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!