Victoria Cruises Accused of Holding Refunds

Summary: Victoria Cruises Line, a would-be Residential Cruising ship operator, is becoming well known in various Facebook groups, including one called Victoria Cruise Residents, for not refunding customer deposits in a timely manner, even as provided by their own contract.

First, Full Disclosure

Kit and I have a $10,000 deposit in with Victoria Cruises Line (aka VCL), of Budapest, Hungary, which we placed in August after meeting in person with their Brand Ambassador, Valerie “Lyn” Alspaugh.

VCL’s web site features Ms. Alspaugh under her married name (Linderoth) on their site, but she is using Alspaugh on Facebook. (All screencaps on this page were made by the author.)

We sold our house in a hurry and exhausted ourselves getting out so we could sail with VCL on December 1. But on October 1 — after we sold and vacated our home — VCL announced that they were delaying their departure. They didn’t say “until when.” It wasn’t until Friday, October 13, that another passenger posted on Facebook that he had found the delay was until July 26 — nearly eight months later — by looking at a newly posted itinerary.

The company didn’t bother to send us a notification until after we complained to Ms. Alspaugh. After waiting for “official” word from VCL (and then getting an email with a demonstrable lie included), we asked for a refund.

What Ms. Alspaugh was posting in “Victoria Cruises Residents” around the time we met with her. Click to see larger.
Her “Personal guarantee” two days later: better hurry! Cabins going fast!

 

According to their contract, they have until January 21 to get it to us, so as far as all parties are concerned, we are “within contract” (not counting that they didn’t sail as promised on December 1). We Shall See if they meet that deadline, and this article will be updated. [Oops: that was before this article was published. See February Update.]

Lanette and Johan from Hawaii

Lanette and Johan got interested in residential cruising after taking a 16-day cruise through the Norwegian Fjords. They loved it, and then heard about Storylines shortly after coming home — but the cost was out of reach. They booked on Life At Sea, paying a $5,000 deposit, but then there was a big kerfuffle there, as described in the article Life at Sea: Can You Really Live for $30,000?

Life At Sea “refunded us our money back without us having to ask for it,” and they paid a $10,000 deposit in to Victoria Cruises Line on June 5, 2023, facilitated by the company’s Brand Ambassador, Ms. Alspaugh.

It didn’t last long: “When we heard Villa Vie had come out with their new product, we reached out to them on June 17th and immediately wanted to jump ships because we felt we could trust this American team from previous communications with [their leadership team, which had previously been at LAS]. I put in officially for the VCL refund on 07/28/23.”

They’re still waiting. According to Victoria Cruises’ 90-day refund policy, they should have received it in November. “I am hopeful since I should be the next in line to receive a refund but at this point I think it is a scam.”

I asked if their feeling that maybe it’s a scam made them think twice about signing up with, now, their third ship, on Villa Vie Residences. “The VVR team has been fully transparent and the CEO lives in America and saw the red flags of LAS and did not want to have his/their name behind it. They refunded my LAS deposit of $5K.”

One thing that’s, well, alarming about Lanette’s experience with Victoria Cruises is the exchange in emails she has had with them, which she provided to ResidentialCruising.com. Despite them not meeting their own contractual 90-day deadline in refunding her deposit, it actually got worse.

First, VCL notified her that she didn’t put the SWIFT code which is needed for wire transfers, on their refund “application.” Lanette sent it immediately, so that shouldn’t cause any delay. Lanette told them they were on Maui and were affected by the wildfires, and really needed their money back. VCL responded, “You will receive your refund within the contractual deadline.”

Once the deadline arrived, VCL advised, “Lanette, the deposit fee was refunded yesterday. It is expected to be credited to your bank account within 2-3 days.” Lanette sent several more requests for info, and only then did VCL respond that “I find that the bank account number is very difficult to read.” What, in three-plus months, they never looked at the form to confirm they had everything they needed?!

VCL’s termination form, converted from PDF to a (smaller) graphic by the author.

“If your form didn’t have the ship in the background it would be easier to read,” Lanette responded, and gave it all to them again. The form can certainly be hard to read thanks to VCL including a graphic behind the form (see photo).

Meanwhile, two months later, they still don’t have the refund. So is it “really” an unreadable form?

