Carnival cruise scuttled when ship skips Cozumel

By | June 24th, 2016

If your plans change and you have to cancel your cruise at the last minute, the cruise line keeps your money and you get nothing. But if your cruise line’s plans change at the last minute, it still gets to keep your money — and you still get nothing.

That’s an odd concept for people who don’t work in the travel industry, and it’s one Daniel Couillard is trying to wrap his head around.

“My wife and I just recently returned from our honeymoon aboard the Carnival Liberty,” he says. “We were disappointed when we learned aboard the ship that the Liberty would not be making its scheduled stop in Cozumel.”

Why was he disappointed? He doesn’t say. It’s his honeymoon. Presumably, he wanted to do whatever newlyweds do in Cozumel. I’ll say no more. This is a family publication.

Couillard isn’t going to like my answer, and he’s probably going to think I’m an industry shill. But here it goes anyway: Carnival can change its plans, but he can’t. That’s the way it goes.

I’m telling his story today because I want people like Couillard to find out about these industry double standards before they cast off — not halfway through their dream vacation. Missing a port of call feels like a betrayal (“But Cozumel was on the itinerary!”) Finding out the cruise line is going to get away with it adds insult to injury.

The crew blamed the missed port on “broken bow thrusters” and “high winds.” But there was more to the story.

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“We were dismayed when we learned the Liberty missed its stop in Cozumel for the exact same reason the week before,” says Couillard.

And that’s the thing. The couple thought they were sailing to Cozumel. “We had essentially booked this cruise only for the stop in Cozumel and were very upset that Carnival had not been forthcoming about likely issues we would encounter,” he says. “The entire crew then pretended to be surprised that we would not be going on to Cozumel, as if this had not just happened the week before.”

The Couillards received a $100 onboard credit for the “inconvenience” but it did not nearly make up for the missed port, he says. He’d like $400 in real money for the skipped port.

“I will not have vacation time again for over a year so that is why the missed stop was even more disappointing,” he adds. ” I contacted Carnival about resolving the situation but was only met with hostility. Do we have any recourse at all?”

Let me be blunt: no.

Carnival’s ticket contract — the one-way adhesion agreement between the cruise line and passenger — is crystal clear on this issue:

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, including but not limited to safety, security, adverse weather, strikes, tides, hostilities, civil unrest, port closings, emergency debarkations of Guests or crew, late air, sea, car or motor coach departures or arrivals, mechanical breakdowns, US or foreign governmental advisories or travel warnings, all such deviations being considered as forming part of and included in the proposed voyage.

Except as provided in Clause 7(c) with regard to early termination of a voyage, Carnival shall have no liability for any compensation or other damages in such circumstances other than as provided by Carnival’s change of itinerary policy at the time Guest or his agent acknowledges receipt and acceptance of the terms and conditions of the cruise ticket contract.

Blah, blah, blah. You get the point. Carnival can do whatever it wants. It doesn’t even have to offer an implausible excuse. It can just skip the port.

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The $100 voucher was nice, but will it really make up for the snorkeling trip the Couillards will miss? For the romantic walk on the beach? Can it make up for the feeling of betrayal, the sense that they were lied to? (I mean, bear in mind, Carnival advertised this as a cruise that stopped in Cozumel. It didn’t deliver.)

Carnival seems to think the answer is “yes.” Do you?

Did Carnival offer Daniel Couillard enough compensation for missing Cozumel?

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  • Jeff W.

    Sometimes things happen on a cruise and ports can be skipped. And the terms of the contract are quite one-sided, I agree. They did get a cruise credit, for whatever that is worth. The reasons for missing the port could be valid, there could have been high winds last week as well. Or those winds could be just blowing smoke.

    But if Cozumel was that important as a destination, then one should fly there.

    It has been some time since I have cruised, but isn’t part of a cruise fare the various port fees and taxes? Since a port was missed, is not one entitled to a refund of those fees?

  • sirwired

    On the one-hand, it’s not like Carnival makes extra money when they skip a port. They miss their cut of your shore excursions, they have to serve extra food (when instead you’d be eating your lunch ashore), and of course the on-board-credits they hand out, while not dollar-for-dollar substitutes for real money, do represent actual things (i.e. alcohol, shore excursions at the remaining port(s), etc.) that cost money.

    On the other hand, if they have to repeatedly skip the same port because of a busted part of the ship (vs. weather alone), some cash doesn’t seem out-of-line. (That said, if you are off-setting something like pre-paid gratuities that you’d be buying anyway, the funny-money is as good as cash.) In either case $100 does seem a bit skimpy.

