Mega Cruise Ship Turns Life Boat Amid Volcano Disruption

Celebrity Eclipse is playing the role of USNS Comfort. What was supposed to be the ship's inaugural celebration in Southampton turned into a rescue mission instead as the ship heads to Spain to pick up British tourists stranded by air delays caused by Eyjafjallajkoll's volcanic ash. The 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse was due to be in port before a two-day launch Thursday. The crisis caused by the volcano changed all that.

The ship should be back in Southampton late Friday. A spokeswoman said the sailing would replace the activities planned during the two-night, roundtrip launch celebration cruise from Southampton. An estimated 150,000 Britons were stranded abroad, prompting the government to send three Royal Navy warships to bring back stuck citizens.

While air travel as we know has replaced cruises as the preferred mode of global transport, the air cancellations have caused travelers to look at cruises as the alternative to get where they need to go. From USA TODAY: "Tom Erik Nielsen was grateful to land a last-minute berth for his first-ever cruise, a Royal Caribbean ship, that left Lisbon on Monday bound for his home country of Norway."

It used to be that Cunard's ocean liners were the method to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Air travel obviated it somewhat. Now, it's back in vogue—at least for the meantime. Queen Mary 2, which still offers regular transatlantic service, between Southampton and New York, is being beseiged by calls looking for berths. According to Cunard's website, the ship's next three transatlantic sailings are all sold out—April 22, April 29 and May 21. The line is keeping a wait list.

So, are other ocean-crossing sailings available? From Cruise Critic: "Though some cruise ships heading to Europe for the summer have already repositioned or are in the process of doing so now (Independence of the Seas, for example, left Fort Lauderdale on April 11 bound for Southampton), there are a few late-season repositioning departures we're keeping an eye on." For instance, Ruby Princess is setting out on a 16-night cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona and a Princess spokeswoman told Cruise Critic that the line is working on arranging some last-minute bookings.

Read more on: