What happens if your cruise is canceled, or you get bumped?


Cruise passengers do not get bumped as often as airline passengers do, and you aren’t likely to find out there’s no room for you on the ship during the boarding process the way you might on a flight. But cruises can be oversold or canceled in advance for a variety of reasons.

Cruise lines employ some of the same approaches to inventory management as their airline counterparts, resulting in the ever-dreaded bumps. Plus, ship upgrade initiatives or mechanical repairs can cause changes to itineraries departing within weeks, months or even years.

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But wait, some of us don’t dread airline bumps — we , in fact, seek them out. Could the same apply to cruising? The biggest difference is that you’ll rarely be able to volunteer to be bumped, though that can happen in some situations. For example, Royal Caribbean overbooked Allure of the Seas in 2023 and contacted passengers to ask if they would voluntarily swap ships or sailing dates to free up rooms.

Whether you get a rare volunteer option or are involuntarily bumped from a canceled or oversold cruise, there’s a chance that you might come out ahead. First, let’s look at the reasons cruise lines bump passengers, then at the kinds of compensation you might expect if you get bumped from a cruise.

Reasons cruise lines bump passengers


Because cruise lines and their passengers have far less flexibility than airlines and flyers, every effort is made to avoid bumping guests that have confirmed cruise bookings — but there are several reasons it can happen.

Probably the most common reason for a cruise bump is maintenance and/or safety. Storms sometimes cause cancellations, and even though cruise lines schedule routine maintenance and upgrades, unexpected problems do crop up between those scheduled dry docks. Think damage from collisions, fires, rogue waves or engine failures — all of which have happened on cruise ships, sending them to the repair dock and resulting in last-minute canceled cruises.

Nobody wants to have their cruise canceled that way, but neither should you want to board a ship that might be less than seaworthy. The events that cause this type of bump often make the news, possibly alerting you to your potential bump before it happens. That’s small consolation for a canceled cruise, but it might allow you to begin rearranging your travel plans a bit sooner.

Related: Are cruises safe? Here’s what you need to know about cruise ship security and safety

Behind-the-scenes cruise line maneuvers can cause bumps that rarely make the mainstream news. Fleet changes and charter sales are two of those issues. Luckily, both of these types of cancellations usually provide months of lead time for cruise passengers to make changes to their travel plans.

You’d think dry docks are planned well before a ship’s future itineraries are announced, but don’t be surprised if dry docks for upgrades or maintenance are scheduled after cruises start booking. That happened in 2023 with Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, causing cancellations of cruises in December 2024 and January 2025. Early planners were bumped from their trips, including holiday sailings.

Fleet changes happen when a cruise line either feels it can make more money from moving a ship to a different destination or occasionally when a destination becomes impossible to cruise to. Recently, the slow resumption of cruising in Asia (especially China) has caused strings of cancellations and bumps.

Fleet changes can also result from ship sales or even transfers between sister companies (like Carnival Cruise Line taking some of sister brand Costa Cruises‘ ships). Occasionally these can be short-notice situations, but not usually.

Charter sales are when the cruise line sells a large block or the entire capacity of a ship to a charter company. These sales are worth millions to the cruise line. They generally avoid charters of ships that are already heavily booked, but it does sometimes happen, triggering a number of cancellation emails.

Then there is the oversell. It’s easy to assume that cruise lines could manage their cabin inventory through their complicated multistaged cancellation policies without the need to oversell. After all, guests who cancel their cruise at the last minute are not given refunds. Why can’t the ship sail with a few empty cabins?

Cruise ships often sail with empty rooms, and most lines use upgrade options to eke out a few extra dollars from unsold rooms at the last minute. But the important factor is that cruisers spend hundreds (if not thousands) on things like drink packages, spa services, port excursions and specialty dining. Empty cabins don’t generate that additional money, so cruise lines oversell popular sailings as airlines do with flights. They hedge their bets, and sometimes the gamble fails.

Related: How to get a free or cheap cruise ship cabin upgrade

What passengers can expect from the cruise line if they are canceled or bumped

Carnival Sunrise in New York City

Carnival Sunrise in New York City. GARY HERSHORN/GETTY IMAGES

In the case of storm cancellations or emergency maintenance needs that occur pre-cruise, you will likely get a refund of your cruise fare or credit toward a future cruise. In general, cruise lines would rather not give out refunds, so they use bonuses of additional future cruise credits if you choose credit rather than a refund. You will get little assistance for your non-cruise travel arrangements unless those were booked through the cruise line.

For example, when Carnival Freedom’s funnel caught fire in March 2024, the line had to cancel its next two sailings for emergency repairs. The line not only refunded passengers on the canceled sailings their original cruise fares but also gave each guest a future cruise credit in the same amount as the original fare to encourage a future Carnival cruise booking.

Fleet changes generally involve offers to move your reservation to a different ship sailing a similar itinerary, the ship you booked on different dates, or a different ship and itinerary altogether. Again, refunds are the cruise line’s least favorite choice, so you should expect bonus credit if you opt to either move your reservation or accept credit for an alternative cruise. Because this kind of bump usually comes with advance notice, the offer you get might not include huge bonuses.

In 2023, Celebrity Cruises had a fleet-change situation roughly six months out and offered affected guests alternative cruises and as much as $500 toward ancillary travel cancellation or change fees, which might not be enough to cover nonrefundable airline tickets for many destinations.

Related: 6 tips for booking your first cruise

Oversold cruises, though still quite rare, can result in enticing options for those who either accept a voluntary bump or anyone subject to an involuntary one. Possibilities include upgraded cabins on the alternative cruises offered, price freezes so your new booking doesn’t cost more, and a longer cruise than the canceled one at the same rate.

