Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Why Can't We Do That?

Since Disney canceled our cruise that would've been in January of this year, my family has been looking for alternative cruise options to use our 125% cruise credit on.  We had a few pretty good options in mind, until last week, when we found the perfect option.  My school had just released the calendar for the 2021-2022 school year, and we use it to try to go on a cruise at a time where we miss as few days of school as possible.  For some reason at the beginning of November, there will be a 2-day school week, which totally isn't a waste of time.  This looked like the perfect time to go on a cruise, and we noticed that the Magic will be doing an interesting 5-night cruise during that week.  Starting from New York City, it will go to Bermuda, then to Tortola, and end up in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  My family has never been to Bermuda, and we love Tortola, so this cruise sounded great.  Repositioning cruises are often some of the least expensive Disney cruises, and since we have a 125% credit, we looked at what the Magic was doing after the New York to San Juan cruise.  Its next cruise will be a 4-night cruise that goes to the Dominican Republic, Castaway Cay, and ends in Miami.  Like the other one, it's a repositioning cruise, so it's less expensive than usual.  Since we'd be missing almost no school, we had the credit, and we wanted to try a back-to-back cruise, we decided that we would book both of them!

But we couldn't.

It wasn't because there weren't any rooms available.  There were plenty.  It wasn't because of COVID-19 restrictions controlling the length of a cruise.  According to the United States CDC, a single cruise can't be over 7-nights.  This restriction does not affect back-to-back cruises, however, so these cruises would be possible.

It was because going on these cruises back-to-back would violate the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886.  This nearly-135 year-old US law prevents ships that aren't registered in the US from bringing passengers from one US port to another US port.  Even though Disney is an American company, all four DCL ships are registered in the Bahamas.  Ever wonder why the back of each DCL ship says "Nassau"?

So, since the DCL ships are registered in the Bahamas and not the United States, they aren't allowed to bring passengers from one US port to another.  The only way they can bring passengers from one US port to another US port is if they stop at a distant foreign country.  Ports of call in Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, South America, Europe, and Asia (and Antarctica, I guess), count as distant foreign countries.  This is why the Wonder goes Columbia, a South American country, on its 14-night Panama Canal cruises, since none of the other places it visits count as distant foreign countries.

Under the Passenger Vessel Services Act, how can the second cruise, from San Juan to Miami (two US ports) work?  Although it's a US port, Puerto Rico is an exception from this law.  So, it's as if the cruise starts in a different country and ends in the United States, which is allowed.

Well, since the whole trip on the Magic is two separate cruises, wouldn't it be allowed under the law?  Unfortunately, it's not.  The law treats consecutive cruises as one trip.  Pretend San Juan, where the first cruise ends and the second cruise starts, is just a port of call.  The overall voyage would go from New York to Miami, two US ports, which isn't allowed.

The Passenger Vessel Services Act is why the Magic is stopping at San Juan.  If it could, I think the Magic would go directly from New York City to Miami, but that's not possible.  Since Puerto Rico is a US port exempt from the law, the Magic can go there, end a cruise, start a new cruise, and go to Miami.  For this to work, it has to be two separate cruises, not just one long one.

This law doesn't stop ships registered in other countries from leaving from a US port and returning to the same port.  Ships not registered in the US can bring passengers from a US port and back to the same US port as long as they visit any port in a different country, like the Bahamas, Canada, or Mexico.  Conveniently, it doesn't have to be a distant port.  Also, normal (non-repositioning) cruises can stop at US ports, as long as the passengers aren't permanently getting off there.  This is how some Disney cruises can go to Key West, Florida.  

When I heard that these cruises wouldn't work, I wondered why the Passenger Vessel Services Act even exists.  It was signed into law by Grover Cleveland, the 24th president of the US, to prevent cabotage, which I originally thought was when you sabotage a taxi.  Cabotage is actually the movement of cargo or people between two locations in the same country by a foreign party.  The Passenger Vessel Services Act makes more sense in the perspective of something like a ferry service between two US cities, keeping it domestic and not allowing ships from other countries to come in and make money off of it.  However, this law doesn't seem beneficial at all for a cruise ship.  It just gets in the way and makes cruises less flexible.  Plus, it may actually be hurting the cruise industry by not allowing customers like my family to go on some cruises.  

I'm really disappointed about the seemingly-perfect cruise not being possible.  I never would've thought a vacation my family was planning on going on wouldn't be able to happen because of a law from the nineteenth century.  The law against cabotage sabotaged our cruise plans.  I guess we'll just have to look for another cruise to go on.  

To learn about the Passenger Vessel Services Act, I used a really useful and educational page on the Carnival website.  I know, I'm a traitor, but since none of Carnival's ships are registered in the United States, it's in the same situation that Disney is.  Also, the Wikipedia article about it was a lot of help when I was writing.  Finally, if you're ever unsure if a back-to-back cruise is possible, calling DCL and asking about it is one of the best ways to get an answer.

Since it's so old, I'm sure my family and I weren't the first people to have plans ruined because of this law.  Even though it's not doing much good for the cruise industry, I don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon.  Maybe someday it will be revised to allow more freedom for cruises in the US.  Do you think requesting that on a DCL comment card would work?  It's Disney, so anything's possible!

1 comment:

  1. We almost booked those two cruises!! Our friends booked the first one, but we ended up changing to a different one because we were concerned about sea sickness from the trip to Bermuda. Have a great time!