By Lillian Gissen and Kelsi Karruli For Dailymail.Com
23:34 29 Dec 2023, updated 23:49 29 Dec 2023
- Kara and Joe Youssef, from Ohio, put down $80,000 for a cruise deposit
- The couple sold their apartment and most of their belongings
- The cruise was canceled and they still have yet to get their money back
A couple who sold their apartment and most of their belongings to embark on a three-year cruise around the world now fear they will be left homeless – after the voyage was canceled last minute.
Kara and Joe Youssef, from Ohio, were ecstatic when they heard about Miray Cruises’ Life at Sea trip – which was scheduled to leave on November 1 and spend 1,095 days at sea, stopping at 382 ports across the globe.
They decided to give up both of their homes and spent almost all of their ‘life savings’ on a ticket – only to be told it wasn’t happening just days before it was set to depart.
Now, the couple is still waiting on their $80,000 refund – and are stuck residing in a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey.
‘They kept leading us on, making us hold out hope until the very last minute, just days before we were supposed to depart,’ Kara told The New York Times recently.
‘We sold everything we have to make this dream happen. We feel completely defeated.’
According to the Times, the idea to create a cruise that sailed around the world came from an entrepreneur named Mikael Petterson in June 2022.
He connected with Miray owner Vedat Ugurlu, who suggested a vessel called the MC Gemini, which had 400 cabins and could hold about 1,000 passengers.
The company announced the cruise in March 2023, and despite the steep prices – cabins ranged from $90,000 for the smallest to a whopping $975,000 for a suite – it was an instant success and hundreds started booking their reservations.
‘It just blew up, and we could barely keep up,’ Mikael recalled to the Times.
But problems started to arise a month later, when concerns over the amount of fuel it would take to reach certain destinations were raised.
‘Even if you spend another $10 million on that ship, I don’t think it is enough to do what we want to do,’ itinerary planner Robert Dixon said in an audio note sent to the rest of the team, according to the publication.
Around the same time, the company started having trouble ‘processing credit card transactions’ and ‘lacked an escrow account to secure deposits.’
In May, amid the ongoing tension, Mikael cut ties with the cruise and Miray, which left the Youssefs worried about the thousands of dollars they had already put down as a deposit.
‘We felt very nervous,’ Kara admitted, but added that after participating in a series of ‘webinars’ with other passengers and vice president for business development strategy at Miray, Kendra Holmes, they felt better.
‘Kendra was very convincing and dedicated. She was very realistic, whereas Mikael had promised us the sun and the moon.’
On May 31, Kendra hosted a webinar and told everyone the company had decided not to use an escrow account – adding that instead it would use a bond filed with the Federal Maritime Commission to help protect passengers.
However, the bond was never filed, according to the Times.
One month later, Life at Sea claimed it was experiencing ‘unprecedented demand’ and was acquiring a 627-cabin ship to fit everyone.
However, the truth was that the company was attempting to buy the larger ship with the help of investors.
Another passenger Mary Rader, 68, decided to ask a travel agency to research Miray Cruises to learn if it was reputable before placing her deposit.
After getting the stamp of approval from the travel agency, the retired New York-based social worker withdrew $80,000 from her retirement savings and made the payment in two parts.
However, she never received a receipt.
She told the Times: ‘This is when I started to see all the red flags, but I was trapped because I had already made the payments.’
Meanwhile, Kara and Joe had sold their apartment in order to afford payments for their upcoming cruise.
Other passengers began applying for visas, sending their belongings to Istanbul and even making arrangements for their dogs.
However, only 111 of the 627 slots were filled – but passengers were still told it would sail.
On September 26, Life at Sea was set to purchase the larger ship, but after the lead investor dropped out, Vedat told Kendra that he would search for other candidates.
At this time, Kendra revealed passengers would only receive 10 per cent of their deposit back if they canceled.
On October 27, just days before the cruise was to sail, the company revealed the trip was delayed to November 11 and would now leave from Amsterdam – despite 30 passengers already waiting in Istanbul.
Just days later, it was once again postponed to November 30.
By November 16, Kara discovered that the ship she was supposed to be on was bought by a different company.
And then later learned that Kendra had resigned from Miray.
Three days later, Vedat revealed that investors had abandoned ship due to issues in the Middle East.
The next day, the cruise was canceled.
Passengers were then asked to sign a document stating that Miray would give them their money back over the next three months.
However, when the first deadline on December 22 passed and only a handful of passengers got their money back, the cruise company stated that the delays were due to an issue with the bank.
On December 28, Kara and Joe revealed that they had yet to be paid and for the past month, they had been residing in a hotel in Istanbul – which has been paid for by the cruise company.
Kara noted that she was fearful they would soon be homeless.
Miray, Kendra, and Mikael are reportedly already working on another three-year cruise – expected to launch next year.
Meanwhile, Mary revealed that she was not expecting her money back.
She told the Times: ‘I have received nothing yet, but I did not expect to. My guess is that the company will be shut down or restructured, and anything I put in cash will never get paid out.’
Earlier this month, Miray’s owner Vedat said the cancellation was because of a shortage of funds and interest.
‘We tried everything to find a solution, but at the end of the day we couldn’t get the investors and we couldn’t sell enough cabins,’ he said, according to the publication.