This isn’t the cruise that I purchased! Am I due compensation?

A month before their cruise, Michael Altshuler and Eileen Zegar discover they have been assigned a new itinerary — sailing to ports of call that are of no interest on a ship they did not choose.

Their entire vacation had completely changed, and they were not even aware of it. Their question: How can Norwegian Cruise Line alter their cruise and then expect them to pay for it all?

You might be surprised.

When Altshuler and Zegar planned their March 2017 cruise over a year ago, it was based on the ports of call they wanted to visit. Their chosen itinerary had them departing from Barcelona, and traveling on to Morocco, the Canaries, and southern Spain. But Norwegian changed their vessel and destination to a different country entirely, without asking for their approval or giving them the option of switching to another cruise.

The kicker is that Norwegian had the legal right to do so.

Altshuler and Zegar happened to stumble upon this information while reviewing shore excursions about a month before their cruise date. On the second page of what appeared to be a verification of their original booking, there was a reference to a change in the itinerary. From their standpoint, it looked like Norwegian was trying to hide the fact that they were no longer sailing on their chosen itinerary. It never informed them directly that a change had been made.

Altshuler made several attempts to contact Norwegian Cruise Line, including the vice president of guest relations all the way to Norwegian’s president. His request: To receive reasonable compensation and fair treatment. Instead, he was given the option of either taking the cruise or losing out on the money spent for the tickets. The only “goodwill gesture” offered for the “confusion” was six free dinners.

Altshuler is wondering how Norwegian can legally get away with this type of treatment. The answer lies in its terms and conditions.

Passengers embarking on a cruise are required to sign a lengthy legal contract that basically removes the liability from the cruise line and puts it back on the passenger. Under itinerary changes, Norwegian 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.

It is not clear when Norwegian changed Altshuler and Zegar’s itinerary. However, it was not due to adverse weather conditions or mechanical issues, and there were no travel warnings issued by the U.S. Department of State. It looks like the revised itinerary falls under the “change for any other reason whatsoever” clause.

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This case serves as a reminder that cruise lines have the legal right to make changes that affect thousands of passengers, and the passengers have no recourse.

“Because Norwegian Cruise Line has refused any accommodation, we will sail on March 21, on an itinerary we did not choose, because it has given us no option. We have been abused, taken advantage of, and bullied, because NCL has the power, and we have none,” according to Altshuler.

That’s the moral of the story. When passengers sign on the dotted line, they waive their rights with the cruise lines.

These contracts are set up in favor of the cruise line, not the passengers. In addition to the right to change the itinerary or vessel at any given time without notice, here are some typical clauses to be aware of:

  • Baggage and personal property are transported at your own risk. If the cruise line loses your luggage, you can expect a small fraction of its value as reimbursement.
  • The cruise line can make passengers pay an additional surcharge, if it so decides. It can also add a fuel supplement charge without notice that could equate to about $10 per day per passenger.
  • 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.
  • If the cruise line decides that your physical condition is unfit for travel, it will refuse to allow you to board. It can also ban you from participating in activities based on your physical condition.
  • The cruise line is not responsible for any problems you may encounter during offshore excursions sold by the cruise line, including money lost because of cancellations, theft, injury, etc.
  • 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.
  • Cruise lines are not responsible for any financial losses you may incur from prepaid lodging, shore excursions, or a missed flight because of an itinerary change.
  • With regard to cruise cancellations, 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.
  • For air/sea packages, even if the cruise line chooses the airline and books your ticket, it is not responsible if you miss the cruise because of a flight delay or vice versa.
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There are ways to protect yourself financially when embarking on a cruise. Find out what the cruise line’s cancellation policy is before booking. An option worth looking into is travel insurance or utilizing a credit card that provides travel insurance. Before purchasing a policy or relying on your credit card for support, find out exactly what is covered and the specified reasons under the cancellation clause. Even the “cancel for any reason” policies have stipulations. Purchasing the wrong policy could leave you with no coverage at all. Check out our recent article on travel insurance, What’s not covered by travel insurance?

According to the Federal Maritime Commission, “There is no federal government agency that regulates cruise customer service issues (e.g., itinerary changes, passenger cancellations, cabin concerns etc.)” For assistance with disputes, passengers can contact the Federal Maritime Commission Consumer Affairs Division.

