Los Angeles Times Informative - Cruise Lines Rile Passengers, Tourism Officials By Avoiding Mexican Ports
MEXICO -- Carriers will avoid stopping in Mexico for up to six weeks, rerouting ships to San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. Mexican tourism merchants are hurting, and some passengers are angry.
As cruise lines announced plans Friday to avoid Mexican ports for several more weeks, the swine flu scare stirred anxiety among tourism leaders and anger among cruise passengers.
Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Princess Cruises and others released new itineraries Friday that reroute ships away from Mexican ports through, in some cases, June 14. The new itineraries replace stops in Mazatlan, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta with U.S. ports such as San Diego, Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
The diversions were the latest examples of how the H1N1 flu outbreak continued to pummel Mexico's tourism industry, the country's third-largest legal source of foreign revenue. Cancun, one of the Mexican Riviera's top beach destinations, has lost an estimated $2.4 million in the last week as hotel occupancy dropped 40% below usual levels for this time of year, said Rodrigo de la Pena, president of the Cancun Hotel Assn.
To woo tourists, some Cancun restaurants are offering two-for-one dinners and bars two-for-one drinks, while handicraft stores have $1 specials on dolls and necklaces. "It's imperative that our hotels have tourists," Pena said. "We are in a serious economic crisis."
Meanwhile, Continental Airlines, the largest U.S. carrier to Mexico, said it would cut in half the number of seats it flies to that country because of reduced demand. The airline plans to use smaller aircraft or reduce the frequency of flights to Mexico starting Monday. The airline plans to waive penalties for flight cancellations for passengers traveling to Mexico through May 31.
Delta Air Lines Inc. announced that it too would reduce its Mexico service to match declining demand, but it didn't indicate how deep the cuts would be.
Among cruise lines, refund and compensation offers for itinerary changes varied by company and by route. For passengers already on a ship when the changes took place, some cruise lines have offered credit for activities like bingo and drinks on the ship, as well as excursions. Passengers who have yet to board a ship destined for Mexico can cancel the trip and get a full or partial credit toward a future cruise.
But some passengers whose cruise vacations were disrupted are complaining about such offers.
Erin Carone, a Seal Beach resident who was scheduled to take a Mexican Riviera cruise from San Pedro today on the Sapphire Princess, said that, instead of snorkeling near Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, Princess Cruises is offering to take her to Santa Barbara, Catalina, San Diego and San Francisco.
Carone, who grew up in Southern California and has family in Santa Barbara and San Francisco, said she has been to the California ports dozens of times.
"These places are not exotic or anything," she said. "When you tell me you are going to take me to Santa Barbara and San Diego for $700, I can go there on my own."
Brian Capt, a passenger on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas, who departed from San Pedro on Sunday for a seven-day cruise of the Mexican Riviera with his wife and four children, said via e-mail his family was offered only $150 in onboard credits as compensation for the changes.
"That translates on the ship to three, yes, three bingo cards," he wrote, adding: "My kids wanted to go to Disneyland, and I told them that a cruise would be so much more fun. . . . Wow, was I ever wrong."
Cruise line representatives said most passengers have taken the changes in stride, and they apologized for the inconvenience, saying the schedule changes were made in response to recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.
"We understand there is going to be disappointment because it's not the itinerary they expected," said Karen Candy, a spokeswoman for Princess Cruises.
Princess Cruises says it will avoid Mexican ports through May 24. Carnival, the world's largest cruise line, is avoiding Mexico through May 11, while Royal Caribbean is steering clear through June 14.
"We feel that this situation has been beyond the control of any cruise line," said Jennifer de la Cruz, a spokeswoman for Carnival Cruise Lines.