Stress is one thing you should not bring on a cruise. After all, taking a cruise is all about exploring the world as stress-free as possible.
Having cruise travel insurance helps eliminate some worry and let’s you focus on enjoying your vacation. Also, it just might rescue you from a financial nightmare.
It only takes one unforeseen event or situation to ruin an otherwise well thought-out getaway.
A missed flight due to weather, a sick family member that requires you to stay home, or a medical issue you face while in a foreign port of call could put you in a difficult situation if you don’t have insurance to handle it.
Do NOT make assumptions about what travel insurance covers or doesn’t cover.
Here are just a few examples of why it is so important to have the right travel insurance while on a cruise:
- After a major winter storm in 2022 a Texas woman missed her flight before her cruise and spent almost $4,000 in hotels and flights to catch up to the ship. Southwest Airlines reimbursed her and others effected because of pressure from the government, but it was a partial repayment. And in most of these cases there is no reimbursement.
- In 2018 an Australian man had a pre-existing medical condition and was told by the cruise line he would need full comprehensive insurance. He went to a credit union and bought what he thought was the right plan. But after having a heart attack and being med-evacuated from the ship he faced a $29,000 bill, of which the insurance only paid $4,000.
- A Wisconsin family had their flights canceled before their $17,000 cruise and were stuck in Newark (another Southwest incident). They were only given a small refund from the airline and are still working with the cruise line with whom they at least did purchase insurance.
As you can see, travel insurance is one of those things that seems like a waste of money, until you need it. Then, you feel like the smartest person in the world.
But when you’re looking to buy travel insurance, you should know what you’re actually buying. Not every plan offers the same protection, and not every cruise line offers the same coverage.
And in almost every case, an insurance policy through a 3rd party can offer more protection than from the cruise line itself. Some people choose to get both, but you can get by with one or the other depending on your needs.
In this article we will dive into the fun world of cruise travel insurance and try to make it easy to understand. We’ll answer common questions and give you the clarity to know if you need cruise travel insurance and where you should get it.
We’ll also compare what some of the major cruise lines offer with their insurance protection and where they lack in key areas.
Disclaimer: None of this should be considered legal or financial advice. There are many factors that impact insurance policy coverage. Discuss this information with your travel agent or insurance representative before making any decisions.
What are some areas cruise travel insurance covers?
Trip Cancellation Coverage
Sometimes circumstances demand you cancel a cruise. This kind of coverage is for when you cancel the trip, not when the cruise line cancels it. As mentioned earlier, if the cruise line cancels the cruise you will get a full refund in most cases.
Trip cancellation coverage is for when you need to cancel due to a specific reason. The covered reasons usually include things like severe weather, illness, and death of the traveler or family member.
Some plans also include coverage if you need to cancel for the following: terrorism, loss of a job, job requirement to work, a legal obligation such as jury duty or the requirement to appear as a witness in court, and natural disasters like a fire in your home that make it uninhabitable.
In many cases you will get 100% back of your cruise cost in cash.
Every policy is different so you will want to read yours carefully as it may or may not include the items mentioned above. You typically will get more protection if you buy insurance through a 3rd party insurance provider rather than through the cruise line directly.
We will talk about “cancel for any reason” insurance a bit later.
If your cruise is cut short due to unforeseen events trip interruption coverage can bail you out. Also called “missed connection coverage” this is coverage for when you either need to arrive late to your cruise ship or have to leave it earlier than planned.
Think of it like insurance for when you only get to enjoy part of your vacation. But again, there are very specific qualifications for this kind of coverage, especially if the plan is purchased through a cruise line. These include illness and injury and can pay for a flight home in some cases.
This type of coverage will help pay for the expenses you incur if you missed the embarkation of your ship and need to catch up with it later on. Although, you will want to check with your cruise line as certain health protocols or screenings may limit this ability.
In some cases this is also called “Trip Delay Coverage” and passengers will be able to meet up with the cruise ship at the next port of call with some reimbursement of the trip cost to get there.
Your bags do quite a bit of traveling of their own on a trip like this. From airports, cruise terminals, and ports of call, your bags have plenty of opportunity to get lost. If your bags are lost this coverage allows you to get $1,000 to $2,000 back to help pay for both the contents of your luggage and your luggage itself which can cost a pretty penny.
