A cruise that was meant to be the experience of a lifetime — giving people three years to travel while they worked from all over the world — has been cancelled weeks before departure because the company lacked a ship.
Life at Sea Cruises’ inaugural voyage has been cancelled after initially postponing the departure date and sending mixed messages to customers over several weeks.
The cruise was originally due to depart Istanbul on November 1, but shortly before that date, departure was postponed to November 11 and relocated to Amsterdam, it was then delayed again to November 30.
But on November 17 passengers, some of whom had sold their homes, rented them out or not renewed rental contracts for the trip, were told the cruise was off.
The reason? Life at Sea Cruises did not own a cruise ship.
Some passengers are still in Istanbul having travelled there ahead of the original departure date, now trapped without a home.
Average tickets ranged from £300,000 to upwards of £1million for the full three years.
Although many life essentials like medical services and drinks were included in the price, meals were not.
Two luxury large cabins had been sold for $12million (£9.5million) for the full three-year stint.
Customers have been told they will have to wait months before they receive a full refund, but Life at Sea has offered to pay for accommodation until December 1.
One passenger who wished to remain anonymous until they got their refund told CNN: "There’s a whole lot of people right now with nowhere to go, and some need their refund to even plan a place to go – it’s not good right now."
Life at Sea Cruises had been planning to buy the AIDAaura, a ship retired this summer by AIDA Cruises, a German subsidiary of Carnival Corp.
The company had originally slated the sale to go through by the end of September, before working on the ship in dry dock in Germany, then renovating it before sailing to Istanbul to start the cruise.
But after six weeks of uncertainty, during which Life at Sea repeatedly told guests that the sale was taking longer than planned, on November 16 another company, Celestyal Cruises, announced that it had bought the AIDAaura.
The next day Life at Sea's former CEO Kendra Holmes, who had left the company days earlier, sent customers a 15-minute video admitting that the cruise would not be going ahead.
Two days later passengers received a message from Vedat Ugurlu, the owner of Miray Cruises, which owns Life at Sea.
Declaring himself "extremely sorry for the inconvenience," he confirmed the cruise would not be departing as planned.
He said they could not afford the ship and investors had "declined to support us further due to unrest in the Middle East".
Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, a week after the ship’s sale was originally supposed to have concluded. The company has since failed to buy two other ships.
Would-be passengers told CNN how they felt betrayed and had lost everything.
One said: "I had the next three years of my life planned to live an extraordinary life, and now nothing. I’m having a hard time moving forward.
"I was proud and feeling brave, now I don’t trust anyone or anything. I know it’ll work out and life will go on, but I’m uncertain of the direction."
Another said: "I’m in a state of disbelief that they’ve done this to us,” they said, adding that staff had started out “eager and confident, and then the past few months just slowly disappeared.
"I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the disappointment of losing this opportunity. I don’t think they will ever understand how much damage they’ve caused us."
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