These cruise itinerary changes ruined my trip! I want a refund

Her Baltic Sea cruise itinerary changes ruined her trip.

The cruise itinerary changes on Iris Fennel’s recent Baltic Sea journey completely ruined her trip. She says Norwegian’s Breakaway sailed right past three out of five of its scheduled ports of call. Based on that ratio, Fennel has calculated NCL should give her a 60 percent cash refund.

But does the cruise line owe Fennel anything for these changes to the itinerary?

Fennel’s tale is a harsh reminder of the reality of cruise schedules. These itineraries can be as fluid as the seas the cruise ships sail upon. In fact, the captain can change course for a plethora of reasons with little to no notice to the passengers. And if you’re curious as to what the company owes you if your cruise makes a giant deviation, read your contract. The surprising truth is there.

Fennel wishes she had read that contract before she booked this misadventure.

Significant itinerary changes to this cruise

Nearly two years ago, Fennel decided to celebrate her 60th birthday with a cruise through the Baltic Sea in September 2018. She chose Norwegian Cruise Line specifically for the unique itinerary it offered. As Fennel prepared for her celebratory journey, she spent time learning all about the cities she would soon visit.

Cruise itinerary changes ruined her birthday trip.
Fennel’s planned journey before the significant cruise itinerary changes: Copenhagen, Warnemünde (Berlin), Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Copenhagen

Unfortunately, after all that preparation, Fennel missed most of those eagerly anticipated destinations. Shortly before boarding the Breakaway, Fennel learned that the cruise would spend most of its time off-course.

“I feel totally ripped off,” Fennel explained. “NCL canceled three of the five ports of call on the cruise. These changes ruined my trip. This  cruise was my dream vacation that I had been planning for so long.”

To add insult to injury, Fennel says that NCL didn’t even offer her a complimentary glass of wine for her birthday or for the dramatic itinerary changes.

The new cruise, according to Fennel, included many “boring” times with nothing to do. Her frustration grew with each passing day. She says the itinerary changes ruined the trip.

The cruise itinerary changes were a complete surprise to her.
The Breakaway’s new itinerary from Copenhagen only visited Tallinn (Estonia) and St. Petersburg (Russia)

Fennel completed the disappointing cruise and flew home. That’s when she began one of the most misguided self-advocacy attempts I’ve seen in some time.

A ruined trip: a ‘terrible excuse for a cruise.’

Having never read our publisher Christopher Elliott’s article on how to fix your own consumer problem, Fennel began sending lengthy emails to NCL, filled with accusations of fraud and impropriety.

[NCL] destroyed my dream vacation, which I had been planning for a long time for my 60th birthday. You should be ashamed of yourselves and your position on this particular cruise. Your captain was booed at the information night the day before we had to leave this terrible excuse for a cruise. There has to be a refund as I did NOT get what I paid for so that would be considered fraud.

Fennel went on to explain to NCL that she expected a 60 percent refund for the omitted parts of her cruise. She said a replacement cruise and/or airfare to get to that cruise would also be an acceptable resolution.

I am not going to accept anything other than a refund for the three ports you canceled for no obvious or explainable reasons other than the old standby the “weather.” No way can this be your excuse.

You cannot simply cancel people’s paid for ports, just because the captain thinks he can’t do it. Maybe NCL should consider hiring more experienced captains for the Baltic trips. The weather that we saw the whole time we were there was nothing but rainy.

Fact: If your cruise itinerary changes, the cruise line doesn’t owe you a refund

NCL responded to Fennel’s request for a refund over the cruise itinerary changes with a firm no. The representative referred Fennel to her cruise contract, which she said explained the cruise line’s obligation in this circumstance. NCL’s response ended with a goodwill gesture of a free cabin upgrade on a future cruise.

The upgrade offer did nothing to satisfy Fennel’s anger about her cruise itinerary changes. In fact, it infuriated her even more. She told the agent that she could think of nothing less appealing than taking another cruise with NCL.

With the way that NCL is treating me concerning this ruined trip would you want to go on another cruise with NCL? All we did on this cruise was sit on the ship with nothing interesting to do. Overcrowded, no decent shops, no suggestion of transfers to the cities we were stuck in. NOTHING …just your greedy policy so u could make us buy things on the ship. This is not acceptable.

FYI: If you’re trying to persuade a company to see things your way, making insulting accusations will never end in your desired result. Not surprisingly, this approach didn’t work for Fennel either.

But even if Fennel had the best strategic plan to advocate her complaint, could she have been successful?

Pay for a cruise cabin, not a destination

When Fennel’s frustrated request for help arrived on my desk, I certainly sympathized. After all, if you spend two years planning a vacation to specific destinations, isn’t it reasonable to expect to go there?

