Cruising Disappointments – Missing a Port Due to Weather
Up to this point, I’ve been lucky. In all the cruises we have done we had never missed a port or changed course due to weather. We once missed a port because the ship left a day late due to back-up generator issues. We overheard another passenger say “Why do we have to miss a port? Why can’t we skip a sea day, we have three of those!” (Um yeah perhaps because the captain can’t beam the ship to the port and cruise ships don’t travel at warp speed.) On a European cruise the port stop in Turkey was dropped from the itinerary a couple months before the ship set sail due to unrest there. While we would have liked to see that port, it was nice to have a second sea day on a 10-day cruise that otherwise had just one.
Another time long before a Caribbean cruise we got a notice that our ship was docking at Montego Bay rather than Falmouth, a different Jamaican port than originally scheduled. It was months before the cruise. We hadn’t made plans for that port yet and ended up with one of the best excursions we’ve ever done by arranging our own private excursion at a stable with a horse swim for real at Half Moon Bay Equestrian Center.
Not to be confused with Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas where the horses definitely do not swim for real. At Half Moon Cay it’s a cruise ship excursion and you’ll get your legs wet, but the horse’s feet never leave the ground. At Half Moon Bay they go out about 20 feet deep and you slide off their backs and hold onto the tail while they pull you around in the water. Their feet are definitely off the ground there.
We nearly missed Grand Cayman once, but the captain chose to anchor on the other side of the island at Spotts Bay instead of at Georgetown where they normally go. Taking shuttles into town was far better than missing the port entirely, which would have been the other option. The weather cleared up later and we had a fun day there.
On one of our earlier cruises when the Mexican Riviera was still a popular destination we tailed a hurricane down the coast of Mexico. The ship had some rocky times and one of the poker dealers threw up on the poker table, clearing the area of players in record speed. We were between a hurricane and a tropical storm another time in the Caribbean, but remained in relative calm unaffected other than weather at a couple ports not as nice as normal.
Our 21-day Pacific Crossing on the P&O Arcadia had just 5 ports scheduled. The one I looked forward to most was Bora Bora, which is surrounded by a lagoon where snorkeling is supposed to be like swimming in an aquarium. I had a snorkel safari excursion booked, which was to include three stops. One in an area where rays live, another with reef sharks, and the third with coral and tropical fish.
Bora Bora’s lagoon turned out to be the undoing of our stop there. There is just a narrow opening through the coral reef surrounding the island where ships can enter into the lagoon. The captain said the ship was nearly as big as the opening. We came on a windy day with high waves and the captain felt it unsafe to try and maneuver the ship through the shallow, narrow channel where either wind or wave could easily push it into the reef. While running aground would definitely be worse than missing a port it is still a major disappointment that we missed the one port out of all the stops on this cruise that I wanted to see most.
That is a part of cruising though and if you cruise you have to roll with the punches. Cruise lines and cruise ship captains have no control over the weather. Sooner or later things are bound to happen. If you read the fine print when you book there is no guarantee that you will go to the ports as scheduled because the captain’s number one job is to keep the ship afloat and the passengers safe. If that means altering course or skipping a port then that is what they will do. No matter how much you want to see a particular port, missing that stop is far better than leaving a sinking ship by lifeboat. Odds are if the weather is stormy enough that the ship can’t make port it probably wouldn’t be a fun day there anyway. The seas may be to rough for water activities and wind or rain might make land adventures miserable.
Not long after the announcement about missing the port another announcement came saying that all excursions would be automatically refunded to the onboard account if booked on the ship and to credit cards if booked online prior to the cruise with no need to go to the reception or shore excursions desk. A cluster of panicked people lining up in the lobby demanding refunds may have spurred that announcement as it is common practice on any cruise that these things would automatically be refunded, as would any port fees or taxes paid for the missed port.
Breakfast in the dining room suddenly became popular with quite a crowd there on a day where normally very few would have shown up. Later came an announcement from the entertainment manager (known as a cruise director on most ships). He listed a number of new activities added to the day’s schedule. Port days normally have a much lighter list of things to do than sea days so when facing a port day suddenly turned sea day it is up to the entertainment staff to provide alternate activities.
The spa, which is usually pretty slow on a port day, suddenly found itself quite busy with people trying to change appointments to that day or make new ones and more people in the thermal suite at one time than we had seen all cruise. I guess that’s to be expected though since all the passengers on board suddenly found themselves having to find something different to do for the day than what they had planned. We had the thermal package for the cruise, but a lot of people must have got the one-day pass just for that day to give themselves a treat onboard.
Sailing away from Bora Bora the captain made one further announcement to expect high seas and gray skies for the next 24 hours. The wind blew hard enough that whenever a wave rolled over into a white cap it would blow the white right off the top of the wave in a shower of sea spray. Water drops rolled off the ship and danced around like bubbles on the wind rather than just falling straight down like drops of water normally do. We could definitely feel some movement in the ship rocking, but by this time the people had been at sea long enough to walk normally down the hallways and not stagger like drunks the way they do if faced with stormy seas shortly after boarding. Barf bags still showed up in the elevator bays for anyone who needed them though.
About Bora Bora
Bora Bora sits about 150 miles northwest of Tahiti and is the best known of the Leeward Islands in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. The volcanic island sits in a lagoon ringed by coral reefs and small islets called motus, one of which was used as an American base during World War 2. The war never came to the island, but evidence of the military occupation remains.
The main island is around 6 miles long and 2 miles wide with a circumference of 20 miles. Though the Dutch were the first Europeans to discover Bora Bora, the French eventually annexed the island. Bora Bora is believed to be the inspiration for Roger’s and Hammerstein’s South Pacific based on the James Michener novel Tales of the South Pacific.
Things To Do in Bora Bora
Cruise ship tenders land at Bora Bora’s largest village called Vaitape. Visitors will find a few shops and a visitor’s center there. A bus runs to Matira Beach 4 miles from the village. Shore snorkeling is possible there, but better snorkeling is found out on the reef. Bicycle rentals are available near the tender landing.
According to the pamphlet provided by P&O, the island does not have much in the way of public transportation so they recommended booking in advance for passengers wanting to do excursions through outside companies. When doing so just make sure you pay only if you actually do the excursion. I’ve pre-booked excursions through outside sources in Belize and Jamaica and both were paid at the time of the excursion rather than in advance so had the ship missed those ports no payment ever would have been taken. Before paying in advance for anything check out their refund policies. I have heard of people blaming the cruise line for outside excursions they missed and didn’t get refunded for. The cruise line isn’t responsible for things you book through outside sources so that is a buyer beware situation. The ship’s brochure listed parasailing, jet ski rental, scuba diving, and deep sea fishing as things that could be booked in advance through outside sources. That is one advantage of booking excursions through the ship – if it misses the port you get that automatic refund.
Excursions through the ship if it had been able to make the scheduled port stop would have included island tours by 4×4, truck or helicopter, water adventures, the snorkel safari, glass bottom boat, aqua trek with surface supplied air, a lagoon cruise and picnic, or aqua bike (underwater scooter).