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ilulissat ice fjord greenlandGreenland is the world’s largest island, but it’s also one of the most remote, with most of its 836,000 square miles buried under a massive layer of ice all year round. Exploring Greenland requires warm clothing and a sense of adventure. You’ll also need a bit of extra money; because roads don’t connect the isolated towns and villages here, your only transportation options are expensive flights and ferries.

The most convenient choice is to visit Greenland by cruise ship. That’s what I did on a recent trip aboard the Fram, a 256-passenger expedition vessel run by the Norway-based Hurtigruten line. I chose the “Glaciers and Ice” sailing from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, one of several summer sailings from Hurtigruten. (Another itinerary later this summer includes the rarely visited North East Greenland National Park, which is frozen over for all but a few weeks of the year.)

During my 11 nights onboard, I had plenty of time to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Hurtigruten experience in Greenland. Here’s what worked well — and what could’ve used a little improvement.

HITS
The Itinerary: The ship only made one call in Iceland, but it was a good one; the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is quintessentially Icelandic, with sheep and horses roaming green hills, fishing villages dotting the coastline and a volcano brooding over the whole scene. Then we reached Greenland, where the fjords glittered with ice and brightly painted houses provided the only splashes of color in a stark, rocky landscape. It’s a fascinating part of the world that few travelers get to explore.

6 Reasons You’ll Love an Expedition Cruise

Local Experiences: In Itelleq, our last port of call, Hurtigruten offered a couple of memorable chances to interact with the 120 Greenlanders who live in this small settlement. All of us got tickets for a kaffemik, a visit to a local home for coffee and pastries; then we had the chance to join (or watch) a friendly soccer game between Fram passengers/crew and the residents. We shared little common language, but sports and smiles managed to bridge the gap.

Enrichment: Except for the busiest days in port, most daily programs included at least one or two lectures by members of the ship’s knowledgeable expedition staff. Topics included the natural world — ice, polar bears, whales — and the history of Greenland, from the earliest nomadic peoples to Vikings such as Erik the Red. These helped us better appreciate the towns and landscapes we were visiting onshore.

Staff: From the expedition team to the waitstaff in the bar and restaurant, Fram’s crewmembers were nearly all friendly and multi-lingual. During one hike, our enthusiastic guide switched effortlessly from German to French to English, depending on which passengers he was speaking to. At dinner, our waiter quickly learned our drink preferences, and the housekeeping staff always greeted us with a smile in the halls.

MISSES
Missed Calls: We were unable to make four of our 11 scheduled port stops due to excessive fog and ice. (Ours was the first Greenland sailing of the season; such significant ice is a little less likely on cruises later in the summer.) It was a reminder that expedition cruises to remote parts of the world always come with a little unpredictability. Our extra days at sea were filled with lectures and afternoon snacks in the lounge — interesting and fun, but not quite enough to make up for the experiences we’d hoped to have ashore.

Buffet Meals: Dinners onboard alternated between plated meals served at the table, which were generally quite good, and buffets that too often didn’t live up to the same standard. Some dishes were lukewarm or overly salty, and the fixings at the salad bar began to look awfully familiar after a few days of seeing the same ones at both lunch and dinner. (Unlike larger ships, Fram offers no alternative restaurants.)

Internet Access: During our 11-night sailing, I only managed to get online twice via the computers in the ship’s Internet cafe, and I couldn’t connect at all on my own laptop (though I tried daily). When I did get online, the connection was agonizingly slow. One crewmember told me that the staff couldn’t connect either and that Hurtigruten is working to get the issues fixed. Of course, not everyone wants to get online during their vacation, but if you do, for now you’ll have to rely on your phone or be out of touch completely.

See Our Latest Cruise Deals

– written by Sarah Schlichter

amazon river la estrella amazonicaI’ve cruised the Amazon River before — but this time was different.

My first two voyages stuck to the Brazilian part of the waterway and were on mainstream ships. The regions we traveled through were a backdrop to life onboard — a variety of restaurants, formal nights and lavish entertainment. Shore excursions on these trips barely scratched the surface of local life and nature, and there was little Amazon influence in our food, beverages or entertainment.

In contrast, this trip — a seven-day International Expeditions itinerary departing from Iquitos, Peru — was the most immersive cruise I’ve ever taken, with Peruvian music, food and wine onboard, and a wide range of in-depth experiences, both natural and cultural.

