Tag Archives: Travel Insurance

Complaints: The right way and the wrong way to deal with problems while cruising

26 Jul

I’ve been cruising 2-3 times a year for many years now. I can honestly say I have never found a single thing to complain about. Maybe I’m very easy going? Or maybe it’s because there’s not been anything worth ruining my cruise over? Well, that’s not true. One time the chicken piccata served in the  main dining room was too eggy. Oh, and once the room steward forgot to give us the extra pillow I had requested when I booked the cruise.

If you browse through the Cruise Critic Forum or Facebook Pages for the major cruise lines, you’ll see plenty of people complain. Honestly, most of what they complain about is petty, and I’m fairly certain a fair share of them are miserable in their everyday life that are not happy unless they have something to rant about.

Every once in awhile something legit does come up. So what should you do when it happens to you?

If it’s in your cabin

  • The right way is to go to your room steward first. Is there a stain on the bedspread? Is ice missing from your bucket? Was the minibar not replenished? Not enough hangars? Politely ask your room steward to get you whatever it is that is missing or needs replacing.
  • The wrong way is to keep quiet until it becomes urgent and then get upset and withhold his gratuity because you don’t have a fresh towel the instant you need one.

If it’s in the dining room

  • The right way is to tell your waiter. If you don’t like how something tastes, send it back and get something else.
  • The wrong way is to sit there and stew about it (pun intended) then rant about it in your online review. If you don’t let someone know something is wrong, then how can they fix it? The waiter is not going to read your review so the only way he will know something is wrong is if you speak up when it actually happens.

If it’s about your bill

  • The right way is to keep track of your on board spending daily, and if you notice something out of whack go to the customer service desk immediately. Politely ask for them to review the bill and credit your account if it is truly a mistake. A common reason people get upset about their bill is that they forget there is a daily service charge (currently $12 per day per passenger on NCL) or they used their debit card (instead of a credit card) and now there is a hold on their checking account that takes several weeks to clear.
  • The wrong way is to wait until the last day and demand a full refund of your cruise. You will end up in a long line (making you even more upset) and you will not end up getting what you want. It’s simply not realistic to get a full refund.

Don’t nitpick – It’s not worth ruining your cruise by getting upset over something minor. Most complaints are about someone smoking on the balcony next to them, unruly kids, or the buffet line is long at breakfast. If you find yourself getting annoyed with something, stop and think whether it’s worth being upset about. You’re on vacation. RELAX! You cannot control other people, but you can control yourself and how you respond to the situation. Sure, it’s annoying if the cigarette smoke from your neighbor’s balcony is wafting into your space, but if smoke is going to bother you that much then look for a cruise bans smoking on the balcony. It’s also silly to get worked up if there are kids in the hot tub or playing games with the elevators. They have parents that are supposed to be watching them. It’s not the crew’s fault if parents do not do their job. If being around children upsets you so much that is will ruin your vacation then please find an adults-only cruise.

Could it be your own fault? – Did you get lazy about washing your hands and then find yourself sick a couple days later? Did you neglect to pack sunscreen and then get angry when it costs $20 a for a tiny bottle in the gift shop? Did you fail to keep track of time while at port and then missed the ship because you were late? Did you forget to put your phone in airplane mode and get zapped with a $500 phone bill? You are the one responsible. Don’t take it out on the crew because of your own mistakes or write a bad review because you were negligent.

Be Prepared – While I truly hope nothing tragic ever happens while you’re on your cruise, the reality is that accidents and illness can happen while on vacation. Be prepare by reading every word of your cruise contract (remember that long thing we are supposed to scroll through before clicking “I agree?”). Know your rights and what your responsibilities are. Also, please, PLEASE get Travel Insurance and a Passport. That way if you fall down the stairs, crash the rental scooter, miss the ship, or get sick you will not be left stranded or stuck with enormous medical bills.

Don’t use a debit card –  It’s important to use a CREDIT card and NOT a debit card. I’m being redundant, but I feel it’s worth repeating . Most cruises put an automatic hold on of a several hundred dollars on your card. It may take a few weeks for this to clear. Unless you are very wealthy, don’t want to mess with the funds in your checking account. Also, a credit card offers better protection against fraud. You can also appeal the charges with the credit card company if you truly feel you have been wronged. Debit cards rarely give you that option.

