P&O World Cruise Port Cancellations Spark Protest?

March 30, 2009
P&O Cruises' AuroraDid passengers on P&O Cruises' Aurora really revolt? The Guardian and other leading U.K. outlets are reporting that some 600 disgruntled passengers aboard the ship's world cruise formed a "passenger committee" and threatened mutiny after several ports were cancelled due to mechanical problems.

But Cruise Critic's cruise forums, usually the hotbed of activity following such an incident, have been eerily quiet. There's been just a single poster. Spritealpine responded to the situation on March 25, before the Guardian piece was published:

"A passenger committee was formed after a meeting about the compensation package offered by P&O which filled the theatre, so stormy times ahead for the company since there is a considerable breadth of professional expertise aboard."

Here's the back story. As Cruise Critic reported in mid-March, a damaged thrust bearing had impacted the 76,000-ton, 2,000-passenger Aurora's maximum cruising speed, prompting the line to cancel calls in Wellington, Napier, Bay of Islands, Moorea and Papeete. Passengers spent roughly six days docked in Auckland while the ship underwent repairs.

No question, missing that many ports on an expensive world cruise is a depressing prospect. But P&O compensated each Aurora passenger £500 for their troubles, plus provided a prorated refund equal to four days of their cruise fares. While the ship was stuck in Auckland, the line also offered free sightseeing tours, shuttle service to the downtown hotspots and an open bar onboard.

By the way, port cancellations happen more often than passengers might think -- with the most common culprits being weather or mechanical issues. Cruise lines state in their contract of carriages -- the fine print, if you will -- what the line does or does not owe you in the face of some eventuality, and that they have the right to make adjustments to itineraries as they see fit and without compensation.

Bottom line: cruise lines aren't legally required to make compensation when port call schedules go awry.

Even so, passenger uprisings aren't anything new. Indeed, Cruise Critic's editor in chief, Carolyn Spencer Brown, was onboard Sapphire Princess on an Asia cruise when dueling typhoons resulted in the cancellation of four of the first six ports. Passengers gathered by the hundreds to voice complaints, wrote emails from the onboard Internet cafe to share frustrations with media outlets, and posted numerous comments on message boards such as Cruise Critic's. An extremely lackluster attempt to compensate these travelers -- $250 per person onboard credit and a 50 percent discount on a future cruise -- only fueled outrage.

The Princess mutiny was big news around the world, in publications from the U.K.'s Sun to the U.S.'s New York Times.

What's surprising about the so-called mutiny onboard P&O's Aurora is how quiet its passengers have been. Aside from the one posting, a thorough search of Cruise Critic's boards, plus other online sites, has yielded just about nothing in the way of passenger complaints.

In this case, the big difference could be attributed to the fact that P&O promptly, and rather generously, offered its passengers fair compensation. Still, while we identify with Aurora's passengers, the compensation for Aurora's cruisers strikes us as fair.

What do you think is fair compensation for missed ports on a cruise? Join the discussion here.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor, and Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief