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Cruise Views

Avoiding Some Rough Mishaps on Calm Seas

March 02, 1997|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month

After more than 200 cruises in 15 years, we've weathered most of the unpleasant things that can mar an otherwise pleasant cruise--missed ports of call, ships leaving late passengers behind and, most recently, luggage that was five days late getting from the airline to the ship. Here are a few tips for dealing with bothersome problems.

Lost luggage: You've arrived at the airport of the city where you're boarding your cruise ship, but some or all of your luggage has not. That happened to us in December in Auckland, New Zealand, where we were planning to board the Crystal Harmony.

We had flown United Airlines nonstop from Los Angeles to Auckland, but Harry's suitcase and 14 pieces of baggage headed from San Francisco to the Crystal Harmony and ended up in a Honolulu storage shed for several days. The passengers failed to connect with their bags until five days later in Fiji.

Fortunately, same-day laundry and dry-cleaning services were available on the ship.

In search of basics such as underwear, deck shoes and pajamas, we went ashore in Paihia, New Zealand, where there were at least a dozen stores selling T-shirts with funny slogans but only one ordinary clothing shop. Here, men's undershorts cost $7 each and socks were $10 for two pairs. A pair of sneakers cost $35.

In the interim, the ship's concierge managed to locate a waiter's tuxedo, dress shirt and black shoes to outfit Harry for our first formal evening on board. Some of the other passengers with missing baggage chose to skip the formal night dinner and eat in one of the two alternative restaurants on board or in their cabins.

While missing baggage is usually the fault of the airline and should be reported immediately to the airline, cruise ship staffs and their port agents search by phone or fax and usually find the lost luggage. In the meantime, we've vowed never to set out again without basic wardrobe items packed in a carry-on bag.

Missed ports of call: During our years of cruising, we missed a lot of scheduled ports, but none was disputed so vociferously as a missed visit to Ensenada on the old Azure Seas when that ship, now Dolphin's OceanBreeze, was making three- and four-day cruises from San Pedro.

A January storm had torn out huge chunks of Ensenada's sea wall. Nevertheless, some passengers threatened a class action suit if they weren't taken ashore despite the captain's explanation that the bay was littered with huge rocks from the sea wall that could destroy a tender.

The protesting passengers should have read the fine print on their contracts, which allows the captain sole discretion to deviate from the advertised route.

So grin and bear it.

The ship sails without you: There's nothing worse than arriving at the dock to find your ship has sailed.

As the Nantucket Clipper sailed from Charleston, S.C., one sunny afternoon, a passenger was combing the ship trying to find his wife. Suddenly, those of us on deck heard a frantic beep-beep from a speedboat following us, and as we slowed down and it drew alongside, the wife, her arms full of shopping bags, was yelling and waving. It seems she'd gotten carried away with some bargains and lost track of time. She had the presence of mind to go to the cruise line's port agent in Charleston and explain the problem. A speedboat was launched to catch up with the ship.

Remember that any expenses incurred when the ship sails without you because you are late are your responsibility, whether you have to hire a boat or book a flight to the next port of call.

To avoid this problem, arrive in your port of embarkation well ahead of departure time, even a day or two before to make sure your luggage has arrived. And in ports of call, always note the departure time and be back on board half an hour before it. Carry the name and telephone number of the port agent when in a port of call. These are provided by the cruise line before sailing. You also may want to take the ship's shore excursion tour rather than striking off on your own. The captain will wait for a busload of passengers, but may not for a couple or an individual.

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