In the last few weeks, I’ve seen two unfortunate circumstances that have ruined cruise vacations for two families.
I saw the first incident in the news and on some cruise message boards. A couple from Kentucky went on a cruise to Bahamas, and one of them got really sick. She had to go to the hospital in the Bahamas, and Royal Caribbean wouldn’t let her re-board the ship due to her condition. The hospital does not accept her insurance, so her medical bills are piling up. She doesn’t have the money to fly back home. On top of that, she doesn’t own a U.S. passport required for the flight home (closed-loop cruises don’t require a passport).
The other incident came to my attention on a cruise message board. A family with three kids was scheduled to land at 5:30 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale for a Royal Caribbean cruise that same day. Their flight could not take off due to a crew shortage (which happens sometimes when flights are delayed and crew requires sleep). They could not catch another flight on time, and they missed their cruise. Royal Caribbean is only refunding a few hundred dollars in port taxes. They are not getting a refund on the price of the cruise or even a credit for a future cruise. That’s thousands of dollars down the drain!
Why Get Travel Insurance for Cruise Vacations?
Unlike many hotel reservations, cruise vacations are non-refundable starting around 90 days prior to sailing. Cruise lines do not allow anyone who has a fever to board, and they can also deny boarding to passengers who experience vomiting or diarrhea within 3 days prior to sailing.
If you get sick on board on a sea day, you have no choice but to see the ship’s doctor, which doesn’t accept insurance. If your sickness is serious, you may need to be evacuated via helicopter to the nearest hospital, which can cost $100,000 or more. When you see a doctor in a foreign country (where most cruise ships port), your medical insurance will likely not be accepted.
Getting travel insurance is more than just covering the cost of your cruise if you suddenly have to cancel. It’s about funding your expenses that may occur on the cruise as a result of a delayed flight, medical emergency or death of a family member back home.
Excuses for Not Getting Travel Insurance
People can justify skipping travel insurance for a cruise for many reasons.
“I’m Young and Healthy.” Of course you are! But what if one of your kids get the flu the night before you sail and you are denied boarding? What if your elderly mother has a heart attack at home while you’re on the cruise and you need to fly back to her?
“I’m not going to a foreign country.” If your cruise is sailing to the Bahamas, that’s a foreign country. So are most of the islands in the Caribbean.
“It costs too much.” If you buy the travel insurance that the cruise line offers, then yes, it costs too much and it doesn’t cover as much. However, most independent travel insurance policies are rather inexpensive. I just purchased a policy for a summer cruise for my family for $72. I typically spend around $100-$125 for a policy for my family of five.
“My cruise wasn’t too expensive, so I won’t be devastated if I have to cancel.” Remember, insurance isn’t just to cover the cost of canceling the cruise. It’s also for medical expenses on board and potentially expensive emergency flights home.
“We are driving to port, so I don’t need to worry about weather or flight delays.” Again, medical emergencies can happen to anyone, anywhere. I have a fit, young relative who just had a shocking heart attack. It happens!
“I already have travel insurance through my credit card.” This may suffice for some people, but read your credit card’s policy very carefully and be certain you used that card to book the trip. For people in this miles and points hobby, we switch credit cards often to meet the minimum spending for bonuses. It’s hard to remember which card we used. Also, some credit card travel insurance is not as comprehensive as a separate policy. For example, travel insurance from the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has a maximum of $20,000 for trip cancellation and it does not include pre-existing conditions. It only covers up to $2500 in emergency medical bills, which won’t go far during an unexpected foreign hospital stay. My independent travel insurance for my summer cruise covers up to $100,000 in medical bills and includes pre-existing conditions. (See Leana’s post about travel insurance through credit cards).
“We’ve never bought travel insurance for our previous cruises, and we’ve been fine.” Most of the time, you will not need to use your travel insurance. But what if your luck runs out someday? Having travel insurance is a small cost to pay for peace of mind.
How Travel Insurance Could Have Helped Those Two Families
If the Kentucky couple I mentioned above would have purchased travel insurance, they could have all of their hospital bills covered in the Bahamas. They could book new flights home, and those would be covered by travel insurance.
The family who didn’t make their Florida cruise due to the flight issue could have booked tickets to the first cruise port to join up with the cruise, completely covered by travel insurance. They would be reimbursed for any nonrefundable cruise expenses they had on any cruise days they missed. Sure, it would be a bummer to miss the first one or two days of the cruise, but at least they could have salvaged part of their vacation.
Where and When to Buy Travel Insurance
I recommend buying travel insurance through insuremytrip.com or tripinsurancestore.com. If you booked your cruise through a travel agent, your agent may also sell you a policy. (See Leana’s post The Devil Is In the Details When It Comes to Travel Insurance)
Some policies cover pre-existing conditions if you purchase a plan within a few days or weeks of your trip deposit. You can also find policies that cover “cancel for work reasons” and “cancel for any reason.”
You can purchase trip insurance as close as a few days before a trip. Earlier this year before my family was about to travel to Hawaii, one of my kids got the flu. I was worried that it would spread to the rest of us, and we wouldn’t be able to go on the trip. At the last minute, I purchased a policy just in case that worst case scenario happened.
I don’t recommend purchasing insurance through the cruise lines, as their policies are generally more expensive and don’t cover your pre-cruise flights and hotel.
Hopefully, you will never have to use the full benefits of a travel insurance policy for a cruise. But if you don’t have travel insurance and something goes wrong, your vacation and your finances can be ruined.
In case you’re wondering, yes, my family has purchased travel insurance for all eight of our cruises (including two cruises coming up this year). I’ve only had to use it once, when I visited the ship’s doctor for a sinus infection. Just that one visit cost more than my policy. Even though we haven’t had to use the benefits on most of our cruises, I’m still glad we purchased travel insurance every time.
Do you buy travel insurance for a cruise vacation? What about other vacations?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.