Velvet Elvis overboard: Junky cruise ship art is now returnable

For a while now, art auctions have been one of the biggest money-makers on the seas. On uneventful travel days, passengers are invited to so-called fine art viewings and auctions in the ship's "gallery," which is often just a corridor or a dormant dance floor. Once they arrive to have a gander at the "museum-quality" works, they're usually plied by wine. Then, without the benefit of prior market research or price comparisons, people make on-the-spot purchases for that (future yard sale) item that they just simply have to own.

I won't say that cruise ship art is bad, because everyone has their own tastes. But I will say this is not stuff you're going to see at Christie's, unless Rembrandt ever did super-saturated landscapes starring Snow White, or Francis Bacon attempted colorized photos of the Rat Pack (pictured, on a Princess ship). But that's exactly the kind of stuff the cruise lines'' "fine art" departments try to sell passengers after a long day of piña coladas and free buffets.

I also won't call these kinds of events scams, because lots of people already have, pointing out that because they happen in international waters, consumer protection is scant. I have myself already pointed out the free alcohol, which says a lot, too, and which has a documented history of making ugly things look attractive.
Not until passengers get home and unwrap their prize do they sometimes see with focused eyes exactly what they bought after a long day of strong sun by the pool. They may also learn they were ripped off by extravagant overpricing. Of course, by that point, it's too late and their ship has sailed. No refunds. They were stuck.

Until now. The largest cruise ship art dealer, Park West Gallery, has decided to ease up on its sucker policy. Park West runs the so-called "fine art" galleries on some 85 cruise ships, including those by Carnival, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, and Royal Caribbean, so the change affects most of the mainstream cruise industry.

Customers now have 40 days to get a full refund on any art they later come to perceive as junk, or on that reproduction animation cell of Yogi Bear that clashes with their carefully crafted interior design. In addition, if a buyer decides to exchange their piece for something else (say, for a painting of a martini olive pole dancing instead of one getting a tattoo--both available), they have 40 months to do an even swap, and Park West, based in Michigan, runs some galleries on land where saner, but perhaps no less tasteful, decisions can be reached.

Sure, the 180-degree turn on the refund policy may have had something to do with some angry lawsuits recently covered in The New York Times and chronicled by the American Bar Association. But good on ya, Park West. Now no one can argue that you don't have some class.

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