Canadians Continue to Embrace Cruise Vacations, But Need to Consider Travel Insurance Pitfalls

In 2018, close to 960,000 Canadians will have embarked on a cruise—almost 39 per cent more than in 2010, according to estimates reported by the Conference Board of Canada (CBOC).

Citing data provided by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the CBOC projected that it was cruisers from Canada’s Atlantic region who posted the largest average annual rate of growth in embarkations since 2010—11.6 per cent from then to the end of 2017.

The report also indicates that while the average age of Canadian ocean and river cruisers in 2017 was 51, there was a discernable distinction in age cohorts between those taking longer itineraries such as trans-Atlantic or exploration cruises (which tend to attract older travellers), and shorter Caribbean cruises which are more popular among younger travellers.

For example, the average age of Canadian passengers on cruises to the Panama Canal/South America, Antarctica, Galapagos, or the Arctic is 66; the average age of cruisers to the Caribbean, Bahamas, or Bermuda is only 46. Nonetheless, the Caribbean region remains the leading choice for Canadian cruisers, most sailing out of US ports.


Cruise line insurance tailored for Americans may be ill-suited for Canadians

Given that sharp age difference in cruise destination choices, the selection of appropriate travel medical insurance deserves close attention—by prospective cruisers as well as by their travel agents. According to the CLIA, almost eight in ten travellers planning cruise vacations are likely to make their booking with an agent—either directly or online—suggesting a demand for cruise expertise.

For Canadians booking US-based cruises directly with the cruise lines or with online agencies, that expertise should encompass a keen knowledge of the differences in travel insurance coverage required between American passengers and Canadian passengers.

Virtually all cruise vessels sailing out of US ports offer travel/medical insurance coverage options as part of the cruise package—usually underwritten by US-based insurers and crafted primarily for American cruise passengers, most of whom have private health insurance with some limited coverage for out-of-area or out-of-country emergency medical services.

Generally, the optional medical insurance plans are reasonably priced and easily purchased—just check off the “Yes” box. Not too many questions asked. But for Canadians, that simple one-box checkoff can be problematic.


Even in a small Caribbean hospital, care is expensive

The coverage limits offered by US-based cruise lines are extraordinarily low compared to Canadian travel insurance choices: perhaps only $10,000 or $25,000 for medical emergencies, and usually with no repatriation benefits. So if there is a medical emergency that can’t be handled on board (few can), transfer to the nearest hospital at the next port of call is the only option, leaving patients to make their own way home. And even in a Caribbean port, medical costs can be shockingly expensive, to say nothing of the costs of travelling back home, by air ambulance or assisted services via commercial flight.

By contrast, Canadian travel insurance (the kind purchased for routine cross-border trips to Florida, Arizona, or Las Vegas) routinely covers up to $5 million or more, includes medically appropriate repatriation home if necessary, and will more than meet the needs of any cruise booked—trans-Atlantic, Antarctic, or the increasingly popular European river sightseeing trip.

But as with any travel insurance purchase, accuracy in completing applications and health questions, as well as a knowledge of one’s medical records, are essential to doing it right. And when covering cruise trips, travel days to and from the port must be considered, as should trip cancellation/disruption coverage, especially as cruises are usually booked well ahead of departure time.

For frequent travellers, many of whom already have annual, multi-trip plans, the job is already done, so long as the requisite number of travel days coincide with the duration of the cruise.

The cruise destination may be exotic. But the planning still needs to be practical.

Travel freely, travel blissfully. We cover Canadian Travellers with travel medical insurance and non-medical travel insurance such as trip cancellation, trip interruption, and baggage worldwide. We’ve got it all taken care of. For more information, visit, call us at 1-800-360-3234 or email us at

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