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This 3-year cruise around the world is called off, leaving passengers in the lurch

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This 3-year cruise around the world is called off, leaving passengers in the lurch

When the Life at Sea cruise line failed to purchase the German cruise ship AIDAaura, seen here in 2020, its plans for a worldwide cruise embarking in November began to unravel.

Marit Hommedal/NTB Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images


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Marit Hommedal/NTB Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images


When the Life at Sea cruise line failed to purchase the German cruise ship AIDAaura, seen here in 2020, its plans for a worldwide cruise embarking in November began to unravel.

Marit Hommedal/NTB Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

They were promised the world. But cruise company Life at Sea recently told customers who bought passage on a three-year voyage that rather than visiting 140 countries, their trip was called off.

Those customers are now scrambling to make new plans for where they will live for the next three years — and to extract refunds from the cruise line. The intense fallout is drawing comparisons to infamous debacles such as the Fyre Festival — the “luxury” music festival that was more like a “disaster relief area.”

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Here’s what to know about the cruise around the world that was called off

What was promised? The world.

The original itinerary mapped 1,095 days of travel, heading from Istanbul to Europe and then to South America and the Caribbean. Passengers would then pass through the Panama Canal before seeing the U.S. West Coast, Hawaii and Alaska and then head west across the Pacific.

“We are going to be following summer the entire time that we go around the world,” then-Life at Sea CEO Kendra Holmes told prospective passengers in a Zoom webinar in September.

Voyagers were to see seven continents, visiting 140 countries. They would spend roughly 300 days at sea, 795 days at port and have 413 overnight port stays, Chief Operating Officer Ethem Bayramoglu of Miray Cruises, the Turkish parent company of Life at Sea, said in that online session.

Along the way, they would explore wonders of the world, visit UNESCO World Heritage sites and have plentiful chances to go diving and snorkeling, the company said.

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The three-year voyage was to begin on Nov. 1, departing from Istanbul. Some passengers reportedly only learned of the cancellation after arriving in Turkey.

What are customers saying?

When the cruise missed its planned departure date, the company promised to resolve lingering issues. But after further delays, the trip was canceled.

“Still waiting for my refund. And now you’ve gone belly up?” a woman who identified herself as a Life at Sea customer said on the company’s Instagram account. The woman, a retired educator, did not respond to NPR’s message seeking further comment.

Former flight attendant Meredith Shay was looking forward to the trip as a centerpiece of her retirement.

“How did I feel about it?” Shay said in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America. “Devastated, disappointed, sad. I packed up my belongings, put them in storage, sent four boxes to Miray Cruises.”

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A wide range of passengers had seemingly booked cabins.

“The age group is split pretty much between 35 and 85” years old, and the passengers included a large number of Americans, Holmes said.

How much did the Life at Sea cruise cost?

The cheapest packages started at $196,000 for a single traveler, and $231,000 for couples, according to the company’s website. Costs ranged much higher for guests staying in premium rooms.

In exchange, passengers — or residents, as the company called them — were promised a long list of amenities, including an onboard hospital and doctor. Some cabins could host cats; travelers were also promised high-speed internet, free dining, alcohol and laundry service, and “enrichment seminars.”

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Terms of the deal help illuminate the would-be passengers’ financial and logistical plight. Life at Sea set initial deposits at 30% of the overall cost. Under its 12-month payment plan, the first draw came due one month ahead of the sail date.

And rather than portioning the cruise for sale in smaller stages, the company required customers to commit to the full three years.

“Our residents are changing their lives for this opportunity, and we are honored to be a part of their personal journeys,” Holmes said in June.

Did the cruise line actually have a ship?

“In two days’ time, we own this vessel,” Life at Sea itinerary planner Robert Dixon said in late September, speaking in a promotional video from the bridge of a ship he called the “MV Lara.”

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But the company wasn’t able to close that deal, and the ship in question — the 20-year-old AIDAaurawas instead sold in November to Celestyal, which specializes in Mediterranean cruises.

Miray’s attempts to purchase the ship dragged on for weeks, and it eventually stalled after investors balked, according to a company message obtained by CNN and other outlets.

