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Couple left behind by cruise ship highlights why booking cruise line excursions is important


Jill and Jay Campbell, a couple from Garden City, South Carolina, embarked on a cruise around Africa but found themselves stranded after their independent excursion ran late. 

Last week, the Campbells and six other passengers were enjoying a tour in Soa Tome and Principe, a tiny island off the coast of Western Africa, when they realized it was running longer than expected. They voiced their concerns to the tour operator and were met with reassurance, as the guide claimed they contacted the ship to let them know that they'd be running late. 

Upon returning to the port, they were greeted by the sight of their ship, Norwegian Dawn, which was still anchored. The Captain, however, refused to let them onboard. The Soa Tome Coast Guard transported all eight passengers to the anchored vessel; however, the Captain told them to return to the island. 

Read more: I went on an African safari by cruise ship. Not everything went as planned, but I would do it again


Norwegian Dawn at sunset

Apparently, the Campbells are the only passengers in the group with a working Visa credit card on the island. Since they've been left, they've spent over $5,000 in food, accommodation, and toiletries for everyone. 

Norwegian Dawn is currently on a 21-day one-way cruise from Cape Town, South Africa to Barcelona, Spain. Following the ship's stop in Principe, the vessel is scheduled to visit the Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal, the Canary Islands, and three ports in Spain before docking in Barcelona on April 10. 

Norwegian Cruise Line provided the following statement regarding the incident: “While this is a very unfortunate situation, guests are responsible for ensuring they return to the ship at the published time, which is communicated broadly over the ship’s intercom, in the daily communication and posted just before exiting the vessel." 

Read more: Will the cruise ship wait for you if you're late at a port?

Renewed importance highlighting why booking cruise line-sponsored excursions is important


With a limited amount of time in port, it's no surprise that cruise passengers will want to make the most of their time ashore, especially if they're visiting more unique destinations. Even so, it's important to keep in mind that cruise ships will not wait for stragglers. 

Booking excursions with third parties is often tempting. In addition to sometimes being cheaper, local operators may offer a wider array of experiences compared to the cruise line's options. 

You must weigh the associated risks prior to booking, as cruise lines are not required to wait for those who venture off on their own, as proven by the Campbells in Africa. Cruise ships run on a tight schedule, from embarkation to disembarkation, and any kind of delay can disrupt the itinerary later on. 

Read more: 12 cruise ship shore excursions you should skip

Excursion Tickets

Those who book excursions through the cruise line receive peace of mind, as the ship will wait for the group as long as possible. If the ship does happen to depart before you're able to return, they'll help cover the cost of transferring passengers to the next port of call. 

If you miss the ship when you're off on your own, you're responsible for all the associated costs, if you're even allowed to meet up with the vessel. The Campbells, for instance, were trying to meet up with Norwegian Dawn in Gambia. However, they were unable to rejoin the ship, as it was unable to dock due to low ties and therefore spent another day at sea. 

Read more: Cruise passengers distraught after being left behind by ship

Even before your cruise begins, you should avoid any potential mishaps by arriving the evening before you're scheduled to depart

Cape Town

Once you've placed your deposit, you'll likely begin thinking about pre-cruise transportation, especially if you do not live within driving distance. While you may feel inclined to fly in the morning of departure to save money on a hotel, this can be a costly mistake

Even if you find a flight with a relatively early arrival time, it's important to remember that deplaning, collecting your luggage, and driving to the terminal can easily add an extra hour or two to your plans, especially if your flight ends up being delayed. 

If you're cruise departs from somewhere that requires extensive travel time, such as South Africa, Asia, or Europe, it's wise to add even more buffer time. If you miss your overnight flight or connection, you may not be able to catch one on the same day. 


Guests sailing from the United States should be aware of the Passenger Services Act of 1886, which forbids foreign-flagged vessels from transporting passengers from one U.S. port to another. In order to bypass this rule, ships sailing roundtrip itineraries must dock in at least one foreign country, whereas one-way cruises from one U.S. port to another must include a stop at a "distant foreign port." 

Let's say that your cruise departs from Miami and sails straight to Key West, Florida. If you happen to miss the ship's departure due to a canceled flight, you won't be able to join the vessel until it docks in a foreign port, such as Mexico. 

Read more: 10 tips for getting the best cruise shore excursion values

Tips for making sure that you don't miss the ship

In addition to arriving the day before your cruise begins, here's some more advice for those who decide to explore the port of call either on their own or with an independent operator. 

Stay on the ship's time


Sometimes, ships will sail through different time zones. That, however, doesn't mean that the onboard time will adjust to reflect the local time. Instead, the ship will likely keep the same time zone as the departure port. 

If, for instance, you sail to Mexico and the ship's time is one hour ahead of the local time, you could end up missing the ship if you return at 4:30pm CST instead of 4:30pm EST. 

To ensure you don't get the times mixed up, bring a watch and set it to match the ship's time, as your phone will automatically adjust to the local time. 

Set an alarm on your phone

iPhone alarm Dreamstime

Setting a few alarms on your phone will help remind you when you need to be heading back to the ship. Rather than set one for when you have to be on your way back, it's smart to set a couple to help you gauge how much time you have remaining in port. 

Remember to adjust the time accordingly depending on what the ship's time is versus the local time. Setting an alarm for 3:30pm EST won't be much help if you need to be back onboard at 3:30pm CST. 

Read more: How to plan your own shore excursion

Limit your alcohol intake


Typically, drinking in port is more cost-effective than splurging on a drink package or purchasing drinks individually while onboard. While you shouldn't be deterred from enjoying a few tropical cocktails while basking in the Bahamian sun, it becomes rather easy to lose track of time the more you drink. 

It's smart to refrain from alcohol the hour leading up to the all-aboard time. This ensures that you're aware of when you need to be heading back, rather than trying to get as many drinks in as you can. For those who want to do a significant amount of drinking, consider having someone who will act like the designated driver or book a booze cruise that includes transportation back to the port. 

You don't want to be one of the pier runners who can barely hold their head up straight! 

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