Fog is one of those weather phenomena that can quickly ruin the best laid cruise vacation plans. It typically causes delays of a few hours, and on rare occasions it causes overnight delays. For those flying out after the cruise that can be really difficult since they typically miss and have to rebook their flights. Adding on hotels and extra meals all add up as additional non-planned costs. Missed work the next day can be problematic for some as well.
Generally speaking weather for the ports of Houston and Galveston is fine year round for sailing in and out of the port. If they were truly problematic ports year round, the Port of Houston would not lead the country in exported cargo from the USA. Cruise ships are a tiny fraction of the ships that sail these two ports but are high profile because of the number of people aboard any of the ships. Other than the occasional fog delays (which have happened more this year than in most recent years) and the delays when a hurricane is offshore of the upper Texas coast, the weather is great for those sailing in and out.
Many ports are affected by fog at different times. Tampa, New Orleans, San Francisco are all other cruise ports that get fog causing cruise ship delays. I’ve been delayed in Tampa and Galveston both, so I know from experience. Fog is all about the water and air temperature, so it can happen anywhere depending on the temperature and weather conditions. Typically the fog goes away after a few hours as air temperatures rise. Throw in some wind and can help break up the fog as well.
The various ports will close down due to fog based on the specific port safety needs. Some ports have large wide infrequently used channels which with great modern radar and navigation equipment can be navigated in fairly thick fog. The ports of Houston and Galveston though utilize a very heavily traveled channel that going up towards Houston is narrow and not very deep. Given much of the traffic are tanker ships full of petrochemicals, a collision (especially with a cruise ship) would be devastating. Each port with USCG input make the rules about when the channel and port gets closed. Ultimately it’s all about safety of both the vessels involved and the port/channel as well.
It is always best to fly in the day ahead of the cruise to ensure flight issues don’t cause a missed sailing. During winter months at ports where snow or fog could cause arrival delays for the ship, it is also wise to consider an additional day enjoying the disembarkation port before flying home. This provides a buffer should your ship be delayed by fog or as can happen in some areas due to snow. This buffer allows you to sit back and relax during the delays knowing you are already all set for accommodations and flights. (Your fellow passengers who did not preplan it will be scrambling to call their travel agent or the airlines to work out new travel details.)
When there is a weather forced delay the cruise lines don’t have significant obligations to provide much in the way of accommodations for the guests, either waiting to board or those stuck on the ship. Typically the cruise passenger contract, which is signed as part of the paperwork required to sail, often signed electronically, pretty much permits the cruise line to deviate from the schedule as deemed necessary by the cruise line. For weather they typically have no specific compensation required, perhaps other than in some cases prorated refunds for those missing days of their cruise because the ship can’t pick them up on time.
Most cruise lines though, do go a bit above what is required because they are in the hospitality business and ultimately want repeat guests. For those on-board often internet is opened up on a free basis and phone lines are often opened up for free use. This allows those on the ships to work on new accommodations for travel and lodging needs as necessitated by the delays. Some fortunate cruisers call their travel insurance team who will handle the new arrangements on their behalf taking a lot of stress off the delayed traveler. For those stuck aboard typically there is no on board credit offered or any refunds since they did get their entire cruise. For those on shore waiting for the ship, sometimes the cruise lines will offer on board credit to the passengers to cover the cost of lunch near the cruise terminal while waiting for the ship to come in.
Cruise lines are becoming more adept at using technology such as email and texts to communicate with passengers who are stuck waiting for their ship to arrive to pick them up. This helps cut down on the lines at the port where people end up stuck just waiting. It is important when cruising to ensure the cruise line and your travel agent have an easy way to contact you while you are on the road such as a cell phone number, mobile email, and a text number.
Even with the best planning sometimes things don’t go well. In these instances, travel insurance is a good idea. It will help provide some protection against unexpected costs associated with the delays during the cruise. The coverage can help pay for unexpected additional accommodations and airline change fees to name a couple of items often covered. Often they have concierge teams who will help with rebooking or even grabbing a good hotel room so the traveler can just wait on a return call instead of dialing up lots of different vendors to work out new details. Travel insurance can really come in handy when sailing during fog season at a port that may be afflicted by fog.
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