As a first-timer to the world of expedition cruising, I wondered if I’d miss the little luxuries of big-ship cruise travel. I need not have worried. The 31-passenger La Estrella Amazonica was delightful, and as you can see from my wrap-up, the trip contained very, very few missteps.

HITS

Amazonian Education: All International Expeditions’ trips emphasize wildlife, and our ship’s pair of naturalist guides, who both hailed from the region, were passionate and knowledgeable. They could identify what seemed to be thousands of species of birds, guide a kayaking trip down a creek while offering sightings of monkeys swinging between trees, and expertly bait a hook to catch a fleet of piranhas.

For me, though, it was the interaction with locals that really captured the spirit of the trip. Both guides chatted up people we came across — in villages, even fishermen in their dug-out canoes.

amazon river la estrella amazonicaThe Boat: Cruising the Amazon for nearly 20 years via chartered boats, International Expeditions cemented its commitment to the river this year by designing and building its first-ever custom ship. The result, La Estrella Amazonica, is lovely. All cabins have private balconies — a first for any Amazon river operator.

The best spot onboard is the fabulous open-air sundeck and bar, with super-comfy wicker couches, barstools and round tables that make it feel like an airy, spacious Peruvian living room.

Peruvian Food: The ship’s Peruvian-born chef didn’t pander to American palates, and menus strongly reflected comfort-style Amazonian cuisine. Occasionally there was a theme night — such as Chinese, which is hugely popular in this region, and even Italian — but the real stars were the seafood, rice, beans, fresh fruit juices and salads.

6 Reasons You’ll Love an Expedition Cruise

The Music: We loved the nightly jam sessions held onboard during the pre-dinner cocktail hour. Almost every member of the crew — from housekeepers to boat drivers — participated, playing an eccentric mix of songs, from Peruvian folk tunes to the Beatles.

Waterlogged: Being part of a 31-passenger ship gives you the up-close-and-personal access you’d never find on a big ship. There was lots to see along the river — villages, bus-boats that transport locals (and their cows, coal and crops) between Iquitos and Nauta, and other similar-sized cruise ships operated by Lindblad and Aqua Expeditions.

But the real discoveries, particularly wildlife, were better found on smaller tributaries via flat-bottomed skiffs. In a week, we logged some 185 miles on the skiffs (La Estrella Amazonica itself trawled nearly 500 miles during the cruise), where we embarked on jungle walks, swimming and kayaking.

MISSES

amazon river piranhaGetting There: Iquitos, the largest city in Peru’s Amazon basin, is the starting point for cruises operated by all the major players in the region, but getting there is an adventure in its own right. First, you fly to Lima, then catch a connecting 1.5-hour flight to Iquitos. For some cruises, it’s then another 1.5-hour drive along a winding jungle road to a village called Nauta (thankfully, we were spared that extra long drive).

Most international flights from the U.S. arrive in the wee hours of the morning and depart in the middle of the night. Our advice: Plan to get to Lima with a couple of days to spare — and explore that city before heading out on your Amazon adventure. Iquitos is also an interesting outpost.

Moving Around: Aside from a kayaking adventure and a couple of jungle hikes, it was surprising how sedentary the activities were. Much time was spent eyeing wildlife from the skiffs, and unlike in Europe where towpaths for cyclists and joggers line the rivers, there’s no easy access to exercise on the Amazon.

On the plus side: La Estrella Amazonica has a small fitness facility, with two treadmills and two spinning cycles.

Shops, Restaurants and Nightlife: There aren’t any! Aside from a pair of village visits, where local women presented their handicrafts for sale, this is a nature-oriented experience. The best shopping and dining we had was in Lima.

Photos: 9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

– written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

packingAs I prepare for my latest voyage, the packing checklist looks a lot like the usual, at least on the surface. New shoes? Absolutely. A few new items of clothing? Why not. A camera, raincoat and Kindle are also among the staples I lug around from one trip to the next.

But this is no “normal” voyage. On this trip — my first-ever soft adventure cruise — I’m traveling on International Expeditions’ 31-passenger La Estrella Amazonica down the Peruvian Amazon, one of the most remote and exotic sections of this mighty river. And while pictures make the line’s new Amazonica ship look quite comfortable (nice touch: balconies with every cabin!), the places we’ll be visiting in the jungle might not be so forgiving.

My past cruise experience has focused on mainstream, luxury and European river lines, so for this otherworldly adventure I turned to International Expeditions’ recommended packing list.

