All of the arrangements for Daniella Carlesimo's wedding at sea -- from printed invitations to the travel plans of guests -- were in place. Until Princess Cruises notified her that Caribbean Princess had been chartered and she'd have to make new arrangements. The invitations had to be reprinted, travel plans shuffled and the wedding bands -- already engraved with the date of the wedding -- redone.
Carlesimo, not to mention her fellow passengers on Caribbean Princess, had been bumped.
While it's little consolation to those impacted, being bumped from a cruise is, fortunately, a somewhat rare occurrence, typically limited to four main scenarios: a charter, a redeployment, a need for shipyard repairs or an overbooked cruise. While virtually every cruise line has the right to bump anyone involuntarily for any reason (as outlined in the fine print of cruise contracts), most lines will go beyond the standard of fully refunding the cruise by offering the option to rebook comparable sailings, sometimes at a discount and usually with added goodwill incentives like onboard credit or stateroom upgrades.
While chances are slim that you'll ever actually be bumped from a cruise, here's what to know about the four most common scenarios in which the situation could present itself and how to protect yourself if you do get bumped.
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Updated January 8, 2020
The Ship Has Been Chartered
Situation 1: One downside to booking a cruise early is that cruise lines haven't finalized all of their charter sailings. Cruise lines tend to accept charter reservations with a lot of lead time -- often a year or more in advance of the cruise -- and try not to book large groups on ships with lots of cabins sold. However, when a charter offer materialises, some lines will jump at the massive (upfront) charter fee, even without a lot of lead time, if a sizable percentage of the ship is still unsold.
In early 2018, Cruise Critic members reported being bumped by Royal Caribbean at least two times due to chartering: The first was when a scheduled August 2018 sailing aboard Vision of the Seas was chartered out to The Ark, billed as a "floating dance music festival." (Already booked passengers were notified in January 2018.) The second was when a December 2018 Navigator of the Seas sailing was chartered out to a KIA car dealership group. (In that instance, previously booked customers were notified in February 2018.).
Situation 2: On rare occasions, the charters can be last-second, as when in 2017, during a destructive Caribbean hurricane season, Carnival chartered its Fascination to house relief workers in St. Croix on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As a result, all of Fascination's sailings from October 2017 through early February 2018 were effectively canceled.
Compensation for Being Bumped: In the case of chartering, standard industry practice calls for an offer of a full refund, or the option to rebook another sailing from the cruise line. (Rebooking options might include the same ship on a different date or a similar itinerary on a different ship.) Some lines will offer discounts on a rebooked cruise, and most will offer added onboard incentives like cabin upgrades or ship credit.
For example, Cruise Critic members booked on the aforementioned Royal Caribbean cruises were offered the option of alternative sailings (at discounted rates of as much as 30 percent cited following the Vision of the Seas charter), as well as onboard credits (up to $200 per stateroom was offered in the case of the Navigator of the Seas sailing) and/or reimbursement for airline flight change fees.
Passengers affected by the 2017 Caribbean hurricane relief efforts were given a full refund, up to $200 (or $400 in some cases) for airfare change fees and a 25 percent discount if they rebooked on another Carnival cruise. (Passengers most immediately affected for the October 2017 sailings were given a 100 percent future cruise credit.)
The Ship Has Been Redeployed to a New Destination or Sold to a Different Cruise Line
Situation 1: When the next hot cruise market emerges, as was recently the case with Cuba, a line may decide to take advantage of the situation and shift its hardware accordingly. Norwegian Cruise Line did just this back in July 2017 when it announced it would redeploy Norwegian Sun to Port Canaveral in summer 2018 to service Cuba. The redeployment forced the line to replace Sun in Alaska with Norwegian Jewel (which was scheduled for Australia and Asia itineraries in 2017–2018).
As a result, all of Norwegian Sun's passengers were involuntarily bumped from their originally planned ship onto Norwegian Jewel for summer 2018 Alaska cruises. Although Jewel is newer and bigger than Sun, passengers complained about the lack of choice in the matter.
Situation 2: When P&O Cruises Australia announced it was sending Pacific Eden to Cruise & Maritime Voyages in April 2019, it meant that any passengers scheduled to sail after the ship's final voyage with P&O in March 2019 had to be rebooked, forcing travelers to shift their plans.
Compensation for Being Bumped: In the case of Norwegian Sun's redeployment, passengers were automatically rebooked onto Norwegian Jewel for the same itineraries and assigned equivalent, or in some cases, upgraded cabins. For the Pacific Eden sale, passengers were contacted to choose between a full refund or an alternative cruise on another P&O ship; the line offered additional incentives to affected passengers on a case-by-case basis.
The Ship Is Heading Into Dry Dock
Situation 1: Cruise vessels are marvels of modern engineering, but they're not immune to breakdowns. If the damage is significant enough to warrant an unplanned trip to the repair yard, cruises may have to be canceled. For instance, in April 2018, Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas was suffering from technical issues related to its propulsion system that were so problematic that the line had to cancel an 11-night cruise just a few days before it was due to embark.
Situation 2: Every few years, cruise ships head into dry dock to obtain required regulatory certifications and for scheduled maintenance. Typically, lines try to limit or eliminate the impact to booked passengers by scheduling these routine dry docks far in advance before itineraries are published, but bumping does occasionally occur. For example, in February 2018, Norwegian notified some Pride of America passengers -- just a month prior to sail date -- that two sailings occurring in March would be cut short by a day to send the ship into a technical dry dock, in order to meet its regulatory compliance requirements. Accordingly, cruisers were effectively "bumped" off the ship for one day out of their sailing.
Compensation for Being Bumped: Passengers booked on the Radiance of the Seas were offered a full refund, as well as a 100 percent credit toward a future cruise. Passengers on the shortened Pride of America sailings were offered a hotel stay in place of the missing night on the ship, as well as a 25 percent discount on a future sailing.
The Ship Has Been Overbooked
Situation: It may be a little-known fact, but like airlines, cruise lines sometimes overbook their ships. Though rare in occurrence these days, cruise lines strive to sail full, but know some passengers will always cancel at the last minute. As a result, cruise lines sometimes overbook ships so that they can still sail full if people cancel late in the game. Those that employ the practice have developed sophisticated means of determining how many passengers are likely to cancel cruises -- so they have a very good idea of how much inventory they can oversell without making bumping a likelihood. Nonetheless, no system is foolproof, overbooking does occur and passengers do run the risk of getting bumped.
For instance, in a total nightmare scenario in February 2018, a Cruise Critic member was sitting at the airport waiting to board her flight to Sydney for a cruise on Azamara Journey when she received a call from the line that the ship was oversold and they didn't have room to accommodate her and her partner onboard. After much haggling, the couple were ultimately reinstated on the ship, which was sailing two days later, but not without a few new gray hairs to show for it.
Compensation for Being Bumped: If a line finds that it has too many bookings, it'll begin offering incentives for passengers to willingly rebook (or "move over") on another cruise or in another cabin category -- usually in the form of a discounted fare, free upgrade, onboard credit and/or money toward a future cruise. If your schedule is flexible, being voluntarily bumped can often be a good deal.
One Cruise Critic reader was contacted by Princess Cruises, which had overbooked a five-day Pacific Coast itinerary. They ended up on a seven-day Alaskan itinerary -- at no extra cost. Plus, they were additionally offered all of their initial cruise fare as onboard credit to really sweeten the pot. In another case, Oceania Cruises -- known for offering travelers tempting "move over" deals -- offered a Cruise Critic member an upgrade from a veranda cabin on Riviera to a penthouse suite on Marina, for the same price and with the same perks as their original sailing. They took the offer.
In the case of the above-mentioned Azamara Journey sailing, the affected couple were ultimately offered the cruise on a complimentary basis, along with a $250 onboard credit.
What Should I Do If I Get Bumped?
In the unlikely event that you do get bumped, here are a few tips for making the best of the situation:
Don't panic. When you get that fateful call or email, the best advice we can give is not to get too upset. Take a deep breath, and remember that you can still salvage your vacation.
Know your options. In most cases, you'll have to choose from the basic options of accepting a refund for the now-canceled cruise or rebooking a comparable sailing, whether that means on the same ship but a different date or a different ship on a similarly scheduled itinerary. (Other options may apply.) The line will often include incentives like onboard credit for those who rebook and, possibly, airline change fees.
Negotiate pleasantly and patiently. While the line will contact passengers or their travel agents outlining the proposed options, what you ultimately get may depend on your ability to negotiate. If not explicitly offered, ask about reimbursement for nonrefundable fees or cancellation penalties you may incur for things like prepaid hotel stays, car rentals or airfare. If you don't like the options for what the line deems a "comparable" cruise, come prepared with your own alternatives.
"If there's something that's truly reasonable, it certainly never hurts to ask," says one former head of corporate communications for a luxury line. "I think the key is to ask ... but also be nice," he adds. "That person that you're dealing with is probably under a lot of stress as the result of high call volume. They might well feel like they just messed up your vacation, so it's never ever a happy occasion."
How Do I Protect My Cruise Vacation?
Minimize the potential hassle of being bumped by being prepared in advance with the following tips to set yourself up for success.
Buy travel insurance. Cruise Critic has long suggested purchasing a third-party insurance policy for any cruise vacation. Make sure it covers not only the cost of the cruise itself, but also airfare and any other major expenses you may have, like hotel and transportation costs.
For instance, AIG Travel Guard's "Cancel for Any Reason" policy option applies to any trip that's canceled, up to 48 hours prior to departure. Scott Adamski, Head of U.S. Field Sales and Licensing for AIG Travel, tells Cruise Critic that these policies can cover up to 50 to 75 percent (depending on the option selected) of prepaid, nonrefundable expenses. But, as all policies are different, be sure to read the fine print to make sure the policy you purchase covers all relevant expenses if your sailing gets canceled.
Book with a cruise specialist. A trusted cruise-specialized travel agent may have more pull in negotiating with the cruise line on your behalf in the event of a bumping, given their ongoing business relationship with the lines. Should the dreaded news come along, it can be a real time- and headache-saver to have a seasoned pro on hand to advocate on your behalf. In addition, the agent can also quickly tap into existing inventory to get you the best options for a replacement trip (which comes in especially handy should you choose to look outside of your original cruise line for an alternative sailing).