Thousands of passengers on cruise ships this week are getting something they probably didn’t expect when their cruises began a few days ago: Extra days at sea.
The closure of three major Florida cruise ports Tuesday and Wednesday due to the approach of Hurricane Ian — Port Tampa Bay, Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPort) and Port Canaveral — means that at least five Florida-based cruise vessels won’t be able to return to their home ports on Thursday as scheduled to disembark the passengers.
Instead, the ships are spending extra time at sea and at cruise destinations in the Caribbean and the Bahamas.
The voyages that are being extended include this week’s four-night sailings of Carnival Cruise Line‘s 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise and 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation out of Port Tampa Bay and JAXPort, respectively. Both of the sailings, which began on Sunday and had been scheduled to end Thursday morning, are now morphing into cruises that will last at least five nights or longer.
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Also being extended are sailings out of Port Canaveral operated by Royal Caribbean‘s 3,344-passenger Mariner of the Seas, Norwegian Cruise Line‘s 3,967-passenger Norwegian Getaway and MSC Cruises‘ 3,502-passenger MSC Divina.
All three of the ships had been due back at Port Canaveral on Thursday morning but will now stay at sea at least until Friday morning if not longer.
Also likely to remain at sea longer than expected is Disney Cruise Line‘s 2,508-passenger, Port Canaveral-based Disney Wish. The line told passengers on the current sailing that the vessel might not return to Port Canaveral early Friday as scheduled and could remain a sea into the weekend.
The delayed returns mean that nearly 20,000 cruisers this week are getting an extension of their vacations — whether they want one or not.
If Port Canaveral doesn’t reopen to cruise traffic by Friday, two other ships that are based at the port — Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas and Carnival’s Carnival Liberty — could also find themselves stuck at sea for an extra day.
Port Tampa Bay closed to marine traffic, including cruise ships, at 8 a.m. EDT on Tuesday as Hurricane Ian bore down the west coast of Florida, and Port Canaveral closed to marine traffic at 12 a.m. EDT on Wednesday. JAXPort is scheduled to shut down at 12 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.
Related: Cruise lines cancel, delay Florida sailings as Hurricane Ian approaches
All three of the ports are expected to remain closed through at least Friday morning if not longer.
In a statement sent to TPG, Carnival said the Tampa-based Carnival Paradise had extended its Tuesday visit to Cozumel, Mexico, into Wednesday — giving passengers an extra day at the port. The timing of the ship’s return to Tampa has yet to be set.
Carnival Paradise “is now scheduled to depart from Cozumel on Wednesday,” Carnival said in the statement. “The ship will then begin heading back to Tampa, but remaining a safe distance from the storm as the company determines when Carnival Paradise can return to the Port of Tampa after the U.S. Coast Guard assesses conditions.”
A new return date for Carnival Elation to Jacksonville also has not yet been set. The ship replaced a scheduled visit to Princess Cay in the Bahamas on Tuesday with a day at sea and will be visiting Freeport in the Bahamas on Wednesday instead of a scheduled sea day.
“It is likely the sailing will be extended until the port [of Jacksonville] reopens after the storm has passed,” the line said.
In a statement posted online, Royal Caribbean said it expected Mariner of the Seas to be back in Port Canaveral on Friday, a day later than scheduled.
Related: Don’t cruise during hurricane season without reading this
Norwegian and MSC Cruises have not yet said when Norwegian Getaway and MSC Divina might return to Port Canaveral.
As is customary when cruises need to be extended due to inclement weather, none of the passengers on board the vessels will be charged for the extra days they spend on the ships.
Such voyage extensions due to hurricanes and other weather events are relatively rare in the cruise world, though they do happen from time to time.
What’s particularly notable about this week’s cruise extensions is that they are taking place for ships operating out of multiple Florida ports on both sides of the state — a result of Hurricane Ian’s large size and Florida-crossing track.
The extensions have mostly been met with good humor by passengers on the ships, at least judging from their posts on social media. “Oh nooo hurricane Ian is forcing us to stay on our cruise an extra day,” one cruiser on a Royal Caribbean ship wrote early Wednesday on Twitter, adding a laughing emoji that suggested she wasn’t upset at all.
The extended sailings are just the latest in a string of disruptions to cruises this week caused by Hurricane Ian. More than a dozen cruise ships operating in the Caribbean and the Bahamas have had to switch course in recent days to steer clear of the storm as it barreled toward Florida. In many cases, the ships dropped or switched ports as they moved to calmer waters.
Related: See which cruise ships have been affected by Ian
The disruptions come as one of the busier cruise ports in the region that often serves as an alternate stop for cruise ships avoiding hurricanes, Grand Turk, remains closed for now due to damage from Hurricane Fiona.
As of 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Ian was about 55 miles west of Naples, Florida, and moving north-northeast at 10 miles per hour. The hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour.
According to current projections, Ian could be a very powerful Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour as it hits the west coast of Florida Wednesday.
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