Suffolk couple's £13k 'disaster' holiday court claim ends in defeat
PUBLISHED: 16:48 08 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:25 09 May 2019
A Suffolk couple whose £13,000 'holiday of a lifetime' ended in 'absolute disaster' have lost their court battle against a major cruise company.
Andy and Hilly Mills booked a 14-night wildlife spotting trip to Antarctica with Celebrity Cruises two years in advance of setting off on board the 'Infinity' from Buenos Aires last January.
Five days before departure, Mr and Mrs Mills, of Aldeburgh, along with 2,848 passengers, were informed their journey would no longer stop at Puerto Madryn, where the couple were desperate to see the world's largest colony of Magellanic Penguin.
To make matters worse, the ship's arrival at the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, was delayed by more than seven hours, leaving much of the excursion to take place in darkness, before the ship was then battered by cyclone-type winds and forced to abandon a tendered stop at Port Stanley, on the Falkland Islands.
Following advice from Which?, Mrs Mills took parent company, Royal Caribbean, to Ipswich County Court, seeking compensation for the disrupted journey and "extreme stress" brought on by the experience.
But a district judge dismissed the claim, saying anyone booking a holiday accepted the risk it might not turn out as hoped.
Mrs Mills, who wanted the maximum £10,000 available in small claims court, said the total cost of the holiday came to more than £13,000, including the £4,798 cruise, packages, on-board services, insurance, transfers, hotels and kennelling their dogs.
She claimed to have made "every effort" to secure an out-of-court settlement by sending six unanswered letters to the company's chief executive.
Mrs Mills, 79, and her 88-year-old husband, who has Alzheimer's disease, expected to make calls at Ushuaia, Port Stanley, Puerto Madryn and Montevideo, as well as five near-shore passes of sights including Cape Horn, Paradise Bay and Elephant Island.
On January 13, passengers were told the ship would be sailing at a reduced speed, due to mechanical issues, and would no longer stop at Puerto Madryn. Meanwhile, the estimated time of arrival in Ushuaia would be delayed from 9am to 2pm - although the couple eventually disembarked at 4.14pm due to a further delay caused by poor weather.
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Mrs Mills accepted a 'goodwill' offer of $469.08 to spend on board the ship, where she claimed passengers were then "captive" at sea for nine days, before pulling into Montevideo.
"The tour on the catamaran was virtually in the dark, so we saw very little wildlife in Ushuaia," said Mrs Mills, who told the court Royal Caribbean had been told about problems with the starboard engine's thruster by the fleet captain in late December.
"We hadn't registered the significance of the engine problems - or the dangers of the port engine having the same problem," she told the company's lawyer, Asela Wijeyaratne, who argued the ship remained fully operational throughout.
But Mrs Mills said the weather would not have been a factor if the ship had been cruising at its usually speed and arrived on time.
Guest services manager, Lois Charters said the firm was under no obligation to offer any refund, because the cancellation and delay were both categorised in the terms and conditions as minor changes.
She said mechanical issues were "unexpected" and not known before passengers were notified in January, but could not explain why complaints raised by a gathering of passengers during the cruise had not been recorded in the ship's log.
She denied any knowledge of evidence to support the claimant's allegation that Argentinian passengers had already received pay-outs following a group claim.
Mr Wijeyaratne said the company was not liable to pay damages for minor alterations and 'force majeure' events beyond its reasonable control, and would only have been required to pay out 25% in the event of a cancellation due to major changes.
District Judge Simon Mitchell agreed the couple did not get the cruise they paid for - but said they were "stuck" with the terms and conditions.
He said Mrs Mills' cynicism of when the firm learned about the mechanical problem would make little difference to her claim because passengers were still notified within about 20 days.
He said the combined minor changes to the trip were "on the cusp", but did not constitute a major change.
After the hearing, Mrs Mills said the couple were "very disappointed" and "pretty shattered" by the outcome of what they believed was a good case.