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Ship Happens

by Linda Coffman

Cruise Planner by Cruise Diva.Cruising Uncharted Waters
When the engines won't get you to the next port or the weather isn't cooperative, you could find yourself sailing for Nova Scotia when your luggage is packed for Bermuda. It's a fact, cruise line itinerary snafus can cause your best laid vacation plans to go awry.

It may seem to be a minor detail, but most of us don't pay a lot of attention to the disclaimer in the fine print of our ticket that itineraries are subject to change. Bad weather, mechanical problems, and political unrest can set the most thoroughly planned arrangements adrift.

Weather or Not 
Even the largest, most comfortable vessel can seem confining when it rains... and rains and rains and rains. Yet, with the sun shining brightly, you might not be home free if high winds are kicking up high seas. While the Caribbean is normally calm and placid, hurricane season does last six months out of the year (from June 1 through November 30) and no one can predict when one will form. A cruise to the Caribbean or Bermuda could easily become something quite different as the Captain avoids ports of call in the path of a hurricane.

Still, gale force winds can effect your course at any time—a tropical storm doesn't necessarily have to be present in your hemisphere. Not only can strong winds be annoying, you may find at best that your ship is sailing with a slight tilt or, at worst, heaving and bucking in the accompanying rough water. The best you can hope for are sound sea legs and a strong stomach.

High seas and bad moods naturally go hand in hand. Klaus Lugmaier, long-time Norwegian Cruise Lines Hotel Director, confides that the most common passenger gripes are bad weather, delays caused by Immigration clearances, and long check-in lines. Possibly his most unusual request was an incident on the SS Norway when a passenger wanted to leave the ship during a day at sea and commanded him to "order a helicopter."

Full Speed Ahead... or Maybe Not
Mechanical difficulties are another morale buster. Spirits aboard fall with reduced engine speed, relieved only at landfall and the promise of white sand beaches and duty-free shopping. Cruise ships are more than hotels at sea. They are extremely complex "machines" afloat. Take all the things that could go wrong ashore and multiply them in relationship to the complexity of your vessel. Then toss in the fact that your ship could be hundreds of miles from its destination when something goes wrong. In that event, you may find a closer port has been substituted for one the ship just can't reach with its reduced propulsion speed. 

Trouble Ashore
Political or civil unrest can erupt in the world's most idyllic and interesting spots. There's nothing appealing about gun-toting militants. No cruise line will knowingly steer a course for a troubled port. On the other hand, just because a country is included on the State Department's "Travel Warnings" list doesn't necessarily mean your port of call is in a danger zone. Jamaica is a case in point—strife in Kingston doesn't mean your day in Ocho Rios will be cancelled.

Chance Encounters
How likely is it that one of these conditions will cross your ship's course? Not terribly. Thousands of contented passengers complete the cruises of their dreams every week.

However, on an otherwise pleasant and memorable cruise we experienced a double whammy. High winds and a "technical difficulty" meant we arrived late in Cartagena, left later than anticipated, and couldn't make it to Aruba and back to our home port on schedule. When the Captain announced we would spend our next port day in Nassau, instead of the more desirable Aruba, there was an uproar. Pretty soon we heard that everyone on our vessel took the cruise JUST to visit Aruba! Rumor had it that a petition was circulating to DEMAND the Captain proceed to Aruba immediately. Mutiny? The document wasn’t delivered (even though the ship’s photographers were reportedly on call to immortalize its presentation) and life went on as we made our way to the chosen alternative. While Nassau isn't the most exciting port of call, it does have its charms and some really fine duty-free shopping.

When your course unexpectedly changes, the best recourse is to maintain a positive attitude and turn up your sense of humor. A shortened day in port is disappointing, but you might find someone interesting to chat with while waiting for the ship to dock. And a change of port could mean visiting an intriguing place you wouldn't have thought to select.

When you decide to take a cruise, any cruise, remember... 

Occasionally, Ship Happens.

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