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Three-year cruise in crisis amid concerns about its ship and refund demands

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(CNN) — When Life at Sea Cruises announced the upcoming launch of its 130,000-mile voyage it was billed as the “world’s first – and only three year cruise.”

Demand for cabins was said to be “unprecedented,” with some travel enthusiasts apparently selling their homes in preparation for the trip of a lifetime.

But just a few months after Life at Sea Cruises, a subsidiary of Miray Cruises, opened bookings for the cruise onboard the MV Gemini, the journey, scheduled to sail from Istanbul on November 1, appears to be in crisis, and customers are already requesting refunds.

The entire team at Life at Sea Cruises, which was set up specifically for the project, has parted ways with Miray Cruises after an apparent breakdown in communication over the suitability of the ship.

Cruising ahead?

Mike Petterson, the now former managing director for Life at Sea Cruises confirmed to CNN Travel on Wednesday that he and the rest of the founding team have “stepped away” from the project.

While there has been speculation that the cruise was to be called off, Kendra Holmes, director of business development and commercial operations at Miray International, insisted that this was not the case during a webinar held by the Miray Executive Team on Wednesday evening.

“This cruise is not canceled,” Holmes said. “We are moving ahead. It is departing November 1 as planned. So I just want to make sure to clear that up right now. We are not canceling this.”

However, it’s still unclear whether the voyage will go ahead on board MV Gemini, or a different ship.

“Currently the name of the ship is Gemini,” Holmes added, before explaining that she was not able to discuss a new ship at present.

“I wish that we didn’t have these kind of situations,” said Fuat G., hotel director at Miray Cruises. “We are moving forward. Whatever we have to do to finish that project. And [we will] go to a second, third, fourth and fifth ship. Whatever it is.”

CNN has contacted Miray Cruises for further comment.

A press release announcing the project back in March stated that the MV Gemini would be “overhauled” for the voyage.

But according to Irina Strembitsky, former director of sales and marketing of Life at Sea Cruises, the ship, which has capacity for up to 1,074 passengers, was deemed “unseaworthy” by an engineer, who also expressed doubt that it would be able to complete a three-year journey.

Maritime tracking website Marine Traffic this week showed the Gemini plying the waters of the Mediterranean, calling in to port on the Greek island of Rhodes before sailing on to Çeşme in Turkey.

After apparently discussing the possibility of the voyage taking place on a separate ship at the price originally offered to customers, Strembitsky says that relations between the Life at Sea Cruises team and Miray Cruises ultimately broke down, and things came to a head shortly before further payments were due to be taken.

Concerned customers

Understandably, news of the uncertainty in relation to the cruise has been particularly worrying for those who’ve already put deposits down on some of the 400 cabins advertised.

“I know a lot of you have concerns,” Holmes told passengers during the webinar. “So we are trying to do everything we can to help eliminate those concerns.”

Retired high school teacher Sharon Lane, from California, booked a 130-square-foot cabin and had planned to sell “95% of her possessions” before setting off.

However, Lane says that regardless of how things turn out, she will not be going on the journey, which was due to visit 135 countries and seven continents.

“Life at Sea says the trip is canceled. Miray says it’s still a go, but without the entire Life at Sea management team,” she told CNN via email on Tuesday.

“I don’t really care who is right or wrong. I’m allergic to chaos. Going was a huge calculated risk to begin with. Now, it’s far too risky for my liking.”

When reservations opened, room prices ranged from around $30,000 per year, including a discount for solo travelers, to $109,999 per person for a balcony suite.

“It’s very sad,” adds Lane. “I was all in. It will take me some time to undo what I have already set in place, but at least I’m not one of those who has already sold a house and all of my belongings. My heart aches for them.”

Refund demands

During Wednesday’s webinar, Holmes said that she and the team at Miray Cruises were currently working on a Google form specifically for the “many” customers who have been requesting refunds.

“I know the events of late have created a lot of hesitation, and I understand that,” she said, stressing that it would likely take around five to seven days for refunds to be processed.

One customer, who asked not to be named, told CNN shortly before the webinar that they remained hopeful that the trip would go ahead and were awaiting further developments before making any decisions.

“Some people have made arrangements to do this,” adds Strembitsky, who says that she’s currently working on another cruising concept and still hopes to “deliver the dream” that she and her team spent years working on in some way.

“So people are hoping somehow it happens. A lot of people are in limbo.”

CNN’s Francesca Street and Marnie Hunter contributed to this story.


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