Did Sequestration Really Cause Weekend Cruise Ship Delays?

April 2, 2013
(4:30 p.m. EDT) -- Are budget cuts associated with "sequestration" to blame for recent delays at Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades?

On Sunday, many passengers on Carnival Freedom reported waiting in line for hours to clear customs. Cruise Critic reader Michael Grant told us that he and his family didn't debark until 3 p.m.; the ship normally leaves around 4, said Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen, with all passengers off-loaded by 11 a.m. at the latest. Gulliksen says the ship left several hours late, but the week-long Caribbean cruise won't otherwise be impacted.

According to NBCMiami.com, signs posted at the port's various terminals read, "due to Federal budget cuts, U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffing has been reduced and wait times may be longer than usual. Thank you for your understanding and patience."

But Ellen Kennedy, Port Everglades' manager of corporate & community relations, called the Freedom delay atypical. "At Port Everglades, sequestration has created minor delays that are averaging less than one hour as cruise passengers re-enter the United States," said Kennedy. "The lengthy delay with Carnival Freedom on Sunday was isolated and outside the norm of current debarkation time frames."

Isolated how? That's proving harder to determine.

A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Miami echoed Kennedy's comments and added that a change in the status of the ship necessitated enhanced repatriation protocols.

Carnival Freedom's cruise, which began and ended in Port Everglades, was designated "open-loop" because additional passengers boarded the ship in Grand Cayman or Jamaica, one of the ports of call. A closed-loop cruise begins and ends in the same port and takes on passengers only from that port. An open-loop cruise requires that passengers be subjected to a different -- and more stringent -- customs protocol. Carnival and the CBP declined to offer additional information.

Everglades is the world's third most popular port; a number of other ships, including Ruby Princess, Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam, Celebrity Silhouette and Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas were also debarking and embarking passengers Sunday. In a statement, Carnival said "it is our understanding that more than one cruise line at Port Everglades is experiencing similar circumstances." We've reached out to each line by e-mail for comment. None have responded as of press time, though there were no reports of Carnival Freedom-like delays from passengers sailing with Royal Caribbean et al.

--by Dan Askin, Senior Editor