There is also a Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights, but it would not have helped in this case since it only covers mechanical failures and shipboard emergencies. You can find this information on Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Norwegian was not forthright when it failed to inform Altshuler and Zegar that there was a major change in their itinerary. In February, a month before their cruise, Altshuler turned to our advocates at for assistance. Rather than being excited about their upcoming cruise, this experience has left a bitter taste. They are hoping for some type of reasonable compensation and fair treatment by Norwegian.

The flip-side is that most cruises are a great experience and passengers oftentimes can’t wait to book another. This is usually because everything turns out as planned.

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One of our advocates provided a thought-provoking comparison, “Imagine if an airline changed your itinerary like that.” This puts what Altshuler and Zegar are facing into perspective. Would you be OK if the airline arbitrarily decided to fly to another destination without your consent?

For some reason, cruise lines don’t seem to have a problem with that.

Are Michael Altshuler and Eileen Zegar entitled to compensation from Norwegian Cruise Line?

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Stephanie Patterson

Stephanie is a published book author and travel columnist with a focus on preparation and protocol. She is committed to helping travelers be informed and avoid potential problems while traveling. Stephanie's most recent book is "Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad". For travel insight when planning your trip, visit Know Before You Go Travel. Along with writing, Stephanie does interior designing.

  • LDVinVA

    I’d like to know what the differences in ports are. Port changes/eliminations happen fairly often Seems to me, though, if they changed the actual SHIP they were to sail on, they should get full compensation.

  • Bill___A

    It is this story and many others which cause me to not want to go on a cruise.

  • Alan Gore

    We’ve heard of skipped cruise ports before, but I didn’t know that a cruise company could change the ship and the whole itinerary without even informing the passenger. And apparently if they do inform the passenger, you have no recourse but to sit there while they cackle “Ha ha, screw you!” That’s the privilege that comes from operating under an offshore legal system they were able to design to suit themselves.

    If you still feel like arranging a cruise at all after reading this, always use a travel agent in your town who knows the cruise business.

  • Altosk

    I really hate the use of the word “bullying” by some of these OPs. Not getting what you want from a cruise company that makes sure to register its vessels in the shady country of The Bahamas…well, you get what you pay for, bro.

  • finance_tony

    The ship change may not bother me as much unless it was an entirely different class of ship or the room was lesser. The itinerary change certainly would.

    I’m curious what the new itinerary was. Were Morocco, the Canary Islands, and Spain ALL gone? The story mentions the “destination” changed…but what about the other ports?

  • Carl 0001

    Just because a contract says it is ok to do this, does not make it legal. Contracts do not trump consumer protection laws.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Whether they were notified or not isn’t relevant in my view. While the ship matter to some degree, ships break and substitutions probably happen. What matters is the itinerary. I understand changes due to hurricanes, civil disorder, or other force majeure (sp?) situations over which the cruise line has no control. But if the changes lack any reason, NCL should offer a cash refund (or at least rebooking on a cruise of the OP’s choice). We took an NCL cruise recently and get their literature every few days by mail, but this will make me less likely to travel with them.

  • Stuart Falk

    What does NCL say is their policy in regard to informing guests of such changes? Since you don’t write that the cruise was booked through a travel agent, then am I to assume it was booked directly with NCL? My experience with cruise lines, and I prefer to book direct, is that they do a good job of keeping me informed of any planned revisions to the original booking.

  • Wuerzburg

    Consumer protections laws in what country? The ship is not registered in the USA.

  • Extramail

    That’s why I don’t cruise.

  • El Dorado Hills

    We need to know if they lost only one port of call or the entire cruise had totally different ports of call. It is one thing if their cruise change completely (ie, Spain and Moroco to a Baltic Cruise) but loosing one port of call happens – one just lives with it. Changing a ship isn’t a bit deal if the same shipboard and cabin accommodations are comparable. We have cruised a fair number of times and this is case where we always use a good travel agent – who keeps up on these changes.

  • jim6555

    Even though their ships are not registered in the USA, Norwegian Cruise Lines’ corporate headquarters is located at 7665 Corporate Center Drive in Miami. They are therefore subject to US Federal consumer protection laws as well of those of the State of Florida.

