Elaine Chan never had the choice to leave her Holland America cruise early. She says the captain summoned her and her husband to his office while their ship was docked in Helsinki and accused them of assaulting a crew member.

“The captain gave us an envelope with tickets back to San Francisco,” recalls Chan, an accountant from San Jose. “He made us leave the cruise at 10 a.m. to catch our flight. If we didn’t leave on time, he said we were going to miss our flight. So we didn’t have time to plead our case .”

Chan says it was a case of mistaken identity. As they disembarked from the ship in St. Petersburg, she says another group of passengers got into a fight with the crew members. But they were not part of the group.

Passengers leave cruises for all sorts of reasons – some voluntarily, some not. But with cruise season just getting started, it’s a good time to ask yourself: Should I leave my cruise early? Also, what are my rights if someone forces you (forgive me!) to walk the plank?

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Holland America would not discuss Chan’s case, which happened before the pandemic. But in an email to the couple, the cruise line said it had reviewed their request and found no reason to change its decision to deport them. She regretted that the outcome of her investigation “could not be more favourable”. He added: “We hope you will continue to include Holland America Line in your travel plans.”

I doubt they do.

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Do companies have the right to kick you out of a cruise?

Let’s start with involuntary landings like Chan’s. It turns out that a cruise line has the right to throw you a cruise, at least according to its ticket contract, the legal agreement between the passenger and the cruise line. I have more details on your cruising rights in my free guide to taking a cruise.

Holland America’s contract states that the carrier may “disembark or refuse to embark, confine you to a cabin, quarantine you, detain you…” Well, you get the idea.

Other cruise lines have similar policies. They essentially give the company a broad right to remove you from a cruise at any time and for any reason. They don’t even have to present you with evidence of wrongdoing, like Chan said happened to him.

The story continues below.

I have handled dozens of other involuntary disembarkation cases as a consumer advocate. They are just as painful as Chan’s situation. I remember a woman who experienced kidney pain shortly after boarding a cruise in Mexico. Carnival asked him to leave the ship in Long Beach, California. Another woman was ejected from her Holland America cruise after her brain-damaged husband urinated in the pool. True story.

In each of these cases, the cruise line did not refund the cruise until I asked them. And that brings up the biggest problem when it comes to leaving a cruise: you probably won’t get your money back, even if you ask, and maybe – maybe! – if I ask.

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What to do when leaving a cruise early

Before getting off the ship, talk to your cruise line. There are restrictions on carrying passengers under the Passenger Ship Services Act which may result in fines for your cruise line. Also, it’s polite to let a cruise line know that you’re leaving your vacation early.

So when should you consider leaving?

► When someone tells you. The Chans had to comply with the captain’s request. Also, the cruise contract was clear on their obligation. Rightly or wrongly, they had to leave the ship.

► When service is below average. Ben Taylor and his wife left their Barcelona cruise, on its first stopover, after a series of misunderstandings. First, a casino employee claimed that Taylor received too much money from the cashier, causing a long and stressful argument. “Then we returned to our cabin to find it full of sewage – not good at all but mostly undesirable for my wife, who was pregnant at the time,” said Taylor, who blogs about the job at residence. Norwegian Cruise Line offered the couple a cruise credit, which they never used. “It was our first cruise and probably our last,” he added.

► When you have an emergency. That’s what Holly Haskins’ husband Ben did. She had fallen ill just before the Royal Caribbean cruise, but urged him to go on vacation with her extended family anyway. “I got sicker and sicker,” recalls Haskins, a grantmaker from Lansdale, Pennsylvania. “He decided to leave the cruise on the fourth day in St. Thomas and go home. He told the ship’s staff what was going on and they helped him disembark and plan a flight. They were very helpful and kind.”

► If there is an interruption of essential services. Under the Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights, adopted by major cruise lines, you have the right to disembark from a docked ship if “essential provisions such as food, water, toilets and access to medical care cannot be adequately provided on board”. There are exceptions for port security and immigration requirements.

► Some cruises are not meant to be completed. If you think you’re on one, remember to follow the laws and the instructions of the crew members. If the cruise line tries to push you off the ship, you can always fight for a refund once you’re on dry land.

How to Avoid a Premature Cruise Exit

► Ask yourself: is a cruise right for you? If you’re prone to motion sickness or don’t like being confined on a ship for several days, you can try an all-inclusive land vacation instead. You’ll never have to worry about intentionally leaving a cruise early – or being kicked out.

► Research your cruise thoroughly. Cruises come in all shapes and sizes. Choose your floating vacation carefully. For example, your average octogenarian might prefer the Caribbean to Antarctica. And some themed cruises aren’t kid-friendly. Shop carefully.

► Hire an expert. A travel agent can help point you in the right direction when it comes to the perfect cruise. Visit CLIA.org to find a qualified travel agent. Note: Agents take a commission, so they work for you. This means you can call or email your travel agent anytime for advice on leaving your cruise early.

Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a non-profit organization that helps solve consumer problems. It publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and Elliott Report, a customer service information site. If you need help with a substance abuse issue, you can reach him here or email him at [email protected]