Vantage Travel, a Boston-based company that runs luxury ocean and river cruises around the world, last week disclosed a possible ransomware attack on its website and other communications systems.
At about the same time, Vantage notified some would-be travelers of a last-minute cancellation of a European “spring tulips” cruise.
It was at least the fourth cruise canceled by the company in the past month, due either to a lack of boat “readiness” or security concerns, but not due to the ransomware attack, according to disappointed customers who spoke to the Globe and the company.
A month earlier, Vantage abruptly called off a spring tulips cruise, because the company said the ship was in drydock for repairs and wouldn’t be ready in time, according to Arline Culp, of Quaker Hill, Conn. She said the company called her with the news less than 48 hours before the April 1 cruise was to depart.
A third tulips cruise planned for April 7 was also abruptly canceled, according to Valerie Jordan, of Fayetteville, Pa., who said she was told “the boat had some damage issues on the river.”
“We’re out thousands of dollars,” Jordan said. “What’s our recourse? We don’t have one, it seems.”
And another would-be traveler said his Vantage cruise, set to begin Monday on the Nile River in Egypt, was canceled with only five days’ notice, because “people on the ground were seeing signs of unrest.”
“I was informed it was canceled due to security concerns,” said Brian Slocum, who lives in Glencoe, Ill.
Vantage has provided little information on the cancellations. On Monday, responding to Globe inquiries, the company released a statement saying it has hired “a leading national forensic firm” to investigate what it called a “data security incident.” A company spokesperson later described the incident as “a possible ransomware attack.”
Vantage said in the statement that it is committed to “the protection and privacy of our valued customers and staff,” and pledged to release more information “as soon as it becomes available.”
As of Wednesday, the website had been down for almost a week, and some customers were finding it difficult to retrieve the thousands of dollars they had sunk into the hoped-for vacation.
George Regan, the company spokesperson, said Wednesday that he asked company representatives for updated information on behalf of the Globe but did not get a response.
The company operates about 20 ships, some of which it leases and some it owns. Most are relatively small, accommodating hundreds or dozens of passengers, not thousands, according to an online profile.
Culp said she considered it extraordinary that a cruise company of Vantage’s experience (40 years in business) wouldn’t have its ship ready for a long-scheduled cruise and — soon after learning of the cancellation — she demanded a refund of the $13,000 she paid for two rather than accept Vantage’s offer to reschedule a cruise for a later date.
In a follow-up call, a Vantage representative told her the company was “really behind” in processing refunds and suggested she call every two weeks to check on the status of hers, Culp said.
“I didn’t get a good feeling about it,” she said. “Something didn’t seem right.”
When she tried to check on her refund last week, Culp said, she was startled to discover Vantage’s website and call center were down. There was no way for her to reach the company. Then, on Monday, she learned in a Globe story that Vantage had again made a last-minute cancellation of another long-scheduled tulip cruise.
Meanwhile, Christopher Elliott, whose nationally syndicated “travel troubleshooting” column appears in the Globe, posted a video on Facebook on Wednesday in which he questioned whether the type of “systems problem” Vantage described to him would necessarily require the company to cancel cruises.
“Presumably, the company has experienced some kind of ransomware attack, but we’re not really sure,” Elliott said. “They haven’t been very specific about what happened.”
“We’re hearing from travelers who say their cruises have been canceled, their flights have been canceled, and that doesn’t really line up with a systems problem,” he said.
“So we are thinking to ourselves, there’s more to this story than they are telling us,” Elliott said.
Vantage, on a temporary website it set up, listed three cruises, all set to begin on dates ranging from Thursday to May 8, that “are expected to embark as scheduled.”
But those also may be in question. Tricia Debs, who lives in Dennis, said that she is scheduled for a May 8 Mediterranean cruise, but that when she recently checked on her airline tickets, which were supposed to be included in the package she purchased from Vantage, she was told by the airline they hadn’t been paid for.
“So I don’t know if my trip is on or not,” she said.
During the pandemic, Vantage came under heavy criticism from travelers for long delays in receiving refunds for canceled trips, according to a 2021 Globe story.
The office of Attorney General Andrea Campbell released updated data Tuesday on filed complaints against Vantage, saying it has received more than 700, mostly for refunds after cancellations due to the pandemic.
“To date, the office has secured refunds for more than 80 consumers” for a total of more than $1.2 million, according to the attorney general’s office.
“We encourage Massachusetts residents having trouble seeking refunds from Vantage to file a complaint with our office online,” Campbell’s office said. “Out-of-state consumers are encouraged to file with their state attorney general.”
In late 2021, Vantage launched a new $70 million ship, Ocean Explorer, in Boston Harbor. That prompted the 2021 Globe story about two local couples who said it irritated them that the company made a fancy display of christening the ship with a bottle of champagne.
At the time, the two couples had been fighting for about 18 months for $46,000 owed to them by Vantage for a canceled safari to Africa. After the Globe asked questions, Vantage refunded the couples’ money.
Elliott, the travel columnist, in 2021 called Vantage “one of the most complained-about companies, according to our records.”
In the recent video on Facebook, Elliott said “the Vantage Travel situation has gone from bad to worse, I would say, unfortunately.”
This story has been updated to reflect information supplied by Vantage subsequent to publication saying that the recent cancellation of four of its trips to the Netherlands was due to a lack of the boat’s “readiness.”