Wishing you a very enjoyable, safe, and healthy cruise!

Pre-cruise Check List: Getting the most out of your cruise

20 Feb

Before You Book Your Cruise:

  • Travel Insurance – Research Travel Insurance and find the plan the suits your needs. I always chose on with a “cancel for any reason” benefit. I work for a school and travel during Spring Break. However, sometimes weather is bad during the winter and there’s always the chance that Spring Break may get cut short to make up for too many snow days. It gives me piece of mind to know that I can always cancel if I need to without losing my entire investment. Read some more reasons why you need Travel Insurance
  • Know Your Destination – Take the time to learn all you can about your destination. Are there off peak times? Is there a rainy season? What areas should you avoid? Are there activities that interest you? I heard one woman complain about every port on her cruise to the Bahamas – she thought the beaches were too sunny and there was nothing else to do. There’s no need for that kind of disappointment. Had she done her research she would have
  • Research Your Cabin – Look at the ship’s deck plan to find rooms that are in a good location (avoid ones below a night club or cabins in the front of the ship if you are prone to seasickness). I also research the actual stateroom to see if there have been any complaints about it. Sometimes there are idiosyncrasies about certain rooms that do not show up on the deck plan map such as a pole in the middle of the room or an obstructed view or are within earshot of a very squeaky cruise passage door.
  • Get a Passport – Even if though US Citizens technically do not need one for a closed-circuit Bermuda cruise, don’t take any chances. If an emergency happens you cannot fly home without one. Learn some common Passport Myths.
  • Ask About Accommodations – If you have a condition that requires special accommodations, make sure you find out whether or not the cruise line will be able to meet those needs BEFORE you book. Do you need a refrigerator to store your insulin? Do you need a wheelchair accessible room? Do you need oxygen or CPAP? Do you have a child with special needs that will be enrolling in the kids club?

Immediately After Booking:

  • Start Your Countdown! – The anticipation for an upcoming cruise is one of the best parts.
  • Get Social – Go on the Cruise Critic Discussion Board and find your sailing’s Roll Call. Find your Cruise Line’s Facebook Page and ask questions. There’s often a great community of past cruisers that are more than happy to share their wisdom with you.
  • Plan Excursions – Start narrowing down which excursions you want to go on. There’s lots of info on CruiseCritic.com. Make the most of it.

Getting Accounts Ready Before You Leave:

  • Credit Card – Place a travel notification on your account, and be sure that you keep a copy of your account number and international customer service numbers in case your card is lost or stolen. Important Note: Do NOT use a debit card for your on board expenses. The ship will most likely put a hold worth several hundred dollars on your checking account and it may take weeks for it to clear. More info on Credit Cards can be found here
  • Cell Phone – Call your provider and make sure your phone will work and that you know the fine print about using your phone at sea and in a foreign land. Costs can add up quickly. More info on Cell Phones can be found here.
  • Put a Hold On – Your Mail and newspaper. Maybe even your daily email subscriptions – this way you aren’t inundated with 500 messages when you return. It also makes spotting important ones easier. The ship’s Internet is very slow and expensive. The less time you have to spend sorting through messages the better.

Call Your Doctor:

  • Immunizations – Find out if there any required or optional immunizations that could protect you while you are traveling.
  • Get Copies of Your Prescriptions – It is important to bring the actual prescription with the doctor’s signature. You may need it in an emergency and/or if the legitimacy of the medication is called into question. Also, be sure to bring your medicine in it’s original packaging so that authorities don’t have to guess what it is. Be sure to have more than enough in case your trip gets extended either by choice or by circumstance (bad weather, engine fire, or other mishap).
  • Get a Doctor’s Note – Ask your doctor for written documentation if you have a medical condition that may acquire special accommodation. Here’s a cautionary tale: While on a cruise with traditional dining (aka – fixed time, fixed table), I was waiting in line to switch my assigned time. There was an elderly couple in front of me that was given two different dinner seatings. One had the early seating and the other had the late seating. The maitre d’ refused to allow them to switch their seating assignments because the ship was sailing full and there was no room to switch around. Well, the man could not feed himself, and he was diabetic and needed the early seating. Thankfully, the wife brought a note from the doctor, and the problem was resolved quickly. But this maitre d’ was not going to budge an inch without it. Can you imagine how awful that would have been for this couple?
  • Be Aware of Controlled Substances – Some medication that is legal in the USA may not be legal in the country you are traveling to. Bermuda does not allow medical marijuana, and they have very strict punishment for anyone bringing it onto the island. In fact, the ship may have it’s own rules as well. Be sure to figure this out before you end up in jail.
  • Ask About Seasickness Medicine – There are wonderful medications for available for seasickness – some are prescription only and some are over-the-counter. Please discuss this with your doctor to find the right remedy for you.

Taking Care of Your Home:

  • Use Facebook Wisely – As exciting as it is, it’s never a good idea to post too much information about your travel plans. Thieves are tricky and can piece together info to figure out when you’re gone. 
  • Snow Removal – If you’re traveling during the winter, be sure you have something in place so that  your driveway can be plowed.
  • Pets , Kids & Family At Home – Be sure you have everything your petsitter and/or babysitter could need. Make them aware that you will not be reachable at times. Discuss ahead of time how often you will check in and how you will – email, phone call, text? Have an emergency back up plan just in case you need to cut your trip short or if your cruise is delayed because of whether or other unforeseen circumstances. What did all those people on the Carnival Triumph do for all those days they were stuck at sea with no means of communication with family back home? Be sure you have a plan.
  • Security – Keep your home safe by having a house sitter, alarm system, lights on timers, and/or a big dog. 🙂

Luggage: To carry on or not to carry on?

18 Feb

I was reading through posts on the Norwegian Cruise Line Facebook Page and came across a sad story. In a nutshell, the woman was getting married on the ship and her mother’s luggage was lost. In the luggage was the mother-of-the-bride dress. The poor mother was stuck buying clothing from the gift shop and was so embarrassed she did not want to be in any of her daughter’s wedding photos. This is tragic, but completely preventable.

Never allow anything of importance out of your sight! I don’t mean to make it sound like losing luggage is a common occurrence  In fact, I think it’s fairly rare, but if you cannot live without it for the duration of your cruise, then please carry it onto the ship yourself. The same goes when traveling by plane as well. Also, keep in mind that your luggage may not be delivered to your stateroom until later in the evening. Be sure to include anything you need to get ready for dinner.

This is what I carry on with me:

  • 2 changes of clothing (including one dress)
  • Extra pair of shoes
  • Sunscreen – bring lots because it’s expensive on the ship
  • Swimsuit – so you can hit the pool as soon as you’re onboard
  • Medicine – all prescription and over-the-counter meds
  • My camera gear – various lenses, spare battery and charger
  • Electronics – cell phone, tablet, and their chargers
  • Toiletries – makeup, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner. I also always bring a bar of soap since often times there is only liquid bodywash provided by the cruise line.

Lost luggage is another reason to be sure you have good travel insurance. It won’t help you when you’re in the midst of it, but at least when you get home you can file a claim to recoup some of the money you spent rebuilding your wardrobe.

Feel free to share what you cannot live without and put in your carry on!

Cruising During Hurricane Season

3 Aug

Caribbean hurricane season runs from May-November. This means if you’re going to be cruising to Bermuda, the Bahamas, or any part of the Caribbean during these months that your travel plans could be affected by severe weather.

It can sometimes be a hassle or a disappointment, but your safety is the Captain’s #1 priority, and any changes he/she makes are to keep you out of danger. If you are prepared, have good travel insurance, and keep an open mind then you will still have the trip of a lifetime in spite of the weather.

Sailing Around the Storm
My first cruise to Bermuda was during a hurricane, and I was a basket case worrying that the cruise would be canceled or our beach excursion would be ruined by rain. This is what happened – the Captain diverted us way out to sea so we could sail around the storm. We were late getting to Bermuda and missed Day 1 (of 3), but when we arrived the storm was over and the sky was blue.

Change of Itinerary
I’ve heard of cruise lines reversing the itinerary. For example, if you were going to go to Costa Maya-Roatan-Cozumel they may flip it to Cozumel-Roatan-Costa Maya instead. Sometimes they will go to a different port if it’s available. One time a cruise ship couldn’t get to Bermuda safely so the Captain sailed north and went to Canada instead. In fact, that is how Saint John, New Brunswick first became a cruise ship destination (incidentally I always pack a some warm outfits just in case this happens again). Bermuda-bound ships have also been rerouted to the Bahamas. Also, the Captain may cancel a port of call completely and make it a sea day instead. It’s disappointing when that happens, but your safety is their biggest priority. Usually no compensation is given when ports are cancelled, but they should refund your port fees and taxes. Seems unfair, but that’s just how it is. Read your contract carefully and know what is refundable and what isn’t so that you’re not disappointed. Many things you’d expect to receive compensation for are excluded. Unlike a retail store, you won’t get your money back if you’re disappointed.

Seasickness
The seas on my cruise were rough, and even the most hardy folks can get sick when sailing around a hurricane. I’m a roller coaster thrill ride fanatic, but even I get a little nauseated when the boat is rocking. There are lots of remedies out there from green apples and ginger to wrist bands and pills. If you are truly seasick don’t leave it to chance. Prevention is the best bet. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you. I always bring prescription patches with me just in case the water is rough. There are lots of great medications available by prescription or over-the-counter, but they all have side effects or limitations. Your primary care provider is the best person to advise you on what’s best for you.

Pack Extra Just In Case
Always bring extra medicine and clothing in case you cannot return home on the day you expected. Ships have been known to extend the cruise of an extra day or two because severe weather prevents them from reaching the home port. While it sounds like a dream come true to me to have a 7-day cruise turn into 8 or 9 days, it can be devastating if you don’t have enough medicine or supplies with you.

Back Up Plan
It’s also a good idea to have a back up plan in place in case you are late coming home. What will you do if you can’t make it into to work? Who will take care of the dog or the kids for that extra time? If the storm is also affecting your hometown will someone be able to board up the windows, put the patio furniture inside, etc.?

Travel Insurance
I’ve written an entire thread on this and could write a dozen more. This is an important topic that many people seem to ignore so I’m not going to sugar coat it. If you cannot afford to lose the money you’ve spent on the cruise, then please always get travel insurance. Do your research and make sure you get insurance that covers the things relevant to you (i.e. trip delay, lost luggage, medical problems, cancel for any reason, work related events, etc.). Cruise lines generally will not give you your money back for expenses that occur as a result of weather. This is why you need insurance if losing that money, or incurring additional expenses, will be a hardship for you.

Hurricanes have been known to result in delayed departures that require a hotel stay. Imagine if you’re sailing out of New York, and after you’ve hopped on the plane, you find out the ship will be leaving a day later – how much is a hotel going to cost you at the last minute in NYC? The cruise line could even decide to sail a day early and you need to rearrange your flight – can you afford to the fees associated with changing your flight? You could miss the ship if it suddenly needs to leave the port an hour early because of a storm – can you afford to pay for a hotel and flight to the next port (or back home)?

The cruise line is not obligated to help you in any way if these things happen. The usual exceptions would be if you booked your flight through them and the flight gets delayed.  Or you were on a ship-sponsored excursion and the ship left before you got back. But if you booked your own flight, or were off doing your own thing on the island, then the cruise line probably won’t be willing to reimburse you for the unexpected expenses that were incurred as a result.

Sometimes, very rarely, a cruise line will have a change of heart when many passengers are affected by the same issue. However, don’t count on this. The lack of monetary compensation is an industry standard so no matter which company you sail with this will most likely be the case. You’ll probably find it buried deep within the fine print of your contract. Read more the importance of travel insurance and how Hurricane Irene affected travelers in 2011.

In Conclusion
If you find your cruise is affected by the weather try to keep a positive attitude. You are still on a luxurious ship with crew that is there to cater to your every need. Make the best of it and take advantage of the indoor activities the ship has. You’ve got gourmet restaurants, professional entertainment, casinos, night clubs, health club, spa, scrapbook classes, wine tastings, and whatever other activities your cruise has on board to help you pass the time. You’re still on vacation, so enjoy it!

