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Volcanic ash causes cruise disruptions

U.K. airspace reopened last night and flights are now arriving and departing from the major airports after almost a week of global travel chaos.
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Update, 5 a.m. EDT: U.K. airspace reopened last night and flights are now arriving and departing from the major airports after almost a week of global travel chaos. Schedules will be subject to delay so passengers are advised to contact their airline, travel agent or cruise line before travelling.

As Europe struggles to cope with another day of travel chaos caused by a massive ash cloud that has grounded flights, cruise lines are putting contingency plans into place and even repatriating land-based holidaymakers. Here's an update of what we've learned:

MSC Cruises has issued a statement saying it is making all efforts to bring stranded U.K. passengers home from Venice and Genoa. The first 500 passengers are travelling via coach and ferry and are due to arrive in Dover Tuesday; coaches will reach British soil having travelled via ferry from Calais to Dover. MSC Cruises had previous put stranded passengers up in hotels while arranging transport home. More coaches are planned to carry passengers' home over the coming days.

The statement further indicates that "MSC Cruises is working with its passengers who have booked cruises and airfare through MSC Cruises on a case-by-case basis to ensure disembarking guests' safe passage home and embarking guests' passage on their scheduled cruise or on a future cruise." Guests who booked their own air should contact their travel insurance provider or travel agent. More information, including 24-hour hotline numbers, can be found here.

Thomson Cruises announced on Monday that Island Escape — which usually operates fly-cruises in the Mediterranean — will be stopping in Falmouth, Cornwall, to drop off current passengers who won't be able to return to the U.K. via the original flights included in the air-portion of their booking. The ship will also be bringing more than 300 non-cruise Thomson customers holidaying in Madeira back to the U.K. The ship will arrive in Falmouth on Thursday.

On April 19, Thomson's new ship, Thomson Dream, was used to transfer customers from Palma de Mallorca to Barcelona so they can then make their onward journey.

The cruise line also issued a statement saying that passengers who booked flights through the cruise line and who are unable to reach their ships can either be rebooked on an alternate sailing for no additional charge or receive a full refund without penalty if no alternate sailing can be found.

Passengers planning to depart on Thomson Spirit on Wednesday or Thomson Celebration or Thomson Dream on Thursday are advised to check Thomson's Web site for the latest information.

Those on sailings that may be affected can call Thomson's 24/7 airline hotline at 02476 282 501 for updates. A customer service line, which can be accessed at 0800 009 3833, has also been set up to handle rebookings.

Passengers who had been due to fly from the U.K. to Barbados Saturday to join Princess Cruises' Sea Princess may have the option to join the sailing late, according to a statement on the line's Web site. The ship departed Barbados on Sunday as planned, and if conditions allow for it, Princess will arrange to fly late passengers to meet the ship in Aruba on the 22nd. However, those individuals will miss five nights of the 14-night cruise; credit will be offered to them for the missed days.

Celebrity Cruises has cancelled the April 22-24 pre-inaugural sailing of Celebrity Eclipse and instead of entertaining travel trade and media onboard, is taking the ship to Bilbao Spain to pick up stranded passengers. The naming ceremony is still scheduled to take place on April 24.

Cunard spokeswoman Jackie Chase tells us that, with regard to the April 22 cruise, "as a one-off exception to our Booking Conditions, Cunard will offer a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) for the fare booked to those guests who have specifically been unable to fly to the United Kingdom and are therefore unable to embark the ship due to the recent air travel disruptions."

The line says that Queen Mary 2's next three transatlantic crossings are fully booked with wait lists.

P&O Cruises is unaffected as no fly-cruises are operating, although passengers travelling to Southampton from around the U.K. will need to use road or rail rather than domestic flights to reach Southampton.

Ocean Village's April 15 "Groves and Gondolas" cruise from Heraklion is sailing with around 1,000 passengers on a revised itinerary, which still includes ports of Dubrovnik and Venice. Passengers who had booked a 14-night cruise are being offered a full refund or the option of a seven-night cruise departing Thursday with a partial refund, if flights can resume. Those that were due to fly home from Crete last Thursday have been taken to hotels while Ocean Village works with airlines to re-arrange flights when the airspace reopens.

A special hotline has been set up for passengers on Princess, Ocean Village, Cunard and P&O sailings who are affected by the current travel disruption: 0845 351 0350.

Fred Olsen tells us that Braemar departed late Friday, as planned, after all passengers were able to arrive at the ship. Unfortunately, 257 disembarking passengers due to return to the U.K. on a charter flight to Manchester, have not been able to do so and are still in Barbados. Full board hotel accommodation has been provided and a company representative is on hand to liaise with airlines.