    Now, if the ship didn’t have broken parts, and the weather was just bad, the $100 voucher would have been adequate…

  • Justin S

    When my wife and I took a Royal Caribbean cruise a few years ago, we missed out on the stop at Grand Cayman completely because it was too windy/waves were huge to make the tenders to the dock. The next day, we docked at Cozumel, but all water activities were closed due to the same issue. We were given refunds on our excursions as well as port fees for both locations. Was our situation different from theirs? Why would have we received more?

  • LeeAnneClark

    Thanks for this article. Hopefully it will educate a few people about the realities of cruise travel. Anyone who cruises regularly knows that ANY cruise ship can skip ANY port on ANY cruise. And it’s not always the cruise line’s fault – high winds, heavy seas, weather, civil unrest, or any number of uncontrollable factors could result in the captain deciding to sail on past that stop.

    I have heard stories of weddings being missed because the happy couple assumed that their ship would stop at a particular island, but it didn’t. Wedding guests who flew in from all over the globe ended up having a lovely vacation on their own, with no wedding, while the couple sat on the ship with no way to get to their own wedding ceremony.

    I have heard stories of family reunions ruined when half the family was stuck on a ship, and the other half sitting in a port. Birthday parties with no birthday boy. Massive loss of money when cruise pax pre-paid non-refundable fees for privately booked shore excursions that they were unable to take.

    All of these stories are painful lessons learned – but the lesson must be learned: NEVER make hard-and-fast plans for a port stop on a cruise. Ever.

    Bottom line: everyone needs to accept that when you book a cruise, what you are paying for is passage on a ship from point A to point B. The stops in the middle may or may not happen. Fair? No. True? Yes.

  • Lindabator

    I always remind my clients of that – and actually had one call me laughing one year, when they were diverted to Mexico (which he wanted to skip) due to a tropical storm in the Eastern Caribbean. He said he just could not get away from those margaritas after all! (He knew the risks, but still got a good laugh out of it)

  • Joe_D_Messina

    ““I will not have vacation time again for over a year so that is why the missed stop was even more disappointing,””

    I sympathize up to a point but that’s laying it on awfully thick. It was his honeymoon, after all, not some bucket list trip he’d planned for years to Cozumel. I find it hard to imagine people are asking him how his honeymoon went and his first reaction is hanging his head lamenting about this missed port.


    I booked a trans-Atlantic cruise a few years back because it stopped in the Azores which I have always wanted to see. Bad weather nixed that. Just last month a port of call in France was cancelled because of labor problems in the port. Typical of the French at this time of year–strikes are common. Another time we missed a port because of “political problems.” I am sorry the OP missed Cozumel, but, unless it was the only port of call on the cruise, then he should just roll with it. Cozumel is not that great a place to visit.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Well…as a scuba diver, I can’t say I agree with you that Cozumel is not that great – some of the best diving I’ve ever done. :-D

    But if you’re not a diver, then I agree – it ain’t much more than a strip of overpriced jewelry stores and junk souvenir shops. Maybe the happy couple were divers? If so, then I would understand their disappointment. If not then…who knows what they found so compelling about it.

    Either way, let’s hope they learned the lesson that one should never take a cruise with the assumption that you will hit every port on the itinerary.

  • Don Spilky

    Hard truths, well said.

  • Would insurance have helped in the situations you describe, or would skipped ports be a standard exclusion even if there are wedding/birthday plans?

  • LFH0

    I respectfully disagree with the argument that missing Cozumel is not critical because “Cozumel is not that great a place to visit.” Whether it is or is not is a value judgment of each individual, and not a fact for everyone. Some people may have family they want to visit with there. Others may have business to conduct there. There may be particular archeological sites there of interest. When went there with the intent to alight from the vessel, and continue onward by ferry to the mainland, and by bus onward to Oaxaca (where we were to be married). Telling someone that it was no big deal to miss out on one of the places they had chosen visit may insulting and insensitive to someone who had chosen that itinerary specifically because of that port, and who has a different sense of importance.

  • LFH0

    The problem is that not everyone can, or will, fly (I am a member of that group). Here, however, one does have the option to travel overland, with the certainty that a cruise ship cannot offer. From Galveston, Texas (the home port of the Carnival Liberty), there’s an Amtrak-contracted bus (operated by Lone Star Coach) that goes to Houston. Change there to a Valley Transit Company bus to Brownsville. Change there to an Americanos bus to Matamoros. Change there to ADO bus to Veracruz (or Mexico City, Puebla, or other transfer point). Change there to another ADO bus to Cancún. Change there for yet another ADO bus to Playa del Carmen. Change there to either an Ultramar or Mexico Waterjets ferry to Cozumel. It would take about 2½ days, and require 6 connections enroute, but it could be done. Obviously, traveling on the Carnival Liberty, to go direct from Galveston to Cozumel, is much more convenient.

