6 Cruise Lines Agree to Limit Port Charges

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Six Florida-based cruise lines agreed to revise their advertising policies and pay $295,500 to end the state's investigation into allegations that they misled consumers about cruise costs.

The lines signed "an assurance of voluntary compliance" to limit "port charges," which they collect separately from consumers, to those "fees or charges imposed by a governmental or quasi-governmental authority."

Florida attorney general Bob Butterworth accused the lines of charging consumers more in port fees than is necessary to cover their dockage costs and keeping the difference.

"The companies have included such things in port charges as their own operating expenses for fuel, fresh water and wages," he alleged.

"The consumer winds up paying the cruise line more than the advertised price of the cruise, and that is inherently deceptive."

The six lines that signed the agreement and the amounts paid were Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International $100,000 each, Norwegian Cruise Line $42,500, Celebrity Cruises $35,000, Dolphin Cruise Line $13,000 and Majesty Cruise Lines $5,000.

The lines agreed to pay the settlement fees to cover the cost of an 18-month investigation, without "any admission or contention" that they violated any Florida laws.

In addition, several cruise lines issued statements that they vehemently take exception to the attorney general's comments, noting that the allegations were not endorsed in the agreement they signed.

Carnival and Royal Caribbean International said they would include all port charges and fees of any kind in their advertised newspaper prices and brochures.

Total prices paid by consumers will remain the same, Royal Caribbean said.

In addition, both companies said they will continue to deduct port and other charges from cruise fares before paying agent commissions on the bookings.

The agreements allow the lines to itemize "the amount of port charges, or other charges included in the cruise fare price, in its invoices or other communications to travel agents."

Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Lynn Martenstin said , "We don't currently pay commissions on port charges, and there will be no change in that policy."

Carnival spokesman Tim Gallagher said he did not know whether the amount the line assigns to "port charges and fees" would continue to be listed in footnotes of brochures.

If not, he said, agents would be informed directly of the amount Carnival is deducting from the gross price before it pays a commission.

Port charges and fees average between $100 and $150 for a seven-day cruise or higher.

Carnival will change its Florida consumer advertising on Feb. 23 and before June 1 nationally.

Royal Caribbean said it will make the changes this spring.

Butterworth praised Carnival and Royal Caribbean, saying they had cooperated fully with the investigation.

He said that the six cruise lines that signed the agreement represent more than 60% of the 2 million people who take cruises out of Florida each year.

The agreements terminated an investigation into the port-charge practices of the six lines conducted under Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Investigations of six other lines that did not sign are continuing, he said.

Officials of lines that do not comply with the state's advertising requirements "will be put in jail," he said.

Two lines that have not settled, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, have indicated their intention to sign, he added.

In addition to Florida's investigation into port-charge practices, seven cruise lines, including some that signed the Florida agreement, are being sued in class-action suits coordinated by a New York law firm that is accusing the lines of "padding" their charges.

But the Florida lines that signed the state's agreement stipulated they were doing so "without prejudice" to any pending or future litigation.

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