What To Expect If Your Cruise Ship Gets Stuck Out At Sea

When you book your dream cruise, whether to warm Caribbean climates or to the chilly scenic Arctic, the last thing you want to plan for are hiccups, delays, bad weather, or even worse, ship-wide malfunctions. However, passengers getting stuck on stranded cruise liners has become a common headline in the news. In September 2023, the Ocean Explorer ran aground off the coast of Greenland and had to be rescued after three days. In May 2023, the Carnival Sunshine suffered heavy damage and flooding after bad weather conditions. In 2020, the Pacific Princess was stranded at sea when the COVID-19 global pandemic interrupted the original 111-day round-the-world cruise, causing them to return to dock after approximately 60 days.

So yes, sometimes ship happens. In that rare but not-unthinkable event, there are some things in your control, and some things very much out of your control. When the ship hits the fan, you should expect delays in almost every way: reaching your destination cities and ports, participating in pre-paid activities on land, and even getting home. Also, if you want one, your refund will most likely be delayed as well. Here's our list of what you should expect if your cruise gets stuck at sea, so that you can remain calm and form a plan of action.

A variety of emotions and potential for illness

The first thing you should expect if your cruise gets stuck at sea is a flux of emotions. It's only natural that you might feel scared about what's going to happen, and if you're safe. As with the Ocean Explorer, rescue ships were en-route but took days to reach the passengers, which can definitely fray some nerves. The most important thing is to stay calm, because this is one of those times when freaking out won't help. That's exactly what Steven Fraser, a passenger on the Ocean Explorer, understood during the three-day ordeal, telling The Sydney Morning Herald, "Everyone's in good spirits. It's a little bit frustrating, but we are in a beautiful part of the world. We're sitting right near the glacier when we open our window."

Fraser also told the outlet that he had contracted COVID-19 during the ordeal, and that is another reality of today's world. If your ship is stuck at sea, a COVID-19 outbreak could prevent you from disembarking at the next port. In that case, you should expect to be put in isolation. Public health and infectious disease specialist Colin Lee told CBC News this is because a cruise has small cabins with little ventilation but lots of surfaces that can cause ship-wide infection. The outlet reported on the Grand Princess where 21 of 3,500 people onboard contracted COVID in 2020, and the ship faced difficulties finding a port of entry. 

Expect a delay in your scheduled activities

If your cruise ship is stuck at sea, the most common consequence you should expect is a delay in reaching your scheduled stops, your pre-paid activities on land, and your return date home. Travel itineraries are bound to change when you miss a port of call, and if your itinerary involved only a half-day of whale-watching in one port before moving on, it's safe to assume you won't make it. Being stranded could also mean your return home is delayed. In September 2022, the Disney Wish had to extend its return date due to bad weather conditions. The outlet reports that when passengers learned their they would get a few extra days on their holiday, they erupted into cheers, as this video from that moment can attest to. 

Plus, should you request one, expect your refund to face delays. This is another example of when to stay calm, because if 3,000 ship passengers are requesting refunds, they can take days, if not weeks, to process. Yes, it's frustrating, but following up every two weeks is a good way to stay informed on the status of your refund without losing your cool. CNN spoke to CJ Hayden and her partner Dave Herninko, passengers of the stranded Pacific Princess, who revealed that they applied March of 2020 for a refund but only received it in June 2020.