This is what happens when you miss your cruise home

What happens when you miss your cruise home from Cuba — or anywhere else for that matter? Kevin Rohrer can tell you.

During a recent cruise on the Norwegian Sky, Rohrer and his girlfriend missed the ship’s reboarding deadline by two hours. The boat sailed home without the couple, and they suddenly found themselves stranded on the island.

Rohrer says NCL changed the cruise’s departure time with no prior warning, abandoning them in Cuba to fend for themselves. Now he wants Norwegian Cruise Line to refund the cruise and pay all of the couple’s costs to return home. But is that a reasonable request?

This case highlights the importance of understanding the fluid nature of cruise itineraries. All cruise lines can and do change departure times and even ports of call in some circumstances. Anytime you step off your ship for a shore excursion, it’s imperative to reconfirm the reboarding time. Or you, too, could miss your cruise home.

Taking a cruise to Cuba with Norwegian Cruise Line

Rohrer contacted the Elliott Advocacy team’s helpline after he made his way home from this NCL cruise fiasco.

“I hope you can help me. On the second day of our cruise, the Norwegian Sky left us behind in Cuba,” Rohrer lamented. “Without any warning from NCL, they changed the published scheduled departure time from 5 pm to 2 pm. Norwegian Cruise Line made no effort to inform travelers of this change.”

On the day that the couple missed their cruise back home, they were enjoying a full-day tour of Havana. Rohrer arranged this excursion independent of NCL. Their tour guide returned them to the port at 3:30 p.m. for their expected 5 p.m. departure.

Suddenly, a shocking sight confronted the two: an empty dock. The giant cruise ship was nowhere to be found. And they soon learned that they had missed the departure of the Norwegian Sky by two hours.

In his complaint to NCL, Rohrer conveyed the resulting chaos that he and his girlfriend faced in the unfamiliar country.

It was a frightening situation. We were devastated. We exchanged money and we took a taxi to the airport. American Airlines told us they wouldn’t take a credit card and quoted us 472 pesos. We didn’t have that much money. They told us that Southwest Airlines in a different terminal could take credit cards. We took a taxi to the Southwest terminal, but there we found no flights leaving Cuba. So we took another taxi back to American Airlines and purchased two seats home.

At no time did staff from the Norwegian Sky remind travelers what time to be back on board for departure from Cuba.

Were other passengers left behind in Cuba?

The story that Rohrer told was difficult to imagine. Could NCL really just weigh anchor and take off — leaving passengers behind, deviating wildly from the scheduled departure time? If true, I assumed that we would soon be hit with an onslaught of complaints from other abandoned passengers aboard this sailing of the Norwegian Sky.

I asked Rohrer for his paper trail to fill in the many blanks of this tale. I wanted to know what kind of explanation NCL gave for this desertion of its passengers.

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While I waited for Rohrer to send his paper trail, I set about investigating.

Combing through a variety of cruise message boards turned up nothing that would be helpful to Rohrer’s case. I was unable to find even one other complaint about Norwegian Cruise Line stranding any other passengers in Cuba. I began to suspect that this may be a case of passenger error.

And then Rohrer sent his evidence.

What does the evidence prove about this missed cruise?

Rohrer’s evidence consisted of two documents. He provided his original itinerary of the cruise that NCL sent two months before the journey. On that document, there is a 5 p.m. departure time from Havana on the day in question.

What happens when you miss your cruise home? He can tell you.

Ok, so far so good.

But wait. There’s more. Unfortunately, Rohrer’s second document that he had in his possession on the day of his abandonment showed the schedule change. It read “All Aboard: 1:30 P.M.”

Uh-oh.

What happens when you miss your cruise? This guy knows.

Not sure how this helped his case, I asked Rohrer about his second piece of evidence with the correct departure time. This information appeared to be substantial proof that the departure of the Norwegian Sky at 3 p.m. was not, in fact, a spontaneous event.

