Cruises have one of the highest satisfaction ratings for vacations according to consumer surveys. They appeal to a wide range of tastes and meet the budget of most. If you’re planning a cruise, it’s important to understand the cruise line’s policy and to know what your responsibilities and entitlements are.
You can avoid being caught unaware if the cruise line ends up changing your itinerary.
When you sign on the dotted line, you are, in essence, “waiving” your rights and agreeing to the possibility that your planned vacation may get changed. Cruise lines reserve the right to alter their itineraries for any reason and to change the ship you are sailing on. There may be a change in the ports of call you will be visiting, or the dates and times of arrival and departure may be altered. A port could be dropped at the last minute or substituted by another.
In other words, the ports of call you signed up for when you purchased the cruise may not be the ones you ultimately visit. The new ports may even be in another country (i.e. ports in Italy vs. Spain).
Here is a sample policy from Norwegian Cruise Line:
“In the event of strikes, lockouts, stoppages of labor, riots, weather conditions, mechanical difficulties or any other reason whatsoever, Norwegian Cruise Line has the right to cancel, advance, postpone or substitute any scheduled sailing or itinerary without prior notice. Norwegian Cruise Line shall not be responsible for failure to adhere to published arrival and departure times for any of its ports of call. Norwegian Cruise Line may, but is not obliged to, substitute another vessel for any sailing and cannot be liable for any loss to passengers by reason of such cancellation, advancement, postponement or substitution.”
When cruise lines change their itinerary at the last minute, it creates a problem for many cruisers. If they set up their own tours at the ports of call and have to prepay, they oftentimes find that this money is nonrefundable.
A delayed return by the cruise ship can also result in added expenses when departure flights and hotel reservations are affected.
There are many factors that contribute to cruise lines changing their itinerary. Weather conditions, mechanical issues, or travel warnings from the U.S. Department of State can result in an altered course.
There are ways to protect yourself financially before embarking on a cruise. To begin with, know what the cancellation policy is before booking.
Travel insurance can safeguard you against financial losses. It’s important to find a policy that suits your needs and provides adequate coverage. Many credit cards offer travel insurance as well. As a sidenote, it’s also a good idea to check into travel medical insurance and emergency evacuation coverage in case of a medical emergency. An evacuation can cost upwards of $50,000 from a cruise ship if outside United State’s waters.
Find out exactly what is covered on the policy and the acceptable reasons for cancellation. Even the “cancel for any reason” policies have stipulations. Having the wrong insurance policy could leave you with no coverage at all. They are not all equal, so it pays to shop around.
When booking flights, factor in possible delays or weather conditions that may cause your flight to arrive late or be canceled. There is also a possibility that your cruise ship could be delayed in returning, so allow ample time for your return flight as well. If you have the flexibility, plan on flying in the day before and departing on the day after your cruise dates. This will alleviate stress and financial losses that could occur if something does not go as scheduled.
If the cruise ship is delayed in returning, and you know you are going to miss your flight, contact the airline right away and rebook a later flight. If you do not cancel your flight prior to its departure, you will be considered a no-show and no refunds will be issued.
If you plan your own tours at the ports of call, rather than going through the cruise line, find out what the cancellation clauses are. If you have to prepay for a tour, and no refunds are allowed, you may want to avoid that tour.
Here are some other typical clauses in cruise line contracts that you may not be aware of:
- Cruise Cancellations: If you want to cancel your cruise, the amount of the refund is based on the number of days prior to sailing and the type of cruise. You may be eligible for a full or partial refund — or no refund at all. There may also be penalty fees, and you risk losing your deposit.
- Air/Sea Packages: Even if the cruise line books your ticket, it is not responsible if you miss the cruise because of a flight delay or vice versa. In many instances, it will typically get you on a flight to the next port of call.
- Baggage/Personal Property: If the cruise line loses your luggage, you can expect a small fraction of its value as reimbursement.
- Surcharges: Passengers may be charged an additional surcharge (without notice). The cruise line can also add a fuel supplement charge that could equate to as high as $10 per day per passenger.
- Denied Boarding: The cruise line has the right to keep passengers from boarding at any time throughout the cruise. It can force a passenger to disembark at a port of call, and no refunds will be issued. It can also deny boarding if it decides your physical condition is unfit for travel, or it can ban you from participating in activities based on your physical condition.
- Offshore Excursions: The cruise line is not responsible for problems you may encounter during offshore excursions sold by the cruise line. This includes money that is lost because of cancellations, theft, injury, etc.
- Medical Services or Service Providers: The cruise line is not responsible for any personal injury or property damage that may occur by a service or medical provider on the ship.
- Prepaid Expenses: The cruise line is not responsible for any financial losses you may incur from prepaid lodging, shore excursions, or a missed flight because of an itinerary change.
For assistance with disputes, passengers can contact the Federal Maritime Commission Consumer Affairs Division.
There is also a Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights that covers mechanical failures and shipboard emergencies. You can find this information on Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
The majority of cruises are a great experience and passengers oftentimes can’t wait to book another. You can enjoy your cruise to the fullest and eliminate financial losses by knowing what to plan for.
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