When a Cruise Line Changes Your Itinerary

According to consumer surveys, cruises have one of the highest satisfaction ratings for vacations. They appeal to a wide range of interests and can meet a variety of budgets. When planning a cruise, it’s essential to understand the cruise line’s policy and your responsibilities and entitlements.

The cruise line can change your itinerary at any time before and during your cruise. You can avoid having your vacation ruined by being aware of the possibilities.

When you sign on the dotted line, you are waiving your rights and agreeing to any and all changes the cruise line may implement. Your planned vacation may change. 

Cruise lines reserve the right to alter their itineraries for any reason. They can change the ship you are sailing on and the ports of call. They have the option of changing the dates and the arrival and departure times (including at ports of call). A port could be dropped at the last minute or substituted for another.

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In other words, the ports of call you signed up for when you purchased the cruise may not be the ones you end up visiting. The new ports may even be in another country. You may have signed up for a cruise that was scheduled to visit ports of call in Italy but later found out that the ports will now be in Spain.

Sample of Norwegian Cruise Line’s policy

To give you an idea, here is what Norwegian Cruise Line states:

“In the event of strikes, lockouts, stoppages of labor, riots, weather conditions, mechanical difficulties or any other reason whatsoever, Norwegian Cruise Line has the right to cancel, advance, postpone or substitute any scheduled sailing or itinerary without prior notice. Norwegian Cruise Line shall not be responsible for failure to adhere to published arrival and departure times for any of its ports of call. Norwegian Cruise Line may, but is not obliged to, substitute another vessel for any sailing and cannot be liable for any loss to passengers by reason of such cancellation, advancement, postponement or substitution.”

Itinerary changes

When cruise lines change their itinerary at the last minute, it creates a problem for many cruisers. Often cruisers set up their own tours at the ports of call and have to pay in advance. This money may be nonrefundable.


Cruise ships can also be delayed in returning to port. These delays usually result in added expenses to the passengers when departure flights and hotel reservations are affected.

Many factors contribute to cruise lines changing their itinerary. Weather conditions, mechanical issues, or travel warnings from the U.S. Department of State can alter the course.

There are ways to protect yourself financially before embarking on a cruise. To begin with, know what the cancellation policy is before booking.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance can safeguard you against financial losses. Finding a policy that suits your needs and provides adequate coverage is important. Many credit cards offer travel insurance as well. As a side note, it’s also recommended that you check into travel medical insurance and emergency evacuation coverage in case of a medical emergency. An evacuation can cost upwards of $50,000 from a cruise ship if outside United State waters.

Find out exactly what the policy covers and the acceptable reasons for cancellation. Even the “cancel for any reason” policies have stipulations. Having the wrong insurance policy could leave you with no coverage at all. They are not all equal, so it pays to shop around.

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Booking flights

Plan to arrive the day before your cruise departs. Many travelers have missed their cruise because of a flight delay or unexpected traffic on their way to the cruise port of embarkation. 

Cruise lines require all guests to be checked in and onboard the ship at a specific time (listed on the boarding pass). If you are late, you will not be allowed to board — even if the ship is still in port.

If you simply cannot arrive the day before, factor in possible delays or weather conditions that may cause your flight to arrive late or be canceled. Include the time it will take you to get from the airport to the port of embarkation.

There is also a possibility that your cruise ship could be late in returning on the last day of the cruise. Allow ample time between when your cruise ship’s arrival and your return flight.

You can alleviate stress and financial losses by planning for delays in advance.

If the cruise ship is delayed in returning, and you know you will miss your flight, contact the airline immediately and rebook a later flight. If you do not cancel your flight prior to its departure, you will be considered a no-show, and no refunds will be issued.

Planning tours that are not through the cruise line

travel photo - cruise sea-boat-luxury-travel

If you plan your own tours at the ports of call rather than going through the cruise line, find out what the cancellation clauses are. If you have to prepay for a tour and no refunds are allowed, avoid that tour.

If you return late from a tour that is not affiliated with the cruise line, you will get left behind. The ship will not wait for you. It will, however, wait for passengers that are late from a tour set up by the cruise line.

Tip: Before disembarking at a port, confirm the exact time you must be back on board. The time may have changed from the original schedule. You must be onboard the ship usually an hour before it is scheduled to leave the port. The onboard time will be noted in the newspaper you receive nightly, and there should be a sign posted as you leave the ship.

Cruise lines’ contracts of carriage

Here are some typical clauses in cruise lines’ contracts of carriage that are important to be aware of:

  • Cruise Cancellations: If you want to cancel your cruise, the amount of the refund is based on the number of days prior to sailing and the type of cruise. You may be eligible for a full or partial refund — or no refund at all. There may also be penalty fees, and you risk losing your deposit.
  • Air/Sea Packages: Even if the cruise line books your ticket, it is not responsible if you miss the cruise because of a flight delay. In many instances, it will typically get you on a flight to the next port of call.
  • Baggage/Personal Property: If the cruise line loses your luggage, you can expect a small fraction of its value as reimbursement.
  • Surcharges: Passengers may be charged an additional surcharge (without notice). The cruise line can also add a fuel supplement charge that could equate to as high as $10 per day per passenger.
  • Denied Boarding: The cruise line has the right to keep passengers from boarding at any time throughout the cruise. It can force a passenger to disembark at a port of call, and no refunds will be issued. You can also be denied boarding if your physical condition is unfit for travel, or you could be banned from participating in activities based on your physical condition.
  • Travel Documents: It is up to the passenger to ensure they have the necessary travel documents such as a passport or visa (if required). Passengers will not be allowed to board the cruise ship if they do not meet the country entry requirements.
  • Offshore Excursions: The cruise line is not responsible for problems you may encounter during offshore excursions sold by the cruise line. This includes lost money because of cancellations, theft, injury, etc.
  • Medical Services or Service Providers: The cruise line is not responsible for any personal injury or property damage that may occur by a service or medical provider on the ship.
  • Prepaid Expenses: The cruise line is not responsible for any financial losses you may incur from prepaid lodging, shore excursions, or a missed flight because of an itinerary change.

Federal Maritime Commission Consumer Affairs Division

For assistance with disputes against cruise lines, passengers can contact the Federal Maritime Commission Consumer Affairs Division.

Cruise industry trade association

You can find information on cruise industry regulations, safety onboard, health at sea, environmental stewardship, and more on Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

The majority of cruises are a great experience, and passengers often can’t wait to book another. You can enjoy your cruise to the fullest and eliminate financial losses by knowing what to expect.

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