AP Photo/Mic Smith, File
- Windy weather forced a Carnival cruise ship to cancel its only planned port stop earlier this month.
- Passengers onboard received partial refunds and compensation for the unexpected cancellation.
- Passenger Kat O’Donnell told Insider the decision was disappointing.
Passengers aboard the Carnival Sunshine were met with gray skies and disappointment after inclement weather turned their Bahamas-bound cruise into a bonafide cruise to nowhere.
The 3,000-passenger vessel departed Charleston, South Carolina, on Thursday, January 12 on a four-day voyage to Nassau and back, but gusty winds and dangerous swells left the ship unable to dock in the Bahamian capital — nixing the ship’s only planned port stop.
“We feel like we missed out,” said Kat O’Donnell, 33, who was onboard the Carnival Sunshine with her husband and two young kids. “We didn’t get what we went for.”
O’Donnell, 33, and her husband had planned the vacation as a joint Christmas-birthday present. It was the family’s first-ever cruise and was supposed to be their first international trip, as well.
“It was the first time either one of us have ever gone out of the country,” she told Insider.
After two days of sailing through windy, chilly weather, the ship was set to dock in Nassau on the morning of January 14, where O’Donnell and her family had prepaid for a dolphin excursion, she said.
The kids were all dressed in their bathing suits and prepping their snorkel gear about 20 minutes before the boat was supposed to dock when O’Donnell noticed the island still seemed far off.
Moments later, the captain came over the ship’s intercom, informing passengers that it was too windy to safely dock, O’Donnell said, nixing the family’s tropical dreams. Steady winds between 20 to 30 miles per hour were recorded on the island on January 14.
“It was really, very disappointing,” O’Donnell said of the unexpected port cancellation. “But I understand the safety concerns. I’m glad they were keeping us safe.”
Cruise Hive was first to report the Carnival Sunshine’s modification into a cruise to nowhere. The terminology refers to voyages in which a vessel departs from one port, sails in international waters for a few days without ever docking, and then returns to the original port to de-board.
Once a popular vacation option, some international cruise lines still offer purposeful cruises to nowhere, giving passengers a chance to immerse themselves in the onboard experience during a quick getaway. Cruise lines used these tiny on-board vacations to win over new customers and turn a profit during scheduling gaps.
But a 2016 ruling from the US Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection effectively prohibited most cruises to nowhere, citing immigration concerns for foreign staff onboard the ships.
The Carnival Sunshine cruise ship docked in South Carolina in March 2020.
AP Photo/Mic Smith
The Carnival Sunshine’s failed itinerary, however, was a last-minute safety decision made by the crew.
O’Donnell said she and her family wallowed for a couple hours before picking themselves up and finding activities to do around the ship.
“We spent a lot of time at the arcade with the kids,” she said. “We spent more time at the candy shop than I’d like to admit.”
Less than an hour after making the initial announcement, the captain came back over the intercom and told passengers they would be issued partial refunds and credits as compensation for the missed port stop.
A spokesperson for Carnival confirmed to Insider that passengers were refunded their port fees, as well as taxes and shore excursion expenditures. O’Donnell said each stateroom also received a $100 onboard credit, as well as a voucher for money off a future cruise.
Despite her disappointment, O’Donnell said she was appreciative of Carnival’s quick response and efforts to remedy the situation.
“I’m thankful they offered us something,” she told Insider. “They could have just said ‘you know what you signed up for.'”
O’Donnell said her family will take another stab at cruising in the future, but next time they’ll plan a voyage with multiple stops, just in case.