No one likes to hear that a cruise port has to be skipped, especially after months of planning and anticipation.  But changes in a cruise itinerary simply must happen from time to time.

Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

Cruise passengers often book their cruise based on the ports of call and itinerary. Sometimes, it’s a dream destination with planning that has been years in the making.  But even after booking excursions and pre-paying for tours, unforeseen circumstances can throw a wrench into those plans, causing ports to be skipped or swapped.

In this article we will look at 8 things that can alter a cruise ship’s originally planned route, which may also affect which ports of call it will visit.

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1.  Weather conditions

One of the most common reasons a cruise ship may have to alter a scheduled port of call is weather.

Weather can be unpredictable, but cruise lines have been sailing for decades and are prepared for this. They use advanced technology to track the weather and stay ahead of or go around any storms.

If bad weather is approaching, cruise lines will take steps to avoid it. They may reroute the ship, skip certain ports, or extend the cruise at sea. They will also keep passengers informed of any changes and offer alternative activities.

And if plans do get shaken up, cruise lines will often compensate passengers with onboard credits or discounts.  Although, you shouldn’t bank on this.

Sometimes high winds can be the culprit.  It might be a beautiful sunny day, but high winds will make it difficult for a giant cruise ship to dock safely, without doing damage to a pier.

It’s another reason to have cruise travel insurance as soon as you book your cruise and make sure any 3rd party cruise excursions are refundable.

Hurricane season often leads to a disruption in plans, leading to reroutes, cancellations, or itinerary extensions.  For instance, Hurricane Lee, impacting New England and the Atlantic in September of 2023 affected several cruise lines. Royal Caribbean rerouted four ships, while Norwegian Cruise Line altered one’s course as well.

Related: What happens if there is a hurricane during my cruise?

2. Mechanical issues with the ship

Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

As much as we would like it not to happen, stuff breaks from time to time.  Mechanical issues can force cruise ships to reduce speed or stop at unscheduled ports, altering itineraries.   This can be a relatively minor repair, such as fixing a switchboard malfunction, or it can be a more major repair, such as propulsion issues or problems with the emergency generator.

If the repair is expected to take a significant amount of time, the cruise line may cancel or reroute the cruise.   A reduction in speed because of a mechanical issue may not allow you to reach a scheduled port in time.

Here are some examples of how mechanical issues have altered cruise ship itineraries in the past:

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On August 13, 2018, Carnival Horizon had to change its planned route because of a mechanical problem. As a result, it couldn’t stop at Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. The captain told everyone on board that this issue made it harder for the ship to dock safely and travel at its usual speed.
Ovation of the Seas had to cancel two ports of call on a cruise last year while sailing out of Sydney, Australia. In this case the change was due to both a mechanical issue with the propulsion and a medical evacuation as well.
While on a 13-night sailing a few years ago Norwegian Pearl experienced a mechanical problem that forced the ship to travel at reduced speeds. This led to two ports of call being missed and some extra sea days.  Norwegian refunded passengers 50% and offered a 50% future cruise credit on top of it.

3. Medical emergencies

When a passenger experiences a medical emergency onboard, the cruise ship’s medical team provides immediate care to the best of their ability.  But not all the equipment or expertise is always available on board.

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Depending on the severity of the medical emergency, the ship may need to divert to the nearest accessible port. In some cases, if the patient’s condition is critical, an air evacuation may be necessary. The ship may rendezvous with a rescue helicopter or arrange for an emergency disembarkation at a nearby port with better medical facilities.

There have been some cases where a cruise ship had to return to a recent port of call because of a medical situation in which the waters were too rough for a helicopter to safely land on the ship.  Turning around a ship of this size takes time, and the entire event could mean the next port of call will be skipped or you will arrive much later.

4. Port restrictions

Sometimes, a cruise ship has to skip an intended port of call because the port itself has denied entry.  This could be because of a myriad of issues like security concerns, port maintenance, or even health concerns.

On a cruise around Iceland a couple years ago there were several ports that denied our ship access because of health concerns during the pandemic.  These were ports that consisted of only a few hundred residents, so there was some extra caution with 900+ cruise ship passengers disembarking at their location.  I was disappointed to have missed these iconic destinations in Iceland.  There was an island with a dormant volcano I was very excited to see.

But cruise travel, like any other form of travel, requires a level of flexibility with the planning process.  And sometimes skipping a port is beyond the cruise line’s ability to control.  After all, cruise ships need to have permission from the port authority to dock at the port.

Read more: 15 top cruise ports for starting a cruise

5. Scheduling conflicts

Photo 189576206 Cruise © Nancy Pauwels


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