While passports and travel insurance are considered optional extras when booking a cruise, recent events have proven once again how important these items are when it comes to protecting your vacation plans.
A few weeks ago, when Hurricane Irene was edging ever closer to Puerto Rico, the port authority made a decision to close the whole port in San Juan. Carnival Victory and Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas were docked there, preparing to embark on weeklong voyages to the Southern Caribbean. Because of the port closure, the ships had to depart from San Juan several hours earlier than expected. Then, when people arrived at the port to board the ship, the terminals were closed and the ships had already left!
Carnival tried to compensate the 300 cruisers who missed the boat with a 2-night stay in San Juan and a flight to Barbados to catch up with the ship. However, if passengers did not have a passport, they could not take the flight to meet the ship (a passport is not required for a flight to San Juan, but is necessary to get to Barbados).
While passport regulations state that you can get away with taking a cruise without a passport (as long as you leave and depart from the same U.S. port, San Juan included), it’s easy to see how you can run into problems if you DON’T have the passport and you are stuck in the islands, unable to board a plane!
(September 17 is Annual Passport Day, so if you need a passport, or it’s time to renew, don’t delay! Find more information here: travel.state.gov/passportday)
Cruisers on Royal Caribbean were in for worse news. Of the 145 passengers left behind, only 15 had booked an air/sea package directly with Royal Caribbean, and they were the only ones given hotel accommodations and flights to Aruba to meet the ship. Everyone else was on their own to make alternate arrangements. If they had their own travel insurance, then all expenses incurred to reach the ship would have been covered. If not, then they were out of luck! (In a response to public outcry over leaving these cruisers high and dry, Royal Caribbean has offered future cruise credits to those who missed all or part of their cruise.)
When purchasing a cruise, it is frustrating to look at the additional cost of insurance. But clearly in this case, that small investment (probably under $200 for a couple) would have provided peace of mind for cruisers of both lines, and prevented a ruined trip for Royal Caribbean cruisers!
Many people ignore the importance of travel insurance. After all, once you’ve paid all the money for your vacation, who wants to spend MORE on something you may not ever use?
Well, the answer is simple: you’ve paid a lot of money for your vacation, and in most cases, it’s non-refundable. It only makes sense to protect your investment, and compared to what you pay for your vacation, the cost of insurance is minimal…and oftentimes, priceless!
Let’s take a look at 4 main ways that Travel Insurance can protect you:
1. Trip Cancellation. Suppose you paid thousands for your dream cruise, and then one week before the trip, you become too ill to travel, or your doctor orders important surgery? What if your destination has just faced a terrorist act or a natural disaster, and the trip is no longer feasible? What if your tour company goes out of business? What if a close family member dies just before you’re scheduled to leave, and you need to attend to family matters instead of take a vacation? As long as you cancel for a covered reason (be sure to read your policy carefully – you probably just can’t cancel because of a bad hair day!), the insurance will reimburse you for all non-refundable expenses.
2. Trip Delay. This coverage applies when your trip is delayed by strikes, natural disasters, or even stolen passports. What if you get into a car accident on the way to the airport? What if your airline goes on strike and stops flying temporarily? Suppose a major snowstorm causes your airport to close, and your flight is postponed to the next day. Did you know that your insurance could reimburse you for reasonable overnight accommodations and other traveling expenses until you are able to resume your trip?
3. Medical and Dental Expenses. If you become sick or injured while traveling, your normal health insurance will generally not cover you if you are traveling outside the United States. Some people are also surprised to learn that once you set foot on a cruise ship you are on foreign soil, as most cruise ships are generally registered to other countries. Travel insurance is added peace of mind while you are away, and you can be confident knowing that you’re covered if you get sick or hurt. And most importantly, if something major happens and you need emergency evacuation to a suitable medical facility, the insurance will cover that hefty bill as well.
4. Baggage and Personal Effects. Generally, if your baggage is lost, damaged, or stolen while traveling, insurance will cover you up to a certain amount (again, be sure to check your policy). If your bags are lost or delayed for a certain amount of time, your insurance provider may also reimburse you for the purchase of essential items until your bags catch up with you.
Also be sure to check your policy’s coverage of Pre-Existing conditions. Some policies will not cover any cancellations or delays due to a condition you already have (for example: if you have a heart condition, and then have a heart attack before your trip, you may not be covered). Some policies will cover any pre-existing conditions as long as you purchase the policy within a certain range of your deposit date. The policy I prefer allows you to purchase insurance at the time of final payment, and all pre-existing conditions will be covered.
Insurance policies differ, so be sure to request a copy of the policy you’re considering, and review it carefully. Obviously, there are a lot of “what ifs” to think about. But I can guarantee you that if you don’t have insurance and run into one of these issues while traveling (and they are all surprisingly common), you will be wishing that you had just spent a few extra dollars for the insurance!
So think twice before declining Travel Insurance on your next vacation; it could turn out to be money well spent. Feel free to contact Sunshine Travel with any questions about travel insurance, and we can work together to make sure that you choose a policy that best suits your travel needs.