‘Be on Time!’: Cruisers Show Little Sympathy For NCL Passengers Who Missed Ship

By now, you’ve likely heard the story of eight Norwegian Cruise Line passengers who returned late to their cruise ship after a port stop in Africa. The group missed the ship and were left as the cruise continued.

NCL Dawn in Cozumel
Passengers sailing aboard Norwegian Dawn (shown here in Cozumel) were left after arriving back to the ship late. 

It happened during a cruise aboard Norwegian Dawn. The NCL ship was in the middle of a 21-day cruise from Cape Town, South Africa to Barcelona, Spain. During a stop in São Tomé off the coast of Nigeria, the passengers were late returning the ship after being on a private shore excursion not affiliated with the cruise line. (Another passenger was said to return late because she was receiving emergency medical care in port.)

Despite being late, reports are that the group was taken on a boat to the ship anchored offshore. However, the passengers were not allowed to board.

Now the passengers are trying to rejoin the ship, but having difficulties catching up as they cross the African continent and the ship continues its journey.

In a statement, Norwegian told ABCNews4 the following:

“On the afternoon of March 27, 2024, while the ship was in Sao Tome and Principe, an African island nation, eight guests who were on the island on their own or with a private tour missed the last tender back to the vessel, therefore not meeting the all aboard time of 3 p.m. local time. While this is a very unfortunate situation, guests are responsible for ensuring they return to the ship at the published time, which is communicated broadly over the ship’s intercom, in the daily communication and posted just before exiting the vessel.”


“Guests are responsible for any necessary travel costs to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call. When the guests did not return to the vessel at the all aboard time, their passports were delivered to the local port agents to retrieve when they returned to the port. Our team has been working closely with the local authorities to understand the requirements and necessary visas needed if the guests were to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call. We are in communication with the guests and providing additional information as it becomes available.”

What Do Other Cruisers Think of the Situation?

While the story has created international headlines, what may surprise you is that many veteran cruisers appear to have limited sympathy for the stranded passengers.

In a post about the story on Reddit titled “NCL PR Nightmare,” seemingly all the top ranking comments place the blame for missing the ship squarely on the passengers.

“Not a PR Nightmare at all. Everyone is told repeatedly that if you dont book tours with the ship they will not wait for you if you are running late. These people missed the ship and had to catch up to it. It sounds like NCL even is reimbursing them for the expenses they incurred to get to the ship.. seems like an actual good PR move because its not NCL’s issue at all that this happened,” one user wrote.

“Is it a pr nightmare? Mostly sounds like screw around and find out,” wrote another.

“They went on an excursion on their own and didn’t return on time. I’ve seen people left behind many times in the Caribbean, it’s the risk you run when going on an excursion not sanctioned by the cruise line,” added another Reddit user.

Responses on Reddit to the story all seemed to place the blame on passengers.

In fact, multiple posts regarding the situation offered similar attitudes. And it’s not just on Reddit. Other social media posts shared similar thoughts.

Carnival Brand Ambassador John Heald has mentioned the ordeal and asked his followers’ thoughts. Those passengers seem to overwhelmingly side with the cruise line.

“Planes, trains, and busses don’t wait either. You are fully informed to be back to the ship on time many many times. It is written and spoken. Come back late and you are then responsible to get yourself to the next port or home. always been a rule in the 30 years we have been cruising. Don’t like being aware of time then that’s on the traveler,” shared one poster. The comment received more than 350 likes.

“Be on time! Pay attention to the clock and when the captain of the ship says be back by this time..be back by that time. Ships must maintain their schedule for various reasons and we has guests should understand that. I do feel bad for those that got left in behind. Hopefully they make it home,” said another.

Responses on this Facebook post about the incident shared the same attitude.

Scared of Arriving Back Late to the Ship? Here’s What You Can Do

Among experienced cruise passengers, adhering to all aboard and departure times is known as one of the most important rules in cruising. While it is rare, it’s not unheard of for a cruise ship to depart without passengers that return late to the ship. In fact, most people return to the ship well before the required time just to be safe.

If missing the ship while on an excursion is something you’re worried about, then there are a few things you can do.

Keep Your Excursions Early: If you do book an independent excursion like these passengers reportedly did, then schedule them for earlier in the day. In many places like the Caribbean, most excursions last only a few hours. You might leave the ship at 9 a.m. and return at 1 p.m. Meanwhile, the ship doesn’t leave until 5 p.m.

Having an excursion early in the day leaves you a ton of time just in case something does happen.

Book Excursions Through the Cruise Line: When sailing you can do what you want in port, but the cruise line offers excursions you can book through them. One advantage is that they come with a policy where the ship will wait for you if you return late.

The vast majority of the time, this sort of policy is never needed. In fact, we don’t personally use it as an incentive to book. However, if you’re worried about making the ship or the excursion is one that lasts all day, then having that peace of mind can be worth it.

Leave a Buffer for Returning: Finally, the best thing you can do is leave plenty of time when returning the ship. There’s no need to try to return right at the all aboard time. Instead, giving yourself a buffer — say, 30-60 minutes — to return to the ship can reduce stress and mean you still have time should there be a delay.

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