In these turbulent times, many potential cruisers are finding it difficult to book a cruise and wait happily until they sail off into a carefree state of bliss. Although cruise prices are arguably at an all-time low, it can still be hard to plunk down your hard-earned money weeks or months in advance of departure when there's a nagging voice in the back of your mind saying, "What if you have to cancel?"
While it's true that most insurance and vacation protection plans will cover you if you have to cancel for medical reasons, what if you just find yourself feeling uneasy due to world events, or not wanting to be separated from your family and friends? Do you risk losing all your prepayments, or is there a way to receive a refund?
I'm happy to tell you that all hope is not lost: More and more cruise lines are offering cancellation waivers, or waiving penalties outright, in hopes of luring you out to sea. Here are some of the recent developments:
*Holland America Line offers two cancellation protection plans, called CPP and CPP Platinum. The standard plan, called CPP, allows you to cancel for any reason up to 24 hours prior to departure and receive a refund of 80% of any applicable cancellation fees. The CPP Platinum plan offers you a 90% refund, plus the added benefit of coverage for trip interruption, lost or damaged baggage, emergency medical, dental and evacuation insurance. Note that this coverage provides for a maximum benefit of up to $20,000
*Mediterranean Shipping Cruises has introduced a new plan called More Secure Cruising that allows passengers to book any 2002 Caribbean cruise by December 31, 2001 without incurring any cancellation penalties.
*Norwegian Cruise Line recently introduced a new cancellation and trip protection plan called Travel Care Free. Similar to Holland America's, this plan grants you the flexibility to cancel for any reason. If you cancel for a covered medical reason, you'll receive a refund just as you would with standard insurance. But if you need to cancel for any other reason, NCL will give you a future cruise credit equal to 75% of your cancellation penalties. If you choose NCL's Platinum program, you'll receive a future cruise credit equal to 90% of the penalties.
*Princess Cruises' new plans are called Princess Travel Care (formerly Love Boat care) and Princess Travel Care gold (formerly Love Boat care Gold). In addition to offering comprehensive coverage for medical emergencies, lost baggage and other unforeseen difficulties, the new plans allow passengers to postpone their vacation for any reason they wish. Princess-booked air and hotel travel are included as well as children travelling in third or fourth berths. Rates are not based on a passenger's age. For complete terms and conditions, call the Princess Travel Care desk at 1.800.453.4069.
*Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises offer their Cruise Care vacation protection plan. It provides all the benefits of traditional plans, and if you are forced to cancel your cruise for a non-medical reason or one that is not covered, RCI or Celebrity will issue you a future cruise credit equal to 75% of your penalties.
*Silversea Cruises has announced a new "reassurance" program. Passengers who cancel their Silversea cruise for any reason one to 14 days prior to departure will receive a 100 percent Reassurance Cruise Credit on a future cruise valid for 12 months from the date of issue. The optional "Reassurance Program" is available for new bookings made through March 31, 2002 for any voyage commencing on or after April 1, 2002. Passengers with existing bookings on voyages commencing on or after April 1, 2002 may add the "Reassurance Program," but must do so by December 31, 2001. More details are available from your travel agent.
*Viking River Cruises is looking to put your mind at ease by amending its cancellation policies. Until further notice, all passengers making new bookings for 2002 cruises will be able to cancel without penalty providing they do so by January 21, 2002.
*Windstar Cruises offers a plan that's virtually identical to parent company Holland America Line's. Under its CPP and CPP Platinum plans, for voyages departing on or before December 31, 2001, Windstar will offer a future cruise credit equal to 80% of your penalties for the standard plan, or 90% for the platinum plan, if you cancel for a non-covered reason. For voyages departing in 2002, Windstar will provide refunds in lieu of future cruise credits.
Read the Fine Print and Consult a Professional
Plenty of fine print can accompany cancellation insurance and waivers, and we encourage you to consult your travel professional or the administrator of the plan (i.e., the underwriter) directly for a complete description of coverage, terms and conditions. Here are some other things you should be aware of:
*Some of these plans do not provide coverage or rate protection for third or fourth occupants in a cabin if they need to cancel.
*These plans do not cover or protect any other costs incurred, such as airline tickets or land arrangements, that are not purchased from the cruise line.
*Many policies must be purchased at the time of initial deposit and are 100% nonrefundable. If you cancel your cruise outside the penalty period, they are nonrefundable; if you cancel within penalty, the cost of the insurance or waiver will not be refunded, credited or factored into the penalty amount, since you're paying for peace of mind.