Then there’s this chilling response: “[S]everal social media posts have been published where you and other people have made statements against VCL that do not reflect the truth. Our firm will take immediate legal action in the US and in Hungary.”

The only thing Lanette says she posted on Facebook was that she was not getting her refund as promised. She can hardly be liable for anything “other people have made,” and their not getting their refund is a demonstratable truth. So a legal threat is laughable at best, but should still give any would-be Victoria Cruises Line customers pause. Lanette and Johan have still not received their refund.

But wait: it gets worse.

Anonymous

A working Midwest couple — non-retirees who asked to remain anonymous — told me they first got interested in Residential Cruising when they saw an article about Life At Sea. Spooked by LAS’s “payment in full up front structure,” which they considered “too risky,” they searched out alternatives on Google and found Victoria Cruises Line. They were “sold” by the company’s itinerary, liked its “navigable website,” and were attracted by their relatively low deposit and monthly rental structure “to limit risk if the thing went bankrupt.”

The Midwests were heartened that they did receive their refund from Life At Sea, which had only asked for $5,000. They paid a $10,000 deposit to Victoria Cruises in spring 2023.

But “Repeated delays in the promised marketing campaign led me to question VCL’s honesty,” they told me. They asked for a refund, got the reply that they would get it in 90 days, and waited. Their 90 days will be up on in March 2024. Since that’s still in the future, I asked whether they are confident they will receive it. “No. The fact that VCL has stopped making timely refund payments to others with a variety of excuses suggests to me that VCL will disappear soon.”

Do they still want to be residential cruisers? “Not at this time. We would certainly never sign up with another ‘startup’ residential cruise company, and would wait until a company had a ship successfully at sea for over a year before even considering it. For now we will go back to traveling on our own and/or with reputable tour companies we have used in the past.”

They have not received their refund. And apparently, VCL still has not started their saturation marketing campaign as promised again and again and again by their Brand Ambassador, Valerie Alspaugh, originally to start in September. We have not yet seen evidence of such a campaign starting, let alone being seen “everywhere” on social media as she promised.

All of this is, of course, the real shame. This is an infant industry that is bound to have some hiccups even in the best of circumstances. So would-be Residential Cruising companies must work extra hard to be above-board, professional, and transparent when they’re asking for large amounts of up-front money.

We certainly haven’t seen those best practices here. Yet again, it gets worse.

How Could This “Get Worse”?!

While I was putting this article together from the interview questions I sent to the several people involved, this post popped up on Victoria Cruises Line LLC’s official Facebook page:

(Screencap from Facebook, 11 Jan 2024)

 

Let’s Break This Down

VCL claims that they need customers to send them copies of the contracts VCL issued, and the “cancellation documents” they demanded from us in order to get refunds, due to a “data loss” from a “system error in Google Drive”.

What does this mean? Well, as someone who has worked online full time for 30 years now, it means to me that they didn’t keep the original emails from customers. That they put all of these business-critical documents into one place — the “cloud” of a different company in a different country — and didn’t keep copies on their own computers/file systems. And that they have no backups whatever of these business-critical documents.

Many of the folks waiting for refunds have come to a different conclusion: “scam.” I don’t relay this charge lightly. I searched a public Victoria Cruise Lines group on Facebook for the word “scam”. Even limiting it to 2024 posts, I found quite a few instances. Here are just a few, with the posters’ names blurred out since I didn’t speak to them directly about their comments:

Various comments from different people on various posts on a public forum, all screencapped by the author on 13 Jan 2024.

 

Neither option is palatable: criminals using excuse after excuse as a delay tactic? Or completely incompetent when it comes to doing business?

The best-case scenario is incompetence, and I truly hope that’s what it is. The way the company can prove they’re not criminals is to refund the money of dozens to scores of customers who have been waiting for VCL to deliver on their promises.

Breaking It Down, Part 2

VCL’s plea has a detail that’s chilling: they need copies of refund requests from customers “who canceled their contracts between May and December 2023”. That seems to indicate that they have not yet returned money to customers who asked for such refunds as far back as May!

That’s from VCL-drawn contracts which, depending on when they were issued, had in their fine print that it would take “14 days” (according to passengers with older contracts that I have not seen) to “90 days” (newer contracts such as mine) to send the refunds.