Among the items: “strong” insect repellent, insect-bite relief products, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, tissue packs (for off-the-ship toilets), sunburn relief, and medication for diarrhea, altitude sickness and motion sickness. I also visited a doctor for a prescription for malaria pills, just in case, and to make sure my hepatitis A shot was up to date.

6 Reasons You’ll Love an Expedition Cruise

As far as clothes go, a wide-brimmed straw hat came “highly recommended” (it’s actually kind of cute). I splurged on Skechers walking shoes and some not-so-flattering khaki cargo pants from L.L.Bean that I’m told will be a godsend (because they dry quickly). To avoid attracting insects, clothing in dark shades is highly discouraged — a challenge right there since my urban travel wardrobe revolves around black … everything. A forage to the back of my closet yielded treasures like white, linen, long-sleeved blouses (turns out I had three that were virtually identical!).

The niftiest tip on the list? On this cruise, a seven-night roundtrip from Peru‘s Iquitos, we will visit a local school, and passengers are encouraged to pick up supplies to donate. Tucked into my pile are Crayola markers, a box of pens, folders and notebooks.

The packing part of this adventure isn’t over yet. Even as I head to the airport for my flight to Lima, where I’ll meet up with fellow passengers before heading to the boat, I’m keenly aware of the one item I’ve failed to procure. Turns out piranhas, purring monkeys and bizarre puss caterpillars are not to be feared; the real predator on the Peruvian Amazon is the mighty skeeter, due to dengue fever (which doesn’t have a vaccine). Super-strong insect repellent is nowhere to be found in central New Jersey right now, where freezing temperatures mean there’s not a mosquito in sight and shops aren’t currently stocking the stuff.

I also failed to buy the recommended tube socks, which protect ankles from chiggers — but I’m not too worried. To this inveterate travel shopper, it’s just one more excuse to prowl around Lima’s shops before our group heads to the boat.

Photos: 9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

– written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

father and daughterNot everyone gets the chance to travel with a parent while both parties are pretty much in their prime. My father and I were lucky enough to have this opportunity on a recent 12-day Crystal cruise from New York City to Reykjavik, during which we shared a stateroom. We finished the cruise with a closer bond between us and a greater understanding of who the other is as an adult.

But we also discovered a lot about how — and how NOT — to travel as a parent/adult child combo.

Here are four lessons we learned during our 12 days:

1. Decide bathroom etiquette on day one. A frantic “no, no, no” from my dad at two in the morning when I almost walked in on him in the loo was the kick in the pants we needed to come up with a plan. It can be as simple as knocking on the door.

2. Pre-empt assumptions before they start. You may not mind if strangers assume the relationship between you and your parent or child is something else, but my father and I found it uncomfortable. We learned quickly to introduce ourselves as father and daughter to avoid any awkwardness.

18 Ways to Keep the Peace with Your Travel Companion

3. Keep your opinions to yourself. Though this works both ways, the lesson was most prominent for my dad. “Your daughter [or son] is an adult,” he says. “She doesn’t need or want you to treat her like a child or have you offer your opinion on most issues of daily living.” So if you think your child is eating something they shouldn’t or should be wearing a sweater because you’re cold, keep those thoughts to yourself.

4. Make time for yourselves. Traveling together for more than a day or two can feel like a lot, whether you’re sharing a room or not. To make sure you each get enough “me” time, do a few things separately. You don’t both have to do the same tour or go to the same museum. Spending half a day apart makes the coming back together again at dinner that much more fun as you share what you each did.

Poll: What does your travel companion do to annoy you?

– written by Dori Saltzman

movie clapboardThere has been no shortage of screenplay-worthy travel stories in the past few weeks. Dennis Rodman’s holiday in Pyonyang with the reclusive dictator, Kim Jung-un? Lifetime should be on it. The Carnival Triumph cruise fire? Bet on it being retold in a three-part epic on ABC Family. The sequester’s impact on air travel? That one’s still under discussion, but there’s no doubt the right network will make it work. Here are three would-be plots.

