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Could You Be Bumped from Your Next Cruise? (Photo: Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock)

Could You Be Bumped from Your Next Cruise?

Could You Be Bumped from Your Next Cruise? (Photo: Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock)
Elissa Garay
Melinda Crow

Last updated
Jun 20, 2023

Read time
9 min read

The short answer is that yes, you could be bumped from your next cruise. While it's little consolation to those impacted, being bumped from a cruise is, fortunately, a somewhat rare occurrence, typically limited to four main scenarios: a charter cruise, a redeployment, a need for shipyard repairs or an overbooked cruise.

Virtually every cruise line has the right to bump anyone involuntarily for any reason (as outlined in the fine print of cruise contracts), but most lines will go beyond the standard of fully refunding the cruise by offering the option to rebook comparable sailings, sometimes at a discount and usually with added goodwill incentives like onboard credit or stateroom upgrades.

While chances are slim that you’ll ever be bumped from a cruise, here's what to know about the four most common scenarios in which the situation could present itself and how to protect yourself if you do get bumped.

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You May Be Bumped If the Ship Has Been Chartered

One downside to booking a cruise early is that cruise lines haven't finalized all their charter sailings. Cruise lines tend to accept charter reservations with a lot of lead time -- often a year or more in advance of the cruise. However, when a charter offer materializes, some lines will jump at the massive (upfront) charter fee, even without a lot of lead time, if a sizable percentage of the ship is still unsold.

Recently, Cruise Critic members reported being bumped from Norwegian Spirit Alaska cruises in 2024 due to chartering. All cruises on Norwegian Spirit from July 3 to September 18, 2024, were cancelled by NCL. The good news is that the cancellation notices were more than one year in advance of the affected sailings, giving most people time to make alternative arrangements.

On rare occasions, the charters can be somewhat last-second. The most recent examples include the chartering of ships for housing workers brought in to aid hurricane recovery in New Orleans following Hurricane Ida in 2021 and on Grand Bahama Island following Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

In the case of chartering, standard industry practice calls for an offer of a full refund, or the option to rebook another sailing from the cruise line. (Rebooking options might include the same ship on a different date or a similar itinerary on a different ship.) Some lines will offer discounts on a rebooked cruise, and most will offer added onboard incentives like cabin upgrades or ship credit.

For example, Cruise Critic members booked on the cancelled NCL Alaska cruises were offered refunds as well as fifty percent of their fare in the form of future cruise credits to be applied to select alternative Alaska cruises, as well as ten percent of their fare in future cruise credits to be used on any sailing of their choice (though not to be combined with the fifty percent offer.)

You May Be Bumped From Your Cruise If the Ship Needs Repairs

Cruise vessels are marvels of modern engineering, but they're not immune to breakdowns. If a ship has damage significant enough to warrant an unplanned time in the repair yard, cruises may have to be canceled.

The stunning rogue wave situation onboard the expedition ship Viking Polaris was a highly publicized repair scenario. The wave hit the ship broadside shortly after it left the port of Ushuaia, Argentina, bound for Antarctica. One person was killed. Damage to the ship included broken windows and flooding of several spaces. The ship returned to port and the remainder of the cruise was cancelled, as was the next scheduled sailing.

Repairs to make the vessel seaworthy were made immediately, but full restoration of the affected cabins were scheduled for the end of the Antarctic season going into the transition to more northern itineraries, causing the cancellation of several spring cruises.

Passengers on Polaris during the incident were assisted by Viking in making travel arrangements home and given full refunds. Passengers on the subsequent cancelled cruise were also given refunds. Polaris was scheduled for full repairs to the damaged cabins later in the Antarctic season and into its transition.

Passengers cancelled due to the full restoration dock time later in the season were re-booked to sister ship Viking Octantis or allowed to cancel with a full refund.

You May Be Bumped From Your Cruise If the Ship Has Been Redeployed to a New Destination or Sold

Celebrity Solstice (Photo: Celebrity)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise lines learned that managing cabin inventory through destination redeployment and fleet reductions could be done to improve the bottom line. It was often a bumpy ride, but they learned how to manage these events that prior to 2020 were rare. That means it may be more likely you’ll encounter a redeployment issue, or the ripple effect of one in your cruising future.

Passengers booked on Celebrity Solstice in Asia between September 2022 and April 2023 were given six months’ notice that Solstice would not be sailing in the region on those dates and that their reservations had been cancelled.

Solstice instead replaced Celebrity Millennium in the Mexican Riviera. Millennium was then redeployed for 2022 and 2023 dates to the Caribbean.

Not only has Norwegian Spirit had cancellations due to a full ship charter, the charter itself may have caused a ripple effect because the passengers booked for the sailings in Hawaii and the South Pacific immediately prior to the chartered sailings were also cancelled, due to “fleet redeployment,” according to NCL.

