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What You Need to Know if You're One of Thousands of Cruisers Affected by Puerto Rico Protests

July 24, 2019
6 min read
Colorful street in old San Juan town, Puerto Rico
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Two more of the world’s biggest cruise companies on Monday diverted vessels away from San Juan, Puerto Rico, as protesters continued to fill the streets of the city for a 10th straight day.

MSC Cruises’ 4,140-passenger MSC Seaside spent a full day at sea instead of going ahead with an evening visit to San Juan before an extended call Tuesday at St. Maarten. The Miami-based ship is on a seven-night Eastern Caribbean voyage that began Saturday.

Also steering clear of San Juan was Celebrity Cruises’ 2,850-passenger Celebrity Equinox, which also remained at sea before a call on Tuesday at St. Thomas. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based vessel is on charter this week for a seven-night, African American culture-focused cruise called Festival at Sea.

The lines joined cruise giant Royal Caribbean in skipping at least some calls in Puerto Rico as protests against the island’s governor, Richard Rosselló, appeared headed into a third week.

Two Royal Caribbean ships, the 1,853-passenger Empress of the Seas and the 5,479-passenger Harmony of the Seas, dropped visits to Puerto Rico last Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

The latest cancellations bring the tally of cruise vacationers affected by the protests to well over 10,000: A number that might or might not grow in coming days. Cruise lines are taking the situation day-by-day and differing in their responses. Royal Caribbean, for instance, has gone ahead with several calls at San Juan in recent days, even as it has canceled others.

Royal Caribbean’s cancellations have seemed to mirror the ebb and flow of protesters outside the governor’s mansion. Last Thursday, the line went ahead with a visit by its Fort Lauderdale-based Allure of the Seas, and the line’s New York-based Anthem of the Seas visited on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the line with the most calls scheduled in San Juan this month, Carnival Cruise Line, has yet to cancel a single visit to the city. The line’s Miami-based Carnival Conquest called at San Juan on Tuesday, and its Port Canaveral, Florida-based Carnival Breeze is going ahead with a visit today.

“We’ve experienced no impact on these calls,” a spokesperson for the line, Vance Gulliksen, told The Points Guy. “All of our tours have operated as scheduled.”

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The Long Term Impact

For now, vacationers booked on upcoming cruises with stops in Puerto Rico on the schedule are in limbo as to knowing whether they really will be visiting the island.

Should the governor resign in the coming days, as protesters are demanding, the situation for cruisers could quickly return to normal. But if the protests escalate or turn violent, more ships could steer clear of the destination. Protesters late Monday threw objects at police holding a line at the governor’s mansion, and the police fired tear gas in response, according to news reports.

“What’s happening in San Juan is unique because it’s such a fluid situation,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, the world’s largest cruise planning website. “Right now, cruise lines are making decisions on a case-by-case and day-by-day basis. Since the news broke, we’ve seen some ships skip port, and others call as planned. It all depends on what’s happening in San Juan on that day.”

What Happens if Your Ship Skips San Juan

It’s been a mixed bag so far in terms of how lines are handling the skipped calls. Some are substituting another port for San Juan. Others are extending time in a port already on the itinerary or simply adding an extra sea day.

McDaniel says as long as the protests continue, you may not know for sure what will occur when your ship heads to San Juan until it’s nearly there.

“If you’re on a ship with a scheduled call in San Juan, be aware of the current climate and the chance that your cruise line could make the decision to skip a scheduled call,” she says. “The line has the grounds to make that decision and will factor in things like safety and guest experience.”

The good news, says McDaniel, is that only San Juan port calls have been affected so far. The two cruise ships that sail regularly out of San Juan — Carnival Fascination and Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas — have been coming and going without trouble. They turn around in the city every Sunday.

One reason that ship turnarounds in San Juan may be less affected than ship calls is that they don’t involve shore excursions in the same way. The head of Puerto Rico’s tourism administration, Carla Campos, said Monday’s cruises were canceled because local excursion companies had canceled services as protesters blocked roads around the city.

No Cancellation Fee Waivers for Now

Unlike last month, when cruise lines canceled Cuba calls on short notice due to a new Trump Administration policy, passengers aren’t being offered any sort of compensation for the missed visits, other than refunds for pre-booked shore excursions.

The lines also aren’t waiving cancellation fees for passengers who want to bow out of upcoming cruises that include San Juan calls — at least for now.

That’s not uncommon for a situation like this, where the visit to the affected port only represents a small part of a far bigger vacation. Some of the ships that have skipped calls in Puerto Rico, such as MSC Seaside, only had been scheduled to be there for a few hours, and San Juan isn’t considered a highlight of the voyages in the way that Cuba was for itineraries that included Cuba.

Cruise lines are under no obligation to offer compensation when they miss ports, though they often do, particularly when the cause is the result of a mechanical problem or has a significant impact on the cruise experience.

“The cruise contract, which all passengers sign before boarding, gives cruise lines the full legal right to make changes to sailings as necessary,” McDaniel notes. “That said, the cruise lines want to deliver the best experience possible to their guests, so these decisions aren’t made lightly.”

So far, cruising regulars appear to be taking the situation in stride. A scroll through the message boards at Cruise Critic, the main hub for conversations about cruising online, shows that while some are griping about the missed calls, many others are lauding the lines that have stayed away.

“I have seen many passengers complaining about missing [Puerto Rico]. I am wondering how much more they would complain if they were attacked or harmed while on shore there,” wrote one commenter. “I praise the cruise lines for thinking about the safety of the people on their ships.”

Impact on Bookings

Brad Anderson, co-founder of Avoya Travel, told The Points Guy his company’s network of more than 1,250 travel agents haven’t been hearing much about the issue yet from customers.

“It’s too soon to tell, but I don’t think this will have any long-term impact on bookings,” Anderson says. “So far we haven’t received any concerns reported by travelers.”

Feature photo by mikolajn / Getty Images.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto