It’s been a week since Hurricane Sandy vanished over Canada, having upturned some 50 itineraries during a 10-day, two-theater reign of terror. While cruise ships have the distinct advantage of being mobile, it was impossible for many to entirely outrun the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, a spiraling galaxy with a diameter stretching 1,100 miles.
The dangerous situation was fluid, first in the Caribbean, then in the U.S.’s Northeast, and it was undoubtedly a challenge for lines to communicate effectively with passengers, secure alternative berths, and steer clear of sea swells and window-shattering gusts. But there were some clear winners in the eyes of Cruise Critic readers — lines that managed to leave passengers with a positive feeling even before the motion sickness wore off.
For readers, the most lauded operator was Carnival Cruise Lines. As Sandy swirled ominously for Baltimore, Carnival made the extremely rare choice to cancel Pride’s cruise outright. (The line had no choice but to at least delay.) Affected passengers got the expected refunds, but Carnival decided to throw in refunds for parking, a $30-per-person dinner voucher and a 25 percent future cruise credit.
Those on Carnival Miracle, who saw their eight-night Caribbean cruise shortened to a seven-nighter that called at one of its scheduled three ports, were taken care of, too. In addition to refunds for missed ports and the missed day, the line offered a 50 percent future cruise credit to everyone onboard.
The message resonated: You’ve been through what’s likely your worst cruise ever, but if you do sail again, here’s an extra incentive.
Conversely, passengers were far less complementary of Royal Caribbean‘s response. “We sailed right into the storm,” e-mailed Alice, who was on Explorer of the Seas’ notorious October 28 cruise from Cape Liberty. They set off for Bermuda in an effort to outrun the storm. “That night and the day after, there were extremely high winds and waves. We were told to stay in our cabins. There was severe damage throughout the ship. Ocean view windows were shattered on Deck 1. On Deck 2, our deck, they put steel plates over our windows. The captain stated at one point, ‘Only History would tell if the right decision was made.'” Alice came back a week later to find her car totaled — and Royal Caribbean hadn’t mentioned a thing about port parking.
“We are appalled at the lack of information and assistance that was given on the ship about our cars,” she said, adding that some sort of compensation — there was none — would have been appropriate. It would have been good PR, too.
Still, many onlookers argued that their fellow cruisers deserved nothing — it was their choice to sail the Caribbean during hurricane season. Moreover, cruise lines are sheltered in legalese when it comes to weather-related itinerary impact — contracts dictate that passengers are owed nothing for missed ports. Both technically true, but, as others also correctly pointed out, late October is the tail of a six-month season that extends from June 1 to November 30. Roughly five percent of Atlantic hurricanes spawn after November 1, according to the National Hurricane Center. The majority form between mid-August and mid-October, with the peak in September. Sandy was a freak. Second, some of the most affected cruises were Canada & New England sailings. Third, while lines say they don’t owe passengers anything, many do offer compensation in extreme circumstances. To many, Sandy fits that criteria.
“No one knows what will happen any day or how any business will react,” commenter Andrea Savitch said sagely.
Which line do you think handled the difficult situation best?
Curious what various lines offered impacted passengers? Check out our Sandy compensation mega-chart.
When a hurricane threatens to disrupt your cruise, there’s one place to go for updates: Cruise Critic’s Hurricane Zone.
Don’t expect a cruise line to save your vacation from a hurricane. Here’s what you need to know about travel insurance.
So what’s hurricane season cruising all about? Check out our guide.
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