Forget that it’s ridiculous for it to take 90 days to make a refund in this day and age. I can sit in my home and wire $10,000 overnight to a bank in another country — and I did. But a business can’t? Really? See “would-be Residential Cruising companies must work extra hard to be above-board, professional, and transparent,” above!

The “90 days” clause. What? The graphic they include on the page makes it kinda hard to read? Yes. Yes it does.

 

Yet they’re still not meeting those 90-day self-imposed deadlines according to both formal and informal interviews, and multiple posts in online groups. How can anyone trust them when there are literally dozens of people (maybe many dozens: I can only count the folks who came forward so that I could see them) who have been let down?

Since we asked for our own refund, I’ve seen exactly one person say they got theirs. One. That is, at least, a point for it not being a scam.

Meanwhile, quite a few others say VCL has claimed to have sent wires to them, yet they mysteriously have not arrived. The company occasionally sends “proof” of a wire (just a form anyone could fill out and scan), at least one of which is dated on a Sunday. Hungarian banks are open Sundays?

But wait, it still gets worse!

More on the Google Drive Data Loss

It is a fact that there was a problem with data loss on Google Drive: that made headlines in November/early December. But here’s the thing: those headlines were about the data loss and the fact that Google had “released a fix for users who have been reporting in official support forums that six months worth of files have gone missing from their Google Drive folders.” (Forbes)

“After a bug caused files to disappear on Drive for desktop,” The Verge reported on December 6, “Google has outlined the steps users can take to recover them.”

Yes, it’s possible that Google really did screw up and that not everyone got their data back. Yet VCL “should have known” this in early December at the latest, not 8–11 days into January.

But even if they did lose data in the Google Drive fiasco and have not been able to get it back, they ask us to believe they deleted the original emails sent to them with refund forms? They don’t have copies of our contracts? Really?! That’s what I mean by incompetent: a truly competent business does not have only one copy of business-critical files …which are kept on someone else’s server somewhere in the “cloud.”

So, do they even know who their passengers are who really do still want to sail? Or do they claim to have only “lost” the documents of those who don’t want to?

Sure, keep backup copies in the cloud, preferably on two or three different cloud sites. But those should be backups, not the only copies that exist.

A litany of excuses offered by VCL, as compiled by one of the refund-awaiting passengers I interviewed.

So of course when dozens of folks have been trying for months to get their money back, such an excuse falls flat — especially when, as one of the folks pointed out in the attached graphic, Victoria Cruises readily jumps from excuse to excuse as to why they haven’t processed promised refunds.

But wait, there’s more!

Fake News?

To add another interesting twist, one of the folks waiting for a refund told me of this interesting bit: on LinkedIn there’s a profile of someone who purports to be the CEO of Victoria Cruises Line (starting in Apr 2019), Olavs Zvinelis. There’s even a nice profile of the smiling executive:

Screencap from Linked-In. Click to see more of the profile.

 

In fact, that’s the name of the CEO who “signed” (it is presumably electronic) our contract:

For sale, cheap. (Screencap from TinEye.com)

The problem? The very profile photo itself. The reader said that it is a “stock” photo available from a variety of sources. I did my own search at TinEye.com and found indeed that is so, as shown here.

While it’s ever-so-slightly possible that Victoria’s CEO is also a stock-photo fashion model, the more logical Occam’s razor conclusion is, the man pictured on LinkedIn is certainly not the CEO of the company. Is their CEO an actual person named Olavs Zvinelis? Hard to say: the evidence is not compelling.

Sure enough, VCL sent that reader an email saying they were going to sue him for posting this truthful fact on Facebook. They of course would be laughed out of court if they tried, but seriously: can anyone argue that a “above-board, professional, and transparent” company would send such an email?!

So is there really someone named Olavs Zvinelis who is the CEO of the company? A Google search finds no mention of him on their web site. However, according to the company’s GDPR General Policy Document, he at least was:

Screencaps from two different PDF versions of the company GDPR Document.

 

Why is the company CEO no longer to be found? Well, except on LinkedIn, where he is not who he seems. Curiouser and curiouser.

VCL’s Statement to Residential Cruising

Now, of course I informed VCL’s corporate office in late December that I was writing this article and requested a statement from them. The only thing I got directly was an auto-responder that confirmed receipt of my message — until that damning statement issued on Facebook on January 11. On that day I again sent them a request for a statement, reminding them this would be published by January 15.

