This year, more than 25 million people, including more than 750, 000 Canadians, will board cruise ships in ports around the world for what has become the fastest growing vacation option available to leisure travelers.
According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents 95 percent of the world’s cruise companies, 13 new ocean liners and 13 river cruise vessels, accounting for over 30,000 additional passengers will be added to the world’s fleet in 2017 alone. And between now and 2026, 97 new ships (80 ocean liners and 17 river cruisers) with a total capacity of almost 231,000 will be added to this travel market sector.
For Canadians, who have easy access to the world’s busiest cruise ports (such as: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Galveston, New Orleans, and Vancouver) there is a huge range of cruise options available, and thanks to online cruise booking services you can easily sign up for anything from a 3-day cruise to nowhere, to a round-the-world odyssey; from the comfort of your living room.
Look Behind the Message
Cruise lines sell their products on seductive messages: “leave your worries on shore.” That’s an attractive idea. But signing up for a cruise requires some practical, mundane actions too—none more important than making sure you have the right travel insurance plan to protect you in case of a medical emergency while on your cruise. And though US-based cruise lines offer optional health insurance packages along with your sign-up process: most are not designed for the specific needs of Canadians, and can leave you vulnerable to great financial risk if you have an accident or become seriously ill on board or at any foreign ports of call.
For example, the Cruise Vacation Protection Plan offered by Carnival Cruises (the world’s largest cruise operator), underwritten by TransAmerica Casual Insurance Company, provides up to $10,000 USD for coverage of medical emergencies, up to $30,000 for medical evacuation to the nearest appropriate hospital; and $30,000 medical repatriation (death benefit) to get your remains or those of a loved one home. Other major cruise companies (Norwegian Line and Royal Caribbean International) have similar protection plans, with benefits ranging slightly, and premiums from $90 USD to $148 USD per person for a 7 day cruise (depending on which line you choose). Note that besides medical benefits, these plans also provide trip cancellation or delay, and baggage loss benefits.
Stranded in Trinidad?
What that means is if you need to be evacuated to a hospital in Miami while on a Caribbean cruise, your $10,000 medical coverage would very likely be eaten up before you are out of the emergency room. And if you need to be air evacuated home from Barcelona while sailing the Mediterranean, your $30,000 evacuation benefit might get you only halfway home. Also note that evacuation refers only to the nearest appropriate hospital. So if you’re sailing in the Caribbean and you must be airlifted from the ship to say, Trinidad, for an emergency hospital visit, the airlift might be covered, but how then do you get back home from Trinidad to a hospital in Montreal, or Medicine Hat or Peterborough?
The supplemental health coverage policies offered by US-based cruise lines (no matter where the ships are flagged) are designed to be supplemental to the private health insurance policies that many US residents have (many of which cover out-of-area services). In effect, the cruise insurance is designed to partner with those plans but will pay only after the traveler’s own domestic insurance plan meets its obligations.
The Rules are Different for Canadians
But that doesn’t work for Canadians. Unless you have purchased private out-of-country travel insurance in Canada to cover your cruise, all you have to fall back on is your provincial government coverage—which pays foreign hospitals and doctors only a small share of the bills they submit to you. That leaves you on the hook for the remainder.
However, private Canadian travel insurance will cover up to $10 million CAD for medical emergencies, for repatriation to a hospital at home (if medically necessary), for return of deceased remains (with certain limits), for travel of loved ones to your bedside, and it may also cover an accident or sickness on board—which ordinarily you would have to pay to the ship board medic, at rates similar to those charged in the port cities in Florida, Texas or California. Most ship doctors are private contractors—not employees of the cruise lines on which they work.
In addition, the cruise line protection plans (which are underwritten by stateside insurance companies) will charge you directly for any medical or evacuation bills you encounter, and leave you to collect from your insurer—private or government. That’s not a pleasant prospect.
Many of the Canadian providers of out-of-country travel insurance may pay your providers directly, through their worldwide networks of emergency and assistance companies. This may not always happen, depending on where you sustained your claim, but there are few places now where Canadian travel insurers have not established their connections.
How to Book
If booking directly online, review the cruise line protection plan carefully to see if it meets your needs. You don’t have to sign up. It’s not mandatory. Then compare what a single trip out-of-country travel insurance plan from a Canadian insurer offers, and make your choice. It should be a simple one.
If you’re booking through a Canadian travel agent, let them know what your preferences are. Let them do the homework for you and find the plan that gives you the best protection. Your agent should be able to guide you. If not, call the travel insurer you normally use when planning trips. It’s the easiest and best way to go.
Get cruising with your insurance. All aboard!