But what if your bags aren’t lost. They are just missing for a while. For the inconvenience of having to buy new clothes to wear around the ship and a few other amenities you may need, this type of coverage pays you back for this annoyance. If your bags are missing for at least 24 hours you can get reimbursed for about $500 on most plans. And hopefully your bags will show up at your cabin door and you will at least get a new wardrobe out of the deal.
Medical treatment and expenses
In the event you become sick or injured while on your cruise this coverage will help offset some of the expenses you incur. I’ve been to the medical facility on a cruise ship before after injuring my hand playing basketball. At the time I did not have travel insurance (I know, shame on me), so it ended up being a $1,000 lesson I learned the hard way. If I had broken a bone or injured myself worse this could have been a major financial setback.
“But wait, I have medical insurance”, you might say. Most people don’t realize that their policies may not cover them when they are traveling overseas or on foreign soil. And some will only cover a small part of medical expenses when away from their home country.
And for U.S. residents, Medicare typically does not cover medical care outside of the United States.
Travel insurance will often cover anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 of medical expenses from injury or illness.
Emergency Evacuation Coverage
As much as we all think we would never need to be evacuated from a cruise ship, the truth is this happens all the time. I’ve been on at least 4 or 5 sailings where someone had to be med-evaced for medical treatment.
How much does it cost to be airlifted from a cruise ship? Most travel insurance policies offer coverage limits of $30,000 to $50,000 just to give you an idea. If you’d like even more coverage in the event of a medical evacuation you should consider a 3rd party insurance company which we will discuss later.
This kind of catastrophic travel insurance is reason enough to have at least some medical evacuation coverage. No one plans on having to be airlifted from their cruise ship in the middle of their vacation, but if it does need to happen you can make sure the financial part of it is taken care of. Medical and Evacuation can be two of the biggest expenses from which you want protection.
Repatriation simply means being set back to your home country. This can be due to an illness or injury in which you need to be sent home to get the medical care you need. It’s a also a term used when someone has passed away at sea and the family needs to have the body sent back home.
In cases of a death at sea this coverage would be very important, as the cost of sending a loved one’s remains back home can be extremely expensive. This time of grief is hard enough, so coverage like this, as unlikely as the scenario may seem, is critical to consider.
Some travel insurance plans will cover the expense of having your property stolen while on vacation. This kind of comprehensive travel insurance is key, especially if you’re going to an area known for pick-pockets or higher rates of crime, although you will want to ensure the countries you’re visiting are covered under the policy.
Having your phone or wallet stolen on vacation is bad enough, and it can happen to anyone, but insurance can cover it.
It’s important to fill our a police report in the event this does happen to you. Even though it’s an extra delay in your trip, most insurance companies require a police report of the incident, and you should get this done while you’re still there in country.
Some things that may be covered without extra travel insurance
There are a few things that may be covered without needing extra travel insurance. Some private health insurance policies cover medical expenses while traveling and some do not. Again, don’t assume. Read the policy or call a representative to make sure.
Also, some credit cards offer complimentary travel insurance when the airfare and cruise is purchased on the card. Usually these are for credit cards with annual fees. This coverage can be limited and restrictive but it’s better than having nothing. I would recommend calling your credit card provider to ask any questions about travel insurance coverage and make sure they even offer it.
Additionally, some medical insurance plans also provide coverage for accidents or illnesses that may occur during travel.
Being at sea is treated like being in a foreign country, and some policies are strict in only taking care of expenses you face while on your home soil.
Additional insurance coverage you may want
Cancel for any reason
The “Cancel for Any Reason” perk (CFAR) offers the most convenience and flexibility when planning a cruise vacation. But you will also pay a premium for it. The name pretty much says it all. You can cancel your cruise without needing a specified reason for doing so.
Maybe you think a tropical storm will ruin some of your beach days. Perhaps you would rather sail to another destination altogether. Or maybe you just don’t feel like going on a particular cruise. The reason doesn’t matter, as long as you have the CFAR coverage, which again, is a little more expensive.
Some cruise lines like Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International offer their own Cancel for Any Reason coverage, but you will not get 100% of the cruise cost back. With Carnival it’s currently 75%, and Royal Caribbean will provide 90% of your trip cost.
Even with most travel insurance companies you will not get 100% of the cruise cost back. Usually it’s anywhere from 50% to 90%.
Another area of coverage that is not on most basic travel insurance policies is pre-existing conditions coverage. You will want to read the policy very closely to make sure your specific medical conditions are covered by the plan. You will also need to buy the plan within 24-hours or less from when you bought the cruise in most cases in order to cover pre-existing conditions.