They responded overnight (read: reasonably quickly) to my second request, which is included here in its unedited entirety:

Dear Customer, we are aware of the refund problems and we are trying to resolve these issues as soon as possible. The errors are due to incorrect document completion by the customer on the one hand, and the other big problem is the loss of data on Google drive storage. This is a mistake made by Google and to date we have not received a solution from Google. We are trying to retrieve our lost data, but they are not going quickly.

The contract states where the customer can lodge a complaint in case of a dispute.

It is not a solution for customers to threaten VCL employees with the police. In all such cases that come to our attention, we take the necessary legal action.

VCL is a law-abiding company and we are not afraid of any police report.

The company has never disappeared and will not disappear again.

Furthermore, if any customer has a problem, the platform for resolving perceived or real problems is not social media. In such cases we will also take the necessary legal action and for these clients the deposit fee will be withheld pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. You can read about this in the booking conditions.

Best Regards:
Mr.Marcell Herold
vice president

A Few Responses

How could anyone not get a chuckle out of “The company has never disappeared and will not disappear again.”?

More seriously, it is irresponsible for a company to not have any copies of critical business information available for its immediate use in processing important contractual tasks, period. If they don’t, they’re incompetent. If they do, it’s nothing but a stall tactic. Yet notice their first step is to blame the customer for not doing it right. They had three months to ask for any needed clarifications.

And if “VCL is a law-abiding company and we are not afraid of any police report,” why do they feel it is necessary to “take the necessary legal action” if a customer does make such a report?

While “The contract states where the customer can lodge a complaint in case of a dispute.” sounds good, that place is the company itself. On the other hand, the address shown in the contract, as shown below, is an office in Limasol, Cyprus. Yet in part of a response to someone asking for a refund, the company said, “There is an office building at 25 Queen Berengaria in Limasol, where our company rents temporary office space for meetings. … The company is based in Budapest, we do not do any business in Limasol that would affect passengers or residents.” So does the company have staff in Cyprus to process “complaints,” or is it just a rented “temporary office space for meetings” where they do not do any business regarding passengers?

Can’t get the company to reply to you? The course of action is to ask the company to reply to you by mailing an address that doesn’t belong to the company. Easy!

 

Many customers have made it clear to VCL that they are not getting satisfactory responses from the company, so the only possible solution is to try again, sending something to an address used as “temporary office space for meetings”? That doesn’t sound particularly helpful.

When frustrated customers don’t get satisfactory responses when large amounts of money is involved and complain in online forums with the company’s name on them, they expect a helpful response from company representatives, not threats for not using a demonstratably ineffective complaint procedure.

To then claim that “for these clients the deposit fee will be withheld pending the outcome of the legal proceedings” is outrageous: their contract has no such provision to do this. The customers would have no complaint if they simply gave them their refunds as their contract provides. For VCL to unilaterally punish them for complaining that VCL has not performed their contractual obligations by withholding their money is absurd, and (in my opinion) cause for legal action on their part.

So why not just refund their money in a timely manner and not have any complaints to deal with?! Problem solved. Instead, they cause problems and then blame customers for “incorrect document completion” …when the contract doesn’t even require “documents” to be completed for refunds.

Cancellation Procedure: simply “notify” the company “by email” — no special forms required by contract. Yet they’ll blame customers if they don’t fill it in exactly right.

 

But 90 days from when? Well, according to their all-important contract they say we need to rely on, from the time that you request it, including by email, as shown directly above.

February Update: I sent that email on October 23, 2023. Add 90 days to that and that refund was due to us on January 21, 2024. Am I surprised that we have not received it? No. That’s a point for it being a scam.

The Bottom Line: I don’t know for sure if it’s a scam or not, but I sure can’t blame the many, many folks for believing it is. There isn’t just a red flag here, there is a bucket-full of red flags. Our decision: like Lanette and Johan, we are committed to living a Residential Cruising lifestyle, and will be sailing with Villa Vie Residences. We will write more about them soon.

Comments are open below, but must relate to the topic at hand on this page to be approved. For instance, complaints about Life At Sea or other companies will not be approved as comments on this page. Instead, use the contact form linked above to volunteer to be interviewed for a separate story. If you have direct experience with VCL, you are definitely welcome to briefly relate your story. Thank you.

