Hurricane Katrina: Changes, Charters and Donations

| September 9, 2005

Art Sbarsky, CruiseMates Consumer Affairs Editor, answers letters and comments on key issues posted by readers. If you have a question about cruising, send it to .

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is unprecedented: So much damage, so many lives affected. And we still do not know the full story.

So this month, I will try to answer some disaster-related questions that are coming up from readers. If you have a question about Hurricane Katrina's impact on cruising, or on cruising in general, send it to Art at

Subject: Itinerary Changes

A booked passenger wrote the day after the flooding occurred regarding an October 23 cruise, wanting to know what was going to happen to their independently-booked air as well as their cruise.

Art says:

The person who wrote did not mention the identity of the airline or the cruise line. Generically, there's no way anyone knew that early what was going to happen. Since then, many itineraries have been reconfigured in view of the changed situation in the Gulf. And it seems most airlines are being very cooperative as well, agreeing to waive the normal penalties for changing or canceling tickets. If someone has a cruise and/or air booked, the best thing to do is contact the cruise line or airline, either directly or through one's travel agent. It pays to be patient and realize that everyone is under enormous stress right now.

Available information indicates that the port of New Orleans suffered little damage, and once full power is restored, it should be good to go. And the Mississippi River is already open on a limited basis. But for cruisers, part of the joy of a sailing that begins or ends in New Orleans is spending some time in the city itself. Even if a cruise were available -- and they won't be for some time -- it would pay to wait until all of the local issues there (or in Mobile, etc.) are resolved before thinking of cruising to or from there.

This situation points out something that's been discussed here before: The fact that cruise lines and their ships are very flexible in terms of moving out of the way of storms. No ships were caught up in Hurricane Katrina when the storm was in the Atlantic or the Gulf. And now they can change home ports as well, even if it's just temporary. As I write this, there's another storm (Ophelia) coming towards Florida, and itineraries for this weekend have already been changed. How nice to have that kind of flexibility.

Subject: Relief Charters

A passenger wrote about the Carnival ships chartered for the relief effort and felt it was unfair that their own cruise was being cancelled. Other readers wonder whether Carnival is making a profit on this, or is being charitable.

Art says:

When I look at the scenes of devastation along the Gulf Coast, and specifically in cities like New Orleans or Gulfport or Biloxi, I feel that anything that can be done to help people who have no place to live is a good thing. If some cruise passengers are inconvenienced for several months, I guess I don't have a lot of sympathy. They should just accept it. Perhaps they should take the refund they're getting and donate it to the Red Cross or Habitat of Humanity or some equally worthwhile charity. Thus, while they are at home, they can be doing something to help those less fortunate.

As for the Carnival situation, remember that it is in business to make money. They have announced that the six-month charter should negatively impact shares by only a couple of pennies apiece. Thus it would seem they are in a virtually break-even situation. That seems eminently fair. And I imagine their shareholders feel the same way. Realistically, however, even if they use all of the lower berths on those three ships, that's only about 5,700 beds. It's a small portion of the number of people who are going to be homeless. Even if the entire CLIA fleet were enlisted for the same purpose, there probably would not be enough beds. Sad, isn't it?

Subject: Donations

Lots of cruise lines are donating. Lots of their employees are donating. And many ships are fundraising on board. What else can be done?

Art says:

I would never ever tell anyone that they must donate. But it seems to me that this is a time to open one's heart and wallet or purse and do something to help those affected so horribly by this natural disaster. I've had people tell me they're not donating because it is so-and-so's fault that this happened. Baloney. Bad things happen. And a donation to a worthwhile charity (whether it amounts to one less tank of gas, or one less meal eaten out, or one less trip taken or any other way) is a good thing.

OK, I'm off the soapbox for this month. If you have any comments on these or other issues, please let me know. Send a note to my e-mail address listed above.

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