Graduation cruise turns to disappointment for Luverne students

LUVERNE, AL (WSFA) - Graduation for some students in Luverne is a time of mixed emotions.  They thought they were going on a cruise to the Caribbean - a graduation gift from their parents.  But now, they've been told it isn't happening.

'We were going to Jamaica, the Grand Cayman Islands and the Florida Keys," said MacKenzie Blackmon, a senior at Luverne High School.

Blackmon and more than 25 other parents and students had been looking forward to the cruise since last August.  Their parents said they booked the Carnival cruise through Southern Tours, an agency based in Troy.

"Before January, we had to pay half (of the fee) in payments, and after January we had to pay the rest of it," said Mike Hargis, a parent.  "My last payment was a little over a thousand dollars."

But just days before the students were to set sail on May 29th, the group found out that Southern Tours was no longer in business, and the group was out 26 thousand dollars.  Several parents we talked with say travel agent Gail Holley kept collecting their checks .but never booked the cruise.   We went to the address listed for Southern Tours and found it empty and for sale.

"It took a lot of money for this cruise for a lot of people," Blackmon said.  "And now, we've lost the money and we've lost the trip."

The group says seniors at Luverne High they booked a cruise through the same company last year, and reported no problems.

"She had Carnival letterhead and it looked legit," Hargis said.  "All of it looked legit.  I had no reason to suspect."

Aly Bello-Cabreriza, a Carnival Cruise Lines spokesperson issued a statement to WSFA 12 News.  It reads in part: "We've checked our computer system and note that this agency made three group bookings last summer for the Carnival Freedom's May 29 voyage and all three bookings were canceled automatically by the computer system due to lack of payment.

Regrettably, there is nothing we can do in terms of protecting the reservation for this group and the voyage in question is sold out."

After learning the cruise was canceled, the parents said Holley has made no concrete arrangements to refund their money.

"I would love to have the money back or at least the cruise for my child," Hargis said. "You know, and this person needs to own up and make amends one way or another."

We left two messages for Holley on separate occasions and she still hasn't returned our calls.  Many of the students would still like to go somewhere after graduation, but it likely won't be on a cruise.

The Troy Police Department told WSFA 12 News they are investigating the situation, but the families have not filed charges as of yet.  They were trying to give Holley time to return the money.

Copyright 2011 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.