I Made a Simple Booking Mistake… And it Cost Me My Entire Cruise (Don’t Do the Same)

An entire vacation for a family of three, completely ruined due to a simple mistake. More than $1,200(!) down the drain. An entire day spent crisscrossing the United States and heaps of stress, all for a cruise that eventually left without us.

This is no exaggeration of what just happened to me. In more than a decade — and literally dozens of cruises — it was by far the worst snafu I’ve had when it comes to sailing. The wild thing is that it can happen to anyone if they aren’t smart, because the mistake I made was something that people do every cruise… and it finally was my turn to pay the price.

Here’s exactly what happened, and how you can avoid the same mistake.

Why I Didn’t Take My Own Advice… And It Cost Me a Cruise

Over the years, I’ve taken literally dozens of flights into port on the day of a cruise. It had always been clear sailing… until now.

I took my first cruise more than a decade ago. Being based in Texas, it was naturally out of Galveston, where the port is within driving distance of my home.

But as Cruzely has grown, I’ve expanded my cruise horizons. I’ve now sailed dozens of trips from departure ports literally all over the county, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

For those trips, I fly into port. If you read Cruzely, then you know I always advise cruise passengers to fly into port a day early. That helps to allow plenty of time to get to the port, so if there is weather or a mechanical issue with the plane, or a computer system shutting down, you have time to still find other arrangements to the cruise terminal.

Honestly, however, I almost always fly in the morning of the cruise. Living in the central U.S., most ports are about a 2-hour flight no matter where I go. So I can normally catch a flight at 7 a.m. and be at the port just a few hours later.

That means it was business as usual when I recently booked a flight to Fort Lauderdale to sail aboard Celebrity Reflection with my wife and son. Catch a flight at 6:50 a.m., a 50-minute layover in Atlanta, and then be in Fort Lauderdale around 12:30 and head to the ship. Easy, peasy.

But that’s not what happened…

How a Perfectly Timed Storm Ruined My Vacation

Storms in my part of the country move quickly. If it arrived an hour earlier, there would have been no problem. An hour later? Just fine. But the arrival time was absolutely perfect to put a wrench in our plans and cause us to miss the cruise.

May is always a rainy time of year where I live in Austin, Texas. Lines of severe storms pass through quickly, dumping rain and bringing high winds. The storms can be bad, but they also move through within an hour or two and they are done.

The day before my cruise, there was weather supposed to come through overnight. That morning, it was supposed to arrive in the late evening… and then it was pushed to around 10 p.m. and then around midnight… and it kept getting pushed later and later. I went to bed that night figuring it would storm overnight and be clear by the time I woke up to leave to the airport.

Instead, I woke up around 5 a.m. to see a line of storms bearing down on the radar. We drove to the airport in torrential rain as the line of storms follow us. Checking our flight status, it still showed an on-time departure, and it looked like the storms are going to pass through just in time.

But while they had moved into the area quickly, now they are lingering. Lightning is shooting across the sky. Even 20 minutes before the flight is scheduled it still says on-time, but there is no boarding at all.

I talk to the gate agent. She tells me that nothing has changed yet, but if it does, the airline will automatically re-book me.

Literally one minute after that, I see the notification that the flight is delayed by about 30 minutes. As soon as that happens, a line of 20 people forms in front of the gate agent I just talked to. It would take me until boarding just to reach the front of the line. I look around and find empty gate with an agent who is willing to help.

I explain that I have a cruise, so our family need to get to Fort Lauderdale before 3 p.m. if at all possible.

“Oh, yeah when people have a cruise, I usually suggest flying in the day before,” she says.

I just smile and nod while taking in the irony of her telling me something I’ve told others for years!

A Glimmer of Hope That We’ll Make It

Unfortunately, after about 10 minutes of searching, the gate agent can’t find any other availability to get me to Florida. She does let us know that about a dozen people are making the same connection we are from our flight. And since the delay now means our flight will arrive right around the time the connecting flight will take off, they will hold the plane in Atlanta to allow us to make the connection. Saved!

With rain still coming down, I’m thanking my lucky stars that we were able to get out of this jam. We sit down on the plane, it taxis from the gate to the runway in the pouring rain, and we’re on our way. Almost.

As we head to the edge of the runway, the plane stops. I assume there are a few other delayed flights that have to take off before us. Then the plane powers down. The captain comes on the intercom and lets us know we are holding due to a warning about windshear and microbursts.

“It’s going to be a few minutes,” the captain says.

Suddenly, our “skin of the teeth” scenario of making our connecting flight is turned completely on its head. In all, it’s another 20-30 minutes of waiting at the runway before we are cleared to take off. As we do, we go through literally the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced.

The plane shudders, drops suddenly, banks from side to side, as people are gasping with each move. It’s literally the first time on a flight where I’ve been worried about what was going to happen next. If that’s what the air was like after letting the weather move through while sitting on the runway, I’m actually thankful we didn’t fly out sooner… even if it meant a missed cruise.

As the plane clears the storms, things finally smooth out and we are headed to Atlanta. Unfortunately, due to the stop at the runway, we’re now considerably later than the connecting flight. About halfway through the first flight we can see on the airline app that our connecting flight is now boarding without us. Twenty minutes later, it shows the next flight has departed.

With that, we’ve officially missed the connection.

Scheduled Arrival: Six Hours After the Cruise Leaves

After our flight was delayed and we missed the connection, we were rebooked on a flight into Fort Lauderdale that arrived after 9 p.m. — more than six hours after all aboard for our cruise.

