Numerous factors go into choosing a cruise vacation. We make decisions based on the cruise line, ship, time of year, and price. What's the glaring omission from this list? The itinerary. Whether you're the type of person who is more concerned with the ship or one who puts a lot of weight into where the ship goes, we can all agree itinerary changes are frustrating.
Two Main Reasons For Itinerary Changes
Generally, itinerary changes can be lumped into two categories. The first category is changes made before the cruise sails. These changes are often due to schedule issues at the port, scheduled or unscheduled dry dock (maintenance, repairs, or refurbishment), delays of new ship builds, or a group or company buying all the staterooms (called a charter). Another reason that falls into this category is if one of the ports is recovering from a natural disaster or there is something going on in the region that makes it unsafe for visitors. Guests are notified of these changes before sailing and, unless the sailing is cancelled completely, there is little to no compensation offered.
The other main type is itinerary changes during a cruise. These changes are sometimes caused by some type of mechanical problem (or sometimes a medical emergency) that delays arrival to (or prevents a ship from visiting) a particular port. Note that in some cases where mechanical failure causes an itinerary change, cruise lines will offer some type of compensation. If you're on a cruise where a mechanical issue causes a major change to your itinerary, it doesn't hurt to ask for compensation but know that the cruise line and it's staff will have already determined if any compensation will be offered, how much it will be, and will make an announcement of some type to alert everyone of their decision.
More often, though, itinerary changes made during a cruise are caused by inclement weather with guest and crew safety in mind. Hurricanes come storming to mind but more often it's the effects of wind that cause captains to change plans mid-cruise. Think of how an 18-wheeler rolls down the road in heavy gusts, then imagine a ship which is on average 1,000 feet long and in some cases more than 200 feet tall. Oh, and lets put that on the ocean which adds some excitement to steering one of these massive ships.
In December of 2022 and friend and I were on Norwegian Getaway sailing to Bermuda. We were supposed to board the ship at noon and our itinerary was supposed to include a day at sea, nearly two days in Bermuda, and a day at sea before returning to our home port.
Our actual experience was a delayed boarding (five hours!) which was never explained beyond, "circumstances out of our control," our scheduled day at sea, four hour delay disembarking at Bermuda due to high winds, and all-aboard on our second day in Bermuda at 11 am (instead of 4 pm) so we could leave early and avoid an expected storm.
Although we were disappointed that one of our excursions was cancelled and our time in Bermuda was cut short, I know the nature of the beast and we didn't receive (or expect to) any compensation for any of these itinerary changes. But lots of other people on board sure thought Norwegian should have offered something.
An argument could be made that we visited Bermuda therefore no compensation is given but what happens when a port (or ports!) is taken off the itinerary mid-cruise? Surely that much of an itinerary change should get passengers a little refund, credit, or some bonus... Right?
Here's the thing. In the fine print of the cruise contract, you agree to itinerary changes. Thinking about not accepting the terms of the contract contract and cruise anyway? You're in for a bigger surprise than just missing time in a port or missing the port altogether. No acceptance of the contract, no cruise. And no refund.
It's important to keep some perspective. Yes. It's disappointing to have an itinerary change shorten your time or keep you from a port you were hoping to visit, but guest and crew safety, not to mention the safety of the ship itself, is more important. And if you believe, like I do, that the ship is a vacation within a vacation, more time on the ship isn't a bad thing and in any case, being on vacation is better than being at work.
About the Author
Joel is a co-owner of JJ Travel Associates (a Dream Vacations franchise), blogger-in-chief at JoelKnowsTravel.com, lover of all things travel (especially UNESCO World Heritage Sites), wannabe comedian, and the person you should call if you're thinking of planning a vacation.