“If you’re focused on the ship, this is not the journey for you,” Holmes said in the September webinar. But two months later, she would leave her leadership post at Life at Sea and Miray, as plans for the ambitious cruise unraveled.

Holmes was trying to allay concerns about the quality of the vessel. But it seems that it was the company’s focus, not the public’s, that was the problem.

Warning flags went up earlier this year, when the company changed course from its initial plan to refit one of its ships, the MV Gemini. For the lengthy worldwide voyage, it planned to deploy the larger “MV Lara” — a ship that never materialized.

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What does the cruise company say now?

It’s complicated. On Sunday, Miray Cruises issued a statement in Turkish, denying that the cruise is canceled. Instead, the company said the voyage is postponed — and it blamed a lack of enough passenger bookings, rather than problems finding an appropriate ship.

But responding to a social media comment about that same statement, the company sought to clarify that its other operations are unaffected — and in doing so, it stated, “The cancellation in question is related to our 3-year world tour project.”

The company said that anyone requesting a refund will get one, and that it will reimburse travel expenses related to the cruise.

Miray also said it has begun legal proceedings against what it says are ugly and inaccurate stories about the company and its owner.

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Vladimir Putin warns of wider conflict over Ukraine

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Vladimir Putin warns of wider conflict over Ukraine

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Vladimir Putin has said that western support for Ukraine risks triggering a global war, in his most explicit threat to use nuclear weapons since he ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

In his state of the nation speech on Thursday, the Russian president said claims that his country might attack Europe were “nonsense”, but warned that Russia could strike back against western countries in response.

Putin said in the address to the country’s political elite that western support for Ukraine “really risks a conflict using nuclear weapons, which means the destruction of all of civilisation”.

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Referring to French President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to rule out sending western troops to Ukraine this week, Putin said Russia remembered “the fate of those who once sent their contingents to our country. Now the consequences for possible interveners will be much more tragic”.

“We also have weapons that can strike targets on their territory,” Putin added. He said western supplies of advanced weaponry and the prospect of a Nato troop deployment risked nuclear conflict.

Putin added: “They think this is some kind of game. They are blinded by their own superiority complex.”

The Kremlin had billed Putin’s speech as a road map for the next six years of his rule ahead of Russia’s presidential elections next month, in which he faces no credible challengers after 24 years in power, having quashed most opposition and outlawed dissent.

Pro-Kremlin cinema owners across the country held free screenings of the speech, which began at midday in Moscow. But even as Putin devoted the bulk of it to social support programmes for mothers and attempts to cut dependence on imported technology, the speech revealed how far the war in Ukraine and his strategic rivalry with the west has consumed his attention.

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“Instead of Russia, they need some dependent, declining, dying space where they can do whatever they want,” Putin said of the west.

Putin confirmed Russia would beef up troop deployments on its border with Nato countries to “neutralise threats” created by Sweden and Finland joining the alliance following his invasion of Ukraine.

Though Putin said Russia was prepared to hold talks with the US on arms control, which has essentially collapsed since the full-scale invasion, he made it clear Russia was also interested in ramping up its ability to strike western countries.

He boasted that the country’s nuclear forces were fully ready for use, and added that work would soon conclude on new weapons systems that he claims are essentially impossible to shoot down.

“We are dealing with a state whose ruling circles are taking openly hostile actions against us. They are planning in all seriousness to discuss strategic stability with us while simultaneously, as they say themselves, trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us on the battlefield,” Putin said.

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Denying US claims that Russia plans to deploy a nuclear weapon in space, Putin accused the west of trying to “drag us into an arms race, repeating the trick they played with the Soviet Union in the 1980s,” when the USSR overspent on its military, hastening its collapse in 1991.

He said Russia would work to “create the outlines for equal and inseparable security in Eurasia,” adding that “without a sovereign, strong Russia, no stable world order is possible”.

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Crowded field of potential McConnell successors emerges in Senate

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Crowded field of potential McConnell successors emerges in Senate

Several potential successors are being eyed to fill outgoing Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s role as the party faces growing division between more mainstream Republicans and a faction of hardline conservative members.

Among those who are being floated as a potential replacement for the leadership position are senators John Cornyn, R-Texas; John Thune, R-N.D.; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Rick Scott R-Fla.; Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; and Steve Daines, R-Mont. 

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced in a floor speech Wednesday he will step down from leadership in November. The Kentucky Republican is the Senate’s longest-serving party leader in history.

Speculation about Thune, Barrasso or Daines taking over as leader stems from their current roles in GOP leadership. They serve as Republican whip, Senate Republican Conference chairman and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, respectively. 

MITCH MCCONNELL STEPPING DOWN AS REPUBLICAN LEADER

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There are several potential successors for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Getty Images)

“Chairman Daines is laser-focused on taking back the Senate majority,” NRSC communications director Mike Berg told Fox News Digital.

One source familiar with Senate Republican conference discussions shared that the “three Johns” — Thune, Cornyn and Barrasso — are not of the same political stripe. Barrasso is considered the most conservative out of the three, the source said. Barrasso is also believed to be a more palatable option for the various factions of Republicans in the Senate who don’t always see eye to eye. He notably endorsed former President Trump early last month.

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“What I’m focused on is the election,” Barrasso told reporters shortly after McConnell’s announcement.

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As for decisions regarding leadership, he said, “I’m going to talk to members of the conference, hear what they have to say, listen to them in terms of what direction that they want to take with us.”

Both Cornyn and Thune also endorsed Trump after Barrasso. Thune had initially endorsed fellow Sen. Tim Scott R-S.C., who ultimately dropped out and endorsed Trump. 

Sen. Rick Scott was more pointed in his statement following McConnell’s surprise announcement, saying in a statement, “I have been very clear and have long believed that we need new leadership in the Senate that represents our voters and the issues we were sent here to fight for.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Russian geopolitical machinations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Russian geopolitical machinations. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

When Scott challenged McConnell for the position, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told reporters McConnell received 37 votes from conference members, while Scott received 10. One Republican voted “present.” Some of those who reportedly voted against McConnell were senators Josh Hawley, R-Mo; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Braun; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. 

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who supported Scott in 2022, would welcome Scott’s leadership if he were to take over, a staffer in Lee’s office told Fox News Digital.

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MCCONNELL SAYS SENATE TRIAL FOR MAYORKAS IMPEACHMENT IS THE ‘BEST WAY FORWARD’

The source also shared that Cotton was being mentioned as a potential contender for the position. Cotton’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. 

Cornyn, who does not hold a leadership position in the GOP and is poised to launch a potential bid for leader, said in a statement Wednesday that “today is about Mitch McConnell.”

“But I’ve made no secret about my intentions,” he added.

Cornyn on his timeline: “Not today.”

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Cornyn also endorsed former President Trump to be the Republican presidential nominee, and some lawmakers have begun looking to the likely GOP candidate for guidance about who should replace McConnell.

Donald Trump wearing a red make america great again hat

A new article from The Atlantic warned that House Democrats may vote against certifying former President Trump’s election if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t rule whether he is eligible for office beforehand. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., told reporters Wednesday the next person “absolutely” needs to have a more positive relationship with Trump, adding, “He’s going to be the next president, we have to work together.”

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., agreed. 

“It’s so important that the next leader have a very positive relationship with the president,” Marshall told Fox News Digital in an interview Wednesday. “I think that this next leader needs to have a little bit more, maybe a lot more of a populist view.”

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Marshall, who positioned himself alongside conservative hardliners who were critical of McConnell and voted against the bipartisan border deal in the national security supplemental package this month, added that the names being floated for leadership have been “interviewing for the job since I got here.”

“I watch how they vote. I watch what their priorities are. I’ve been watching their volume on what issues they’re championing,” he said. “All the names … have great qualities. They would do a fine job. But I’ve not even started a process of weeding them out. And I tell you, it’ll be one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made.”

Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report. 

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US Supreme Court will hear Donald Trump presidential immunity appeal

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US Supreme Court will hear Donald Trump presidential immunity appeal

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The US Supreme Court has agreed to take up an appeal over whether Donald Trump is immune from criminal prosecution for acts committed in office, putting another potentially blockbuster case involving the former president on the high court’s docket ahead of the 2024 election.

