Life At Sea, one of several companies working to break into the Residential Cruising market, has failed. They are not one of the companies we have been working with.
In the previous article, When Your Residential Cruise Launch is Delayed, I noted Life At Sea had delayed departure “to November 11. It’s only going to take them 10 extra days to buy, retrofit, staff, and launch a ship? Hardly seems likely! Especially now.”
Especially-especially now: they have admitted they cannot deliver and have canceled their offering entirely, promising to make refunds to passengers, and to fly home any passengers who traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, for the departure on LAS’s assurances that they would depart on time.
Worse, many had shipped their belongings ahead to be left in their non-existent cabins for them to have upon their arrival. LAS says they will ship those belongings back to them.
But none of this is really enough.
The company says it had sold 111 cabins. Assuming some portion were sold to solo passengers (vs. a couple, and presuming no children on a school-less ship), that’s likely around 200 affected people.
“I don’t think they will ever understand how much damage they’ve caused us,” one passenger told CNN for an article published this morning. Many passengers expressed their displeasure with LAS, noting that even flying them home is a problem because they have no home to go “back” to — they sold their homes and belongings, and now what? They’re literally homeless.
And all the passengers that CNN contacted wanted to remain anonymous in fear that they won’t get their money back. LAS says they will make refunds in “installments” starting December, and finishing in February. If they in fact do make full refunds, that’s at least a reasonable amount of time, though it probably won’t feel that way to the affected passengers.
“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,” another passenger told CNN.
When we did our research of the players in the business, we rejected LAS completely; we didn’t even consider them as a good deal at the time, and by the time I wrote the previous article I had serious doubts about their viability. I just didn’t think they would take quite this long; I guess their lack of viability finally became clear to them, too.
Again, this is not the ship we are planning to sail on.
“Miray is not such a big company to afford to pay 40-50 million for a ship,” said Miray Cruises owner Vedat Ugurlu; Miray is behind the LAS brand. He went on to say that the company had “presented the project to investors, and had official approval from some of them to buy the vessel.”
SOME OF THEM?! But then at least some portion of the investors “declined to support us further due to unrest in the Middle East.”
My gut reaction is that’s a flimsy excuse: there has been “unrest” around the world since well before any of the cruise companies pushed into the residential space. They were making assurances this month that they would launch, which is why so many passengers headed to Turkey. The Israel-Hamas war started in early October. Russia went to war with Ukraine in 2014, and escalated it with a full-scale invasion in early 2022. And there is more “unrest” in other places. What …really… has changed?
The cancellation announcement was delivered by CEO Kendra Holmes — who had resigned days before. It was apparently a private video message delivered to passengers and not available to the public, but what a boneheaded move on Miray’s part. It was reportedly sent to the passengers on November 17, by which time many were already in Turkey.
Also a gut reaction: I wouldn’t be surprised if Ugurlu was hesitating in informing the paid passengers that the 3-year cruise just wasn’t going to happen, so Holmes resigned in protest, recorded the video, and sent it to the passengers to force Ugurlu’s hand. He didn’t make any announcement himself for about 48 hours, when he made the comments quoted above, noting he was “extremely sorry for the inconvenience.”
He couldn’t help but add, “If we will not be able to sail on December 1, we will offer you to sail on another departure date or refund all the payments within a short schedule.” How, exactly, wasn’t mentioned. “We have tried everything to make your dreams come true and we will continue to do so.”
The message was so mixed that the next day, LAS COO Ethem Bayramoglu followed up: “In case we weren’t clear, the Life At Sea cruise trip is canceled,” and provided details of how to get refunds.
But after that clarity, more message mixing: “Although we are all disappointed and frustrated that we didn’t sail this time, it is important to us that you feel positive overall about your experience with us,” he said. “Vedat in particular is still hopeful that Miray will someday soon have an option for you to consider.” He then personally stepped forward to help passengers get “home” from Turkey.
“The company seems to have no consideration about what they’ve done to our lives,” another passenger told CNN. “I never imagined I’d be in this position as a senior citizen.”
Assuming passengers get their money back and aren’t feeling too burned, there are other options available. The choice with the earliest possible sailing date is with Villa Vie Residences, which I’ll be writing more about soon. I’ve spoken to their CEO directly and stressed the importance of hitting their promised departure date with no hitches. He knows the pressure is on, and that’s even before LAS as a company sank into the depths. Fewer options make it easier for the other players to fill their ships.
Another interesting twist? Villa Vie was founded by the marketing team at LAS, who bailed when they lost faith in the company. Holmes says she is going to do the same thing with another existing recreational cruise company, HLC Cruises: build that company a Residential Cruising subsidiary, and they want to be aggressive in their launch date to maybe pick up passengers dumped by LAS.
Clearly all of these folks absolutely believe there is viability in the Residential Cruising dream.
So before you ask, Yes: Kit and I certainly are still committed to this lifestyle.
In Conclusion, I think it’s quite sad that Life At Sea has failed. It creates doubt upon the entire industry. We have to remember that this business sector is in its infancy and we are pioneers. There of course have been delays as the companies (plural) figure out this challenging new business. Kit and I hope the passengers stranded by LAS will flock to the other offerings available.
Read the full sorry story at CNN.
[4 Dec. Update: Life At Sea’s web site now promises “Sailing on November, 2024”. A bit odd, grammar-wise, but they are apparently attempting a reset for a year away. We wish them luck.]
January 2024 Update
Life At Sea customers are seeking fraud charges against the company, the New York Times reported on January 17, with 78 passengers joining together to petition the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida to ask for an investigation of Miray, LAS’s parent company. They note that a month after the cruise failed, they have not received refunds.
On January 18, ABC’s Good Morning America show covered the fraud angle. You can bet there will be more.
But it makes me wonder: all this after just a month of no refunds? This ought to have Victoria Cruises Line, with its huge backlog of refund requests, sweating bullets.
Last Updated January 18, 2024
Originally Published November 24, 2023
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Randy is the co-founder of Residential Cruising, and is best known as the founder of the oldest entertainment feature on the Internet, This is True. He and his wife, Kit, are actively working toward moving to a full-time Residential Cruising ship, where they intend to be “Digital Nomads” — continuing their work while aboard the ship.