The Real Story: Dennis Rodman’s diplomatic journey to N. Korea

The TV Movie Version, “Mr. Worm Goes to Pyongyang”: An American basketball star (retired), hair dye aficionado, pro wrestler and self-proclaimed “bad boy” travels to North Korea to secure a peace treaty with the country’s ruthless supreme leader, Kim. Like his piercings and tattoos, the Worm’s methods are unconventional — and pooh-poohed by stiff-collared American foreign service elites. But with the help of the Harlem Globetrotters’ feather-on-your-funny-bone brand of non-verbal hijinks, coupled with all-you-can-drink of apple soju-tinis, he succeeds in melting the dictator’s heart. (Kim’s favorite gag: Player pretends he’s pregnant with a basketball.) Choking back guffaws and sobs, the glorious ruler reveals that he feels ostracized by the West; all the tiny, tracksuit-wearing tyrant really wants is to hear the smooth baritone of the American supreme leader. Worm and Kim embrace during a moment filmed by a cell phone, and the video goes viral. Having proven the cynics back home wrong, the Worm earns the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service and, due to a clerical error, the Distinguished Honor Award from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The Real Story: The ill-fated cruise on Carnival Triumph in early February

The TV Movie Version, “Triumph Over Adversity”: The vacation of a lifetime, a four-night voyage on a 14-year-old Carnival ship, becomes a cruel Darwinian experiment when an engine room fire leaves the ship without power in the Gulf of Mexico. Raw sewage sloshes around the decks, the now-infamous red bags for toxic waste are dispensed and essential supplies quickly dwindle. Despite food and medicine shortages and a growing intolerance toward poop jokes, a perky cruise director tries to keep the mood upbeat. But after only 24 hours adrift, hungry passengers have formed into splinter groups, with a maniacal Texan leading a powerful sect of pseudo-religious cannibals. Their first victim: the chipper cruise director. Screaming headlines (procured from a handful of surviving cruisers who managed to salvage cell phone batteries) and a CNN helicopter that surveys the scene from a safe distance tell the story to the world. Even as tug boats manage to reach the ship and slowly pull it to Mobile, the carnage continues.

When it seems that all hope is lost, President Obama reaches for the red phone and dials. A voice can be heard over the receiver: “I was wondering when you’d call.”

“We need your help, Dennis Rodman,” the president says.

The Real Story: Sequestration’s impact on the travel industry (most notably, airports)

The TV Movie Version, “Sequestration, the Movie”: With the U.S. government unable to agree on some sort of budget by some sort of date, $85 billion in spending cuts are initiated. Services the American public depends on may be ravaged. Most importantly, lines at airports are getting dangerously long. “Get there 90 minutes before departure” becomes “get there three months early and rent a hibernation pod, a new for-fee option introduced by the airlines.” (First-class hibernation pod passengers get to board in Zone 1 in the unlikely event their planes take off.) It gets worse. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, played by Kathy Bates, announces that the TSA is sending out furlough notices to its workers. As TSA staff numbers dwindle, fewer and fewer bags make it onto planes and fliers grow increasingly confused by the lack of ineptitude, condescension and rude interactions. Republicans and Democrats refuse to budge on spending, despite a growing number of airport horror scenes captured on cell phones and streamed out on CNN. Travelers angrily refuse overtures from train companies, preferring to form angry mobs at airports instead. Is the president out of options? Not yet. Dennis Rodman, one of the most decorated non-military heroes in U.S. history, is called in to mediate.

The Most Awkward Moments in Travel

The World’s Weirdest Museums

– written by Dan Askin

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns Cruise Critic and Smarter Travel.

man scratching headWe’ve all heard about the funny questions cruise passengers ask on big ships. “Do the crewmembers sleep onboard?” Or “What time’s the midnight buffet?” And so on. But what about the more rugged independent traveler types who favour small expedition ships? Let me tell you, the ask-before-you-think mentality is just the same. Here are some gems picked up on a recent expedition cruise.

6 Reasons You’ll Love an Expedition Cruise

12. Passenger to guide while embarking on hike from the beach: “Do I need to wear my life jacket for the walk?”

11. Passenger to naturalist guide on bird-watching hike: “I can’t believe you didn’t tell us to bring our binoculars.”

10. Passenger on crowded Zodiac on leaving the ship for a hike: “Should I extend my retractable walking poles now or shall I wait till we’re ashore?” Bear in mind that a) retractable walking poles have a spike on the end and b) Zodiacs are inflatable.

9. Man to officer as the small ship spins gently around its anchor chain in a secluded but windy bay: “Are you deliberately making it do this? Is it to make it shake off the barnacles or something?”

