Sunday a week ago, 145 passengers missed their cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas when it left San Juan, Puerto Rico early, to avoid Hurricane Irene.
The ship had been scheduled to depart at 8:30 p.m., but according to Royal Caribbean, port officials required the ship to leave three hours early, leaving the 145 passengers behind. That evening the hurricane hit the island, knocking out power to 800,000 homes.
A passenger, Nicole Washington, who arrived at the dock at 5:30 p.m, from Baltimore, only to find the ship had sailed, wanted to know why she hadn’t been called or emailed. Unfortunately, by the time Royal Caribbean knew they would have to leave early, about 12:30 p.m., a call or email, even to her cell phone, wouldn’t have helped. Being in Baltimore, she couldn’t have made it in time.
Unfortunately, Ms. Washington, and many others, didn’t plan flexibility into their vacation schedule.
Ms. Washington’s experience isn’t unique for cruise passengers. There are many instances of cruise lines changing sailing times, itineraries, and even canceling ports of call and adding others. Excursions off the ship are often canceled. Sometimes entire cruises are canceled at the last minute.
There are many reasons cruise lines make major cruise changes. Weather is but one.
I took a Mediterranean cruise a number of years ago on Celebrity Cruises’ Millennium. Just a couple of years later, the ship had to be dry-docked in the middle of July to fix one of its Mermaid propulsion pods, causing its next Mediterranean cruise to be canceled.
During a two-week Caribbean cruise a few years back, one of my cruise’s port destinations, Cartagena, Columbia, was abruptly canceled while we were on the cruise. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at that time, Cartagena was deemed too dangerous a destination.
During a Baltic cruise last year, our day-long air excursion to Moscow was canceled due to the fires which ringed the city, and the smoke choking it.
On an upcoming cruise through the Middle East, the cruise itinerary has changed four times so far. Once because a port was considered no longer safe, once due to scheduling problems of off ship excursions by the cruise line, and twice for reasons not articulated.
Weather problems, mechanical difficulties, port crime, wild fires, and changing political situations are among the many reasons cruisers must plan well, be flexible, have persistence, and purchase insurance.
While some may fault Royal Caribbean for its handling of the Serenade of the Seas early departure, due to Hurricane Irene, Ms. Washington could have rendered the problem moot, had she planned better.
At any time of the year, flights can be canceled. Travelers can have difficulties getting to their port of embarkation. Luggage can be temporarily lost. This particular cruise, was scheduled in the middle of hurricane season in the Atlantic and Caribbean, which begins in June, and lasts though November.
To schedule a flight to one’s port of embarkation, in the Caribbean, for a cruise during hurricane season, to come in on the day of the cruise, and arrive just a few hours before the ship is scheduled to sail, makes no sense to me.
For any cruise, I recommend arriving at the port of embarkation at least a day before the cruise starts. If you encounter problems getting to the port, that will give you the flexibility to still get to the ship before it sails. If your luggage is delayed (Has that ever happened to you? It has to me.) it will give a day or two for it to be recovered. For a cruise leaving from a port outside your home country, I recommend arriving even earlier, if possible, two or three days before embarkation.
Flexibility should be a watchword for any traveler, but especially for cruisers. This past week, several Caribbean cruises had their itineraries reversed. Some cruises skipped some ports of call, and went to others. Sometimes ports are skipped altogether.
For cruisers who make excursion plans on their own, such changes can play havoc. Even for cruisers who make their excursion plans via the cruise line, they can cause chaos aboard the ship, as passengers try to reschedule.
Cruisers need to be flexible and prepared for changes.
As noted above, Middle East cruise itinerary has changed four times. While the cruise line has been good about notifying passengers about the changes, by being persistent and monitoring the cruise regularly, via the Internet, I was able to get a jump on scheduling new excursions as necessary. Often, cruisers, who don’t monitor their cruise end up on excursion waiting lists.
I can’t stress enough, the need to insure one’s cruises. With the potential for in-transit problems, possible missed sailings, cancellations, and other problems, coupled with the substantial cost of cruises when you include airfare, and possible precruise and postcruise expenses, along with the potential costs of catching up with your cruise, after “missing the boat,” there is significant financial risk in cruising without insuring your trip.
When you purchase a cruise, plan flexibility into your itinerary, and buy insurance. Then persistently monitor the cruise and modify your plans, if and as needed.