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Great Lakes - Very Disappointing Experience

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We booked the Ocean Navigator 9-night Great Lakes cruise from Toronto to Chicago (Milwaukee, actually) scheduled to embark on Thursday, May 25th from Toronto.


During Thursday afternoon check-in at the pre-cruise hotel in Toronto, we were told transfer to the ship would take us to the dock in Port Colborne, Canada, not the dock in Toronto. This was a result of the Ocean Navigator having unspecified mechanical problems and unable to transit Welland Canal and the locks to Toronto to disembark previous passengers and for us to embark.  We were informed “repairs were underway” while we were being bused to board the ship.  This was the first of many cancellations.


We arrived at the ship after a 3-hour bus ride in heavy Toronto traffic and boarded.   We remained in Port Colborne overnight and did the shore excursion to Niagara Falls on Friday, as scheduled.  This is where the ‘as scheduled’ portion of the cruise ends.


After all-aboard on Friday evening, the Captain informed passengers the ship was still under repair and would not be sailing this evening to Cleveland. 


Still at Port Colborne on Saturday, American Queen provided a complimentary ‘behind the falls’ tour of Niagara Falls through the efforts of Wendy, the shore excursion manager and the staff.  Again, after all-aboard, the Captain announced the ship remained under repair and would not be sailing from Port Colborne overnight.


Somewhere in all this, ports started being canceled.  The itinerary lost Detroit, Escanaba, Sault Ste Marie and transit of the Soo locks after having also lost transit of the Welland Canal and locks.  We would also lose Mackinac Island.


On Sunday, Wendy (hooray, Wendy) arranged a complimentary excursion to the town of Niagara on the Lake for those who wished to leave the ship.  A shuttle was also arranged to take passengers over the nearby bridge to the town of Port Colborne.  After all-aboard the Captain announced the ship was still under repair and would not be sailing, remaining in Port Colborne overnight.


Passengers began referring to our situation like the movie ‘Groundhog Day’.  In spite of all the disruption the crew continued to provide outstanding service with bright smiles.


On Monday, Wendy (hooray again, Wendy) arranged a complimentary excursion to a nearby butterfly conservatory and a stop at Stratus winery for tasting.   After all-aboard time the Captain announced yes, we would indeed be sailing this evening to Cleveland. 


The Captain also announced we would have port calls at Escanaba and Mackinac Island (which later turned out incorrect).  Unfortunately the planned departure was delayed approximately 5 hours until 11:55 p.m.


On Tuesday morning we arose to find we were really cruising!   The ship arrived in Cleveland and, passports in hand, passengers headed to the U.S. Customs & Border Protection building for clearance and then boarded our bus to begin the hop-on, hop-off tour.  Unfortunately, it was already 1:30 p.m.   The Captain extended the all-aboard time by 1 hour but the last bus back to the ship was 5 p.m., so it was more gesture than substance.  We set sail for the Detroit River.


On Wednesday morning we awoke expecting to have transited the Detroit river and into Lake Huron.  Instead we found our ship sailing in circles, still in the waters of Lake Erie.  What was happening?  Were we going back to Cleveland?  At 8 a.m. the Captain announced we had been performing “sea trials” overnight to verify repairs were successful.  The Captain told us the U.S. Coast Guard had approved the ship for entry to the Detroit River.  He also told us he was remaining in open water until the Canadian Coast Guard approved entry to the Detroit River.


Wednesday mid-morning there was a general announcement concerning a video call meeting in the Compass Lounge at 2 p.m. for all passengers.  At 2 p.m. Cindy D’Aoust, President of American Queen Voyages, addressed the assembled passengers.


Ms. D’Aoust announced due to the mechanical issues with the ship, the voyage was being canceled.  Passengers would all be disembarked tomorrow (Thursday) morning beginning at 7 a.m. in Monroe, Michigan and transferred to the Detroit airport.


 Passengers who booked air through AQV were already being re-booked to their destinations.  Those passengers who had booked their own air could get assistance from the Purser’s Office if needed or could contact their air carrier and re-book themselves. 


Ms. D’Aoust told passengers AQV would reimburse them for re-booking costs when submitted with receipts.  She informed passengers they would each receive a 100% Future Cruise Credit valid for use until Dec. 31, 2024.  There was no offer of any cash compensation.


During all this the crew was amazing!  The crew was the saving grace for this voyage.  The passengers assembled in the Compass Lounge for the video call gave the crew a hearty and well-deserved round of applause.


Wednesday evening the ship arrived at an industrial port in Monroe, Michigan and docked for the night.  (Apparently the ship was still unable to enter the Detroit River but no definitive announcement was made in that regard).


On Thursday morning, AQV provided 7 and 8 a.m. transfers from the ship to the Detroit airport.  Any passenger who did not use the airport transfer was told to be off the ship by 8 a.m.


Shortly after all passengers disembarked, the Ocean Navigator departed the dock at Monroe, Michigan and began to transit the Detroit River on the way to Milwaukee, to embark passengers for the cruise that was to follow ours.  It became apparent AQV had decided to abandon our cruise, move the ship to Milwaukee expeditiously as possible and prepare the cabins for the next cruise passengers.  Some passengers felt AQV had unceremoniously disembarked us in Monroe, Michigan in an effort to salvage the cruise that was to follow ours.  We now had become a nuisance when it became apparent AQV could not deliver the remainder of our itinerary.


Of the many cruises we have taken, this was the most disappointing.  In return for our cruise fare we received mostly a land-based vacation.  The cruise missed the majority of the scheduled ports and was shortened two days.  The ship never left Lake Erie.


With many of the passengers being older and already experiencing challenging mobility issues, a Future Cruise Credit is of dubious value.  While the Ocean Navigator did visit Port Colborne and Cleveland, so much else was absent.  Many of the passengers expressed a desire for some type of refund with no strings attached, apparently having lost faith in AQV.