8. Man to marine biologist on snorkel expedition, having surfaced and waved his arm: “Hey! What’s this fish down here?” (Marine biologist, quietly, through gritted teeth, from some distance away: “There are hundreds of fish ‘down there.'”)

7. Passenger to crewmember as we head for an uninhabited island with a broad sweep of empty beach: “Will there be bathrooms when we get ashore?”

6. Passenger to crewmember on viewing a pod of hundreds of dolphins surrounding the ship: “Exactly how many are there?”

“You Want What?” Bizarre Requests from Hotel Guests

5. On leaving the ship for a donkey trek across a remote and uninhabited area: “Will I need ID for the donkey ride?”

4. Passenger to naturalist: “If we drive the ship (all 1,200 tons of it) at those three dozing sea lions floating in the water over there, will they wake up?”

3. On boarding a fishing boat to go whale watching: “How wet am I going to get?”

2. A puzzling one while on the whale watching boat: “Is the whale under the water?”

1. And perhaps my favourite, again, from passenger to hapless naturalist: “Is that the same whale we saw earlier?”

We all ask foolish questions from time to time — what are your funniest stories about silly travel questions? Submit them in the comments below.

– written by Sue Bryant

hurricaneSummer travelers set to visit the Bahamas or just about anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard from North Carolina to New England have been glued to the Weather Channel. Thank Hurricane Irene for that. The major storm has been pummeling the Caribbean with 120-mile-per-hour winds, upending travel plans for those heading to the Bahamas by ship or plane. If the forecast from the National Hurricane Center holds up, most of the 13 original colonies are in for some serious bluster.

When a storm blows in, especially a beast like Irene, what should a savvy traveler do? Keep your eye on airline change fees, cruise ship itinerary scrambling and, if you have one, your travel insurance policy.

Travel Insurance and Storms
If you don’t have a travel insurance policy by now, nothing you purchase at this point will save your trip from Irene. For the next time around, know this: Not all travel insurance policies are created equal, but a good one will cover travelers for trip delay, interruption and cancellation in the event of a major storm — minus any compensation you get from a cruise line or airline.

For a general insurance overview, check out our Guide to Travel Insurance.

Magnanimous Airlines?
Let’s not get carried away, but with Irene looming, a number of U.S. carriers have temporarily adjusted their flight change fee policies. “Typically, the airlines allow you to change your travel dates without the usual fees, with no change in fare, and usually without limitations on your original fare bucket [during a major hurricane],” says Ed Perkins, writer for our sister site Smarter Travel. For example, United passengers originally booked to fly to select destinations from August 21 – 26 must complete their revised travel within seven days, and may have to check on seat availability in their original fare bucket (economy, business, etc.). Continental is being a little more generous. Passengers scheduled to fly to certain destinations from August 21 – 26 must complete their revised travel by the end of ticket validity (up to one year). These temporary policies do vary somewhat significantly, so check your carrier’s Web site for more information.

Many East Coast airports will close this weekend in preparation for the storm, and more than 1,000 flights have been canceled; check with your airline.

Cruises: Diverted but Never Canceled
Mobility is the cruise lines’ secret weapon against hurricanes. Nassau, to which Irene seems drawn, cannot relocate. Cruise ships can, even if it means a Bermuda sailing becomes a voyage to New England, which happened in 2005. More than a dozen Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean ships have scrambled their originally scheduled itineraries. Bahamas-bound ships have temporarily redeployed to the Western Caribbean, trading Nassau for Cozumel and the like. Worst case scenario: If a punishing hurricane makes a debarkation port inaccessible, the line may have to lengthen the cruise by a day, which of course impacts the 3,000 passengers waiting to board for the next sailing. This, however, is rare.

For regular updates on Irene’s impact on cruising, visit our sister site Cruise Critic’s Hurricane Zone, which is updated regularly.

– written by Dan Askin

st kitts Every Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Sail to the Southern Caribbean for just $389 per person, and spend seven nights trying your luck in the onboard casino or indulging in 24-hour pizza as you cruise to tropical ports on Carnival Victory. We crunched a few numbers on our fancy calculator and deduced that the going nightly rate for this cruise is about $56 — an affordable fare that will keep your budget in good health. Want to stare at the sea while you get dressed for your big karaoke debut? Oceanview cabins start at $479 per person, and balcony cabins are priced from $639.

