PARSIPPANY, New Jersey - It seems like an outrageous ultimatum for some local travelers. The customers said they were told to either fly to Florida, under evacuation orders, and sail to a port that could be in the path of Irma or forfeit their fare.
Instead of boarding the Carnival Paradise in Tampa and setting sail for Havana, Cuba, friends and travel partners Katherine Lorenzo and Nathalie Herrera are on a park bench in Parsippany, desperately trying to figure out Carnival Cruise's schedule for this weekend. And when they called the cruise line? All they got is a busy signal.
With Hurricane Irma heading for a direct hit with Florida, they tried to cancel the four-day vacation they paid for months ago to celebrate Katherine's 24th birthday.
"So when we called Carnival, we're not asking for a refund, we just want a voucher for the future anything. And they were like no, if you don't show up today you'll be considered a 'no show' and you would get absolutely no refund," Lorenzo said.
"It's unreasonable and completely ludicrous," Herrera said.
Carnival did not cancel some of its cruises out of Florida, prompting backlash from customers left in limbo.
"You still want to put people on the water, cancel these cruises!" said one customer on Twitter.
On Facebook: "Our flight was cancelled, come on Carnival this is ridiculous!" and "lives in danger just for a profit."
"We have family and friends in Florida that are evacuating right now but they want us to head toward there," Lorenzo said.
They were told by Carnival the ship would sail, but the destination was unknown.
So we sent out an S.O.S. to Carnival's corporate communications, pointing out for starters that airlines were allowing flight cancellations. United gave them credit for airfare immediately after mandatory evacuations were announced.
"We explained it's a state of emergency, they (United) were so nice," Lorenzo said.
7 On Your Side asked Carnival to allow re-bookings for customers who felt it was too risky to sail.
And just hours after our request, the cruise company changed course, telling passengers like ours they can now rebook and sail when the skies are clear.
Carnival apologized for the difficulty Irma created for its guests. Carnival said their hotline is overburdened so guests should wait a few days to call to rebook. Right now there's no deadline to get it done.
The big takeaway, before you book travel, investigate trip insurance. Carnival said if these customers had, they could've gotten a refund. And book travel on a credit card. In case you have a dispute it can give you some recourse. And if you have one, book your trip with a rewards travel credit card. Some have protections built in as a benefit.