When Life at Sea Cruises announced the imminent launch of its 130,000-mile voyage, it was billed as the “world’s first — and only — three-year cruise.”
Demand for cabins has been “unprecedented” as some travel enthusiasts appear to be selling their homes to prepare for the trip of a lifetime.
But just months after Life at Sea Cruises, a subsidiary of Miray Cruises, opened bookings for the voyage aboard the MV Gemini, the voyage, due to depart from Istanbul on November 1, appears to be in the throes of crisis, and customers are already asking for refunds.
The entire Life at Sea Cruises team, which was assembled specifically for the project, has parted ways with Miray Cruises after apparent failure in communication regarding the ship’s suitability.
life on sea cruises
A rendering of the MV Gemini. It is currently unclear whether the cruise will take place on board the ship or on another ship.
Mike Petterson, the current former The Life at Sea Cruises chief executive confirmed to CNN Travel on Wednesday that he and the rest of the founding team had “pushed out” of the project.
While there was speculation that the cruise might be cancelled, Kendra Holmes, director of business development and commercial operations at Miray International, insisted that wasn’t the case during a webinar hosted by Miray’s leadership team on Wednesday night.
“This cruise is not canceled,” Holmes said. “We’re making progress. Departure will take place as planned on November 1st. That’s why I really want to clarify this now. We don’t cancel that.”
However, it is still unclear whether the journey will take place on board the MV Gemini or another ship.
“Currently the name of the ship is Gemini,” added Holmes, before explaining that she was currently unable to discuss a new ship.
“I wish we didn’t have such situations,” said Fuat G., hotel manager at Miray Cruises. “We’re making progress. Whatever we need to do to complete this project. And [we will] Go to a second, third, fourth, and fifth ship. Whatever it is.”
In an email to CNN Travel, Holmes confirmed that due to the confidentiality of the contract, “which is standard in the cruise industry,” they can’t release details about the potential new ship.
“We expect to share even more information with cruise lines in the coming weeks. However, when we release the information, we cannot say what the ship is currently called or what company it was purchased from,” she said.
However, she said customers would be told the ship’s gross tonnage and number of cabins.
“Due to the confidentiality requirements of the agreement, it would not be possible for us to disclose the vessel’s previous name and the company from which it was purchased. We will also be posting updated deck plans, cabin dimensions and public space information.”
A press release announcing the project back in March said the MV Gemini would be “overhauled” for the voyage.
But according to Irina Strembitsky, former Life at Sea Cruises sales and marketing director, the ship, which can accommodate up to 1,074 passengers, was deemed “unseaworthy” by an engineer, who also expressed doubts about its ability to complete a three-year voyage.
In the email to CNN Travel, Holmes denied these claims.
“Unseaworthy is a very specific term that refers to a ship’s safety (that a ship has sufficient lifeboats/LSAs, non-skid decks and other requirements to ensure its safety),” she said in the email.
“With this in mind, every cruise ship must have a Passenger Ship Safety Certificate, issued by the class society to which the ship belongs, proving that the ship meets the requirements of SOLAS 1974 to be able to carry passengers. Gemini has this certificate and it will be renewed again at the end of July 2023.”
Holmes added that without this certificate, along with other required regulatory certificates, a passenger ship cannot be granted permission to sail from any port in the world.
“This certificate was last renewed in November 2022 and Gemini has been sailing with passengers in the Aegean since March 2023,” she said.
Ship-tracking website Marine Traffic showed this week the Gemini cruising the waters of the Mediterranean, calling at port on the Greek island of Rhodes before continuing to Çeşme in Turkey.
After Strembitsky appeared to discuss the possibility of operating the voyage on a separate ship at the price originally offered to customers, Strembitsky said that ties between the Life at Sea Cruises team and Miray Cruises ultimately collapsed and things were about to change further Payments should have been taken.
Understandably, news of the uncertainty surrounding the cruise is particularly worrying for those who have already paid a deposit for some of the 400 cabins on offer.
“I know many of you have concerns,” Holmes told passengers during the webinar. “So we’re trying everything we can to address those concerns.”
Holmes told CNN they are hosting two webinars daily at different times to accommodate current and potential guests.
“We want them to understand that Life at Sea is and always has been Life at Sea by Miray Cruises and we have a whole team that has been working behind the scenes to make this voyage a reality for anyone who wants to be a part leave,” she says.
“We are now the front team and are honored that our current and potential guests have given us the opportunity to learn more about us, our passion for this project and most importantly our honesty.”
Retired high school teacher Sharon Lane, from California, booked a 1,500-square-foot cabin and had planned to sell “95% of her belongings” before she left.
Lane, however, says she won’t be making the trip, which was set to span 135 countries and seven continents, no matter how things turn out.
“Life at Sea says the trip has been cancelled. Miray says it’s still going, but without the entire Life at Sea management team,” she told CNN via email on Tuesday.
“I don’t really care who’s right or wrong. I’m allergic to chaos. It was a big, calculated risk from the start. Now it’s way too risky for my liking.”
When reservations opened, room rates ranged from about $30,000 per year, including a solo traveler discount, to $109,999 per person for a balcony suite.
“It’s very sad,” Lane adds. “I was totally into it. It will take me some time to undo this, but at least I’m not one of those people who has already sold a house and all my belongings. My heart aches for her.”
life on sea cruises
A number of customers who had placed a deposit on some cabins on board have requested a refund.
Holmes told CNN Travel that the voyage is currently just over 50% full and that fewer than 10 cruise lines have had their reservation fees refunded to date.
During Wednesday’s webinar, she said she and the Miray Cruises team are currently working on a Google form specifically for the “many” customers who have requested refunds.
“I know that recent events have raised a lot of concern and I understand that,” she said, noting that the refunds are expected to take around five to seven days to process.
One customer, who asked not to be named, told CNN just before the webinar that he remained confident the trip would go ahead and was awaiting further developments before making any decisions.
“Some people have made arrangements for that,” added Strembitsky, who says she’s currently working on another cruise concept and still hopes to “realize the dream” she and her team have been working on for years.
“So people are hoping that somehow it will happen. Many people are in limbo.”
This story has been updated with comments from Kendra Holmes, director of business development and commercial operations at Miray International.
CNN’s Francesca Street, Marnie Hunter and Karla Cripps contributed to this story.