The problem, of course, is that cruises are unusual creatures. When you pay to take a cruise, you’re paying for a cabin on a ship, not a destination. This reality is true across the cruise industry around the world.

Fennel was under the impression that she paid NCL to take her to those five cities. Unfortunately, this was a mistaken but not uncommon belief.

The Elliott Advocacy team receives tons of angry complaints from passengers who have found themselves on cruises that have gone off course. These consumers all express the same disbelief that a cruise line can change any and all ports of call with no obligation to financially compensate the passengers for the inconvenience.

But it’s true.

If you take a look at a typical cruise contract, you’ll see that you aren’t guaranteed a trip to any specific destination. Think of your ship as a floating hotel. You’re guaranteed a place to sleep, but the location of the vessel may not be where you expected it to be.

Fact: Your cruise can deviate from its schedule for any reason

Don’t believe me? Fennel didn’t, and her reaction to this information is not unusual. Many consumers who have contacted us in these situations find it hard to grasp. But let’s look at the NCL contract and what it says about itinerary deviation:

(c) Itinerary Deviation: The Guest agrees that the Carrier has the sole discretion and liberty to direct the movements of the vessel, including the rights to: proceed without pilots and tow, and assist other vessels in all situations; deviate from the purchased voyage or the normal course for any purpose, including, without limitation, in the interest of Guests or of the vessel, or to save life or property; put in at any unscheduled or unadvertised port; cancel any scheduled call at any port for any reason and at any time before, during or after sailing of the vessel; omit, advance or delay landing at any scheduled or advertised port; return to port of embarkation or to any port previously visited if the Carrier deems it prudent to do so; substitute another vessel or port(s) of call without prior notice and without incurring any liability to the Guest on account thereof for any loss, damage or delay whatsoever, whether consequential or otherwise.

The truth is that your cruise ship can change its schedule at any time before or during the cruise. So it’s important for passengers to be aware of this fact since the repercussions can stretch far beyond just an inconvenience. Regular readers of our site will remember the shocking tale of Kevin Rohrer who was left behind in Cuba after his cruise schedule change hit him totally by surprise. His trip was ruined by a schedule change but in a different way.

No cruise line guarantees a specific destination

Unfortunately, Fennel never had a guarantee that she would be visiting any of the destinations she was looking forward to seeing. But she didn’t know that because she had never read the contract.

When I explained all of this to Fennel, she continued to express disbelief that this could be legal.

Michelle, so even if [NCL] knew about bad weather canceling 2 of 5 ports just a week or so before my cruise they can still rip people off. This should be a story for 20/20 or some national news story about unscrupulous businesses such as NCL.

Fennel told me that she would never have booked with NCL had she known that these changes were a possibility. But I had even more bad news for a bewildered Fennel: every cruise line has this same policy. Even if she had selected another cruise line, the outcome could have been the same.

Fennel says she will continue to pursue her complaint against NCL. She says she will not accept that this can be a legal way to operate. And, although I can’t put her story on 20/20, I promised Fennel that I would tell it here.

How to avoid a ruined trip over cruise itinerary changes

There are a few things that passengers can do to lessen the impact that cruise itinerary changes can have on their trip.

  • Read your cruise contract: In Fennel’s case, she was blindsided by her cruise’s schedule changes because she didn’t read her contract. So she was unaware that a deviation was even a possibility. To minimize surprises on your cruise, you should always carefully read the contract of carriage — before embarkation.
  • Never book a cruise in order to see a specific destination: You should never book a cruise for the primary purpose of visiting a particular location. If you do, you could be in for a giant disappointment if your cruise deviates from its itinerary. Take a land trip if you want to ensure that you will visit a specific place.
  • Don’t book nonrefundable cruise excursions: Booking nonrefundable shore excursions can lead to a big financial headache should your captain find it necessary to change course. If you choose to book your shore excursions through a third party, make sure the tour is refundable in case you need to cancel.
  • Consider Itinerary Change trip insurance: Nationwide offers a unique trip insurance policy specifically for cruisers. Should your cruise itinerary change before departure and you take the cruise, you’ll be eligible for a $1,250 benefit. That cash can certainly soften the sting of missing a much-anticipated port of call.

Filing a cruise complaint

Although there is no federal government agency that oversees cruise passenger customer service problems, passengers can file a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission Office of Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution Services(CADRS). You can use this form to request mediation from CADRS.

The bottom line is that cruise itineraries can change at any time.  So be prepared to roll with any changes to your plans. In the end, being aware of possible changes will lessen the chance that a surprise deviation will ruin your trip.

Should cruise lines be required to provide compensation to passengers after significant itinerary changes?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend