Didn't board your cruise in time? Here's what to do

Melissa Boursiquot's luck changed halfway through her trip to Florida. On her way to take a cruise for her mom's birthday in 2019, the pair boarded their flight from New York just in time.

But when they got to Miami for their Carnival Cruise Line sailing, the now 30-year-old digital marketing specialist told USA TODAY, they headed for Fort Lauderdale, where she thought the cruise was departing.

On the way there, however, they realized it was leaving from Miami.

When they got to the port, they could not figure out which ship was theirs, and by the time they did, Boursiquot said, they were too late. She had been trying to look on the bright side until that point.

"Basically, my optimism went down the drain then," she said.

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Boursiquot called the cruise line who gave her portion of her money back – about $300 – but she lost out on the rest of the cost and the experience.

With travel picking up, travelers may find airports and roads more hectic than usual, which can lead to hiccups. Here's what to know about your options if you miss your cruise.

What happens if you miss your cruise?

Travelers who are going to miss their embarkation time should call and let their cruise line know, said Lauren Doyle, president of the travel agency The Travel Mechanic.

She said travelers can find emergency and day-of phone numbers in their cruise documents, though "it's up to the client to make sure they read over those documents." Doyle recommended cruise passengers keep those numbers easily accessible on their phone.

The cruise line can advise passengers on whether they can board at the ship's next stop. For those doing a Caribbean cruise, for instance, Doyle said, passengers would likely need to fly to meet the ship at their own expense. River cruises, meanwhile, are "a bit easier," as travelers can drive take or public transportation such as buses to those ports. "There (are) options," she said.

Do you get a refund if you miss your cruise?

Doyle said cruise lines are unlikely to refund passengers who have to cancel their reservation so close to boarding, though policies may vary. On Royal Caribbean International, for instance, "If the guest can’t downline or meet at the ship at the next port (knowing this isn’t feasible for all guests), their cruise fare will be held in 100% penalty due to our cancellation policy," a spokesperson for the line told USA TODAY in an email.

"The guest will receive a refund to the original form of payment for their taxes and fees, plus any pre-paid onboard components, like: shore excursions, food and beverage packages, and gratuities, within 7 business days from the end of the sailing," the spokesperson added.

If passengers cancel their cruise 30 days or less before departure, Royal Caribbean does not refund any portion of the fare, according to its website.

Doyle said she has seen in cases when clients have missed boarding a cruise because of circumstances beyond their control that cruise lines have been willing to work with them.

"It never hurts to ask," she said. "Not asking means an automatic no." Doyle added that if passengers worked with a travel advisor, the advisor can advocate on the guest's behalf.

Drew Daly, senior vice president and general manager of travel agency franchise Dream Vacations, said in an email that travel insurance can help customers recoup expenses if they have to board late or miss their cruise altogether, in the form of "cancelation, trip interruption, and trip delay features."

The level of coverage depends "on the provider of the insurance, the policy you bought, many factors," Doyle said and recommended seeking professional advice.

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How can travelers avoid missing a cruise?

In order to minimize the risk of missing a cruise, Doyle said travelers should aim to arrive at the general area of the sailing's departure point a full day in advance, even if they can drive there. "Really anything can happen," she warned.

She also flagged another potential mishap: passengers sometimes do not get back on the ship in time after getting off at a port. Doyle recommended travelers set a timer on their phone so they know when they need to back.

She said she likes to get back at least half an hour ahead of time. "I really don't like to cut it too close," Doyle said.

If that does happen, depending on the port, she recommended calling or going to the closest U.S. embassy and contacting the cruise line to determine next steps. She said staff members at the port can also advise passengers.

If something does go wrong, it can be stressful. As they are navigating their options, Doyle said, "Another tip I tell people is just to calm down."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What cruise passengers should do if they miss their boarding time