A few minutes later we receive a notification that we’ve been rebooked. Our new flight doesn’t leave until about 5 p.m. and heads to Tampa, followed by a flight to Fort Lauderdale that puts us in after 9 p.m. That’s just *a little* after the 3 p.m. all aboard time.

Landing just before noon in Atlanta, we head to the gate to see if there are any other options. Being a Friday in the summer, everything to Florida is booked solid. We also ask about other airlines and find out that Delta has a flight leaving in about 45 minutes to Fort Lauderdale that lands in the early afternoon.

It’s a long shot, but we race across the airport to the Delta gate… only to find out that the flight is completely full.

It’s now official that I’m going to miss my first cruise ever. Honestly, I’m not even sure what to do. I call Celebrity from the airport to inform them I won’t make the ship in time. After two transfers to agents, I’m informed that it will be a 40-minute wait time to talk to cancellations.

Frustrated, I let the agent know that I’m not going to wait that long just to let them know I won’t make the port. (I’d call back a little later and reach a new agent who said he would make a note on the reservation and that any refunds would be given in about two weeks. That call took all of five minutes.)

We have a family meeting to figure out what to do next. Do we head back home or try to make the most of the weekend? We consider just renting a car and driving to the Florida Keys, but given that we won’t get in until so late, we’d essentially be driving down the next morning, staying the night, and then turning around to head back to make our flights home.

We use our phones to scout out hotels in Fort Lauderdale, and it becomes clear that in addition to what we’ve lost on the cruise (more on that in a moment), that the weekend is going to cost at least $1,000 in addition to having to scramble to find a hotel at the literal last minute… and spending the rest of the day in the Atlanta and Tampa airports.

But there are non-stop flights back home, including one leaving in about an hour. Looking at everyone’s exhausted faces (we’d been going on this stressful adventure since 5 a.m.), we take the easy route. We change our flights and about two hours later land back home in Texas. Where, by the way, the weather was now absolutely gorgeous as the plane touches down.

What This “Vacation” Cost Us

Exhausted, stressed, and disappointed, instead of trying to salvage the rest of the weekend while hanging out in the Atlanta airport all day, we just booked tickets back to Texas. About 12 hours after we left for the airport that morning, we were back home.

So what’s the final tally on what this “vacation” cost us?

First, there is the disappointment of missing out on a cruise that we were all looking forward to taking. Instead, we all got up early for a white-knuckle drive in the rain to the airport to then fly to Atlanta and back in a single day. Needless to say, it was exhausting. We all crashed early that night after treating ourselves to dinner to make up for the crummy day.

Since we flew Southwest, we were able to get back half of our airfare as a future credit. So for our tickets that originally cost $1,158, we received a credit of $519 back. Our flights back and forth from Atlanta cost us $639.

The 3-day cruise cost us $1,104 with prepaid gratuities. Since we didn’t make the ship, it’s treated as a cancellation, which is a 100% penalty on the cruise fare. However, taxes/fees and the prepaid gratuities are refunded. That means the total penalty was $573 for missing the cruise.

All told, missing our cruise cost $1,212, not to mention the lost day spent flying to Atlanta and back.

How to Make Sure This Doesn’t Happen to Your Cruise

How can you avoid this same fate?

You can purchase travel insurance, however, in this case it would have only covered the $573 in cruise fare. (The airfare wasn’t lost since we used to to fly back home and the unused portion was refunded.) Still, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt to have.

But as you might guess, flying in the day before your cruise is the most foolproof way to make sure you don’t make the same mistake we did. I’ll admit, however, that I will likely continue flying on the morning of the cruise. What I won’t do, however, is take a morning flight that involves a connection.

This delay happened because the timing of these storms couldn’t have been more perfect to throw off the schedule. If the storms arrived an hour or two earlier, they would have cleared the area and there would have been no issue. If they arrived an hour or two later, we would have flown out before they hit. They just so happened to have us in their bullseye.

Even with the same timing, if our flight were non-stop to Florida, then we still would have had the ability to wait hours for a delay and make the cruise. We simply missed the ship because we missed our connecting flight.

That’s an expensive mistake to learn. Hopefully you can learn from my experience.

Popular: 39 Useful Things to Pack (17 You Wouldn't Think Of)

Read Next: Park & Cruise Hotels for Every Port in America

Popular: 107 Best Cruise Tips, Secrets, Tricks, and Freebies


  1. I am very risk averse and arrived in Miami one year before my scheduled 4-day cruise departure. I’ve rented an apartment and have been here for about six months. My flight out is two months after the cruise; that gives me plenty of time to make it to the airport so I don’t miss the flight home.

    I know my dogs will be so excited to see me and be let out of their crates!

    • This is the most surefire way to cruise. The airlines these days just can’t be trusted to get you there on time between weather, computer malfunctions and mechanical issues. I noticed that you didn’t mention anything about travel insurance. You might look into it just in case.

  2. I’m sorry this happened to you. But it’s an experience. We live about 90 minutes from our local port and once we managed to miss embarkation due to having to arrive early due to covid testing on site. We got there about 20min after the testing site shut down.

  3. We leave a minimum of one day ahead of the cruise. It gives us time for any delays and we have fun checking out the area we are staying. We allowed 2 days in Vancouver before our Alaskan cruise and found that it is a beautiul and interesting city.

  4. We are flying the day before to our upcoming cruise. I scheduled the flights with a 3-hour layover between flights. I am not taking any chances.

  5. Considering you have flown same day and succesfully ruised dozens of times without mishap up you are actually ahead financially. You have saved several dozen hotels fees and meal cost (dinner and possibly breakfast) vs a one time lost of $1200.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here