Media Reaction

Since this article was published the story has been picked up by cruise industry media, as well as regular news media, including:

  • Is Retiring at Sea Just a Pipe Dream? Here’s What You Need to Know at Cruise Passenger Australia, February 9, 2024. “‘Victoria Majestic’ or ‘Victoria Majesty’ is not yet a reality. And neither are many of the refunds that passengers have been requesting.”
  • Aussies’ $15,000 Fight over Residential Cruise That ‘Doesn’t Exist’ at the mainstream news.com.au, February 14, 2024. “The company did not answer news.com.au’s questions around why it hasn’t refunded the Australians couples’ deposits.”
  • More, I’m sure, to come, and very likely from even larger-population countries.

Related

Screencap of Good Morning America’s report on LAS being accused of fraud.

Life At Sea customers are seeking fraud charges against that 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 VCL, with its huge backlog of refund requests, sweating bullets.

Last Updated February 13, 2024
Originally Published January 15, 2024

27 thoughts on “Victoria Cruises Accused of Holding Refunds”

  1. Well, I have lived this nightmare of receiving my refund back late along with you and everything you have written is true. I signed up for VCL back in Sep 2022. By July 2023, I asked to cancel for various reasons. I was NOT joining another boat and had actually planned to join VCL at a later date as everything to that point had been very pleasant.

    By November when my funds were due, they said it was sent, but it had not arrived. When pushed for a confirmation of wire, I found (not them) that there was no SWIFT code on the wire confirmation (International version of a routing number) AND one of my account numbers was off. They hadn’t even looked to see if they sent it to the right place even though I had been telling them it hadn’t arrived. When confronted with this, they told me they couldn’t read a number so they GUESSED! Guessed on a $10K international wire. GUESSED!

    They said they tried to reach me, but I had no emails, missed calls or voicemails in the time it was sent. Finally, 37 days later, I DID receive my wire (short a few dollars) but consider myself lucky. I have been tracking refund requests and, to my knowledge, am the last to have been refunded and know of 8 Refund Requesters that will be 30-60 days late by 1/16/24 and another 4 that are past their 90 days but not yet 30 days past. This is unbelievable and all VCL has done has been 1) nonchalant 2) non-responsive 3) blame the passengers 4) threaten the passengers with lawsuits and 5) blame the google. Interestingly enough on the Google Data Bug, that happened in Nov, they didn’t even bring that up in Nov or Dec and they have only asked for refund requesters to send in their contracts and refund requests again. That’s odd. Does that mean the data loss only happened to refund requesters? All very poor business at best…. at best!

    Reply
  2. Perhaps the correct name of the CEO is Ponzi.

    The thought did cross my mind, but decided to let readers draw their own conclusions. -rc

    Reply
  3. I thought this whole thing when you and Kit first started talking about it was likely to be late/delayed/not ready for prime time…and it won’t surprise me at all if/when you report that your refund did not arrive as scheduled with yet more excuses. And it won’t surprise me if/when you never get the 10K back either. Sometimes if it seems too good to be true…it is too good to be true.

    I personally have about zero interest in cruising of any sort after a career in the Navy (Connie does but I told her I would wave goodbye from the pier)…but if we did then we would likely just go on regular cruise ships in some sort of extended voyage capacity and switch ships as needed to see different places and perhaps get off and rent an apartment in whatever country caught our eye for an extended stay before getting back on the ship. I know that prevents the sense of community and neighborhood that the full time ships offer and you said was one of your wants…but at least it’s an industry that’s actually functioning…and this whole new one might eventually pan out and be viable but I think the jury is still out on that question.

    Sometimes the pioneers get an arrow or two in their backs, but I do believe this is a worthy industry to get up and running. So far, I think Villa Vie has the best chance of not only successfully launching, but of achieving profitability in a relatively short amount of time. More on them later, and why I think so. -rc

    Reply
  4. I’m very sorry you’re going through this. My mom, aunt and uncle got screwed in the Vantage dissolution with no money refunded because they pushed electronic bank transfers as opposed to credit cards.

    Reply
    • That is a good point. MANY pushed for credit cards but VCL said it wasn’t possible for the initial deposit, but would be ok after setting sail. Lessons learned!

