In our last blog, our admiralty lawyer Michael Winkleman discussed the many ways in which adverse weather conditions can affect a cruise ship’s itinerary. Though cruise lines would often prefer to take their chances with a storm than cancel an entire itinerary and lose revenue, there are times when weather conditions are so dangerous, cruise lines don’t have a choice. Given that we are right at the peak of hurricane season, it’s important for potential cruise passengers to know what they can expect in the upcoming months.
If a major storm threatens the Caribbean in the upcoming months, which is where the vast majority of cruise itineraries are focused, travelers booked on cruise vacations may notice a change in the ship’s ports of call. Some cruise lines may opt to visit an alternate destination in lieu of the dropped port, or, as happens frequently, may decide to just spend the day at sea – much to the dismay of cruise passengers who have spent time planning their vacations expecting to visit certain destinations and who have paid (in many cases) a significant amount of money for their cruises.
A substituted port, while not the original destination a cruise passenger might have had their hearts set on, is at least a fair exchange. However, when a cruise line decides to just skip a port – or cancel a cruise completely – and offer passengers no recourse, that’s when tensions start to build.
An itinerary change or cruise cancellation offers a bevy of issues for travelers. On the one hand, it’s a good thing that a port or entire cruise may be cancelled following reports of dangerous weather conditions because that means passengers were kept out of harm’s way. As each admiralty lawyer at our firm has previously reported, the cruises industry has suffered a significant drop in popularity following a higher than average number of accidents at sea and in port that stemmed from cruise operator negligence in the past five years, including the tragic Costa Concordia capsizing in 2012 and the Carnival Triumph fire in 2013. Cruise lines often prefer to deal with the aftermath of an accident than spend the necessary resources to prevent one. So, it would actually be to a passenger’s advantage (in terms of their safety) if a cruise operator were to cancel an itinerary to prevent a storm-related accident.
That being said, that still doesn’t mean passengers affected by these weather-related changes should have to suffer the consequences. In an ideal world where the cruise industry always caters to the needs of its guests, cruise lines would reimburse passengers whenever an itinerary change occurs. But unfortunately, since we live in the real world, the chances of that happening are few and far between.
Check out Part 2 of our blog for more on what to expect when a cruise itinerary is altered due to weather conditions and suggestions on how to handle these changes from our firm.