When Vacation Nightmares Become Reality: What Actually Happens When a Cruise Ship Leaves You Behind?

Don't miss the boat — or face these consequences.

Some consider the notion of a cruise to be the ultimate vacation for indulgence and unwinding. But that trip can suddenly become quite stressful if you manage to miss your ship's departure and end up stranded on land.

Just ask seasoned cruiser Michael Jensen who, due to not confirming the departure time, found himself an hour away from Civitavecchia, the port of Rome, when his ship was due to depart within an hour. Despite a speedy taxi ride, he told Jet Set, he and his wife were left behind. While "frazzled," the couple took the experience in their stride.

But getting left behind can be fairly devastating for some, as the parents of two young children found out last year when their cruise ship left Nassau without them but with their children. They were reunited in New York a few days — and a lot of stress and tears — later.

The harsh reality is that the ship just cannot wait. At their website Virgin Holidays Cruises tell it like it is: "While we don’t want to leave without you any more than you want to be left behind, our Captains are tied by their schedules; just as flights needs to depart on time, so do our cruise ships!"

But Virgin does have some very useful tips for what to do if you do still manage to miss the boat. "The first thing you have to do is find your port agent," according to the site, referring to a member of cruise line staff stationed in port). Virgin Cruises also suggests carrying the phone number of the port agent with you whenever you go into port. "This is usually printed on the cruise newsletter or daily programme. Take the ship’s number too (this is usually printed on your cruise ID). That way, if you do find yourself lost or unable to make it back to the ship on time, you can call the crew who will let you know whether the Captain can wait for you."

You'll also need to ask about your belongings. If the ship crew had noticed you weren't on board on time, they may have packed up your belongings and left them in port. If not, you will have to get them shipped to you, if you decide to go home rather than rejoin the ship elsewhere. Virgin also suggest taking your ID ashore so that you can "stay in a hotel, or find suitable transport to catch up with us in the next port."

The bad (or worse) news is that the responsibility for finding a hotel or "suitable transport" to catch up is on you. Meaning it's about to get very expensive. Cruise lines will take into account the circumstances around your missing the boat, but if it was down to you just enjoying your time ashore a little too much, or not checking the time of departure, you're on your own. Cruise Critic offers a sliver lining, however, by suggesting you remember that "you're still on vacation. If you have time to kill after you've formulated a game plan, make the most of it by exploring the destination you find yourself in or locating an out-of-the-way place to try local fare. Stuck in port overnight? That's the time to experience the nightlife you miss when the ship sails away." 

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