Lessons learned: What to do when a cruise goes wrong

Day 8: Saturday

 Disembarkation - Some pictures of the Emerald Sky - a ship we saw for such a brief time. Hope to get to see more of it on another cruise. It's a very lovely ship
Disembarkation – Some pictures of the Emerald Sky – a ship we saw for such a brief time. Hope to get to see more of it on another cruise. It’s a very lovely ship

The cruise that wasn’t is over – after breakfast in the hotel, passengers are bussed to the nearby Schiphol Airport for their flights home. And I know that I would love to do this trip again, next timeon a boat!

 Lessons Learned: What To Do When A Cruise Goes Wrong

1. Make sure you are booked with a reputable cruise line. Emerald Waterways did everything possible to overcome the obstacles thrown in the way by an unpredictable Mother Nature. In point of fact, they went well beyond their contractual obligations.

Look closely at any passenger contract you sign when you buy a ticket for a cruise. You will find a standard clause, something like this:

Force Majeure: Company shall not be liable in any way to Passenger for death, bodily injury, illness, damage, delay or other loss or detriment to person of property or for Company’s failure to commence, perform and/or complete any duty owed to Passenger if such death, delay, bodily injury ( including emotional distress or injury), illness, damage or other loss or detriment to person or property is caused by Act of God, war or war-like operations, terrorist activities, civil commotions, labour difficulties, whether or not Company is a party thereto, interference by authorities, requisitioning of the Vessel, political disturbance, inability to secure or failure of supplies, perils of the sea, collision, foundering of the Vessel, explosion, breakdown or failure of or damage to the Vessel or its hull, machineries or fittings, weather conditions, high or low water levels, lock malfunction, that may arise or be caused by, riots insurrection and government restraint, fire or any other cause whatsoever beyond the reasonable control of Company.

In other words, you have absolved the company of responsibility for occurrences beyond their control when you purchased your ticket.

Disembarkation - Some pictures of the Emerald Sky - a ship we saw for such a brief time. Hope to get to see more of it on another cruise. It's a very lovely ship
Disembarkation – Some pictures of the Emerald Sky – a ship we saw for such a brief time. Hope to get to see more of it on another cruise. It’s a very lovely ship

In this case, Emerald Waterways arranged for flights home for those who desired to do so, and did its best to give the remaining passengers as enjoyable an experience as possible under the circumstances, visiting most of the ports that would have been seen on the cruise.  The staff were polite, and dealt with the situation with professional attention and a remarkable degree of patience, particularly with passengers who were at times emotional.

It remains to be seen if there will be some offer of compensation from the company, but if such an offer occurs, it will be done out of a spirit of good will, not because of contractual obligations.

2. Trip Insurance: A travel insurance plan will generally cover you for extra costs incurred by a trip delay, interruption or cancellation in the event of bad weather, minus whatever compensation you may get from a cruise line or airline. If you are forced to miss a flight,  miss part of a cruise, or have unplanned overnights, your travel insurance plan should compensate you. It’s a good idea to get signed up for such insurance. In this case, there were no extra costs involved for most passengers.

3. Keep your perspective and your cool when things go wrong. While it is tempting to rant at the unfortunate employee who happens to be in front of you, anger helps no one. The on-board person probably has little control over what the company can do, and no control whatsoever over Mother Nature. It is in your best interest to be reasonable, clear and firm in expressing what you want the company to do for you.

4. Be prepared to make the best of the situation. I ended up traveling with a group of people who were entertaining and loads of fun. We talked a lot, did some adventuring on our own, became good friends and enjoyed some great meals. True, we didn’t have the cruise we had signed on for, but we slept well in good hotels, ate well, saw lovely things and collected some good travel stories. As we told each other often – it could have been much worse.

5. Shoulder season can be a gamble – that’s why the prices are often more attractive, and the places you visit are less crowded. Flooding and high water levels in Spring, low water levels and unpredictable weather in the Fall – these are things that are not controllable or predictable, so if you think you can’t deal with surprises, you should book in the often more unsurprising high season. But be aware that weather, political situations, mechanical difficulties, even health problems – can and do disrupt travel for passengers, in any season, each year.

6. Lastly, don’t let the fear of something going wrong stop you from doing the cruise you have your heart set on. Life is short, and nothing is for certain, except that if you don’t leave home, you’ll never know the great joy that travel can bring.

