I’ve occasionally wondered about this. If, for some reason, you cannot or prefer not to fly, is it possible to board a cruise ship in Halifax, sail to Europe, and return the same way? What follows are the bits of info that I’ve been able to uncover as a matter of curiosity. If you want a definitive answer on the subject, consult a travel agent to get the full lowdown.
I’ll preface this post by stating that I have zero cruise planning knowledge or experience. I’ve never been on a cruise. An overnight ferry doesn’t count.
Searching Cruise Itineraries
A while back I joined the Vacations To Go email list. They send out deal notifications for ocean and river cruises and have a 90-Day Ticker for last minute bargains.
Although I’m not a cruiser, it’s still fun to use the search feature to see what’s possible.
Departing from Halifax
For the repositioning or transatlantic cruises, Halifax comes up as a port for quite a few. However, it seldom appears as a starting or ending port, except for a couple of luxury cruise options.
For example, the Norwegian Star stops in Halifax April 11 after departing New York April 9 on its way to London arriving April 23, 2020. Cheapest cabin is $566 USD.
Arriving Back in Halifax
The Carnival Radiance stops in Halifax on June 22nd after departing Barcelona June 11, 2020 on its way to New York. Cheapest cabin is $909 USD.
Therefore, theoretically, you could have a month and a half in Europe to make your way from the UK to Spain to catch your ride home. You could swing by Belgium and the Netherlands before heading south through France on their excellent high-speed trains.
Permission from the Cruise Line for a “Partial Cruise”
I tried to find out if embarking or disembarking from a cruise somewhere other than the official start and end points is discussed anywhere. I know that people who miss their cruise can catch up with it at a later port, but I’m looking for instances where the embarkation/disembarkation is planned in advance.
It’s easy to find questions on travel forums about whether this is a thing, but finding real answers is more difficult. Some googling revealed this information from Royal Caribbean. It states that a passenger must already have a confirmed reservation to request clearance to board the cruise late or depart early.
Hapaq-Lloyd states they will “enquire with local authorities whether it is possible to join or leave the cruise at an intermediate point” on their FAQ page.
Similarly, with the FAQ for Celebrity:
A. It depends on the specific itinerary of your cruise, your nationality, and various United States and foreign laws. Joining the cruise at one of its ports of call or leaving the cruise prior to its scheduled termination point may be prohibited by law. If you need to join late or leave early, or both, submit your request in advance and we will tell you whether your proposed changes will be permitted.
For more information, call 800-256-6649. There is a cut-off date for submitting this information, so make your request early. Please note that no refunds, prorated or otherwise, are granted to customers who join their cruise late or leave their cruise early. Certain governments impose fines or other charges when a guest permanently disembarks from a cruise before its final port of call. The guest will be responsible for those charges.
Obviously, you must still pay full fare for the cruise despite missing a portion of it. In my brief research I’ve also read about other potential fees for passengers disembarking early.
As referenced in Celebrity’s terms above, in some countries, there are laws related to the transport of passengers by foreign-flagged ships between domestic ports. For example, in the United States, the Passenger Vessels Services Act sets out the applicable law.
It appears that front line cruise line representatives don’t always have a solid handle on this legal aspect of cruising and partial cruise requests may be denied when no violation actually exists.
The Risk Factor – Itinerary Changes
When booking a cruise, be aware that the ship’s itinerary could be adjusted if necessary. I assume the usual reason for an alteration would be weather related. I recall there were Haligonians on a cruise from New York to Bermuda a couple of years ago. Due to a storm, the cruise line changed the plan and headed instead to…Halifax.
So there is a small risk that a ship would have to skip Halifax on its way to or from New York. Obviously, an outbound omission of your embarkation port would be a horribly disappointing development. I don’t know if any travel insurance would cover this potential snag.
What About Cargo Ships?
If you search “travel by cargo ship” or similar, you’ll find quite a few links with information on this style of travel. I also noticed an interesting article by someone who travelled by cargo ship from Hamburg to Halifax. It would be quite a different experience than a cruise in terms of food and entertainment.
It appears the answer to the question is a big maybe. If someone is interested, it’s definitely important to get it all squared away ahead of time. There must be a few people in the Maritimes who would like to travel by ship to Europe without having to drive to New York or Boston.
If you chose to fly over to Europe and take a cruise back, stopping in Halifax, imagine saying “I would like to leave the cruise here. I can almost see my house”. It would be quite frustrating if you couldn’t clear customs and immigration and go home.