In terms of redployment, Carnival Corporation has had full ownership of Costa Cruises since 2000, but the two lines operate independently. In 2022, Costa began cancelling sailings on three ships: Luminosa, Venezia, and Firenze. Luminosa and Venezia now operate under the Carnival brand, with Firenze to follow in 2024. Costa has also used redeployment to manage its inventory, recently cancelling future cruises on Costa Fortuna.

In the case of the Celebrity Solstice redeployment, passengers were offered a “Lift and Shift” (a term developed during the pandemic) to similar Asia itineraries onboard Celebrity Millennium in 2023 and 2024. They could also opt for full refunds.

Millennium guests that had booked Mexican Riviera cruises in 2022 and 2023 had their reservations automatically shifted to Solstice or given a short time to cancel their booking for a full refund.

Costa cruisers affected by its ships redeploying or changing hands “received all the relevant information and compensations,” according to a press release from Costa.

NCL guests cancelled by redeployment were offered refunds plus twenty percent as future cruise credit toward select earlier Norwegian Spirit cruise, plus ten percent toward any other cruise.

You May Be Bumped From a Cruise if the Ship Has Been Overbooked

Allure of the Seas test cruise, July 2021 (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

It may be a little-known fact, but like airlines, cruise lines sometimes overbook their ships. Cruise lines strive to sail full but know some passengers will always cancel at the last minute. As a result, cruise lines sometimes overbook ships so that they can still sail full if people cancel late in the game.

Those lines that employ the practice have developed sophisticated means of determining how many passengers are likely to cancel cruises -- so they have a very good idea of how much inventory they can oversell without bumping passengers. Nonetheless, no system is foolproof, overbooking does occur, and there is a risk of being bumped from almost any cruise.

In the case of Solstice cancelling its 2022/2023 Asia season due to redeployment, many passengers opted to lift and shift to similar 2023/2024 itineraries on Millennium. In April 2023, Celebrity began notifying passengers that their bookings were cancelled due to an accidental oversell. Cruise Critic members report that both the original Summit passengers and new bookings were among those cancelled.

Not every bump is an involuntary cancellation of your cruise booking. As with airlines, cruise lines occasionally recognize their oversold position and begin asking for volunteers to take the bump with additional compensation. That recently happened to Royal Caribbean on select Allure of the Seas sailings from Galveston, Texas. It’s a new ship to the port, making it a hot ticket.

Cruise Critic members reported in May 2023 that some Allure cruises were overbooked, and the cruise line was offering incentives to those able to change their plans.

Millennium passengers booked for the 2023/2024 Asia season that were cancelled were offered the “Lift and Shift” to the 2024/2025 season along with $500 ancillary refund for air or hotel cancellation expenses. Option two was for a full refund, with both the $500 ancillary refund and a $450 future cruise credit to use any way they want.

In the case of the request for voluntary bumps from select dates on Allure, Royal Caribbean offered enticing options, including a full refund in addition to a complementary cruise on Voyager of the Seas (a smaller ship) or a refund plus a 100 percent future cruise credit to be used on any alternate sailing.

What Should I Do If I Get Bumped?

In the unlikely event that you do get bumped, here are a few tips for making the best of the situation:

Don't panic. When you get that fateful call or email, the best advice we can give is not to get too upset. Take a deep breath and remember that you can still salvage your vacation.

Know your options. In most cases, you'll have to choose from the basic options of accepting a refund for the now-canceled cruise or rebooking a comparable sailing, whether that means on the same ship but a different date or a different ship on a similarly scheduled itinerary. (Other options may apply.) The line will often include incentives like onboard credit for those who rebook and, possibly, airline change fees.

Negotiate pleasantly and patiently. While the line will contact passengers or their travel agents outlining the proposed options, what you ultimately get may depend on your ability to negotiate. If not explicitly offered, ask about reimbursement for nonrefundable fees or cancellation penalties you may incur for things like prepaid hotel stays, car rentals or airfare. If you don't like the options for what the line deems a "comparable" cruise, come prepared with your own alternatives.

"If there's something that's truly reasonable, it certainly never hurts to ask," says one former head of corporate communications for a luxury line. "I think the key is to ask ... but also be nice," he adds. "That person that you're dealing with is probably under a lot of stress as the result of high call volume. They might well feel like they just messed up your vacation, so it's never ever a happy occasion."

How Do I Protect My Cruise Vacation if I'm Bumped?

Travel insurance can protect you in case your cruise gets bumped (Photo: 279photo Studio/Shutterstock)

Buy travel insurance. Cruise Critic has long suggested purchasing a third-party insurance policy for any cruise vacation. Make sure it covers not only the cost of the cruise itself, but also airfare and any other major expenses you may have, like hotel and transportation costs.

Book with a cruise specialist. A trusted cruise-specialized travel agent may have more pull in negotiating with the cruise line on your behalf in the event of a bumping, given their ongoing business relationship with the lines. Should the dreaded news come along, it can be a real time- and headache-saver to have a seasoned pro on hand to advocate on your behalf. In addition, the agent can also quickly tap into existing inventory to get you the best options for a replacement trip.

Publish date January 08, 2020
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