It isn’t unusual for a cruise ship not to complete its advertised itinerary. The reasons for this are wide and varied:
- Port closures (strikes/disasters/civil unrest)
- Onboard medical emergencies
- Mechanical failures
- Late supplies or people
- And occasionally things like pirates or volcanic eruptions,
But the most common is the weather. Strong winds or large waves can happen anywhere (often with little warning) meaning the ships can’t travel as fast or physically can’t get near enough to the dock. Sometimes the company will find an alternative port or change the order but more often than not, we simply have an extra sailing day.
Whenever this happens, a conspiracy theory goes round that the company doesn’t want to dock as they make more money when people are onboard spending their money in the shops. Actually, this is untrue. The huge mark up they make from selling tours vastly outweighs the takings on souvenir t-shirts. One extra sea day isn’t such a problem. Most passengers are supportive. Loosing more than one port day is a disaster. However this is nothing compared to the catastrophe of missing a turnaround day.
Turnaround day is when the cruise ends and the passengers leave. It is also the same day when the next cruise starts. Many people think there are days in between but the reality is often less than an hour. In that time the entire ship needs cleaning, all the food and supplies need loading plus sorting out ten thousand suitcases lined up on the pier. Any delay on turnaround day means not only an avalanche of complaints but also throws the next port out too. Which brings me to the Port of Houston.
For those unfamiliar with the gigantic state of Texas, it is almost triple the size of the UK with just over half the UK population. It is enormous. So a port near its biggest city is a major draw. Not having to take a plane is a major plus for all of us. However, the Port of Houston is not actually by the open sea, it is more than 50 miles away.
To solve this obvious geographic problem, a narrow channel has to be navigated to allow the ships to reach their final destination. Well, unless it is foggy. In the event of fog, the coastguard closed the channel and we have to sit and wait. The problem with fog is, it is unpredictable and notoriously hard to forecast. Sometimes we would be waiting for a few hours, other times it was days. How long would it last? Nobody knows. We couldn’t go anywhere else as our supplies (and next set of passengers) were on the dock waiting for us.
Our passengers had booked a seven day break and because of the fog, it would turn into 8, 9 or maybe ten days. Lucky them, except the ones who had to get back to work, or needed to rebook flights multiple times. The really unlucky people were the ones waiting in the car park not knowing when their holiday would begin. Their seven day break might only be four or five days (plus most of the ports would be missed in order to make up time). We were entirely at the mercy of the fog. It was the only topic of conversation for months. There were other problems too, including the chefs having no idea how long the food needed to last (the menus on day nine of the seven-day cruise were a little limited).
This went on week after week for months. Every day multiple people would ask why we don’t go to Galveston instead (a beautiful port town actually on the Texan coastline). The scripted answer was that people liked the convenience of being near the city. The real answer is that the Port of Houston was cheaper to dock at.
In 2016, it was announced that the cruise lines were stopping their visits to the Port of Houston. Can’t say it will be missed…