Port Scam?

That cruise you saw advertised for $2,000 in your local newspaper might actually cost $2,300. Before you book it, check the fine print. Lawsuits filed last year in Florida, California and Washington against seven cruise lines showed they were not fully disclosing port charges tacked onto the ticket cost in advertised prices.

Tougher disclosure laws probably won’t lower pries, says Jack Norris, chief of special prosecutions for the Florida Attorney General’s Office. His office is investigating how the cruise industry calculates port charges as a possible deceptive sales practice. Cruise lines routinely lump together all port-oriented charges, including fees for tugboats, local pilots and stevedores. “Customers not only pay passenger port charges,” says Norris, “but Norris, “but a variety of fees.” Port charges art set by the individual ports and often rise annually. For example, the charge for Ocho Rios, Jamaica, was $4 in 1990, $13 in 1994 and is now $15.

But the International Council of Cruise Lines does not believe the lawsuits have merit, and Paul Mackey, a cruise industry analyst for Dean Witter Reynolds, agrees. “Port charges have always been passed onto the consumer. It’s nothing new.”

Meanwhile, when booking a cruise, make sure you find out the total cost, including taxes and port charges.

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