Recently there have been troubles on a few cruise ships have left passengers frustrated and angry.
The most recent - the Norwegian Sun sailing from Port Canaveral - had one of their engines fail three days into a seven-night cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. This caused the ship to cancel their stops in St. Thomas and St. Maarten. They were limping after leaving Nassau and ended up pulling into Samana in the Dominican Republic where repairs were begun. The engine was fixed and the ship cruised to Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian Cruise Line's private island in The Bahamas), which was disappointing since they are doing a lot of construction there.
What can you do?
There were many disenchanted passengers. There were also numerous angry passengers demanding immediate reimbursement. The cruise line gave a $100 per stateroom on-board credit, a glass of wine (or beer) at dinner one evening and a free rum drink poolside on one day. Was this enough? Probably not for most.
Then there was the engine fire on the Carnival Splendor last month that left the ship just floating out in the Pacific, with no working air conditioning, no hot foods and barely working toilets. After three days, the ship was towed to San Diego where passengers had to board busses to get back to the port in Long Beach, nearly 100 miles away. Those folks all received a refund of the cruise plus a future Carnival cruise.
Of the past five Bahamas cruises on Royal Caribbean I have taken, we were unable to visit the line's private island, Coco Cay, three times due to either bad weather or seas too rough for the tenders to get in (or out). There were a number of upset guests feeling as though they should go to another island or be compensated, neither of which happened. The cruise contract has language that protects the cruise line in almost any scenario, including inclement weather. Personally, I did not care one way or the other because I had been there many times, but I certainly understood why others who have never been there would be upset. The cruise ship usually will have additional activities on board to make up for the lost excursion.
It is not easy for a captain to decide to cancel a scheduled stop - he knows how disappointed his guests will be - but it is a necessary decision for the guests' safety.
As far as going somewhere else, one must understand that a cruise ship cannot just arrive at another port because they were unable to visit the one on their scheduled itinerary (unless it is an emergency). The contracts that a cruise line has with the various ports are done a year or two in advance of the sailing. This contract covers all that is necessary for getting the ship into the port (i.e., securing harbor pilots, dock workers, etc.) as well as setting up shore excursions for their guests.
Mechanical issues are one thing but weather issues are totally another. During the summer months the weather in the Caribbean is usually absolutely beautiful and balmy and it a great time to cruise. However, hurricane season starts in June (with the height of the season in August and September) and so there is the risk of storms causing havoc.
Lots of consumers take advantage of the low fares starting in late August, but they do take a chance that there could be a tropical storm in the area. That said, just because there is a storm does not mean the ship won't sail and you better be on it or risk losing your fare. Some insurance policies will cover this type of cancellation but beware of the fine print on this as well. Travel insurance is a must for any travel these days and we highly recommend that you make it part of your entire travel package.
In the case of the Norwegian Sun, along with the onboard credits passengers received, they were offered 30 percent off of their current cruise fare in a future cruise credit to be used within one year.
And don't forget, the ship's crew is not at fault when problems such as bad weather or ship malfunctions arise. They are trying to make it comfortable for guests in a very difficult situation. Taking your anger out on them will only make everyone more uncomfortable.
Unfortunately "stuff" happens. Just try to make the best of a bad situation. The old saying "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" would apply here.
Patty Toppa is a travel consultant with Gadabout Travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.cruisetraveltours.com.