- - Wednesday, January 25, 2023

It appears that the first Washington Commanders Fan Cruise has sunk before the ship has even boarded.

In August, the Commanders announced plans for a seven-day Caribbean Cruise, in conjunction with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, from March 25 to April 1. Alumni advertised to attend were Doug Williams, Dexter Manley, Gary Clark, Joe Theismann, Jordan Reed and Santana Moss, with more former players to be announced later.

The Aug. 5 release by the Commanders said the cruise would leave from Miami aboard the Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas and was scheduled to stop at Costa Rica, Roatan, Cozumel and Royal Caribbean’s private island, CocoCay.

Now it appears the cruise won’t be getting out of Ashburn — at least as scheduled.

The link for the cruise on the Commanders website no longer works. When I called Monday to tell them the link was no longer working and to inquire about the details of the cruise, I was told, “I asked around. Unfortunately, we don’t have any information as this time. There’s nothing I could be able to give you.”

When I asked who I should call, I was told, “There isn’t anyone in the organization that you could call. We don’t have any information at this time of what that looks like and more details or anything.”

When I inquired officially Wednesday, a Commanders spokesperson sent this email: “Out of deep concern for our fans’ experience, we are in the process of canceling the fan cruise because of significant changes made by First Class Cruises to the original offering, including cruise line, destinations and dates. Our fans are our priority, and we are working to ensure we can reward those who signed up with a great experience with our alumni to thank them for their loyalty and commitment to our team and Legends.”

It’s no surprise. Their business partner in this venture, Jeffrey Nahom, wasn’t the most reliable cruise captain — certainly not like the Commanders owner, Skipper Dan the Sailing Man, who seems to love life at sea.

Many of Nahom’s customers wind up left on land — without their money.

Nahom’s company for this venture, First Class Cruises, is relatively new, incorporated in 2019. Their initial venture with an NFL team in 2020, didn’t end so well. Their cruise with the Philadelphia Eagles was shanghaied by COVID — certainly understandable.

What was not understandable, or acceptable, for Eagles fans left behind, was they were left high and dry financially. They couldn’t get their refunds from First Class Cruises and had to reach out to a local Philadelphia TV station to get their money back.

“We’re not asking for much. We want our money back.” Dorothy Greenhalgh told Tracy Davidson of NBC10 in Philadelphia in a Jan. 5, 2022, report.

“It’s been kind of a nightmare,” another fan said.

“We heard the same story from fan after fan,” Davidson reported. “They paid First Class Cruises for a special Eagles cruise which was supposed to include current and former players and themed activities.

“But fans told us they weren’t getting their refunds, and they were frustrated.

“NBC10 reached out to Jeff Nahom of First Class Cruises,” the report said. “After weeks of discussion he told us the Eagles were taking over the refund process.”

Shortly after the story aired, fans began receiving refunds — $59,000 worth of refunds, all of which came from the team, sources said. When asked, Bob Lange, senior vice president of communication, replied by email, “Both the Eagles and FCC (First Class Cruises) worked together to make sure all the customers were refunded their money.”

A spokesperson for the Commanders said all fans who put deposits on the team voyage will get their money back.

Of course, Skipper Dan’s team doesn’t have a great track record for returning money to its customers — at least that’s what the Maryland attorney general said in the recent settlement it reached with the team for holding back money from years ago. “For many years the Commanders kept money that was not theirs,” Attorney General Brian Frosh said.

The Eagles debacle was a rough maiden voyage for First Class Cruises. But not for Nahom. He has been in the cruise and vacation business for years — with a long list of unhappy customers.

He also owned and operated First Class Vacations.

The South Florida Better Business Bureau said the “F”-rated First Class Vacations has had “many complaints and they have gone unresolved.”

In one complaint filed with the BBB on July 25, 2022, and available for all to view on the bureau’s website, a dissatisfied client writes: “Spent over $8,500 for their travel/cruise service without any service … First Class Vacation has been a financial rip-off.”

On the website of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees the cruise industry in the state, there are 37 complaints against First Class Vacations Inc. and two against First Class Cruises LLC. State-required registrations for both firms are expired. And both are listed as “closed/out of business.” 

Courts in Florida and other parts of the country are littered with legal proceedings against Nahom and First Class Vacations. One such case resulted in a $1.35 million default judgment against First Class Vacations in Broward County in July 2021.

Nahom seems to be operating under the assumption that his plans with the Commanders haven’t been scuttled. “We’ve already resolved many issues and are working on fixing the rest,” he said in a text message. As far as the questions about his past business woes, Nahom responded, “Everything that you mentioned is due to the impact that COVID has had on the cruise industry and many other businesses as well.”

Wendy McDermott didn’t go to court or leave her First Class Vacations problems to the BBB. Like the Eagles fans, she went to a local television station in Kansas City when she couldn’t get answers about the $5,300 she paid for a 2018 cruise to Alaska. “It’s a vacation,” she told KSHB TV 41. “This is like going to the dentist.”

McDermott described to me her ordeal. “They cashed my check, $3,600 of my money, and we had no reservation three weeks before the cruise,” she said. “We had no airfare, we had nothing. It was awful. Just awful.” She detailed her interaction with First Class Vacations on social media, including posting recorded conversations on YouTube. After a refund of $2,300, she made the cruise. 

“We booked our own flights and hotel,” McDermott said. “Norwegian put us in a better suite, and at the captain’s table. They took care of us. First Class did not.

“We travel extensively,” she said. “I have never had anyone treat us so dismissively. I can’t believe the Commanders are doing anything with them.”

It turns out they are not. The words “due diligence” do not seem to exist in the Washington Commanders’ vocabulary. See Carson Wentz.

The inaugural Washington Commanders cruise, like a lot of the ventures that originate in Ashburn, has been lost at sea.

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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