      I do understand why they don’t want to take a card for such amounts. First, card companies don’t want to deal with new industries, let alone for huge amounts. They want the companies to have a track record first. In other words, they pretty much default to “Scam until proven otherwise.” Too, if someone (legitimately) spent $10,000 in my shopping cart, the processor would take nearly $300 in fees — more if it was a cross-border charge. Companies taking plastic have to build those fees into the price. -rc

      Reply
      • I was with Life at Sea until they announced that they were purchasing a new ship, at which point I asked for my money back. I had deposited $50,000 with them by credit card, and they refunded all of that except the fee charged by Visa. But I got to keep the miles I had earned with the associated airline so it mostly worked out. Too bad that VCL would not accept a credit card for their original deposit.

        So glad you got a refund, Larry! -rc

        Reply
  5. Many of us who have requested refunds have done so because we could no longer keep putting our lives on hold given the continual postponements of sailing date.

    Many of us may have decided to sail with them on the future once they were actually underway.

    Not me. I wouldn’t trust my very life on a ship run by a company that operates this way.

    It’s not just the money we have lost. It is pieces of our lives, it’s time jumping through their hoops and following up.

    Indeed. The monetary damages are easy to discuss. The other wreckage I only hinted at in the intro. Kit and I were literally sickened by the stress we went through to hurry through our home sale. If I had to put a price tag on that, it’d be far more than $10,000. -rc

    Reply
    • RC, not to mention that many who sold their homes probably had low mortgages and certainly lower interest that current rates, so when they go to buy again (if they do) they have taken a huge loss in closing costs as well as years of interest at a much higher rate. It’s a large number when you look at all of that.

      Just so. The damages just add up more and more, don’t they?! -rc

      Reply
  6. I’ve been following this from afar via your blog (and a couple conversations), and it didn’t dawn on me until today why the name felt “weird”.

    Every time you mentioned Victoria Cruises, I thought, “But they’re a well-known cruise line!”

    They’re not, though, that’s Victoria Cruise Lines, not Victoria CruiseS Line. On the Victoria Cruise Lines website, the header has a logo which reads “Victoria Cruises”.

    Having a name close to a recognizable brand is a standard tactic of shady businesses. And honestly I’m surprised Victoria Cruise Lines hasn’t gone after Victoria Cruises Lines for trademark infringement. I’m sure I’m not the only one to mix up the names — and one company could easily degrade the name of the other.

    The very same thoughts have gone through my head too, but I didn’t want to spin too far from the central premise, particularly since there was so much to explore that the article was already getting quite long. The established company, Victoria Cruise Lines, really should have objected to “Victoria Cruises Line” right from the start, whether it’s legit or not. And surely VCL was aware of that company from the start (or, again, “incompetent”). In the various forums I did see people having more trust because VCL was “an established river cruise company,” so the confusion was real. As far as I can see, the VCL established in 1993 and operating in China has nothing to do with the Hungarian VCL that’s a Residential Cruising wanna-be. -rc

    Reply
    • Mike, the similarity in names has bothered me from the first for the very reasons you and Randy have discussed. Sadly, it’s easy to look back and see the red flags we should have responded to while we had our money. Hindsight is much better than foresight. But, we signed up for an adventure and we got one! And, if I have a chance to dig in to get my money back you know I will.

      Reply
  7. Does Hungary have some form of Consumer Protection agency that can intervene on your behalf? I can’t see how sending out e-mails indicating that cabins were selling out when they ultimately didn’t even have a boat is not some sort of fraud.

    A good question, and I haven’t had a chance to research the answer. At the very least, one would think the country has a banking regulator who might be interested in this. -rc

    Reply
  8. My husband and I are two more who have overdue refunds. We sent our first refund request via email in early October 2023 as per the contractual obligations. We were then told to fill the refund form with our bank details. I did this and emailed it right away. It wasn’t until 4 days later that I received a response from ‘Lydia’ stating we would receive our refund within 90 days.

    When I clarified this via email in early January, ie closer to our refund date, I was told by ‘Vera’ in their Legal Dept, “The deadline has not yet expired. We respect the deadline of all our clients.”

    The fact is, our refund was due very early January, and not last week as Vera claims. However, that’s a moot point now because both dates have come and gone with no word from VCL; no $10,000USD; no promise that my money is on its way and no alleged wire form proving they’ve sent their money.