The options you are offered could go the other way, though. During one of its recent oversell situations, Royal Caribbean offered those being bumped from its largest class of ships a replacement cruise on a midsize ship. Sure, it was a similar itinerary, but a cruise on an Oasis Class ship is an entirely different experience than a sailing on a Voyager Class vessel.

Related: The 6 classes of Royal Caribbean cruise ships, explained

The good news is that the closer it gets to the oversold cruise, the better the offers are likely to be. The caveat, though, is that you might already have paid for airfare, hotel stays and other pre- and post-cruise bookings that cannot be canceled without paying a penalty.

Does travel insurance help with cruise cancellations or bumps?

Having travel insurance that covers cancellation of the full amount of your travel, including airline tickets and hotel reservations, is always the safest choice on any cruise. Insurance coverage can be tricky, so read all policy details carefully before you choose.

The first thing to know is you cannot be reimbursed for your cruise fare from travel insurance if you accept a refund, alternative cruise or future cruise credit from the cruise line. Where it can come in handy is if you had already paid for nonrefundable flights, hotel stays or tours before your cruise was canceled or changed.

I checked the fine print on several policies designed specifically for cruises, and none of the policies I looked at would cover your extra costs like nonrefundable airline tickets or change fees if you take a voluntary bump. Even involuntary bumps due to cruise line fleet changes don’t appear to be covered, and forced cancellations due to an oversell by the cruise line are not listed as covered reasons on any insurance policy I checked.

Related: Cruise travel insurance: What it covers and why you need it

If you were really concerned about cancellations, you could purchase a “cancel for any reason” add-on to your insurance plan. These can be pricey and possibly not worth the cost just to protect against an unexpected bump.

Cruise line cancellations due to mechanical failures would likely be covered under the common carrier clause, but only the amounts for which the cruise line doesn’t reimburse you. If your cruise line offers you $500 toward flight and hotel changes, and you are out $1,000, you can file for the extra $500 with insurance. If the cancellation happens before you leave, you’ll use trip cancellation coverage. If it happens after you have left home, you will file under trip interruption coverage.

Insurance payouts for cancellations due to weather have specific conditions regarding when you paid for the insurance coverage (often it must be 14 days before the cancellation) and whether the storm was named or not at the time you purchased coverage.

Related: The 5 best cruise travel insurance plans

Having a ‘Plan B’ may help you come out ahead on cruise bumps

Just knowing that your cruise could be canceled is a good starting point. Consider that situation when deciding on the rest of your travel plans. Perhaps you want to choose the hotel rate that lets you cancel up until 24 hours before your stay, no matter how tempting the lower, prepaid nonrefundable rate looks. The same goes with airfare.

Also, consider what you might do if your cruise gets canceled or changed. If you do book nonrefundable flights or hotel rooms, are you willing to use them even if you don’t take the cruise you planned? Can you change the dates or destinations? Would you consider booking a trip on another cruise line from the same port on the same dates to salvage your vacation — or would you enjoy a land-based holiday in Florida, Seattle or the area around your intended departure port?

Planning for the unexpected is especially important if your cruise is a one-way trip where you fly into one port and home from another (like some Alaska cruises). Having a Plan B is also crucial if your cruise involves a group or an event like a wedding.

What to do if you are notified of a bump or cancellation

woman checking her online flight tickets at home


When you are notified of a change in cruise plans, the first step is to read the notice carefully to understand your options. If you booked through a travel agency, call your adviser if they do not reach out first. Have them explain the reason for the bump and any options the cruise line offers. A valued agent might even check cabin availability on other sailings for you before they call.

The cruise line will often offer complimentary replacements on smaller ships or slightly different itineraries. If you don’t have an agent, your next step should be researching your options (including cabin availability) before committing to any of the cruise line’s choices. If you are picky about ship size, where the ship stops or cabin type or placement, you wouldn’t want to swap to the proposed alternative sailing if it wouldn’t make you happy.

Once you get a representative (or your travel adviser) on the line, clarify whether your reimbursement options include bonus future cruise credit or a refund. If you’re not offered the compensation you prefer, it never hurts to ask for it. The cruise line wants to keep you as a valued customer and knows it has inconvenienced you. The greater the inconvenience, the more the line might be willing to give.

Related: Is it better to book a cruise through a travel agent? We say yes

Finally, don’t wait too long to decide. You won’t necessarily know how many passengers are being bumped, but it could be hundreds, all scrambling to rebook something. Even if you’re inclined to wait a full year for a replacement cruise, the dates or cabin you want might fill up.

One of the worst situations I’ve heard of was a group of friends traveling together in six cabins. Half were canceled due to an oversell of the cruise. Handling that kind of bump takes coordination among the travelers, as well as with the cruise line. In theory, the reservations should have been linked, which might have avoided the split, but because the cruise lines don’t share their algorithms for who gets bumped, it’s impossible to know how any situation can play out.

Bottom line

If you cruise often, you might eventually be subject to a cancellation or bump. Being prepared with insurance coverage, refundable travel arrangements and a plan for what to do with your vacation time if it happens to you can make a cruise cancellation far less difficult to deal with.

My family once had a cruise trip canceled by a hurricane. Once we got our refunds squared away, we hit the road for what turned out to be an epic road trip. What’s your backup plan?

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By: Melinda Crow
Title: What happens if your cruise is canceled, or you get bumped?
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Published Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2024 16:00:37 +0000