In a one-of-a-kind error, a passenger aboard Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas was accidentally charged almost $100,000 for a meal at the ship’s specialty eatery, Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver. While the charge was quickly reversed, financial holds and poor communication created a sour taste about the incident.
$100,000 Dinner Charge
After enjoying dinner at Jamie’s Italian – crispy calamari and garlic bread appetizers, followed by penne pomodoro, arugula and parmesan salad, and finished with decadent lemon meringue cheesecake and hot chocolate with vanilla ice cream – Alex and his wife, Alicia, were shocked to discover a charge for $98,638.93 added to their shipboard account.
The couple had already purchased the ship’s “Unlimited Dining Package” which includes multiple entrees and multiple specialty restaurants every night of a sailing, and can be a savings of up to 40% off depending on the venues.
Jamie’s Italian is a favorite restaurant of the couple’s, who are both big Italian food fans, and this wasn’t even the first time they’d dined at the restaurant on this cruise.
“That Lemon Meringue Cheesecake is probably my favorite restaurant dessert of any restaurant on land or boat,” Alex said to Cruise Hive.
After their meal, the couple – thrilled with the excellent service and delicious dining – authorized an additional gratuity to their account, but never expected the charge to be listed as nearly $100,000.
The incident happened on September 5, while the couple was enjoying a 7-night roundtrip Eastern Caribbean sailing aboard the Oasis-class Symphony of the Seas.
The ship had departed from Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, September 3, and spent both Sunday and Monday at sea before the startling charge appeared.
How Can Such an Error Occur?
The charge was an inadvertent error – an ID number was typed into the gratuity box rather than the appropriate dollar amount.
Royal Caribbean did reverse the charge, but the difficulty continued for the guests as the authorization on their American Express card remained, effectively tying up the card and prohibiting its use for the rest of their cruise.
“I have been pretty frustrated because although Royal Caribbean reversed the charge, the authorization on my card remains,” said Alex in exclusive communication with Cruise Hive.
“This has been pretty stressful to deal with while on vacation. We had our card decline while off the boat on an island, presumably because this authorization was locking up the available credit on the card.”
The couple does emphasize, however, this was not the fault of their server, who was hard-working, kind, and attentive during the meal. This is a tech problem and a communication failure, not the fault of the ship’s crew.
While onboard, Alex tried to work with Guest Services to have the authorization removed, but was told because the authorization would eventually drop off the account – because the charge had been removed – there was nothing more to be done.
Unfortunately, it can take 5-7 days after the cruise is finished before such an authorization is removed from a credit card, and in the meantime, the affected funds remain locked up and in limbo.
“This was a huge stressor on our vacation which we did not cause,” Alex said. “This wasn’t an accidental $20 or $100 authorization, this is the amount of a small house in some parts of the U.S.”
Alex was not informed as to whether or not anyone from the cruise line reached out to American Express to resolve the situation during the cruise, and there was no communication about any additional steps Royal Caribbean may have taken to have the authorization removed.
After the cruise ended on September 10, Alex spent hours on the phone with Royal Caribbean’s customer service, to no avail, and with no further resolution.
Avoiding Confusing Errors in the Future
The one small good point of this incident is that Alex and Alicia are grateful they had used a credit card rather than a debit card to fund their shipboard purchases.
Had they used a debit card, “real” funds would have been tied up in this error, which could impact other non-cruise charges, such as regular bill payments or other transactions through that account.
Because this occurred through a credit card, the authorization will eventually be dropped, even though it has been stressful and challenging to deal with while on vacation.
Alex’s frustration comes because there would be an easy way to avoid these types of errors altogether. “I cannot see in any scenario where someone would be dropping $100,000 at Jamie’s Italian, or for that matter, who is leaving a $100,000 tip anywhere on the boat?” he said.
“This would have been an easy technology fix. There should be some verification for numbers over a certain amount of dollars that throws a flag if it seems disproportionate based on the amount of the overall check.”
While this situation is certainly unique because of its scale, all cruise passengers can learn a lesson from the incident. Using a credit card rather than a debit card is a sensible precaution, especially if the card in question is one reserved just for travel and is not associated with any other pre-authorized bills.
Cruisers should also keep a close eye on their shipboard accounts, checking charges throughout each sailing to be sure they are accurate.
Most cruise ships have ATM-like kiosks for checking onboard accounts, or passengers can access their accounts through their stateroom televisions, cruise line apps, or by visiting Guest Services.