    I’m not giving up though!

    (name withheld but known to the author of this article)

    Reply
  9. It’s a fair article.

    As many of you know I have been researching this scam (I do not have any reservations about using that word in relation to VCL). As many of you know I have been chasing this company since at least August last year and we are a pair who also has had to put up with threats, idiocy, and frankly downright lies. I have no reservations about saying that our so-called Brand Ambassador is EITHER fully complicit OR just stupid. I do hope it is only the latter. While there is no cure for stupidity you cannot go to jail for it.

    She still continues to claim that the ship is the old HAL ship Veendam when in fact I have it in writing from the ‘invisible’ VP that they do not have a ship, have never had a ship, and will never have a ship. I am in constant contact with VCL whenever they will bother to answer me, and to give credit to Marcell Herold (VP) he does answer me when I hang tough because he can’t help himself. Usually it is to threaten me with further legal action. Bring it on.

    We have representation in Hungary and while I will continue to write my own articles and do my research into the hundreds of shell companies with a single executive called Viktoria.

    Laughably I have been accused of pretending to be an interpol police officer during a phone call to the PR agency 360 Elevated, by Mr Herold. I have never phoned this agency and my message “We are enquiring whether you represent Victoria Cruises Line as stated by Ms Linderoth…” was sent in a text only and related only to the question at hand. The reply was that they did not know about VCL and i was asked to “Please delete us from your contacts”. I was satisfied that they are not being paid to do any work even though Ms Linderoth stated that she had some problems getting the money for them which she said was limited to 10K a day, or 60K a week. EVEN NOW she insists there is a ship. No ship. She and other (paid or recompensed) persons continue to lie in order to get potential residents to part with (now) up to $20k. I continue to dig deeply into this scam. Pigs might fly, but VCL will never sail because it is a fraud.

    While most readers here don’t know each other, John and I have been in informal communication — he’s one of many I’ve exchanged messages with. With Seajets (the owner of the Veendam) starting its own cruise line, according to industry news this morning, it seems unlikely they’ll be parting with the ship anytime soon. So “do not have a ship, have never had a ship” seems pretty accurate to me! If VCL wants us to go away, all they have to do is return everyone’s money as promised. By stalling, they’re making the chorus rise, getting louder and louder and more in tune with each other. -rc

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  10. It strikes me that the core of a scam is to gather money and keep it. Refunds put a dent into that business model. I suspect that the only reason why VCL still has a public face is because they are still able to scam new customers into giving them $10k deposits, and they can do that because most of their new “customers” are of an older generation who do not think to scan the internet for background on VCL before they commit.

    I also suspect that the reason why anybody has gotten a refund is so that VCL — the fake one — can trumpet this bit of detail to assuage the concerns of new customers, and to keep the whole scam going. Even Bernie Madoff offered refunds during the time that he operated in order to tone down any concerns that his “investors” may have had.

    And, Randy, I am pretty sure that you have come to the same conclusions. But please do continue this investigation. The more your concerns stay on the internet, the more likely that Google searches will highlight the issues for future customers. And you will know the moment when VCL shuts down their scam operation when their online presence disappears and they are in the wind.

    Indeed I’ve thought of all those possibilities, and more. -rc

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  11. Great article which provides a very accurate description of what has transpired over 2023.

    I, too, reserved a cabin on Victoria Cruises Line, had to cancel and still awaiting the return of my deposit which is way past the 90 day deposit return period.

    I am hopeful that VCL will do the right thing and provide refunds as stated in the contracts.

    Again, great article and I applaud you for your dedication in getting our stories story out there.

    I’m glad to be able to tell some of the stories in the article, and have others weigh in here. Thanks! -rc

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  12. I don’t understand why nobody has called in Federal authorities. These people may be based in Hungary, or claim to be, but they are scamming people in the US. I would think the Justice Department or the FTC might be interested.

    More than one person I talked to said they were pursuing such avenues. -rc

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  13. I am sitting here in tears in empathy for the VCL folks. Their shadiness has impacted negatively not only on the Residential cruises but on all cruise lines. I talked to a new friend who is scared to death that NCL and the Queen Mary II will abruptly cancel their sailings — and those cruise lines have been around for years. When Lucille Ball did her grape stomping episode, the Wine industry was affected negatively for a decade. I am thinking that LAS and VCL could have such a dampening effect on the cruise industry. And my concern is that Storyline cruise line could be in the same “boat”. Thank you so much for such an in-depth article. I shall dry my tears and be Thankful I chose differently and came with Villa Vie Residences!

