Solving Problems

Unexpected problems can happen, but there are things you can do to deal with bad situations

Photo credit: © Hans232 |

When planning your Caribbean cruise vacation, you should be aware that problems may arise. The best way to handle cruising problems is to be prepared in advance and know what measures to take when a problem does come up. This article focuses on common problems that other cruisers have encountered during their vacations. You can learn from their experiences, to better anticipate and deal with these sorts of problems.

Dealing with Pre-Cruise Problems

To be prepared for unexpected cruising circumstances, it is best to familiarize yourself with some of the common problems that can occur. Before you even board your ship, you may be faced with dilemmas. A common pre-cruising problem that travelers run into is not receiving their cruise documents on time. To avoid this, ask the cruise line when they expect to send out the documents. Be sure to mark this date down on your calendar, and call the cruise line if they don't arrive on time – conceivably they may have mailed them to the wrong address, or made some other mistake which can easily be rectified if you discover the problem early.

If you booked your trip through a travel agent, then you will need to contact their office to find out when you should receive your documents. If you make your travel arrangements at the last minute (two weeks or less before the scheduled departure date), you may have to pick up your documents at the pier. Whenever you do get your documents, be sure you read the fine print.

Once you've received your cruise documents, you may be ready to embark on your journey. Despite your eagerness to get on board, you must still be aware of possible problems. There is always the chance of missing your ship because you arrived late at the port of departure.

Remember, there is no guarantee that the ship will delay departure for guests arriving late to the port, regardless of whether air arrangements were done on their own or through the cruise line. The ship's captain at his own discretion will decide whether to delay the cruise ship's departure if a large number of passengers are delayed, and the schedule has enough flexibility to make this option viable.

One of the best ways to deal with the problem of missing the ship is to be proactive about the situation and plan your arrival at the departure port as early as possible. If you don't arrive a day or two in advance (to spend some time in the departure city), try to provide yourself with at least a four hour window of time between your flight's scheduled arrival time and your ship's scheduled departure time. One of these hours will be used claiming your bags and traveling from the airport to the ship. This leaves a minimal buffer of just three hours to account for numerous potential delays, including a delayed flight or missed airline connection, or unexpected traffic congestion.

Especially if you're traveling during the winter season, realize that weather conditions can frequently cause travel delays. If there is no way that you can get to the port of departure at least one day prior to when the ship is scheduled to sail and you have to fly in the same day, at least try to catch the earliest flight possible.

Other tips to consider to help you avoid missing the ship are to bring a copy of the cruise line's emergency number with you during your travels, and if you are going to be late, call ahead and let them know. If after you take all these precautions you still miss the ship and it is the airline's fault, then the airline may be responsible for delivering you to the next port of call. However, the airline will not take responsibility for weather-related delays. If all this discussion of travel delays makes you a little nervous, consider buying travel insurance which covers these sorts of contingencies. The added peace of mind may be well worth the cost.

Another cruise vacation problem related to air travel is purchasing flight arrangements through the cruise line and then not being happy with the schedule or number of flights. Compared with booking directly with the airline, you may also find you have less control over where you sit on the plane and the size of the aircraft you fly on.

Major cruise lines often provide disclaimers stating that they will make air arrangements with "itineraries that may include connections, commuter service, charter airlines, overnight travel and/or forced overnights before or after the cruise. We cannot guarantee that guests traveling with other guests will be on the same airline or routing".

One solution is to book your own flights. This option is particularly viable for travelers who aren't taking a cruise that begins and ends at different locations, or at overseas ports. However, it may also be possible to change a flight route booked by the cruise line, if you go through their in-house Air/Sea department well in advance of your scheduled departure, and you are willing to pay a surcharge.

Some travelers may be concerned about health issues that may arise during the cruise and how they will affect their trip. Cruise lines require that passengers with any major disabilities contact them prior to booking their trip to let them know about major medical issues. Major disabilities include such things as being blind (seeing eye dogs are allowed aboard the majority of cruise ships), deaf, in need of an oxygen tank, being wheelchair-bound (which will require you to stay in a handicapped designated cabins, which are limited so be sure to make this special request when booking your trip), or having recently had a heart attack. Travel insurance would be of benefit to those with health problems.

