson said. “We take these disruptions seriously, and we apologize for the inconvenience this has caused,” they added. Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond to additional questions about Raynor’s experience.

Those kinds of scenarios are “extraordinarily rare,” according to Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert known as The Cruise Guy.

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“This is one of those very specialized itineraries,” he said in an email. “Passengers that booked a guarantee (and) not a specific cabin can be left without a chair when the music stops.”

Given the late notice, Chiron said, the compensation cruise lines may offer depends on the circumstances but could include “generous” future cruise credits and reimbursement for hotels, airfare and other costs.

The cruise was supposed to be Raynor’s first, and he plans to use the credit to book another. “I certainly don’t want to let it go to waste, but it’s certainly put a bit of a bad taste in my mouth with Royal Caribbean,” he said.

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at ndiller@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Royal Caribbean guests denied boarding on overbooked cruise