Cruise Line Travel Insurance Can Leave You Stranded. Buy the Right Thing

Planning a cruise out of Florida, Texas, or California this coming winter?  Sounds good. But before you sign on, make sure you have appropriate travel insurance in place—and don’t count on the insurance sold by cruise lines to give you the coverage you need. It’s not good enough.

Unlike the comprehensive single- or multi-trip plans sold to most Canadian snowbirds, the travel insurance policies sold by cruise lines are paltry, full of exclusions, and might just leave you stranded on some small Caribbean island to find your own way home—at your own expense—if you have a sudden medical emergency. Read a cruise line policy carefully before you even consider purchasing it.

Many policies sold by major lines like Carnival, Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney (and a dozen others) will limit coverage for medical emergencies to $25,000 or less (not nearly enough), will only cover you until they can drop you at the nearest available port hospital (wherever that may be), will not pay for air repatriation to your home, and will not pay hospitals or doctors in these ports of call directly. By contrast, the standard out-of-country travel insurance policies available to Canadians will provide the same coverage to cruisers as they do to landside travellers: between $1 and $5 million for medical emergencies, air repatriation to a hospital at home, direct payments to hospitals and doctors, and day-by-day or hour-by-hour case management of your medical emergency. Also, your benefits will be directly integrated with your government health insurance plan—something foreign insurers are not set up to do.

Cruise lines are in the business of creating “dream vacations” at the lowest possible cost. It’s a highly competitive business and cruise companies will shave off any dollar they can to make their package price look better than their competitor’s. Selling you good travel insurance that only increases your out-of-pocket cost doesn’t fit that profile. Some cruise lines or agents will offer travel insurance products, independently of their cruise package, which provide better coverage. But Canadians need to have travel insurance that is coordinated with their provincial health plans—and plans offered by US companies working with American travel agents or cruise lines selling in-house products won’t do that.

I know of several cases where cruise passengers with medical emergencies were offloaded at ports in the Caribbean, and were then left to deal with local hospitals demanding payment. They also had to arrange either commercial flights or air ambulances to get to home after their emergencies were treated—all at their own expense and with precious little help from the cruise line.

Fortunately, if you’re already in the US on your winter vacation and are considering a cruise, the snowbird insurance you already have will do the job for you, at no additional cost.

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