On Saturday, a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile about 200 miles south of its capital, Santiago, the gateway city for cruise passengers sailing from Valparaiso on "Around the Horn" voyages. Beyond the toll on human life and property, the lesser impact included damage to Santiago's international airport and potential problems for Princess Cruises' Star Princess. Still, the 109,000-ton, 2,600-passenger vessel pulled safely into Valparaiso's harbor early Tuesday morning (March 2) as originally scheduled.
But with the Santiago airport operating on an extremely limited basis, Princess decided to delay the cruise departure -- first until 6 p.m. on Wednesday and then until the afternoon of Thursday, March 4. The line also announced it would allow passengers onboard the previous voyage to stay on for the next cruise, during which they could debark at any upcoming port on the now-revised itinerary. The fee to stay onboard is $50 - $75 per person, per night, depending on cabin category, and passengers have the option of staying onboard until the ship reaches Buenos Aires on March 12. (They cannot debark in Rio de Janeiro on March 16, the final day of the cruise, due to Brazilian visa requirements).
The thinking was twofold. Passengers still intent on reaching Valparaiso got a little extra time to get on one of the small number of flights allowed into the Santiago airport, and those still onboard whose flights from Santiago had been cancelled had the chance to make other arrangements and get home from Ushuaia, Montevideo, or Buenos Aires, the three stops on the following cruise. According to Julie Benson, Princess' Vice President, Public Relations, 472 passengers from the previous sailing have opted to stay onboard until at least the next port of call.
In practice, the process has been anything but smooth, and the Cruise Critic message boards have exploded with criticism about Princess' handling of the situation. Readers have railed against the line for a failure to adequately communicate the itinerary changes; decried the compensation, which will be doled out as onboard credit for the missed ports and shortened itinerary, as insufficient; and wondered aloud if it was even right to continue to cruise to a country the Department of State was advising tourists to avoid.
We invited Princess Cruises to directly answer these and other questions posed by Cruise Critic readers. Princess' Jan Swartz, Executive Vice President of Sales, marketing and customer service, has responded in two ways. The first is a timeline of events that unfolded from Princess' point of view. The second is a Q&A. The information appears in its entirety and is unedited by Cruise Critic.
Princess Provides Earthquake Response Timeline
Cruise Q&A: Princess Cruises Responds to Earthquake-Related Challenges
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Princess Cruises Speaks Out About Cruise Impact of Chile Earthquake
March 4, 2010