I provided that figure showing the time of “all aboard” news flyer that was sent to our cabin while we ate breakfast on the boat the third day (second day for Cuba). But I didn’t get to read it at the time of discovery (we had a tight schedule with the Cuban Tour Agency). I had folded that flyer and put it in my pocket during our disembarkment from the ship. I read that flyer while waiting for a flight out of Cuba.

Rohrer also provided the official response to his complaint from NCL. The cruise line pointed out that it’s always the responsibility of the passenger to be on board one hour prior to departure. That information can be found in NCL’s terms and conditions under Boarding Times in Ports of Call:

In all ports of call, it is also the guest’s responsibility to be back onboard the ship no later than one (1) hour prior to the ship’s scheduled departure time. Please be aware that shipboard time may differ from the port of call and it is the guest’s responsibility to follow the shipboard time. In the event a guest misses the ship, it will be the guest’s responsibility to pay all expenses incurred to rejoin the ship.

The Elliott Advocacy team approach

This case had me torn: Should I try to advocate or not? Norwegian Cruise Line did change the itinerary of the cruise. But the new departure time was provided on the cruise’s daily schedule. Rohrer failed to read that schedule — until it was too late.

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I wondered if it was possible that this paper could have been the only alert that passengers received about the significant schedule change. Having never taken even one cruise myself, I’m unfamiliar with onboard cruise communications. So I consulted with my colleague Dwayne Coward about this case. He’s taken many NCL cruises, so I assumed he could shed some light. He explained:

NCL announces any changes on the overhead announcements. Also, there are frequent reminders to review the Freestyle Daily for changes. Unfortunately, you can’t hear it in the rooms except through the tv on the ship channel Also, they have a sign at the exit with the ‘all aboard times’ for both the crew and passengers.

I looked on the NCL cruise critic page and didn’t see anything about others left behind.

Rohrer’s case was looking grim. But I decided to check with our executive contacts at Norwegian Cruise Line for further clarification about this case.

NCL: Miss your cruise home, you’re not getting a refund

The resolution team at Norwegian Cruise Line investigated Rohrer’s complaint. And provided this statement:

As you know, from time to time in our industry there is a need to modify embarkation times. When this happens, we communicate the change extensively and often. This is exactly what happened in this instance.

On March 12th, we issued a letter to our travel partners and guests notifying them of the time change for Norwegian Sky’s April 23rd four-day Cuba and Bahamas cruise. We also communicated the change on their E-document and in the daily Freestyle newsletter, which is left each night in every guest’s cabin. Additionally, the day before calling into Havana, the Cruise Director announced the new time repeatedly throughout the day and additional signage was placed on the gangway for all those disembarking to see.

We hope this helps clear the situation up. Thank you for giving us a chance to explain.

Rohrer continues to maintain that he never received (or heard) any notice of the schedule change. And since he made reference to a lawyer in his last correspondence with the cruise line, his case likely rests in the NCL legal department now.

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Cruise schedules can change

Unfortunately for Rohrer’s case, all evidence points to the fact that he wasn’t aware that cruise itineraries can change. But a quick look at Norwegian Cruise Line’s contract of carriage will make it clear that when you book a cruise, there’s never a guarantee that you will end up with the itinerary that you booked.

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.

Our advocacy team receives many requests for help from passengers who are surprised by cruise schedule changes. And Christopher’s recent article about a man who was unaware that 
he had booked a one-way cruise
shows just how disconnected some cruisers are from their itinerary.

It’s essential that all passengers maintain awareness of the possibility of cruise schedule changes. This is especially important if you have booked your own shore excursion. It may cost a little more money to book the excursion through the cruise line, but you can be certain that the boat won’t sail away without you during your adventure.

In the end, it’s the traveler’s responsibility to know when to be back onboard that ship. If you miss your cruise home, unfortunately, there’s no one to turn to for a refund or reimbursement.

Did NCL do enough to alert Rohrer of the Norwegian Sky's schedule change?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott Advocacy. She is a consumer advocate, writer, an SEO-lady, and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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