What you can do if your cruise cancels port calls like this Norwegian ship

Oct 11, 2019

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Not every vacation goes off without a hitch and that was certainly the case for passengers aboard Norwegian Spirit earlier this week. Bad weather — and some old-fashioned bad luck — prompted Norwegian Cruise Line to cancel or change multiple ports of call on its 14-night Mystical Fjords itinerary. The ship, embarking from Southampton, England, was slated to visit the Netherlands, Norway and Iceland.

Multiple ports — Le Havre, Amsterdam and the Iceland calls — were canceled due to bad weather. And, in one case, a substitute port call was subsequently canceled after the weather there soured as well. This all lead to three extra days at sea instead of exploring Europe.

Passengers became agitated by the cascade of changes and by additional issues liked clogged onboard toilets. When ship officers didn’t handle the problem the way passengers wanted, an onboard mutiny of sorts occurred with angry guests yelling in the ship’s atrium. The itinerary’s highlight were calls in Iceland that would not happen, and the passengers wanted a refund.

The video below depicts the anger and chaos on the ship. Do beware that it features some foul language.

When TPG reached out to NCL for comment, the line confirmed it offered passengers a 25% discount off a future cruise as a gesture of good will. However, the offer did not resonate with passengers already angry with the port cancellations and the handling of their complaints. Some made it clear they don’t want to sail on Norwegian again, so 25% off is, to them, worthless. NCL says it did its best to revise an itinerary snarled by extremely bad weather, while passengers didn’t feel the cruise line did enough to mitigate bad circumstances, especially since they were to miss the Iceland ports in their entirety.

We can all sympathize with the cruisers aboard Norwegian Spirit. No one wants to miss out on the parts of the vacation they’ve been most looking forward to. However, anyone who does cruise needs to read the cruise contract and understand that the cruise line has the right to change the itinerary when necessary due to a variety of circumstances, most often the weather. This isn’t rare. It happens frequently, though not always to this extent.

Do cruise lines offer refunds for missed ports?

No, not usually. When you book a cruise, you accept the terms of service that clearly spell out that changes to the itinerary are at the will of the cruise line. Generally, a ship’s captain does everything he or she can to give passengers the voyage they’ve signed up for. However, weather can make it impossible to visit ports safely, especially if it’s a port where guests must be tendered from the ship to the dock on a smaller boat. Certain ports are notorious for weather cancellations. Passengers on Caribbean cruises often miss Grand Cayman during certain seasons for this reason. High seas just make it too dangerous for passengers to tender to shore.

What happens when a port is canceled?

If a scheduled port visit has to be canceled, the ship’s captain will see if there is a comparable port that the ship can call on instead, if that can be arranged. If not, passengers get an additional day at sea as the ship continues to its next scheduled stop.

Is there any way to protect against port cancellations?

Somewhat. First, always check weather conditions for the season in which you’re cruising. For example, if you book a Caribbean cruise during hurricane season, you should know that a storm could upset your plans in one way or another. This hurricane season, we saw many ships trade an Eastern Caribbean for a Western Caribbean itinerary in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. At least one ship ultimately had to disembark its passengers in New Orleans instead of Florida.

Try to align your cruise with the chance for optimal weather based on the season.

If you can’t do that, or you’re taking advantage of a low-priced cruise that’s a deal because it’s offseason, protect yourself with trip insurance. To learn more about trip insurance, check out The Points Guy’s comprehensive guide to travel insurance, learn about top travel insurance providers and whether you should buy travel insurance or use credit card trip protection instead.

Look for policies with cancellation and trip delay coverage or, for the ultimate in protection, a plan with a “cancel for any reason” clause so if you see weather for your upcoming cruise is going to be terrible, you can cancel per the terms of the insurance policy you’ve purchased and get all or some of your money back (see terms of each individual policy).

While booking shore excursions directly instead of going through the cruise line may save you some money, that plan can backfire if the ports of call change. If you booked through the cruise line you typically won’t be on the hook for shore excursions booked at ports of call that don’t happen, but the same isn’t necessarily true if you booked a tour or activity directly.

What about restitution while onboard?

Whenever a hiccup occurs during a vacation and it truly affects your time away from home, the best thing you can do is talk with guest services immediately. As upsetting as the problem may be, stay calm and clearly explain the problem and what you want the travel provider to do. Be specific and lobby for your desired resolution.

You should also immediately reach out to your travel agent. Using a travel agent, especially one that specializes in cruise travel, can give you a guardian angel that can work on your problem while it’s still happening. Travel agents are partners of the cruise line and the line will want to keep its valued agents — and their clients — happy. Explain what’s going on to your agent and let him or her work out a resolution with the cruise line on your behalf.

Bottom line

We all hope our trips will be perfect, but sometimes things like weather get in the way. When cruising, go into it knowing that itineraries are subject to change — though cruise lines try really hard to give you the experience you’ve paid for. However, if you have your heart set on visiting one specific port — especially one that can be tricky to tender to — you may want a backup plan to visit on your own and not rely on a cruise in case the itinerary must change.

When changes do happen on board, try to go with the flow. If the problem is just too much to accept, lobby with guest services for the resolution you want, hand the problem off to your travel agent or know you’re covered by the third-party trip insurance policy you purchased prior to the cruise.

Want more cruise advice? Check out these resources:

Featured image by Mint Images/Getty Images

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