One of the first things I first researched when I found out I was going on a cruise was how to obtain free/cheap alcohol. There were two reasons for this: firstly, anytime you are on vacation with four children some alcohol is needed and secondly, drinking on cruise ships is very expensive. We cruised with Carnival, and they charge around $60 a day for all you can drink alcohol package or around $12 a drink. Which is crazy, but what are you going to do? Swim to shore for a cheap beer? Good luck with that.

One of the things that kept popping up on cruise blogs was that there was free champagne at onboard art auctions. I was a little bit confused by the idea there were art auctions on a cruise ship. And honestly, I was still confused about the concept after the cruise ship and I went down a rabbit hole of research post cruise.

Park West Gallery Art Auction touts themselves as being the world’s largest art gallery. They are a mainstay on almost every single major cruise line worldwide and they report their revenue is somewhere around $500 million a year. The onboard gallery attendant said their goal is to have art that will appeal to every single person even if they don’t like art. So, they sail around the world with a variable menagerie of art. Everything from landscapes, to abstract, to Disney-themed prints.

On the last day of the cruise, we showed up to the art auction, registered and got our bid numbers and were promptly handed a glass of champagne. I got to looking at the terms and conditions of purchasing art and quickly realized this seemed more and more like a possible scam. 

You don’t actually win the art you bid on, that stays on the ship. Instead, you get a piece of art that is similar by the same artist with no frame. Also, almost none of the art is original. Most of it is prints that have been replicated thousands of times with a couple of brush strokes added by the artist or one of the artist’s assistants — then the company can claim it is a one of a kind print. 

Once the auction started, there were a lot of extremely high prices being thrown out there and a lot of gavel banging by the auctioneer but hardly anything was being purchased. It was a lot of chaos and I realized that confusion of the auction attendees was one of the goals. I have been in sales for quite a while, and confusing your potential client into a sale is perhaps one of the worst sales methods out there.

As I’ve mentioned before, Wi-Fi is extremely expensive on a cruise ship and even then it is usually pretty awful. So, it is impossible to do any research on the art gallery or the art itself before you purchase it. You are spending possibly thousands of dollars 100% blind. I am by no means an art appraiser, but I thought it seemed pretty far-fetched for a print that was one of 2,000 would be worth $15,000. It turns out, I was right. When I got off the ship and started researching Park West, I quickly learned that Park West has been sued multiple times for scamming customers via several methods. Not only that, they are actually being sued by an artist’s family for taking advantage of a dementia patient.

Even though I walked away from the Park West art auction with all of my money in my pocket, I can’t help but think about all the people who have been scammed by them. I also don’t understand why almost every cruise line allows them to continue to operate on board. Obviously, the cruise lines make a bunch of cash but still, they are more or less leading to their guests getting scammed. 

Contributing Columnist

Jennifer Langdon is an account executive at Townsquare Media and is president of Sedalia Young Professionals.

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