Q & A: Insurance, Refunds, Tipping and Documentation

| November 23, 2005

Art Sbarsky, CruiseMates Consumer Affairs Editor, answers letters and comments on key issues posted by readers. If you have a question about cruising, send it to .

Subject: Insurance This is the time of year when readers ask about travel insurance because of bad weather in various parts of the country (well, at least hurricane season is over though). Art says: I certainly cannot recommend whether someone should buy trip insurance or not. But if someone is inclined to make changes in their travel plans, or has something major looming on the horizon (e.g., births, family illnesses) that could require such a change, insurance is a relatively low-priced preventive measure. If it's not used, it's just part of the vacation expense; if it does have to be used, it's priceless. Others who should consider insurance are those making a flight connection in a city known for weather problems. Cities such as Chicago and Denver come to mind. Through the winter months, it's also important to consider flying into your departure port the day before a cruise to give yourself a cushion. This is the time to consider taking the cruise line's air programs. There are still no guarantees that you won't have a problem, but the cruise line will have a vested interest in helping you out if there are delays. If you're shopping for insurance, make sure you buy into a program that suits your specific needs; not all policies are exactly the same. Go to www.insuremytrip.com to compare possibilities. Subject: Refunds We had a letter recently from a booked passenger who then got pregnant. As a result, the cruise line would not allow her to travel -- but they were extremely slow in returning her money. Art says: Every cruise line has specific policies regarding such things as pregnancies, babies and minors. They're not all the same, so it makes good sense to check the details. In this case, the passenger did not really have a problem with not being able to cruise; she just couldn't get her money back. It seems strange that the line would be so stubborn since they said the money was due. There was no legitimate reason for the line to hold onto it. If this were to happen, I'd apply pressure on a constant basis until I got my money back. The pressure should be in the form of letters AND phone calls to those involved: customer relations, reservations (go up the chain through the supervisor level) and executives -- all the way to the top. Do it nicely and politely, but firmly --and repeatedly. Nice nuisances really are taken care of pretty quickly most of the time. Subject: Tipping I love reading the various comments on the CruiseMates message boards regarding tipping; what a wide range of attitudes. A question came up recently regarding tipping for room service. Art says: If the person providing the room service is your regular room person, any tipping should be in the form of additional compensation over your regular tip. If service is really great along the way, show it in the form of a larger tip. If the room service is provided by someone else (e.g., a night stewardess delivering pizza and fries at 3 a.m.), a tip is not really required. But giving that person a buck or two or three is a really nice way of saying thank you. Even if your tips have been prepaid, it's still nice to show appreciation by tipping those who help make your cruise special. Just do not try to tip the Captain. Subject: Documentation A passenger recently noticed that her name as stated on her cruise documentation was slightly different from her birth certificate name. She was concerned this would be a problem. Art says: It certainly can be in this day and age of higher security. In fact, this just happened to me. I was booked for a cruise and the name on my ticket was Art. On my passport, it's Arthur. Rather than taking a chance and hoping that the slight difference would not cause a problem at check-in, I notified the line and had them change my paperwork. Remember, it's up to the passenger to make sure documentation is in order. Even though the cruse line will provide overall guidelines regarding passports, birth certificates, etc. the passenger is ultimately responsibility for that plus anything having to do with visas and inoculations. Hint: There are changes coming regarding what documentation is going to be needed to travel to various places. If you intend to travel outside of the United States and do not yet have a passport, go ahead and get it sooner rather than later. OK, I'm off the soapbox for this month. If you have any comments on these or other issues, please let me know. Send a note to my e-mail address listed above.

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