Cruises: Why you should book late to avoid disappointment

Don’t talk to me about cruise firms that change their minds. Actually, please do, because it’s a maddening phenomenon.

My first attempt to reach the Scilly Isles was thwarted by “low water levels”. Later, on an Aegean itinerary, a last-minute switch meant we turned up in Athens on a Monday, when the key museums were closed. (Thanks to Greek financial realism, these miraculous collections of antiquity are now seven-day-a-week operations.) And if you care to search online for my name and “worst holiday”, it will come up with a story headlined: “Arctic cruises: how Simon Calder blew the budget on a trip to ‘North Korea on sea’.”

We passengers aboard the SS Kim Jong-un, as I christened the Adventure Canada ship, saw half the planned itinerary unceremoniously ditched. As a fellow traveller put it: “I’ve been on many safaris and expeditions, and this is by far the most disappointing.”

Disappointment is equally rife among passengers booked on the transatlantic voyage ofMarella Discovery 2. She is due to sail from Montego Bay on 10 April, destination Palma. But customers who took advice to book early have found that three of the most alluring ports have been deleted from the itinerary for the “Atlantic Discoveries” trip.

Now Havana, Nassau and Lisbon are off the discovery agenda, annoyed passengers have contacted me by the lifeboatful. They feel they have been left high and dry after the capitals of Cuba, the Bahamas and Portugal were deleted from the 18-day voyage, and replaced by lesser locations. Here’s Valerie Mountford: “We have had instances of port calls being cancelled because of rough seas while we were on the cruise, which we accept. But we have been on 30 or 40 cruises now and have never experienced this kind of change before.”

© provided by Shutterstock Street scene in HavanaWhile Nassau might struggle to make a list of great capitals, Havana and Lisbon are world class. You can step ashore from the Cuban capital’s cruise terminal straight into the heart of Old Havana, the most atmospheric square mile in the world, founded in 1519. But Marella’s passengers have learned, with two months’ notice, they will instead be calling at an imitation colonial town in the Dominican Republic called “Amber Cove Cruise Center”, which dates all the way back to 2015.

The cause of the cull? ​It all stems from a baffling double-booking in the Cuban capital. Both Royal Caribbean and TUI had been selling the same day in Havana, even though the cruise terminal isn’t big enough for the both of them.

As Cuba was canned, the Bahamas were bypassed on the tour-de-tax-haven segment of the trip. Nassau is replaced by Grand Turk and Grand Cayman, which are presumably good places to stash a few grand but from a tourist’s perspective are studies in superficiality. And the new calls have had a knock-on effect, with Lisbon already at cruise-ship capacity on the new day of arrival in Europe.

Instead of sailing under the majestic 25 April Bridge and mooring beside one of Europe’s most entrancing capitals, the ship is going to Cadiz.

© provided by Shutterstock The cityscape and beach in the city of Cádiz.Swizz? Well, complaining will do no good, since TUI “does not guarantee that the vessel will call at every advertised port of call”. The holiday firm and the captain “shall have the absolute right to change or substitute the advertised schedule and/or ports of call for any reason whatsoever”.

A spokesperson for TUI said: “This is a very rare occurrence and on this occasion we found out the information from the ports after the cruise had gone on sale.”

But the lesson I take from this maritime misadventure: never commit a long way in advance for a cruise. That way you reduce the risk that the itinerary will changed, and lessen the chance of disappointment.

A TUI spokesperson said: “The benefits to booking a cruise early mean customers get the best cabin availability, can profit from early booking offers and have a greater choice when booking their flights.”

But I believe “book late to avoid disappointment” is the best course to steer, even though it is exactly the opposite of what TUI and every other travel firm wants you to do.

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