  • Maxwell Smart

    the same happens all the time with coach tours, esp in Europe. Some big companies advertise more departures, than they will ever do, so they can say, we’re the biggest & then cancel or combine tours with not enough numbers.
    More recently, some companies guarantee their departures, but offer less to start with.

  • wilcoxon

    This is one of the reasons we are unlikely to ever take a cruise. I am unlikely to ever agree to this one-sided of an agreement. If the change is due to weather or something actually beyond their control, that’s one thing but a lot of the reasons they can change the itinerary without any notice or compensation are completely under the cruise line’s control (including mechanical issues).

  • RightNow9435

    same here… cruises for me if they can change everything involved with no penalty to the cruise line.

  • Tigger57

    Exactly what I was going to say.

  • Annie M

    I can understand one poet changed but a whole itinerary? This is never done without notification. Who did they book their cruise through? NCL directly or a third party?

  • Lindabator

    and in over 25 years, have not had many changes, unless due to really bad weather or political unrest, where the safety of the passengers is paramount

  • Lindabator

    I’d be VERY interested in seeing the facts of this one — when there are substantial changes, there is a LOT of notification, and a LOT of offers to the client’s benefit

  • Lindabator

    That really is NOT true – so I wonder just what happened in this case. Whenever there is even a substantial change for legitimate reasons, we get an email and offer(s) that benefit a client – and allow them to either keep the suggested substitution, or to make another choice they might prefer. I’m thinking they do not bother checking their emails, and if you do not opt-out, you in effect accept the change(s) they suggest, which it sounds like happened here.

  • Lindabator

    we are NOT getting the whole story here — the minute there is an itinerary change, even when just moving dates of ports of call, we get the emailed changes – cannot believe that with all the offers, upgrades, etc they make for more substantial changes, they never knew. Do they not bother reading their emails? Or do they give garbage emails?

  • Lindabator

    you DO get emails with various offers, and if you fail to answer all those, you are in effect, taking the offer they give (which is usually an upgraded cabin, shipboard credit etc). I have NEVER had a cruise line make a substantial change with no notification – and in fact, they are good about sweetening the pot so you can either choose the substituted sailing, or if you are more flexible, can choose another option instead

  • Lindabator

    correct – but you need to give them a good email, and need to read them when they come in

  • Lindabator

    they can change due to weather politicial issues, as safety first is paramount – but believe me, you are ALWAYS notified, and can either accept the substitution they suggest, choose another option, or in the case of substantial changes, they have allowed cancellation without penalty – but you have to RESPOND to the email, not just assume they will keep reaching out — make sure you HAVE a valid email, and ANSWER those

  • Lindabator

    once again – they DO NOT – these clients appear not to have paid any attention to emails, etc. I have booked cruises over 25 years, and have seen a lot of changes, but for substantial changes like these – the client has always gotten a sweet deal

  • Lindabator


  • finance_tony

    Yes, it kind of does. On a cruise ship, you sign up for a cruise with ports of call with the express understanding that they can change based on weather, political tension, port capacity, or other reasons. There are reasonable changes and unreasonable ones. A reasonable change might swap out one port in Greece for another. An unreasonable one would change your origin, destination, and all ports in between. Somehow the article made it sound like it was the latter – an unreasonable change.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    If we believe OP (and I have no basis to doubt), they did not receive notice with an ability to get a refund, the only reasonable remedy in this case.

  • Michael__K

    Even if they sent an email, the business should be aware that email is notorious for ending up in spam folders and going unnoticed, especially if the recipient has no idea to expect it.

    When they can’t honor an itinerary that their customers paid thousands of dollars for, months in advance, is it really too much to ask that they make a direct phone call AND send notification in writing by snail mail (AND send an email too)?

  • DChamp56

    First of all, I severely dislike posts like this that have bullet lists of everything that can go wrong. It’s VERY seldom these things do, but people who have never cruised look at that and get scared away from a great vacation.
    We’ve done 33+ cruises. Are they all perfect? No. Do I regret any one of them. Not in the least. Have we sailed on a cruise that changed itineraries shortly before the cruise departed, yes. Did it ruin our cruise? No.
    Do I believe NCL informed the LW of the changes, yes, but they may not have read entire emails or attachments.

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