Despite hurricane, no refunds for some cruise passengers who stay behind

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Hurricane Irma is not only impacting people here on land but, especially, those on the water. Cruise companies have been canceling and altering itineraries, left and right, in an effort to avoid any danger.

That was not the case for one cruise ship that sailed out of Tampa Thursday. And now, a Lakeland couple that chose to stay behind as a precaution said they're now out thousands of dollars.

Arms full of luggage, families strolled toward the Carnival Paradise, docked at Port Tampa Bay on Thursday afternoon.

"We actually waited until this morning when we were on our way here to decide if we were coming here or not," said Nicole Race.

While Race lives in New York, her family has a home in Brevard County. The last thing they did was board it up.

"I was hoping they were going to cancel this one but... hope for the best," Race said.

While they're going, Jesse Black and Emily Jaffe of Lakeland are staying.

"We wanted to go to Cuba," Black said. "It was an opportunity to go to Cuba. It's a historic event."

But they're part of an emergency preparedness team responsible for hundreds of animals at Safari Wilderness in Lakeland. With Hurricane Irma nearing Florida, they have no choice but to protect the vulnerable wildlife.

They, too, hoped Carnival would cancel, but as of Thursday, the ship bound for Havana was still sailing.

"Taking the boat out when a category 5 hurricane is set to sweep the entire state of Florida and Hurricane Katia is now in the Gulf threatening Mexico and every place else, and they're gonna escape in-between these two hurricanes and we are going to have a great time? That's not public safety. That's public endangerment," Black said.

It's a similar case for a 21-person bachelor/bachelorette party leaving from Tampa.  They were booked to set sail Thursday from Miami on the Carnival Sensation. But, concerned about evacuation traffic, flooding on the east coast, as well as their own homes here, Ciara Rosario, the sister of the bride, said they had to stay put.

"We had to cancel," Black said. "We have forfeited money on the cruise and their opinion is, too bad, so sad, sorry."

We reached out to Carnival to see they're making any exceptions due to the storm. At this point, it appears that if you don't show up at the port, there's no refund. Carnival said that only if they change the duration of a cruise, could passengers get credit for a future booking.

"Often times, they do the right thing, but, according to the contract, the rights are in their favor. Let's put it that way," said Attorney Dennis Morgenstern of Morgenstern and Herd.

Morgenstern explained that when it comes to cruise contracts, often the only requirement for companies to give refunds is if a ship experiences mechanical failure.

"In a weather situation where we have here, they call that a 'force du jour.' Something that's outside their control. They can alter the itinerary, they can shorten the cruise, they can go to ports they're not supposed to, miss ports, they're under no requirement to give you a refund," Morgenstern said.

"We are not asking for a full refund," Jaffe said. "We would've been happy with a voucher to try again at a different date. But, that's not an option at this point. What they're saying is, you either go or you forfeit your money."

The 4:00 p.m. departure time came and went, and so did "Paradise." This couple says they're now out thousands of dollars. But, having survived Hurricane Andrew, Black says he's not about to risk it.

"100 percent devastation," Black recalled. "People do not remember. People forget their history. Miami was razed to the ground in many places. This is not something to play with and I'm absolutely not going to ride it out in an 800-foot ship."

Carnival said in a statement, "While it is difficult to predict the storm’s path with complete certainty, at this point, it is expected that the storm will impact South and Central Florida in the next several days. The safety and security of our guests and crew are our first priority and our ships will remain a safe distance away from the storm at all times. We remain in constant contact with port officials regarding potential port closures. Given the uncertainty of the storm’s impact, we expect that we may have to shorten the duration of certain cruises scheduled to depart this weekend."