Not enough cabins were available on the vessel to take all the 800 passengers who had booked for the £4,000 luxury trip to New York because a £30m refit had not been completed on time.
After a remarkable evening of shouting, fainting, cursing and jostling with 800 passengers crammed into the departure lounge at Southampton Docks, the vessel's owner, Cunard, was forced to ask for volunteers to stay behind.
Those who accepted, said the company, were put into hotels last night and were being taken home by train or plane this morning.
"We've offered to give them their money back before Christmas," a spokesman said. "They will all get a free transatlantic cruise next year, and we'll give them some spending money. There are probably about 300 who can't go. Lots of people have accepted our offer."
Solicitor David Steene, who paid £14,000 for the cruise with his wife and three children, was among passengers waiting to see if they would be allowed on board. He said from the departure lounge: "It is utter chaos. There are 790 people in here and some of the elderly passengers are passing out. There are children screaming and people shouting and we still don't know if we will be allowed to go on the ship. I just can't believe the incompetence of these people."
A Cunard spokesman said that plumbing work being carried out in about 100 cabins by British sub-contractors had not been completed on time.Reuse content