This year, more than 600,000 Canadians will embark on cruise trips, many of them will be repeaters: a good indication they’re getting their money’s worth. For snowbirds, scattered throughout the coastal states for three to six months a year, the opportunity to experience the fastest growing segment of tourism, has never been better.
In 2011, 13 new ships were introduced to the world’s fleet of cruise ships, accounting for 14,886 beds—and according to industry sources, cruise lines have placed order for 19 ships with 55,251 berths as of February this year.
Of special interest to snowbirds is that cruise lines have also expanded their marketing reach by adding many new ports of call along the southern, eastern and western seaboards of the U.S.—central and northern Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and California, making cruising accessible to people who can drive to the new ports of call in two to three hours.
It’s easier than ever to find a vessel that will fit your aspirations and your budget. But there are still some basic rules you need to adhere to.
For those few of you who still don’t carry passports on your snowbird trips—don’t even think about getting on a cruise out of a U.S. port without one. And if by chance you get out to sea—you won’t be let back in, no matter what your nationality.
Also be aware of the rules for bringing goods back from foreign ports, and transhipping those goods back home to Canada. The fact that shrunken head, or case of rum you got in Jamaica is not American, does not mean you’ll be able to take it across the border with you duty-free next spring when you return to Quebec or Manitoba or any other province.
Make sure your travel insurance is intact. The insurance you bought in Canada to cover your winter vacation will cover your cruise trip. Make sure you know the terms of coverage and all of the exclusions and limitations. But generally, it will cover you just as thoroughly in the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico as if you encountered a medical emergency or baggage loss on dry land in Texas or Florida. And when buying your cruise ticket, stay away from the travel insurance sold by cruise lines or their agents.
You don’t need it. It’s far too limited, it’s designed for Americans who don’t have the same government health care insurance you do, and it’s no substitute for the single-trip or multi trip coverage you bought at home.
And do take a well equipped credit card. Cruise ships do not generally deal in cash. They run everything up on your credit card tab and only hand it you at the end of your trip—too late to see the damage you have done to your finances. It’s a good rule of thumb to expect to spend as much on board for “extras” as it is for your cruise ticket. So try to keep track as you go. Very little on a cruise ship is free; certainly not medical care, for which you will be expected to pay up at prices similar to those at clinics on land. That’s where a good travel insurance policy will come in very handy.