MSC Cruises uses Generali Global assistance for their insurance provider and states, “Pre-Existing Conditions can be accepted when this plan is purchased prior to or within
24-hours of final trip payment, provided other requirements are met. ”
When you may not need cruise travel insurance
Having insurance is almost always the right decision when traveling abroad. But there are some cases where it may not be as important.
If you’re young, going on a very inexpensive cruise that doesn’t require a flight, and have some travel protection through the credit card you used to book your cruise, it might not be as big a deal. Although, an injury or accident can happen to anyone, and when this happens on foreign soil it opens the opportunity for all kinds of problems.
Even if you don’t have travel insurance in some cases cruise lines will offer compensation. But these cases are limited and usually apply to the following scenarios:
- Cancelled cruises: If a cruise is cancelled by the cruise line for reasons outside of your control, such as weather or mechanical issues, the cruise line may offer a refund or future cruise credits.
- Delayed cruises: If a cruise is delayed for reasons beyond your control, such as weather or technical problems, the cruise line may offer compensation or compensation for certain expenses incurred as a result of the delay.
Note: If you had flights booked for your cruise that was cancelled this would not be reimbursed by the cruise line unless you had booked the flights through them.
Everyone’s risk tolerance is different. But a good rule of thumb is that if you’re even on the fence about travel insurance, you should probably just get it and enjoy some peace of mind.
If your flights are flexible
A lot has changed since the pandemic, and now a lot of airlines offer more flexibility when it comes to changing flights. If you’re able to have your flights changed or you can get some future credit for cancelling a flight, getting insurance to cover this cost will not be as big a deal.
If you booked a hotel with an easy cancellation policy
Just like with the airlines, many hotels have cancellation policies that allow you to recoup most of the cost of your stay so you don’t have to pay for something you can’t even use in the event you can’t make it on your cruise.
If your excursions are refundable
If your shore excursions are refundable it’s yet another cost you don’t have to “eat”. In most cases, if you booked a shore excursion through the cruise line and then cancel your cruise these excursion expenses will be refunded. This is also the case with excursions booked through our partner at Shore Excursion Group, so you can cancel and get your money back.
If your credit card has good travel insurance built in
As mentioned already, most of the credit cards that offer travel insurance also have an annual fee. Remember, you have to actually pay for the cruise using that credit card to enjoy these benefits.
Some of the best credit cards that offer travel insurance include Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($95 annual fee), Chase Sapphire Reserve ($550 annual fee), The Platinum Card from Amex ($695 annual fee), and Capital One Venture X Rewards ($395 annual fee).
With these cards you can enjoy benefits like trip cancellation, trip delay reimbursement, baggage delay, travel accident insurance, and even cell phone protection.
You will not be protected from having to pay for a medical evacuation, but some of these cards do offer emergency medical or dental treatment (Chase Sapphire Reserve).
Some things travel insurance may NOT cover
Following the steady mantra of “do not assume you’re covered” leads us to this category. There are certain situations and scenarios that most insurance companies will not cover. Here are a few of them, but this is not an exhaustive list.
Certain extreme sports
You might be surprised at what some insurance companies call “extreme”. Even activities like deep-sea scuba diving, jet-skiing, and mountain climbing might be excluded from your plan’s coverage.
If you really want to partake in an activity that might be considered an extreme sport you can find plans that are made just for adrenaline junkies, but they will cost a bit more. Some insurance providers offer extreme sports as an add-on to their policies as well.
If you plan to go even more extreme and try bungee jumping or skydiving on your cruise vacation, make sure you check with your insurance provider to at least know if they will help you out if you need it. But in most cases you will not be covered.
A named storm
The weather looked great when you booked the cruise but now you see a massive storm in the forecast. If you didn’t purchase insurance already and you try to buy it after the storm has been named, you will be out of luck. Your travel insurance must be purchased before the storm has gotten big enough to be named.
According to the travel insurance company Travel Guard, “To have coverage for that hurricane, travel insurance must be purchased 24 hours prior to when the hurricane has been named.”
What if the weather is just not ideal? Unless you have “Cancel for Any Reason” insurance you will not have coverage just because your sunny day on the beach looks more like a soggy day under an umbrella.
Injury due to intoxication
Your travel insurance policy may not cover injuries sustained onboard ship or during shore excursions if you were under the influence of alcohol.
This important detail, often found in the fine print, is a common exclusion in legitimate insurance policies. Medical exams will determine if intoxication was a factor in the injury. So, before you raise a glass and hit the deck, consider that a night of over-indulgence could leave you without coverage for accidents like a sprained ankle.
Want to get your teeth fixed while visiting Mexico on a cruise? Need a nose job while stopping in port in Croatia? These procedures are often done in foreign countries for a fraction of the cost in the U.S., but don’t expect this to be covered by travel insurance. Medical tourism involves procedures that are planned well in advance and are not emergencies.
You can buy medical tourism insurance plans, but that is beyond the scope of what we are disusing today.
If you became pregnant after buying travel insurance, you may be able to cancel your trip for pregnancy reasons and receive reimbursement, but you’ll need medical proof that the pregnancy started after the policy purchase date. Normal pregnancy care won’t be covered while traveling, unless your policy covers complications.
If you have documented pregnancy-related health issues while traveling, you may be able to file a trip interruption claim, but it depends on the company and plan. It’s best to talk to a travel advisor or insurance agent if you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy and a vacation, especially for advanced bookings like cruises.
Where you can buy cruise travel insurance plans?
There are three main ways to buy cruise travel insurance: Through the cruise line directly, with your travel agent, or through a travel insurance company. There are also some travel insurance aggregators we will talk about that match you with insurance companies. Some of the best cruise insurance can be purchased directly from the provider.
Through the cruise line
Shopping for trip insurance can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. A common option is to purchase insurance directly from the cruise line. However, keep in mind that most cruise lines don’t actually self-insure and instead offer policies from third-party providers. These policies may not offer the best coverage options or the best prices.
I have put together a table to compare coverage plans with some of the major main-stream cruise lines. Each cruise line has their own terms and conditions and even offer plans for extra protection that is not listed below. This is just to get an idea of the coverage you may find when you book a policy with the cruise line.
Also note that for the category “travel delay” each policy states a certain amount of time for a delay (i.e. 3-5 hours) in order to qualify for compensation, and often it’s only for a certain maximum amount per day.
|up to 100%
|up to 100%
|up to 100%
|up to 100%
|up to 150%
|up to 100%
|up to 150%
|up to 100%
While travel insurance through a cruise line is better than nothing, you can get more comprehensive coverage for less money by getting your own directly (in most cases).
Note: Not all 3rd party travel insurance companies offer “Cancel for Any Reason” insurance and most cruise lines do.
Through a travel agent
Another great option is to work with a travel agent. Explain your plans to your agent, including any parts of the trip you’re not booking through them, such as airfare. Your travel agent can help you find insurance options that meet your needs.
They can even help handle the claim process if you need to file one. In fact, this is exactly what happened with one journalist’s personal experience. They had a policy through Allianz, one of the largest insurance companies, set up by their travel agent. When they needed to file a claim, they simply reached out to their agent and they took care of everything, making the process much easier.
3rd party insurance provider
Don’t let the “3rd party” part of this cause concern. We’re simply talking about buying an insurance policy on your own through a reputable company.
With one of these providers you can get much more comprehensive protection. Instead of only $10,000 in medical emergency coverage you can get $150,000. Instead of $30,000 for a medical evacuation you can get coverage for $1,000,000. And even for lost baggage you can expect double the coverage of what a cruise line provides.
Here are a few providers that are popular with cruisers:
- Allianz: Offers individual and annual trip protection, up to $50,000 medical, and up to $150,000 in trip interruption
- Travel Guard: Offices in Asia, Europe, and Americas, and several plans to choose from, including some with $100,000 in medical coverage.
- Travelex: Offers 2 kinds of plans with the “Select” plan protecting any children traveling with you, in addition to $50,000 in medical expenses.
These websites allow you to enter the details of your trip and compare insurance plans with dozens of providers. You can view both estimates and reviews from other people who used those companies before.
This is a great way to get a real travel insurance comparison.
How much does this insurance cost?
On average, cruise insurance plans will cost anywhere from 5% – 10% of the total cost of your cruise. The price can go higher if you’re over 75-years-old or other conditions are met.
What about annual travel insurance plans?
Annual travel insurance plans can provide a convenient and cost-effective option for travelers who take multiple trips in a 12-month period. With an annual plan, you can have peace of mind knowing that you’re covered in case of an unexpected event, such as a trip cancellation or medical emergency.