The effort of the on-board staff to provide excursions while in Port Colborne was admirable but fell far short of the expectations of the passengers.  In view of the circumstances some type of cash compensation should be forthcoming from AQV.  We’re looking at you Ms. D’Aoust!


ADDENDUM -- As this review was being finalized, AQV announced they are halting Great Lakes cruises at the end of 2023 season to concentrate on U.S. river cruises.  The Ocean Voyager and the Ocean Navigator will be sold.  Elimination of these two ships further limits the usefulness of a Future Cruise Credit.

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It must be so disappointing.  Unfortunately, issuing Future Cruise Credits, rather than cash refunds, seems to be the new norm in the cruise industry.  Back in 2015, we had a major disruption on a Princess cruise from San Francisco to Hawaii.  We we offered a 100% refund plus a 50% Future Cruise Credit.  Post COVID, the cruise lines have been much more "frugal".  Since you live in California, you might consider using your FCCs on the Snake and Columbia river cruise on the American Empress.  We did it last year and loved it.

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I would try to force them to give a cash refund, especially in light of their decision to stop Great Lakes cruising.  The California AG may be able to help you, or one of the consumer advocate groups.  If you booked through a Travel Agent, their volume of booking may give them more clout on this than you individually will have.

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Oh goodness me, we nearly went on that trip but opted to book earlier.  Flying from the UK we would not have been happy especially also having to sort out changed air as it was part of a bigger trip.  Luckily our consumer legislation and travel insurance would render a voucher an unacceptable offer that could be rejected in favour of a cash refund given the scale of disruption to the originally planned itinerary.


Good luck in getting a resolution 

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I am so sorry you had such an awful experience!


It sure does sound like they just dumped you off in order to organize for the next cruise. It seems odd that they took the ship through the Detroit River and on to Milwaukee after disembarking everyone. Maybe they got permission from one of the authorities to move the ship with crew only, but not passengers. Otherwise, why not get you back to your intended disembarkation point and take your planned transportation home? 


After an experience like yours, a future cruise credit is an insulting offer. I'm sure plenty of passengers are saying "never again," so AQV isn't going to have to make good on the credits. 


Now that I think about it, a diver inspected the azipods on Voyager when we were in Sault Ste Marie. "Routine inspection." And there was some kind of hull inspection (again, "routine") when we were in Detroit. So maybe there are some mechanical/physical issues with these ships that are part of the reason for the sale. 


Cheers to Wendy! I hope she gets another contract on AQV (assuming she wants one!) after this season is over. 

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After reading this, I think you helped make up my mind about what I would do with my booked (canceled) 2024 Voyager cruise.

At first I considered trying to switch to the last cruise this year if available, and delay my Mississippi River cruise until next year, if that option would work;  but now I don’t think I would want to be on that last voyage, considering not so much the mechanical condition, but more on the morale of the crew.


I will probably seek a full refund, and look for another cruise line, most likely Viking…

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  • 3 months later...

Great Lakes - Very Disappointing Experience - Update 10/6/2023


As detailed in the original posting, our Great Lakes cruise was terminated two days early in Monroe, Michigan because of mechanical problems with the Ocean Navigator.  We returned home on June 1st, flying from Detroit instead of Chicago.


We made a request to AQV to reimburse us for the airfare changes on our self-arranged air travel.  This is the chronology of the request --


June 5, 2023 – An e-mail submission for airline change fee reimbursement, including supporting

                        documentation was sent to AQV.

Oct. 5, 2023 – We received our reimbursement check.  (An interesting thing about our check was                          the “pay to the order of” line was filled in with our home address, not a name.

                        We deposited it with our bank and hope for the best.)


The time required for AQV to process our reimbursement from the initial document submission was 122 days (one-third of a year).  During this time we attempted to contact AQV by telephone more than once and, in every instance, never received a return call.  E-mail communication appears to be their method of choice.


Like most travel providers, AQV requires guest payments be made in a timely manner.  This apparently does not apply when AQV owes money to their guests.  The AQV refund operation moves at a glacial pace.


The internet is littered with narratives on dealing with AQV, many of which are described in negative terms.  If AQV owes you money, be prepared for a lengthy wait.  Caveat emptor!


Suffice to say we are done with AQV.

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I see what you mean…

We were still waiting for our deposit of $2,000. for the 2024 Great Lakes cruise that we made on July 26, 2022.  AQV decided early this year (at least), to exit the Great Lakes market, and we never were notified of the fact, until alerted here on Cruise Critics by others.  I contacted my TA in June 21, to inquire, and it took a week for them to confirm the fact back to my TA.  I then asked for a refund, rather than a discount on a future cruise credit.  This was on July 20. 

I finally got the refund credited to my card on September 29.  

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thank you California Tuna for posting your experience. We live a few miles from one of the Great Lakes, our “ honeymoon “ cruise many years ago was an overnight from Wisconsin to Michigan. In the last 10 years we have done 25-30 ocean cruises, and had thought that for a Special Occasion cruise in 2025 we would cruise the Great Lakes for a change. Apart from the particular major issues you had with AQV, your general description of what you did see has gotten me to think about doing another European cruise instead. Maybe Western Med…

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One other brief comment. Your story in some ways was de ja vu all over again for me. In March our 14 day Norway coastal voyage on Hurtigruten was stopped after 11 days due to mechanical issues. But, big difference, H chartered three planes to take us back to our debarkation spot in Hamburg, put us up in a high-end hotel for the remaining period of our cruise, food and beverage reimbursement for that period, and the option of FCC or cash reimbursement for the missed days cruising. All handled thoroughly and efficiently.

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