A Toronto family is demanding compensation after their dream cruise vacation ended abruptly on a Florida pier.
Eli Penner and his father Ofer won the Caribbean cruise, which departed from Port Canaveral on Sept. 19. But when they tried to board they were denied access to the ship, and eventually escorted out of the terminal by a sheriff's deputy.
The only reason they were given, the Penners say, is that they are Canadian citizens and were therefore not eligible for this cruise — even though they'd provided MSC Cruises with their citizenship, in writing and on the phone, in the weeks leading up to the trip.
"It's painful," Eli Penner said. "We come all the way to the port, welcomed to board, and get spat in our faces."
And they say they were not alone. Eli Penner told CBC Toronto he was told several other Canadians were also barred from the ship that day, as well as people from other nations.
MSC wouldn't speak with CBC Toronto on camera. But in an emailed statement, the cruise line maintains the Penners were turned away because they had no cancellation or interruption insurance.
The Penners say they were never told insurance was required. They also showed CBC Toronto a form they say they were given by MSC, which lists the reason they were denied access as "Canadian citizens."
The company's website had a list of countries whose citizens would be eligible for its cruises after Oct. 1, 2021. That list did not include Canada. But by Oct. 22 the list had been taken down.
The Penners' saga began almost two years ago when they won a voucher at Casino Niagara that was good for a Caribbean Cruise, courtesy of MSC Cruises, a Swiss-based company that bills itself as the third biggest cruise line in the world.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was just this past June that the Penners were allowed to book their cruise — seven nights on the MSC Divina, with stops at ports in the Bahamas and Mexico.
Eli Penner maintains that he spoke with MSC on several occasions, and emailed the company as well, each time indicating their nationality.
"We're telling them, 'Hey, we're coming from Canada. It's going to be an extra expense. Do we close it now or do we close it potentially closer to the cruise?'" he said.
"And they're like, 'No, don't worry, the cruise is going to go out. You can book your flights from Canada,'" he continued. "We gave them our Canadian passports, our Canadian addresses, Canadian method of payment."
He also got permission to bring special Jewish holiday herbs on board, and arranged to be served kosher meals.
MSC declined to answer emailed questions from CBC Toronto. But in its statement, the company said the Penners "did not have the mandatory trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance for cruising with us and as such were unable to board.
"We are currently operating in a highly complex regulatory environment due to the COVID pandemic and as such we have to apply rules regarding insurance and other safety aspects to ensure the best possible protections for our guests, crew and the communities we call at in line with the requirements of local authorities where we operate and sell tickets."
The company says it will soon be announcing a new policy for Canadians who want to book spots on their cruises.
"We will always look at each case brought to our attention by our guests through our normal customer channels and resolve them as appropriate as quickly as we can," the statement reads.
Eli Penner says he and his father want to be compensated for the roughly $3,000 they spent in air fares, hotels and taxis getting to the Port Canaveral pier. Either in cash, Eli Penner says, or in a new luxury cruise.
So far, the company has not addressed that demand, they say.