A statement from Holland America Line says a Eurodam sailing, scheduled to depart Monday, will sail a revised itinerary in the Mediterranean.

The ship stayed in Rome (Civitavecchia) Monday night and will, instead, depart today, Tuesday, April 20. Additionally, a call at Dubrovnik, Croatia, will take place on Thursday, April 22 — one day later than originally scheduled; the April 22 port call to Corfu, Greece, is canceled.

For additional information, passengers can call 1-800-577-1728 or 206-626-7395.

Oceania Cruises tells us that Insignia stayed in Barcelona for an extra day and will sail Monday evening. As a result, the ship will bypass Palma de Mallorca and head to Marseille, where it will arrive on Tuesday morning. Guests who disembarked in Barcelona are being looked after by Oceania's ground operations team. Air-sea package guests have all been provided hotel accommodations.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has also held Seven Seas Mariner in Venice for two extra days and sailed Monday afternoon. The ship will bypass Kotor and head straight to Dubrovnik.

Passengers who left the ship in Venice are being looked after by ground operations team and air-sea guests have all been provided hotel accommodations.

A spokeswoman for Crystal Cruises tells us Crystal Serenity turned around on Saturday in Civitavecchia, for Rome, and that air-sea guests routed through London are protected on other flights in the event that the airport does not reopen.

Royal Caribbean has told us that guests whose sailings onboard Brilliance of the Seas just concluded can stay onboard the ship if they are unable to find accommodation in Dubai. However, the ship will be sailing and depending on how long they stay onboard, there will be different costs involved. Passengers can sail for one day, departing in Muscat; seven days, departing in Safaga; eight days, departing in Sharm El Sheikh; or 10 days, departing in Alexandria.

Royal Caribbean and NCL all have statements on their Web sites about the disruption and what they are offering passengers.

April is also the beginning of Europe's river cruise season but at the moment, it's a case of "wait and see."

AMAWATERWAYS said in a statement that ships are sailing as scheduled in Europe, but many passengers have not made it to their departure points. Passengers in North America who booked a fly-cruise through AMAWATERWAYS should call 800-626-0126 about possible disruption to their travel.

AMAWATERWAYS is sold mainly as a cruise-only product in the U.K. so British passengers should contact their travel agent or airline. The cruise line did tell us though that one British passenger has taken the Eurostar, overnighted in Brussels and caught four further trains so that she can join Amacello halfway through a cruise in Cochem.

A spokesperson for Avalon tells us that while all European Avalon cruises are operating, the line is continuing to help customers and agents work through challenges due to the airport closures and flight cancellations. A policy is in place to offer customers three choices: 1. Customers can move the dates of the original cruise to any scheduled 2010 sailing date; 2. Customers can change their original cruise to any other Globus family of brands tour, cruise or package departing in 2010; or 3. Customers can choose to continue with their travel plans.

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano has forced hundreds of people nearby to evacuate while the massive ash cloud has disrupted air traffic across Europe.

At this point, due to the uncertainty of airport openings and flight schedules, Avalon is recommending that customers take options 1 or 2. Avalon also recommends that passengers contact their airline directly for status of flights and information about schedule changes. Full details can be found here.

Connections Elegant World Cruises, which sells Uniworld river sailings in the U.K., tells us that two itineraries have been affected — a 15-day "Eastern European Explorer" voyage and an 11-day "Lisbon and the Beautiful Douro" voyage. The company has been in touch with all affected passengers to assist them in making other arrangements.

However, a Uniworld spokesperson says the line's ships are still operating as normal. The line is currently working to book alternate sailings for those who missed their ships due to the flight situation.

Viking River Cruises: Regarding U.K. passengers, a spokesperson told us on Tuesday that the majority of its passengers returning from European river cruises have now been repatriated following coach transfer back to Heathrow. The last passengers return today.

There are however a small number of passengers in China and they have been accommodated by Viking, in city hotels.

Viking is currently seeking alternative arrangements involving coach and rail, for those passengers due to leave this weekend on European cruises.

For U.S. passengers: Viking River Cruises tells us its representatives are in touch with those scheduled to depart in the next few days. They are also working on returning travelers home from Europe, after many have been delayed for days due to canceled or postponed flights. They advise travelers to contact their travel insurance providers in case their flights have been canceled. All cruises are sailing as scheduled, without disruption.

We'll keep you posted at Cruise Critic as more cruise lines announce their contingency plans.