Q & A: Insurance, Seasickness, Money and Hurricanes

| April 20, 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

We got two emails on this subject recently. Letter 1 was from a cruiser who did not have trip insurance, and had to cancel his cruise because his father died. Letter 2 was from a new cruiser who wanted to know if she should buy trip insurance.

Art says: The first writer wanted to know if I could help get either a refund or at least a future cruise credit when he had to cancel his cruise without insurance. Unfortunately, if a heartfelt letter from the aggrieved individual to the line did not do the trick, there's nothing I can do. That's the purpose of insurance. When business is good -- and it is right now -- there's even less incentive for a cruise line to do anything. I'd like to introduce the writer of the second letter to the writer of the first one. Whether or not to buy trip insurance is virtually unanswerable. If you think there is absolutely no way you are ever going to cancel the cruise, you do not need insurance, and the cost of it is not a factor. If you can come up with any reasons why you might have to cancel, you might want to buy insurance and have the peace of mind that comes with it. If you don't have to use it, it just becomes part of your trip expenses. If you do wind up needing it, does the cost really matter?

Subject: Seasickness

One reader this month asked about the likelihood of getting seasick during a transatlantic crossing.

Art says: The letter writer did not say when they were going, or on what ship, so it was hard to give a definitive answer. But here are a few general guidelines about the possibility of seasickness. Almost without exception, the larger ships are less likely to exhibit the pitching and rolling that causes seasickness. All the new ships have stabilizers that help counteract the motion of the ocean or sea, so that helps. The depth of the water matters, too: Crossing the Pacific or the Atlantic naturally might be rougher than a sea or river, or a cruise that hugs the coastline. If you think you might have a tendency to be seasick, I certainly wouldn't suggest a northern Atlantic crossing on a smaller ship during the colder seasons.

If it's a first cruise and you have any doubt, take a cruise during the nicer months, in an area where the sea is known to be smooth. A perfect example is the Mediterranean Sea during the summer; it's not affected by tides and the likelihood of storms is quite low.

Two other things to consider are stateroom location and medication. If you are at all concerned about the ship's motion, a room in the mid-section between bow and stern is going to have less motion. Think of it as a see-saw. The ends have much more motion; it's the same on a ship. Also, the rooms closer to the water line (not under it, just closer to it) are going to have less motion than the rooms on the upper decks. Some cruisers wear anti-seasickness wristbands or patches, or take medications such as Dramamine or Bonine. If you're at all concerned, you might do the same; better safe than sorry. Just don't do what a fellow guest did one time: He was so happy to be wearing a patch in rough weather that he put a second one on. This is a big-time no-no. If you're going to take any kind of medication, follow the directions very carefully.

Subject: Cash on Board

The writer, a first-time cruiser, wanted to know how much cash to take with him for his family of four (husband, wife and two teenagers). He knew there was a "sign 'n' sail" program, but wanted advice about likely cash outlays.

Art says: Each cruise company publishes guidelines regarding their on-board spending policies; you'll find them in their brochures and in the guidebook they send out with ticket documentation. They're also usually published on the line's website. It pays to read this carefully; it will give you guidance about what you can put on your stateroom folio, which you will almost always cover with a credit card (yes, there are some guests who put cash on their account and settle it that way. This is a small portion; most pay by credit card).

Most on-board expenses will go on your card, such as bar, gift ship, shore excursions, photo shop and spa. Some lines put staff tips on your account automatically, or give you the chance to do it that way. Many cruise lines also allow you to get cash at the casino, usually a set amount per day, and put that on your card. You may actually have very little opportunity on board to use cash. Shore-side, it could be very different, depending on what you do and where you are. Most places today, including restaurants and shops, naturally take credit cards. Local transportation, such as taxis, will require cash -- often in local currency. If you are a serious shopper, you will be able to bargain better by using cash instead of a credit card. If you have cash and a credit card, it's always smart to ask if they'll give a discount for cash.

The cruise line's information will tell you if you can cash a personal check on board should you need more cash. Also, more and more ships -- especially the larger contemporary and premium ships -- seem to have cash machines on board. Obviously there's a fee associated with that. You'll also find ATMs ashore. Finally, lots of guests still go with traveler's checks. Yes, they're safer than cash; but they're not as convenient nowadays as credit cards.

Subject: Hurricane Season

We received a letter this month from a couple scheduled to cruise this September. They wanted to know if they might get caught in a hurricane, and what would happen if they were.

Art says: I'm flattered that these readers felt I was capable of forecasting the weather for September. I'm not that clever. There's just no way of knowing what's going to happen. Last year was a perfect indication of that. In a very short span, cruises to both the eastern and western Caribbean were impacted by a seemingly never-ending series of storms -- storms that suddenly changed direction and caused all sorts of havoc.

If you are absolutely panic-stricken at the concept of a hurricane, you may not want to schedule a cruise from September through November; that's when most of them occur. However, no cruise line is ever going to put a ship in the path of a storm if it can possibly be avoided. The lines and ships have extremely effective weather detection systems, and they pay close attention to the reporting services as well. If there is any chance of a storm, the line will move the ship to a different itinerary. Sometimes this just means changing a port or two. Sometimes it means relocating the vessel from an eastern Caribbean itinerary to the western side. In extreme cases, it could mean moving a cruise from Bermuda to New England, or vice versa.

Just don't get caught short. If you are sailing during that season, make sure you pay attention to the weather yourself. It would not be fun to get to New York City packed for a warm-weather sailing and find you are going to cooler New England instead. It does happen, and you really cannot blame the line. No cruise executive will knowingly put its crew, guests or ship in harm's way.

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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