MIAMI -- Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises each
notified hundreds of thousands of their passengers that they may be
eligible for benefits as part of voluntary agreements to settle
class-action suits involving port charges.
Detailed notices went out late last month. As reported, a state
court here in February issued preliminary approvals of the
out-of-court settlements between each line and the plaintiffs in
The settlements are the latest developments in legal actions
brought against Royal Caribbean and Celebrity and 10 other cruise
lines, including Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, which
were the first to reach settlement agreements. The plaintiffs in
the actions were passengers who charged that each line
misrepresented the nature of port charges by implying that the
"port charges" represented monies paid by the line to governmental
authorities while actually paying a lesser amount to such
As a result, the suits claimed that the passengers were entitled
to a refund of the difference. The court set June 3 as the date for
final settlement hearings on the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity
cases, to be held in the Miami Dade County Circuit Court before
Judge Stuart Simons.
The settlements call for compensation to past passengers in the
form of vouchers -- valued at anywhere from $5 to $45, depending on
the length and time of sailing -- that may be redeemed in booking a
future cruise on each line.
The cases were originally filed against the lines in April 1996
by the New York law firm Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling. Since
that time, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have merged, but the cases
remain separate. Nevertheless, preliminary settlement agreements
for the two cases are virtually identical in all matters except the
The preliminary agreement with Royal Caribbean calls for the
issuance of vouchers between $8 and $17, depending on the length of
cruise, for passengers who sailed from April 19, 1992 to Dec. 31,
1994. The voucher value ranges from $12 to $30, depending on the
length of cruise, for passengers who sailed from Jan. 1, 1995 to
April 1, 1997.
The preliminary agreement with Celebrity calls for voucher
amounts of either $20 or $30, depending on the length of cruise,
for passengers who sailed between April 19, 1992 and Dec. 31, 1994.
The voucher amount is either $30 or $45, depending on length of
cruise, for those who sailed from Jan. 1, 1995 through April 1,
Both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity deny the plaintiffs'
allegations, but the lines have volunteered to settle while
maintaining that the litigants "are not entitled to damages or any
Princess Cruises, which also denies the allegations, reached a
similar preliminary settlement in January and sent out notices in
early March. A hearing for final approval of the settlement in that
case has been set for May 13 in Los Angeles Superior Court. In
court papers, Princess estimated 1.15 million members in the
settlement class. The estimated face value of the Princess
settlement was $13.4 million.
Like figures for the other cases were unavailable.
In addition, the settlements call for the cruise lines to pay
the plaintiffs' attorneys fees, which in Princess' case amount to
$995,000, according to court papers.
Holland America was the first of the cruise lines to offer to
settle out of court, setting a pattern for other cases. Last
summer, Holland America notified passengers that it has agreed to
extend them vouchers toward a future cruise, valued at between $10
and $50, depending on the length and time of cruise.
A court rendered final approval of the settlement last
September, but Holland America has not sent out vouchers pending an
appeal by some passengers, according to an attorney for Zwerling,
Schachter & Zwerling.
The controversy over port charges was rendered moot in 1997
after industry agreements with Florida's attorney general that
required cruise lines to bundle the charges with the rest of the
However, Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling is proceeding with
its cases against the 12 lines, which are in various stages of
litigation, according to firm attorney Joseph Lipofsky.
As part of the preliminary agreement with the four lines who
have agreed to settle, passengers affected have the right to
exclude themselves from the settlement, thereby reserving the right
to bring an individual action for an amount they deem proper.
Notifications to "opt out" must be delivered to the lines no later
than May 10.
Those passengers who want to accept the vouchers do not have to
take any action and will be sent the vouchers automatically after
final disposition of the cases. Passengers interested in receiving
further information on the cases can call an information line at
They also can write a "settlement counsel" appointed by the
court, Robert S. Schachter of Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling,
767 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017. In addition, information on
the settlements can be accessed through the Web sites of the cruise
lines as well as the Web site of the attorneys in the case: www.zsz.com.