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  14. How has this information about VCL influenced your due diligence on your new cruise ship company? What are you doing more/ differently? I bet your readers would love a how-to for due diligence.

    That article is simmering in the back of my mind already. That’s how I do some of my best writing: just let it bubble in the background. -rc

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  15. Wait, so…they lost the original contracts? So does that mean some Joe Schmoe such as myself could get a copy of someone’s contract, edit in my name, and claim they owe me 10k, too? I mean, not that it’s very productive to try and scam the scammers since who knows if any of you legit customers will ever get your refund. But if they are just incompetent they have left themselves some kind of open there.

    Yes, you’re starting to see some of the gaping holes they’ve opened with their excuses. 🙂 -rc

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  16. I’d expect that if a bunch of Schmoes decided to hop-on the bandwagon, VCL would use it as another excuse to delay payments as they “sort things out.” Federal action, either here or there, or the equivalent of a class-action there, is probably the best approach. But I suspect it’s going to start with someone finding a Hungarian attorney.

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  17. Wow this an interesting story. We have a similar story about property we purchased in Belize. Still going through lawsuits. I am surprised the authorities haven’t already stepped in on your behalf.

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  18. Fascinating article, Randy. You clearly did your research! I really hope you get your refund. And I’m glad you are still committed to residential cruising!

    Yep: very much looking forward to getting going after this delay. -rc

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  19. Hungary is a member of the EU, right? Can you go after the company through the EU’s legal mechanisms? That seems more do-able than Hungary itself. Hungary does have an iffy rep.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the agent you met has also been left up the proverbial creek without a paddle. She might know next to nothing about the real operations, just repeating what she’s been told by upper management. Might not even be a full-time job?

    We have thought of EU authorities, but don’t have a lot of ability to make complaints since the authorities will simply point out we are still under the contract terms. Once those expire, we step up to other levels. I don’t know what the US-based agent really knows, or her employment details. -rc

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  20. “The Bottom Line: I don’t know if it’s a scam or not…”

    Randy, you are way smarter than to think this. I’m sorry, but at this point I have to think you know exactly how this will end up.

    In fact I don’t know. The company could make all charges of fraud and scam disappear in a heartbeat by refunding money to everyone who asked for it (and that would be a smart thing to do, even if it meant going into debt, which beats going to prison). I do know what I “expect” to happen, but that’s far from proof of what will happen. -rc

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  21. On a lark, I searched their name. Their web site now shows they’re accepting bookings for a ship called VICTORIA MAJESTIC, now departing July 26, 2024. Scrolling down multiple pages of search results, there’s not a hint of any issues.

    And their web site would have you believe they’ve been sailing successfully. But I truly wonder about the testimonial videos from “passengers” who explain why they’ve chosen this company. How many of them have gotten their money back?

    It would be interesting to contact the author of the article from Business Insider which appears in the search results. Offer them a follow-up story about the current situation. Perhaps that article would float to the top of search results and force the VCL brand ambassador to reply. Or at least make more potential customers aware that all is not well.

    The brand ambassador has seen this article. And yes, many of those owed refunds are speaking with reporters, just as some did with me. -rc

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  22. VCL’s various excuses about the alleged missing information or not being able to read people’s hand writing is something I have concerns about with any form I fill in. Trying to make my writing legible is a challenge, and if handwriting was anything to go by I should’ve been a Doctor.

    Fortunately, Adobe Acrobat Reader allows you to add text to pdf documents using the Fill & Sign tool (Tools > Fill & Sign). Text can be placed anywhere in the document and it also allows ticks, crosses, lines, circles, and dots. The pdf can then be saved with these edits.

    Anything to help eliminate someone mis-interpreting what I’ve written (scribbled) is a must. It’s also useful if I need to make a change to the form as I don’t need to fill in the whole thing from scratch.

    There are other free pdf editing tools out there, this is just one that’s on most people’s PCs and there’s no need to upload, complete a form online and then download it again.

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