Travel Insurance: Lessons Learned from Hurricane Irene

28 Aug

If you’re planning a vacation be smart and get travel insurance. In 2011, hundreds of travelers were left stranded because of Hurricane Irene and we can learn from their experience.

When is Hurricane Season?
In the Caribbean hurricane season runs from May through November, and in the Atlantic it is from June through November. So if you’re planning a cruise to the Caribbean, Bermuda, or the Bahamas during that time you need to prepare for the possibility your cruise might be impacted by severe weather.

What Happened to Cruise Passengers During Hurricane Irene?

  • Left Behind in Puerto Rico – About 450 passengers got stranded in San Juan, Puerto Rico when their ships were forced to depart earlier than expected at the last minute. Royal Caribbean claimed that they didn’t have enough time to contact the passengers that were left behind. Out of these 145 Royal Caribbean passengers, 15 of them were lucky to have booked their air travel through the cruise line and were given a hotel room and a flight to meet the ship at the next port. The other 130 had to fend for themselves. This means they had to find and pay out of pocket: hotel, meals, and a flight to the next port. This could easily amount to thousands of dollars. If these passengers had travel insurance they still would have to pay up front, but those expenses would be reimbursed by their travel insurance company. Carnival Cruise lines had 300 passengers left behind and kindly gave them all hotels and flights to meet the ship regardless of whether or not the passengers had booked air transfers through them, but this is the exception to the rule. In fact, they are under no obligation to do so. It says it in the fine print of your contract when you purchase your ticket. Unless you are a gambler, then be prudent and get travel insurance.
  • Early Departure From New York – Several cruise lines had to depart early from New York, too. This time passengers were given 24 hours notice so they could try their hardest to get there in time, but certainly some did not make it. Again, if they had booked their flights through the cruise line they would be all set, but if not they would need to incur all the expenses themselves. Travel insurance would have made that burden a lot lighter.
  • Lost a Day – There was also another totally different problem that arose because of Hurricane Irene. Some cruise passengers had their trip shortened by a day. While some cruise lines offered to reimburse the passengers for part of the missed day, others may not. The cruise line does not have any responsibility or obligation to reimburse passengers for the missed day. One should assume that they will not. If in the end they do then be pleasantly surprised. Travel insurance will pay for that missed day. Why leave it up to chance? Protect your investment.
Other Reasons for Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a wise thing to have even when you are not heading into hurricane season. There are dozens of other reasons your trip might be interrupted, canceled, or cut short. Here are three biggies:
  • Medical – You, an immediate family member, or your travel partner could get sick, injured, or die either before or during your vacation. Traditional customer service rules do not apply to the travel industry. They will not feel sorry and give you a refund no matter how heartbreaking your situation is. Life is unpredictable. I was an emergency department nurse and have seen every conceivable unexpected thing happen to people right before they are about to leave on their trip of a lifetime. Some things have even happened to me. My mother suddenly got very ill while I was away in Bermuda. In fact she died 12 hours after I got home. It was good to know I could fly home at a moments notice and not have to worry about how much it was going to cost. My parents had booked a trip to Turkey and Greece that month as well. Needless to say it didn’t happen and thankfully they always take out travel insurance so my father didn’t have to deal with that burden in addition to the loss of his beloved wife.
  • Lost Luggage – Airlines and cruise line occasionally lose luggage. If this happens you’re sailing off to paradise with only the clothes on your back. Travel insurance will help you recoup the losses of buying new clothing. It’s tricker when you’re on a cruise because you can’t just go to the mall and go shopping. You’re stuck shopping on the ship or at port which can be pricey.
  • Company Going Under – This happened to a dear friend of mine. All her life she wanted to go to Ireland and when she finally got to go, the travel company went bankrupt and left her stranded in Ireland half way through the trip. She had to pay for the hotel (which the company had defaulted on) and her flight back to the United States. Sadly she did not have travel insurance and lost it all including the cost of the trip!
Additional Resources
There are plenty of people that know a lot more about insurance than I do, so here’s a link to some experts that will help guide you in the right direction:
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