It’s been a bad start to the year for cruise cancellations. With wars, weather and technical problems sparking a flurry of changes and fury from some passengers.

Come are suggesting with the world in crisis and climate change rampant. And 2024 could turn out to be the year of the cancellation.

It’s often not the cruise line’s fault. But whatever the cause, the headache for cruisers remains the same.

Last-minute cancellations sting all the more painfully for cruisers as they often impact leave from work, flights, hotel bookings and other travel plans.

But what are your rights when there is a last-minute cancellation and what can you claim, either on insurance or from your cruise line? 

What’s happened so far

A Norwegian Cruise Lines 14-day South America and Antarctica itinerary recently took customers by surprise with a last-minute rerouting of the Antarctic leg of the trip. 

Cruiser Helen Midler took to TIkTok to air her frustrations with the itinerary changes.

“I’m on board Norwegian Star. Our ship is not going to Antarctica,” she posted on a @ruinedvacation handle. 

“They secretively changed the name of this cruise yesterday on the app from South America to Antarctica to Round Trip to South America. They are not going anywhere near mainland Antarctica, which is what we paid for.

“Everyone is angry. We feel we are being cheated and scammed. We are being dismissed, ignored, and refused answers.”

NCL cited a range of reasons for the cancellations. This included new regulatory rules for Antarctica that require ships to travel more slowly through the region.

More cruise cancellations
Boarding at last

Delayed launches

Also catching headlines has been the delaying of Sun Princess’s inaugural voyage, originally set to sail on February 8, the cruise line has confirmed work is still being done on the ship. Princess has offered compensation to affected guests. 

Elsewhere, cruise lines such as Carnival and Virgin have had to alter itineraries that include cruising through the Red Sea due to conflict in the Middle East.

Closer to home, there’s been a range of Australian cruises readjusted for weather reasons. This includes cyclone season in the north of Australia and New Zealand/

There’s a hundred reasons that your dream cruise could suddenly come to a halt. So when it does, what are your rights?

New Sun Princess launch
New Sun Princess launch

Has your line changed itinerary

Written into your cruise contract is a clause stating ports on your cruise are subject to change at any time, which essentially means what happens any time from departure  can vary greatly. 

Cruise lines may sometimes offer compensation. This is particularly likely if the ports that were passed by were a key attraction of the cruise. However, any compensation is still far from a guarantee of full refund.

What is guaranteed is that any shore excursions you’ve booked for an extra cost at the ports will be refunded. Although again, this can be complicated if you have booked your shore excursions through a third party and not the cruise line.

However, it should be noted that some cruise cover insurance plans will compensate you for missed or rescheduled ports, making this a worthwhile inclusion to look out for when organising your insurance. 

What if your cruise is cancelled?

If your cruise is cancelled, in most cases you will be offered a complete refund by your cruise line. Furthermore, cruise lines will often offer future cruise credits, often at a 110% value of what you paid for your cruise.

However, this doesn’t always resolve all your issues. For example, if your cruise is cancelled last-minute, you may have already spent your non-refundable deposits on things such as flights and hotels. In this instance, it becomes increasingly rare that a cruise line will compensate you.

Cruise insurance generally will cover you for any cancellations and can recoup your lost funds through your insurer.

What happens if you get bumped from your cruise?

If you land in the rare but unfortunate situation of being bumped off your cruise, your rights are similar to a cruise cancellation. You are entitled to a refund from the cruise line but you may still be out of pocket for other expenses incurred.

You are more likely to be compensated extra by the cruise line if you are bumped, but in the event that they don’t cover all your incurred costs, your insurance should cover you.

Here are some tips from ASIC on travel cancellations.

Tips for consumers when booking travel

If arriving at your destination on time is critical, consider this when booking travel. For example, you may wish to:

  • book a fare class that offers better options if there is a delay or cancellation. You may have more flexibility, or better remedies if there is a delay or cancellation, with booking a more expensive fare class
  • allow extra time to arrive at the airport, and between flight connections.

Check the terms and conditions of the travel service before booking, and also the terms and conditions of your agent or other intermediary if you are booking through one. Understand what you will be entitled to if your travel is delayed or cancelled due to different situations:

  • where the travel provider delays or cancels the travel service
  • where you decide to cancel, or you miss your travel service
  • where the booking can’t proceed due to reasons out of both your control and the travel provider’s control. This is sometimes called a ‘force majeure’ term.

What you are entitled to might be different in each situation. Contact the travel service provider if:

  • the terms and conditions are not clear, or
  • you can’t find the terms and conditions.

Ask them to confirm these things in writing. There may also be different terms that apply for different travel periods. Check the ones that apply to your travel dates.