I go on a lot of cruises. People frequently ask me about the onboard art auctions and if they’re a scam or not. I’ve struggled with this myself over the years. Is Park West a legitimate company to deal with? Note: This post will cover the actual buying process, not necessarily the legitimacy of any or quality of any of their artwork. Please assume that any “art” you buy on a cruise is a fancy poster or print, and nothing is a one-of-kind original or even limited. Here’s my recent experience:
The Art Auctions seem glamorous on board because you’re captive and forget what the real world is like when you’re on a ship. Most people attend these for the free champagne, but some end up making costly mistakes. At the beginning of each auction, you need to sign up for a bid card. This bid card has all the terms and conditions, the first of which states ALL SALES ARE FINAL. This used to have no exceptions, but in recent years, they’ve softened that rule. You now get the chance to return your product for full refund (minus S&H) within the first 50 days. You also get to exchange your product for another one for up to 50 months. These terms are much more gentle than the old FINAL rule. **See Update Below **
I’ve bought a number of inexpensive items onboard before. Usually a few animation works that are usually sub-$100. These are the types of things that are glorified fancy posters printed on high quality glossy gallery paper. They look nice. Where Park West really makes their money back is on the framing of these items. It could cost upwards of $200-300+ to frame a $65 print. However, these same prices apply to one that you pay $2000 for as well, so you have to consider these things when choosing what you buy.
There are two primary types of works they feature at every Park West auction. A Regular Lot or a CP Lot (Collector’s Portfolio). A regular lot is just a fancy poster print, sometimes signed/numbered/limited by the artist. It does not come with any framing/matting/etc. You’ll need to pay Park West to frame it or take it somewhere else. It’s also not shipped for free. Park West charges $35 for up to 6 prints in a tube. A CP Lot is a framed/matted/shipped item that is a complete package. You’ll get an artwork that’s exactly like what you see, in a brand new frame, packaged and shipped to you. These generally include original works or embellished works, which are most common on a cruise ship. (An embellished work is a print or giclee of some kind that was printed on canvas, and had paint strokes added by the artist to enhance it. These are less expensive than original works, but are much less limited in nature.)
On my last cruise, I finally decided to splurge and buy some an actual embellished artwork. I picked out a CP by an artist named Daniel Wall that looked pretty cool in my eyes, so I decided to research the artist a bit while at port. I found his original works were selling for around $15k at the time with embellished giclees going for $800-1000 at many sites. When his CP lot came up later in the week and I could choose one for $590 framed/matted/shipped, it sounded like a deal so I bought one. (I though this was great, because framing on something that big, even at a craft store would run like $200.) The invoice showed $410 for the artwork and $180 for shipping & handling. This is important, as if you change your mind and don’t cancel before it ships, your refund will not include shipping & handling.
After I got home, I shopped a few galleries and found that I got a decent deal, but also ran into a few other works of art I wanted. About a month went by, and I realized I no longer had room for this Daniel Wall on my.. erm wall. I decided to try out Park West’s return policy and see what my options were. I called the number on the invoice and waited on hold for what seemed like an eternity, and after 40 minutes I finally got a live person. She warned me that they were having technical troubles and couldn’t look at my order right now and to please call back later. This wasn’t good.
I then used their contact us email address and sent in my request to cancel. I got an email back that said they’d respond in 3-5 days. Wow. Such a delay! Oddly enough, on that same exact day I got a message that my artwork was being framed. It shipped later that same day. Oh well. I wasn’t terribly worried. If I got it, fine. I liked it and it was priced right. I’ll keep it.
Two days later, I get that email reply saying that they were sorry that I wanted to cancel, but they see that it already shipped. They said they’d intercept the shipment and have it returned to them and I’d get a refund. Wait a second. What about the $180 in shipping/handling charges? Am I out that money now? I’d rather have the artwork. I replied to the email and got the 3-5 day response message again. I couldn’t wait for that, so I called that phone number again. I got a live person within 5 minutes and she looked over my order. She said that even though it shipped, I did contact them first. So, she contacted her accounting people and made sure I’d get a full refund. She said it would appear in up to 2 billing cycles. (It did take several weeks, but I got it.)
At the end of the day, they handled it like pros. They saw what happened, and many companies would have just said too bad and let it arrive. They took care of it easily with that phone call and they were happy to do so. I’d have no problem taking that risk of buying from them again. Just make sure you follow these simple guidelines:
- Know what you’re buying. If you want a complete framed package, get that pricing first.
- Most importantly, buy art because you like it, not for the value you think it has.
TL;DR: I actually had a good experience with their customer service, and they went out of the way to uphold their 50-50-50 guarantee. I think it’s safer to shop with Park West than it used to be. I might buy again.
Update: 3/1/2020. I went on another cruise and stopped in to an auction to see if they had since changed their 50-50-50 policy. They had. The refund now includes a 15% hold back in the form of a future buyer’s credit, so it’s not a straight up refund. It’s still better than the “all sales final” old days, but it’s worth reading the terms each and every time you attend an auction.