4 thoughts on “Lessons learned: What to do when a cruise goes wrong”

  1. We had a similar situation in 2008 when we took a cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest on AMA Waterways. The ship had to keep moving, so we often got off, went sightseeing, and took a bus back to the ship. How they organized this so quickly I have no idea. We saw everything we were supposed to, spent a lot of time on the ship, and had a great time. The only real glitch was when we had to dock outside of town and the bus couldn’t find the ship (no GPS). But ships’ hotel manager took one of the ship’s bicycles and rode to the bus and guided it back to the ship. And we didn’t have internet access for much of the trip because they had to retract the wheelhouse so we could clear bridges.

    We thought it was a great adventure, but we know that it was hard on the crew. (Supposedly the captain was on duty 36 hours straight.)

  2. Wow – amazing to think that Barbara and I were on the same cruise! She is one of a very few who are happy with how Emerald handled the crisis.

    Quite unlike Barbara, most of the 160 passengers who cruised on the Emerald from May 2-9th remain dissatisfied with how Emerald mismanaged the challenge of high river water. Instead of cancelling the cruise when it became apparent before we embarked that the schedule would be disrupted, Emerald prevaricated and misled passengers. On the fourth day, still stalled less than 35 km from where we boarded, we were herded onto buses and rushed to Amsterdam. In return, Emerald initially offered a $1,000 discount on a future cruise, and subsequently offered a 25% cash refund – but only as a result of passenger protest

    This is far from an adequate response from a major company, and it should make any future traveler very leery of travellng with Emerald. When a cruise goes sideways, Emerald has shown it does NOT adequately protect passengers.

    Honest journalism must cover all sides of a conflict, and so I hope that Barbara allows passengers with alternative views to post their concerns as a a corrective to her overly sunny view. I venture to guess that as a paid travel writer, Barbara might not have paid the cost of her cruise herself. If this were the case, then I can understand why the debacle was less significant to her than to the many passengers who remain frustrated and in need of fair compensation

    • I have to agree with Susan- I am a basically sunny person who tries to look on the bright side and tries to find the positive rather than the negative. I was lucky in these circumstances to have met, on this cruise, a large group of people who looked at things the same way. They enjoyed the castles on the Rhine, the excellent meals, the beauty of the Black Forest, and they made the long bus ride shorter with good conversation. They didn’t spend their hours moaning, they all made the best of a situation caused by Spring flooding, and they vowed they would do a river cruise again, and would do it on Emerald. I was lucky in the fellow passengers I met.

      And Susan is right when she points out that I was a guest of the cruise company. But unlike Susan, I have been cruising for well over twenty years, on many ships, big and small, from the largest floating palaces to a four passenger barge. I took river cruises before they became fashionable, and I have had numerous times on cruises when things went wrong. I’ve been in similar situations many times before. Mother Nature has a habit of interfering with events on the water which results in delays, ports missed, excursions cancelled and extended days in port till weather conditions changed. The reaction of the cruise lines varied from a polite apology from the captain, to a free Happy hour, to a discount on future cruises, …to nothing.

      In my experience, Emerald’s response was easily in line with other cruise lines.
      There really isn’t an industry standard in these circumstances. One thing that is standard, however, is that I’ve found that there are always those passengers who think that the circumstances are an opportunity to get money or a free vacation.

      Every cruise line does their own thing when a river cruise encounters delays or cancellations. The one thing that they all do is that they all will adjust any credits or refunds based on the travel days lost – not cruise days lost. The ship, while enjoyable and certainly a feature of a trip, is the conveyance and the lines often feel that the shore efforts (excursions, etc.) are equally, if not more important to the experience. So if the touring is able to be continued by coach, that is what happens.

      Cruise lines revisit their policies after every situation to see what can be changed, made better, etc, and I am certain Emerald will be doing that. So it is not a one size fits all situation.

      And finally, people who have cruised often know that there is a reason why cruises in shoulder season are cheaper – it is a time when the possibility of weather problems is higher. It’s also a time when the ports are less crowded, so it is an attractive time for travel for those who are willing to assume the risk for a more affordable fare and less crowded attractions. The shoulder season sailings are lower priced partly due to the issue with high and low water.

      In hindsight, should Emerald have cancelled the cruise before the passengers arrived? Possibly. But many passengers were already in transit, or had arrived in Europe early. And the flooding was a situation that could change within a few brief hours. Like several other river ships in the same situation on the flooded rivers, Emerald decided it was wiser to wait for water levels to recede and continue with the planned cruise.
      I know that some of the elderly and the less able passengers found the events upsetting. But I honestly think that the cruise line did what it could to make the cruise as enjoyable as possible.

  3. Great and enjoyable story. I’m glad you made the best of an otherwise bad situation. I will be sure to learn from your trip and use this information.

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