North American winter travel is unpredictable at best. And if you’re on a razor-thin schedule, as many cruise ship passengers are when making a same-day flight to catch a ship departure, you’d better know the fine details of your trip cancellation benefits.
Example: If you bought a cruise package that sails out of Miami on a Saturday afternoon in January, and then your flight from Toronto is snowed in and you can’t get you there in time, what are your options? Will you be jumped to the next port of call free of charge? (Don’t count on that.) Will you receive a credit for another cruise? (Partially, maybe. But you wanted a seven-day cruise, not a four-day jaunt, right?) Will the cruise line just give you your money back? (Even less likely.)
I can’t give you any absolute answers to the questions above because travel insurance policies differ greatly in their fine print. Some will offer you a limited amount to catch up with your ship if the delay at your origination point is more than, say, six or even 24 hours. Some may give you a partial credit on a future cruise. (But so long as you hold a credit, your insurer will not reimburse you for the value of that credit.) Cruise ships like to hand out credits rather than cancellation reimbursements because they all know that their real profits come from getting you on board, where your spending REALLY starts.
I have only rarely heard of a cruise ship giving you a full refund on a trip that never was—even through no fault of your own.
Also, if you have to stay in a Miami hotel for two days before catching up with your ship in Puerto Rico, don’t expect to have all your expenses paid. You will be allowed only a limited amount, and it will not cover the Fontainebleau.
My recommendation to any winter cruise traveller is to be leery of air/cruise packages that purport to make your travel simpler and seamless. This is done only to make the total cost of your trip appear cheaper in your travel brochure, but what is that compared to the potential costs of sitting in a hotel room waiting for news about the next flight out due to a weather-related disruption? You can avoid this scenario by flying to your cruise port city a day ahead of time. Build it into your vacation, relax, eliminate the stress and uncertainty of travel connections, and get on board relaxed and ready to enjoy. Any travel agent can make such arrangements for you. You can do it yourself. Cruise package wholesalers and cruise lines don’t like to throw in this extra day because it bumps up their costs and makes them look less competitive when compared to trip packagers that have you going from airport to seaport, all lined up like obedient little sheep.
Is trip cancellation insurance worthless? No way. It’s essential. You’ve got to be covered for your airline portion, your stopovers, any diversions your cruise ship might have to make, and any land tours you may book while on your cruise. There are a lot of variables on a cruise vacation, and they are all expensive. You need to have them all covered. But you are always best off buying this coverage from a professional who knows travel insurance and can clearly explain the limitations and exclusions. Often this will be a professional who is not employed by the cruise line, or trip package wholesaler, or airline.
If you ever hear your travel or cruise agent tell you they have the perfect insurance package for you or that “everything is covered,” go elsewhere. Because that is simply not true.