This cruise offers a port-intensive itinerary, sailing roundtrip from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and St. Maarten. There’s just one day at sea, which means you’ll have plenty of chances to hone your sand castle-building skills at a variety of Caribbean beaches.

The Catch: This deal is for a sailing in October — which just so happens to be hurricane season. While it’s statistically unlikely that your particular sailing will be affected by a hurricane, we recommend purchasing travel insurance just in case. The truth is: Getting used to the idea of a hurricane-season sailing is one of the best ways to snag bargain-basement cruise deals.

The Competition: We’ve spotted several fall (hurricane season ahoy!) Caribbean cruise deals floating around, none of them quite as cheap as the Carnival Victory deal. But some of the offers are still noteworthy. We found a seven-night November sailing on MSC Poesia that starts at $549, and a four-night Royal Caribbean Bahamas cruise in September or October from just $229.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Cruise Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

 Ketchikan, Alaska Every Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Many travelers would argue that cruising is the best way to explore Alaska. Cruisers can tour scenic straits by ship, sail past rugged forests and gaze at glaciers from the comfort of their own private balconies. But there’s little debate on how expensive Alaska cruises can be, especially during summer months, which is why we’re excited about Oceania’s just-announced 2011 Alaska sale.

Oceania’s Regatta will start sailing Alaskan waters this May. To celebrate its new itineraries, the luxury cruise line is offering two-for-one fares, free airfare from select cities, $1,000 bonus savings per stateroom and an onboard credit of $1,000 per stateroom on all Alaska sailings. In addition, third and fourth passengers cruise free, and solo cruisers can take advantage of reduced single supplements on select sailings.

The Catch: Thousand-dollar savings seem titanic, but keep in mind that Oceania’s base fares aren’t cheap — after all, it’s a luxury cruise line. Alaska cruises start $3,299 per person based on double occupancy before any discounts are added.

The Competition: Regent Seven Seas Cruises is also running a promotion that features two-for-one cruise fares and bonus savings. The sale includes several Alaska sailings in addition to various discounted Europe, Panama Canal, Australia and Caribbean cruises.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Cruise Deals. For more information on traveling to Alaska, read Planning a Trip to Alaska.

– written by Caroline Costello

Brilliance of the Seas In the early a.m. hours Sunday — Alexandria, Egypt time — 2,060 Royal Caribbean passengers awoke to the shatter of glasses falling off shelves and the sensation that their beds had turned into soapbox derby cars racing back and forth across the cabin. The spirits of ancient Egypt had summoned a Mediterranean squall producing 70-knot winds and 30-foot waves, and with Brilliance of the Seas’ stabilizers disengaged as it approached the port of Alexandria, the ship lost control and listed violently several times.

“The closet door in our balcony cabin ripped from its hinges and flew across the room,” posted Lifelong Cruiser on our sister site Cruise Critic. “My wife narrowly missed being hit by the airborne closet door, which weighs 50+ pounds.”

There were only 30 injuries, the most serious of which were two fractures, according to a statement from Royal Caribbean. Damage to the ship included broken furniture, a gym left in shambles (the “ellipticals looked like monkey bars,” said a Cruise Critic reader) and a smashed piano. The ship’s seaworthiness was unaffected, and the cruise surges on — albeit with a slightly shaken passenger base.

In exchange for experiencing what can only be described as a moment of existential terror, Royal Caribbean initially offered $200 in onboard credit to each passenger ($400 for those in suites). Some passengers argued that $200 wasn’t nearly enough, and a Cruise Critic reader reported seeing at least one complaint letter circulating on the ship. Then, just as the compensation debate was heating up, Royal Caribbean upped the ante from $200 to a full refund for the 12-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise. A similar cruise in late October 2011 costs more than $1,600 per person for the cheapest cabin.

Why the sudden sea change?

“Once the team was in the office, and able to assess the situation, we decided that a full refund was warranted,” said Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez.

Some onboard offered a slightly different perspective. “The captain admitted in his first address within 30 minutes of the incident that a ‘mistake’ had been made by slowing down in harbor traffic, causing the stabilizers to disengage,” posted Lifelong Cruiser on Cruise Critic. “[He] described the incident as a ‘mistake’ more than once.”

I put the question to Martinez: Did the line switch gears and offer the full refund because the captain admitted that a mistake had been made?

“Not at all!” she said.

A mistake indeed. But does a free cruise really make up for minutes of sheer terror at sea? Tell us what you think!

– written by Dan Askin