  • MF

    Just wondering if indeed some of the ship’s thrusters being offline was the cause of the missed port call? If so, and it was a known problem that affected the previous cruise, then I would think that more compensation was in order, as a known defect was not addressed by the cruise line, and the passengers (captives?) were not informed and given a choice to rebook.

  • Michael__K

    The Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights (which the industry agreed to in part to appease Congress) promise passengers:

    4. The right to timely information updates as to any adjustments in the itinerary of the ship in the event of a mechanical failure or emergency, as well as timely updates of the status of efforts to address mechanical failures.

    It sounds like this passenger was on the May 7th departure which was scheduled to port in Cozumel on May 10th. In which case, this customer may have grounds to complain that they did not receive timely notice that the thruster issue from the previous cruise was not resolved in time for their cruise, contrary to earlier statements quoted in the media.

  • MF

    Good catch, Michael. Even the low bar set by the cruise industry itself may not have been met. It will be interesting to see what Carnival will respond with that makes none of this their fault, including corporate lying like the airlines do when a flight doesn’t go (‘it’s the weather, not the busted plane’)

  • Tricia K

    My husband and I took a cruise for our honeymoon (33 years ago) and it was my first ever cruise so I had no idea what to expect. We sailed from NY to Bermuda and went through a storm so intense seasoned travelers were begging for Dramamine. As a result of the weather, we were brought into a different port than originally planned (still in Bermuda and where we would have ended up a few days later) but I don’t think anyone cares. We were just grateful we weren’t watching our drinks sliding across the table or heaving over the side rail. The lesson I learned on that trip? Never sail out of NY (unless you are headed to New England or Canada). Fly to somewhere south and sail from there. The routes from NY south are just too rough. Holland America was very apologetic and offered extras to passengers (I think we got a bottle of champagne). Unfortunately they were later sold to Carnival and their high standard of service has slipped considerably, as we discovered on a Christmas cruise in 2014.

  • Kathi C

    Skipped Santorini Greece and did not get a dime. Now that is something to be disappointed about! Make lemonade out of lemons! We now have a reason to do another Mediterranean Cruise :)

    On a brighter note I headed directly to the spa and had a facial and enjoyed a glorious sea day.

  • Pegtoo

    My vacation time is rare and precious too…. so I don’t do priceline for a random hotel/room, and if a location is important, I will not depend on the cruise ship to take me there.

  • joycexyz

    Broken bow thrusters? How could a ship if that size dock anywhere with broken bow thrusters?

  • joycexyz

    Insurance? I’ve never heard of any that covers missed ports or ruined plans. Is there such a thing?

  • cscasi

    Cozumel is a great dive spot, but nothing much else unless one just wants peace and relaxation; eat and drink

  • jsn55

    Such a shame that these travellers are so miserable at missing a port. Finding out that the ship missed it the week before is annoying … but what would you expect the cruise line to do? If it made the announcement the week before boarding, many people could have raised a fuss, insisted on compensation, tried to cancel, and just generally caused trouble for the cruise line. Customer Service would have been overwhelmed and everyone booked on any cruise that had a question would have been unhappy. The cruise line’s terms and conditions have been agreed to by all the passengers, so what’s the point of starting trouble? I know that this seems like a simplistic explanation excusing the cruise line from responsibility, but this is the way it is. You want to cruise on their ship, you agree to their rules. If you agree to their rules without reading them, you may be in for disappointment.

    Life is so much easier when travellers know the rule: “It’s their ship, their choices”, just like an airline. Make plans now to travel to Cozumel on next year’s vacation and enjoy all that’s there.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m no travel insurance expert – personally I never buy it. If I ever end up losing money on a missed vacation that I might have gotten back had I insured it, I’ll just suck it up. Given the amount of travel that I’ve done over the years, I’ve saved far more by NOT purchasing insurance than I could ever get back on a future claim. So I’m the wrong person to ask about insurance.

    That being said: I don’t think that any insurer would reimburse for costs of a wedding, party, or other type of event that were lost due to skipped ports on a cruise. Ports are skipped too often…the odds aren’t in their favor. And even if it COULD be insured, if I was a soon-to-be-married couple, I can’t imagine that I would think to myself, “Let’s go ahead and plan our wedding in Cozumel…and if our ship skips Cozumel, no biggie, we’ll just file a claim and get our money back”. They still didn’t get their wedding!

  • LeeAnneClark

    Not to my knowlege.

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