What Happens When a Port of Call is Cancelled

After two days at sea, you are almost at your first port of call. You already have the entire port day planned, can’t wait to get off the ship, and the beach is calling your name.

And then, late in the afternoon there is an announcement from the captain. Due to an incident with another ship at the pier, your ship can’t dock safely at the scheduled port of call. As a result, the port is cancelled and the ship will spend another day at sea.

Sound far-fetched? Think port cancellations occur only because of bad weather or a ship breakdown? Think again. This story actually happened to us on a recent cruise. Here’s the note received from the captain explaining the situation:

Cancellation of a port of call

So what exactly happens when a port of call is cancelled? Do you get your money back? Are you stuck at sea? Here’s more about the experience…

Port Cancellations Do Happen… For Lots of Reasons

Believe it or not, the itinerary that you sign up for when you book your cruise is not set in stone. While the vast majority of the time you will sail on your trip exactly as planned, the cruise lines reserve the right to change the schedule as they see fit.

For example, in the ticket contract for Carnival, this clause is put bluntly:

“Carnival may change the duration and/or itinerary of the cruise at any time. The Vessel shall be entitled to leave and enter ports with or without pilots or tugs, to tow and assist other vessels in any circumstances, to return to or enter any port at the Master’s discretion and for any purpose, and to deviate in any direction or for any purpose from the direct or usual course, and to omit or change any or all port calls, arrival or departure times, with or without notice, for any reason whatsoever…”

That’s not to point fingers at Carnival. Other cruise lines have similar statements. Put simply, if the cruise line feels the need to cancel a port of call, they can do so.

And a cancellation doesn’t just have to be due to weather. Over the past few years there have been cancellations due to protests, ship malfunctions, and in our case, a damaged pier.

What Happens When a Port if Cancelled

So what does the ship do if there is a cancellation?

In some cases, the ship will simply cancel the port of call and stay at sea. This is what happened to us after another ship damaged the pier in our next port of call, Roatan. Despite already having two sea days in a row, the last-minute cancellation of Roatan meant that we were going to spend another day at sea.

On that day, since we were already near our next port, we spent hours sailing slowly in the area. The crew put on more activities for passengers, and frankly, there wasn’t any sign that the extra day at sea was unscheduled.

In other cases, the cruise line might be able to reschedule the itinerary — either going to other ports first and then returning to the original port of call later, or swapping out a cancelled port for another.

If you have activities — such as excursions — planned in a port that’s cancelled, then things can get trickier. In the case of our cancellation, any excursions booked through the cruise line were automatically refunded to passenger accounts.

Should you have made plans outside of the cruise line’s excursions, then you will need to contact the tour company directly for a refund. It seems reasonable that if the ship doesn’t dock that the business would refund your money, however, it may be a hassle to get paid. This is where having travel insurance may come in handy.

Do You Get Compensated for a Cancellation?

It seems reasonable that if you paid for a cruise with three ports of call and one gets cancelled, you might receive some sort of compensation. Unfortunately, this usually isn’t the case. As mentioned above, the cruise lines reserve the right to change the itinerary as they see fit. Simply cancelling a port — especially for reasons outside the cruise line’s fault — means it is unlikely you get anything.

Where that changes is if a port is cancelled and a cruise is shortened due to a breakdown on the ship. In this case, you have a right to a refund.

That right comes from the International Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights. You can view the entire list of rights here, but in the case of cancelled ports of call, the important clause is here:

“The right to a full refund for a trip that is canceled due to mechanical failures, or a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early due to those failures.”

Note that simply having a port of call cancelled due to a mechanical failure isn’t enough to invoke this right. You also need to have a cruise cut short due to the issue. Only then are you entitled to a refund by these rights.

That’s not to say that a cruise line won’t give you any compensation should they cancel a port for another reason. It could happen to keep passengers happy. If you feel like you should receive some sort of refund or credit due to a cancellation, it never hurts to ask.

Have you been on a cruise that had to cancel a port? What happened? Let us know in the comments below.


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