The order on Wednesday will further delay a trial in a criminal case filed by the Department of Justice accusing Trump of seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election. It will also give the high court — three of whose members were appointed by the former president — the chance to issue a landmark ruling on a question that could have major consequences for the upcoming election and for the presidency more broadly.

The Supreme Court set oral arguments in the matter for the week of April 22, with a decision expected in the case by the end of its term, which usually concludes in late June.

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It had previously refused a request from Jack Smith, the DoJ special counsel overseeing federal criminal cases against Trump, to bypass the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, an intermediate appeals court, and hear the presidential immunity matter immediately last year.

Earlier this month, that court handed down a unanimous ruling that barred Trump from using presidential immunity as a shield against the DoJ indictment.

Lawyers for Trump subsequently asked the Supreme Court to put the appeals court order on hold while he appealed against the decision. They argued that a “claim that presidents have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for their official acts presents a novel, complex, and momentous question that warrants careful consideration on appeal”.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the appellate court’s order would remain on hold until it resolves the issue. The federal elections trial was originally set to begin on March 4 but has been postponed.

Had the court not taken the case, the lower appeals court’s ruling would have remained in place and proceedings in the trial court could have resumed imminently. It is unclear now whether Trump will face trial in the case before the election in November, when he is likely to face Joe Biden in a rematch of 2020.

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Smith had warned the Supreme Court that a “delay in the resolution of [the election] charges threatens to frustrate the public interest in a speedy and fair verdict”.

Trump reacted to the decision with satisfaction, suggesting he sees it as a big legal victory. “Legal Scholars are extremely thankful for the Supreme Court’s Decision today to take up presidential immunity,” he said, adding: “Without presidential immunity, a president will not be able to properly function, or make decisions, in the best interest of the United States of America.” 

Democrats were extremely critical both because of the delay that the decision would bring to Trump’s trial, and concern that some justices on the court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, may be sympathetic to the former president’s argument that he is immune from prosecution for his official actions while in office. 

“The Supreme Court is placing itself on trial with this decision to hear the former president’s total immunity claim,” Nancy Pelosi, the California congresswoman and former House speaker, wrote on X. “It remains to be seen whether the justices will uphold the fundamental American value that no one is above the law — not even a former president.”

The high court has previously ruled on presidential immunity against civil claims, but it has yet to address the issue in relation to criminal charges.

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Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School, said that even if the high court decides the case speedily, “a determination that the prosecution can proceed will leave the district court hard-pressed to schedule a trial before the general election”.

“Arguments that Trump and the people have a strong first amendment interest in presenting his views to the electorate are substantial, and may well counsel against requiring him to sit in the courtroom instead of campaigning,” he added.

The DoJ declined to comment.

Trump’s latest presidential campaign has been unfolding alongside a jam-packed legal calendar as he faces cases in courts across the country. Most recently he was slammed with a penalty of more than $450mn, including interest, in a civil lawsuit in New York over “blatant” fraud committed by his real estate empire. An appeals court judge in New York on Wednesday declined to pause enforcement of that judgment while Trump appeals.

He faces a total of 91 criminal charges across four separate cases. The DoJ and the state of Georgia have separately charged Trump with meddling in the 2020 election. Another federal indictment accused him of mishandling sensitive government documents.

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The first case to reach trial will be one brought by Alvin Bragg, Manhattan district attorney, who alleged that Trump made “hush money” payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Proceedings are set to start on March 25.

According to recent polling, Americans see the federal case related to the 2020 polls as the most serious for Trump, and a conviction in the case could lead to a drop in support for him in the general election.

The Supreme Court has also taken up another politically sensitive case involving Trump. It is poised to decide whether he can be barred from Colorado’s primary ballot in the presidential election, after a ruling from that state’s high court determined he was ineligible to hold office. It heard oral arguments in the case earlier this month.

An Illinois court on Wednesday joined Colorado and Maine in throwing Trump off the state’s presidential primary ballot on the basis that he engaged in insurrection. The evidence in the case is linked to the January 6 2021 attack when his supporters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to halt the certification of Biden’s victory. The order remains on hold pending a potential appeal and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Colorado case.

Trump’s campaign called the Illinois ruling “unconstitutional” and vowed to “quickly” appeal against it.

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Additional reporting by James Politi

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