If you need to be in a particular place, at a particular time, a cruise is not the best way to get there. If you want a great vacation that takes you to fun places, provides you with great food and service, and is probably the best value around, then a cruise ship is where you should be. You wouldn’t think that people would confuse the two, but I have heard many different times when passengers were disappointed because they had to skip a port or their itinerary changed.
Cruise lines are not really in the business of providing transportation. While that is certainly part of the cruise experience, the focus of a cruise is a complete vacation experience. They do take passengers from point A to point B, but that is not their main priority. The priority is an overall vacation experience. If the cruise line feels that they need to cancel or reschedule a port in order to improve the overall experience, then they will.
During the highly active hurricane season of 2005, a few cruises that were supposed to go to the Bermuda were rerouted to New England and Nova Scotia. The cruise lines always reserve the right to change itineraries, but this was the most drastic reroute I have heard of. In this case, the cruisers were offered a 25% future cruise credit and a refund of the differences in port fees and taxes. As you can imagine, many of the cruisers were extremely upset at the reroute, especially with such a huge difference between Bermuda and Canada. Obviously the cruise line felt that the passengers would have a better overall experience in the hurricane free Canadian waters than in the middle of a huge tropical storm expected to reach hurricane strength. Most passengers were disappointed with the change and lack of compensation.
However, the biggest disappointment had to come from the wedding party who had already planned their wedding to take place at a Bermuda hotel during their cruise. While this type of wedding might be wonderful if everything goes as without at hitch, the idea of using a cruise as transportation to your planned wedding is very short sighted. Cruise lines can and do change itineraries all the time for a variety of reasons. It is just not worth the risk. I read a report from another cruiser whose cruise was “ruined” because the cruise line had swapped port dates for Honolulu and Maui. It seems the cruiser had purchased tickets ahead of time for a big Halloween party on the island of Maui and was unable to attend because he was in Honolulu. You just can’t count 100% on a cruise ship to deliver you there at the time and date that your planned, so don’t make plans that depend on that.
Here are some examples of itinerary changes. We once skipped port on a Caribbean cruise due to political unrest on the island. I had some friends who had to skip their scheduled stop at one of the Cook Island due to high seas prohibiting the safe operation of the tender vessels. I’ve been on ships that had to change the order of their stops due to hurricanes. I’ve also heard of ships that had to skip a stop due to mechanical problems causing the ship to mover more slowly. Sometimes a ship will have to divert in order to facilitate a medical evacuation. For the most part, cruise lines do everything they can to keep to the scheduled itinerary, however if they have concerns about passenger safety due to rough seas, emergencies or political situations, they will choose safety first.
Cruisers can make sure that their cruises aren’t “ruined” by a schedule change by making the following planning choices. First, don’t even think about taking a cruise if you can’t “go with the flow” when circumstances change. Second, have a back-up for your shore plans. If you have booked your excursions through the cruise line, then you will receive a complete refund if your ship does not arrive in port as scheduled. If you book a tour independently, make sure that you negotiate a cancellation policy with your tour provider. We did just that for our fishing/snorkeling charter in Hawaii. When I made the arrangements, I discussed the possibility of us not making it to the port. The tour provider said that if we had to cancel at the last minute it would be just $75 for the $550 tour cost. Finally, if you are planning a destination wedding, don’t take a cruise ship to get there!
In conclusion, a cruise ship provides passengers with a very enjoyable, mostly inclusive, high value vacation experience. In focusing on the overall experience, the lines sometimes have to adjust their transportation schedules accordingly. Go with the flow, and you’ll be assured of a great vacation.