Unexpected Disembarkation

This item appears on page 16 of the December 2020 issue.

At the end of ITN subscriber Pamela Zent’s letter “Unexpected Disembarkation” (June ’20, pg. 25), in which she described being left near the dock with her luggage in New York City after having to disembark a ship to join her husband, who had been taken by ambulance from the ship to the hospital, she wrote, “From ITN readers, I would really just like to know if other couples on a cruise have found themselves in a predicament where one member ended up in the hospital onshore and the other had to pack up and leave. What assistance did the ship’s staff offer the wife or husband in getting off the ship and on their way?”

So we asked subscribers to write in on the topic of an Unexpected Disembarkation in the middle of a cruise. What assistance did the ship’s staff provide? What was arranged?

Here are a few of the responses received.

I certainly empathize with Mrs. Zent’s experience of being disembarked unexpectedly from her cruise. My husband, Bob, and I have been disembarked unexpectedly not once but twice from cruises.

• The first time was in October 2018 while traveling on a Panama Canal trip aboard the Volendam of Holland America Line (877/932-4259; www.hollandamerica.com).

Bob, then 92 years old, fell one night and broke his leg. I was panicked. How would I get this man, who couldn’t walk, home on an airplane? How could I handle it all in a foreign country? Fortunately, the ship’s medical staff took charge, contacting our travel insurer, and made all arrangements for us, including the hospital.

When we got to Puntarenas, Costa Rica, staff presented me with the necessary papers, and our room steward helped with the packing and taking luggage to the medical center, where a port agent met me. A porter took our luggage to a waiting station wagon taxi for the long, beautiful ride up through the mountains to a hospital in San José. At every step, I felt support from the ship’s staff.

• The second unexpected disembarkation occurred in February 2019 while traveling on a 14-day cruise to the Sea of Cortez aboard the Ruby Princess of Princess Cruises (800/774-6237; www.princess.com).

With only two days to go, Bob temporarily lost his sight in one eye while watching the evening show. The medical staff feared an impending stroke and decided to disembark us at Puerto Vallarta the next morning.

Again, the medical center staff took charge. While I breakfasted, our room steward did the packing, even retrieving our dirty laundry from the laundry room. He took everything to the ship’s medical center, where we were given the necessary papers to sign to disembark.

The ambulance crew took Bob to the waiting ambulance, and the port agent took our luggage to the car they had waiting to take me to the hospital.

At the hospitals used in both incidents, I was able to stay in the room with my husband, which was very reassuring to both of us.

Being unexpectedly disembarked is extremely stressful, but it happens more often than you might think. Each ship has a system in place to deal with it, and it should not be left to the distressed passenger to try to figure out what that system is.

The Princess cruise was our last cruise, as Bob’s health has deteriorated. We are sad to have had to end our wonderful years of seeing the world.

Patricia Ove
Aurora, CO



My husband, Pete, and I were on a 9-day Southern Caribbean cruise in February 2008 with Royal Caribbean International (866/562-7625; www.royalcaribbean.com) when, on the seventh day, we ported at Margarita Island, Venezuela. We had not called home for a week, so we found a phone booth and used our calling card.

We found out that our 19-month-old grandson had a massive tumor in his left eye (retinoblastoma), and the doctors said the eye would have to be removed. Our daughter was a complete wreck, and we were in shock!

We walked back to the ship, sat on our bed and bawled. After we pulled ourselves together, I went down to the Customer Service desk and asked for help getting home. At that point, Royal Caribbean took over.

First, they told me we could use the ship’s phone to call home anytime, free of charge. Then they said they could probably get us off the ship the next morning in Willemstad, Curaçao. We were to pack our bags, and they would call us in the morning.

I then went to the dining room to tell the couple we had been dining with for the past week about our situation and that we were too upset to eat. They proceeded to tell me that their 26-year-old daughter had the very same thing and had her eye removed at age 3. I was floored!

I asked them if they could come to our stateroom after they finished dinner so they could explain just what retinoblastoma was. What a godsend this was for us, to get some information and comfort.

After breakfast the next morning, I went to the Customer Service desk to inquire about getting home. They said they had been trying to call our cabin. We needed to get our luggage and report to a room on the ship where Customs agents were waiting to process the paperwork.

After we were cleared, Royal Caribbean had a taxi waiting for us at the pier. It took about 30 minutes to get to the airport. Royal Caribbean not only got us flights home quickly, they gave us their corporate rate.

While waiting about an hour in the airport terminal, I spoke with an eye doctor who just happened to be sitting next to us. He assured me that our grandson would be OK. More information to ease our minds — another blessing!

I later wrote a letter to Royal Caribbean’s corporate office thanking them for taking excellent care of us.

Our grandson Evan is now a healthy, happy 14-year-old!

Linda L. Lemieux
Star, ID



In 2012, my husband, Jarlath, and I sailed in the South Seas on the beautiful ship Oriana of the British line P&O Cruises (www.pocruises.com). The last overnight stop was San Francisco, and we decided to take a look around the city and have dinner there. The ship had two gangways open.

After dinner, Jarlath felt burning and discomfort in his chest and abdomen. We returned to the ship and decided to ask the Purser’s Desk to arrange for him to see a physician because we were due to disembark and fly home the next day.

My husband was taken to a very up-to-date medical room on the ship, and the doctor told him, much to his surprise, that he was having a heart attack.

They told me to go back to the room and pack. Both the doctor and the nurses were very professional and arranged for Jarlath’s safety and comfort so he could be transported to a hospital in San Francisco. The doctor called the fire department’s paramedics, and the nurse called the port agent. The port agent came and said she had told security that the fire department would be coming to take Jarlath off the ship.

The paramedics took longer than we thought, and then they called the port agent and said that Oriana’s security staff at the gangway wouldn’t let them on board because they didn’t have cruise cards. The ship’s doctor and the port agent tried to work with the security staff, but nothing seemed to be moving.

All of a sudden we heard a racket down the hallway, and the paramedics with their gear and a gurney were running down the hall. They had stormed up the second gangway, with white-uniformed security following. One of the firemen said they were not going to let an “ice cream man” keep them from their patient.

From there on, the doctor and the paramedics worked together to get Jarlath settled on the gurney.

When we left, we were held up at security. They insisted on taking our cruise cards. Jarlath didn’t have his, but mine seemed to satisfy them.

At the hospital, Jarlath went into surgery immediately. I spent the night there, and the staff helped me find a hotel for the next day. The port agent arranged for our bags to be delivered to the hotel.

Jarlath recovered enough in two days to take the short flight to Los Angeles to get us home.

As we look back, we think security caused an unnecessary delay by blocking the paramedics and insisting on cruise cards, but we are thankful for the knowledge and professionalism of the Oriana’s doctor and her team. The port agent did a good job in the situation as well.

The only thing I wish I had thought to do was ask the port agent to find me a hotel, as I didn’t know the area.

Jarlath and I still chuckle about the sight of the paramedics running toward us down the hallway with all of their gear.

Diane Oley
Torrance, CA

More “Unexpected Disembarkation” accounts next month. — Editor