Just make one payment and you’re set for the year.
However, it’s important to be aware of the potential limitations of these plans, including restrictions on the length of each trip and reduced coverage for longer trips. Before choosing an annual travel insurance plan, it’s recommended to carefully review the terms and conditions and compare different options to find the best plan that fits your needs and budget.
Some of the more popular companies that provide annual travel insurance plans are Allianz Global Assistance, World Nomads, and Travel Guard.
How do cancellation policies work?
Cancellation policies in cruises vary a lot depending on the location and time of booking. It’s important to understand these policies before booking a cruise. If the cruise line cancels your cruise, you won’t have to pay for it.
Cruise lines may sometimes change itineraries or make other adjustments to your cruise. Some insurance policies will compensate you if there’s a port change or a missed port, and some may even allow you to cancel if the cruise is materially changed. But overall, cancellations are not common.
It’s also important to note that cancellations due to weather are frequently made last minute. Cruise lines might help with other arrangements, but the timing can get tricky. If you choose not to go on the cruise due to weather or personal reasons, your insurance policy won’t pay unless you have “cancel for any reason” coverage.
It’s important to understand how these policies work, especially if you’re only worried about a specific portion of your trip, like air. If you booked your air through the cruise line as part of a package, it will be cancelled if the cruise gets cancelled. If you booked your air independently, the cruise line won’t reimburse you if your flights are cancelled and you miss your pre-cruise hotel. The policies for different tour operators, cruise lines, and airlines only apply to their portion if you didn’t book the other parts with them.
If you’re in the United States, policies can vary greatly in terms of what is covered and what is not. Many plans do cover emergency medical care outside of the country, including on a cruise ship, but some don’t. So, it’s crucial to understand what is covered and what is not.
In some cases, you may have to pay out of pocket and then submit the expenses for reimbursement. This process can take weeks or even longer, depending on your policy.
Travel insurance can provide quicker access to funds, and some policies even work with hospitals in other countries. However, it’s important to note that dental and vision coverage is generally not included in the same way. Dental coverage can be especially important, as dental procedures can be expensive.
Additionally, it’s important to understand who is covered under these policies. For example, if you buy an insurance policy for a trip, you’ll have to specify who is in your traveling party and what is covered. If the coverage is from a credit card or private insurance, it’s crucial to know who is covered and who is not.
Factors to consider when choosing travel insurance for a cruise ship
When buying cancellation protection, make sure to do so at the same time as booking the trip or within a specified time frame, as insurance companies often have strict deadlines for coverage. If you’re mostly concerned about medical coverage, you can buy an annual policy that covers you for an entire year and often costs the same or less than a single-trip policy. However, annual policies won’t help if you need to cancel a trip.
- Destination and activities: Consider your destination and the activities you plan to participate in during your cruise. Some travel insurance plans may have exclusions for certain destinations or activities, so it’s important to choose a plan that covers your specific needs.
- Pre-existing medical conditions: If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it’s important to make sure that it is covered under the travel insurance plan you choose. Some plans may have exclusions or limitations for pre-existing conditions, so be sure to review the terms and conditions carefully.
- Cost: Consider the cost of the travel insurance plan and make sure it fits within your budget. It’s important to balance the cost of the plan with the coverage it provides to ensure that you’re getting the best value.
- Claims process: Make sure that the travel insurance plan you choose has a straightforward claims process in case you need to file a claim while you’re on your cruise.
- Reputation and financial stability of the insurer: Consider the reputation and financial stability of the travel insurance provider you choose. Make sure they have a strong history of paying claims and providing good customer service.
Let’s break it down
When people ask me about insurance, I always start by asking what they want to protect against. Common reasons for needing insurance are cancellation due to illness, injury, or family emergencies. While cruise lines are understanding, they typically have strict cancellation policies. Some insurance policies cover cancellations even if a loved one is ill or injured, which can be helpful if you are a caretaker. Other “cancel for any reason” policies are more expensive and often only cover a portion of the trip if you cancel for a reason not listed.
When considering insurance, think about what you want to protect against and what parts of the trip you want to cover, such as air travel, hotels, car rentals, and land tours. It’s also important to consider where the limits are and where cruise lines or other tour operators already have you covered. Make sure to check the cruise line policies for these circumstances before purchasing insurance.
Just consider the cost of insurance as part of the cost of a cruise and focus on having a wonderful time at sea!