A policy common to many cruise lines is that passengers with severe disabilities must travel with a companion. The most obvious way to deal with any disabilities you have that may affect your travels is to tell the cruise lines of your limitations in advance. That way the cruise line can make the necessary accommodations for your trip. Also, travel with a friend or relative, choose cruise itineraries that are most easily accessible to you, schedule tours and shore excursions that best suit your needs, and choose your cruise line carefully: some are more sensitive -- and even innovative -- than others. Holland America, for instance, recently announced upgrades to tenders that will make it easier for passengers with disabilities to see smaller ports of call.

Another health issue to keep in mind prior to boarding the cruise ship is that if you have certain types of conditions, you may be denied access to the ship. If you have cold, viral, or abdominal symptoms, you may not be allowed to depart on your cruise vacation.

Finally, for those who purchase run-of-the-ship or “guarantee” cabins, you may not be fully satisfied with your cabin location. This is a possibility because by opting for these kinds of cabins, although at a lower cost, you give the cruise line freedom to put you anywhere on the ship within the type of cabin category first specified. You can always attempt to change a cabin location by working with your travel agent or the cruise line before you leave, but your options at that point will probably be very limited.

Once you are already on board the ship, you can always ask the purser's office for a new assignment, but again there's no guarantee that you will get a change in accommodations. You may also try to get a cabin upgrade at the last minute, but it will normally cost an up charge and will be dependent upon cabin availability.

Problems On-Board the Ship

You may think that once you board the ship you are worry-free, but there are still some potential problems that you should be aware of on the ship. One of the most common problems on-board the ship is not receiving luggage when the ship has already departed. If your luggage is missing, most cruise lines ask that you be patient for at least the first three hours.

To try and prevent luggage loss, make sure that your bags have the luggage tags provided by the cruise line. If your luggage hasn't arrived two to three hours before the ship's departure, contact the purser, hotel director, or front desk. The cruise line should then begin tracing your luggage whereabouts and, between it and the airline, will have it delivered at the next port. If your luggage cannot be found on board the ship, you may want to ask for an on-board credit to purchase items that you need. You may also be able to get loaner items like cameras and even clothes for formal nights. Another piece of preventative advice is to not check any items that you cannot do without such as medicines and items for your hygiene.

Once on the ship you could also have some concerns about dining arrangements. Some common dining problems aboard the ship include not liking your seating placement or your preset dining times. The dining room maitre d' will usually be able to accommodate seating changes and is normally available for just this purpose the afternoon of embarkation. Difficulties, however, may arise when a ship is very close to or at full occupancy.

Other issues concerning dining include dietary restrictions that travelers may have. Some passengers may have food restrictions that require salt-free, kosher, or are strictly vegetarians just to name a few. If you are on a specific diet, you should let the cruise know in advance (at least a month in advance for more complicated dietary restrictions). You should get a confirmation of your request to insure that your dining needs will be met. Many guests opt to dine at the ship's alternative 'reservations required' restaurants, so consider arranging this as soon as is possible.

Along with on-board dining issues, problems with passenger's cabins sometimes do arise. For instance, you may have wanted a double bed instead of twin beds. The best way to deal with this problem is to immediately contact the cabin steward and ask them to reconfigure the bed (most cruise cabins are equipped with beds that can be split apart into twin beds). This should only take a matter of minutes.

Another problem that travelers have on occasion is something in the cabin not working properly, examples may be air conditioning or in-room safe. Most cruise lines are very responsive to cabin problems once the guest has reported them.

Finally, you may experience problems with shore excursions during your cruise. The most common problem is tours being sold out. If your desired shore excursions are sold out, ask to be put on a waiting list. There is still no guarantee that you will get your chosen tour, but very often people do cancel. You should book your excursions as soon as possible to avoid this problem – even prior to the cruise as discussed previously. In the event that you are unhappy with some aspect of your actual tour experience, most cruise lines handle refunds on case-by-case basis. Be sure to report your dissatisfaction once you return from the excursion to the tour desk.

Post Cruising Problems

Although your cruise vacation is over, you may find that you're still dissatisfied with some experience while on the ship. If you were unable to resolve the problem during the trip, there are some ways you can handle these post-cruise. Document all details, dates and names of shipboard personnel you were in contact with regarding the particular problem. Be clear and calm when explaining the problem, and provide as many details as possible. Let the cruise line know of your expectations about rectifying the problem (but be reasonable). Finally, you can ask who in their corporate offices you should direct your complaint to, and be sure to fill out the passenger survey handed out at the end of the cruise.


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