You never know when events beyond your control will mess with or even ruin your cruise vacation. That's why Cruise Critic typically recommends buying a travel insurance policy to protect your vacation investment. But the world of insurance is full of mind-numbing fine print that most cruisers skip past -- until they try to make a claim and discover they're not covered by their policy.
What does travel insurance not cover? Many common cruise mishaps -- from missing the ship to wanting to cancel for personal safety -- are actually travel insurance exclusions, meaning you won't be reimbursed for your financial losses.
Before you pay for that policy, make sure you know what is covered, or not, in your plan. Here are 10 surprising things travel insurance will not cover on your cruise.
1. A Trip the Cruise Line Cancels
This one gets tricky. Just because your cruise line cancels your sailing does not mean that travel insurance will reimburse you for any prepaid trip expenses beyond what the cruise line reimburses. Travel expenses like airfare, hotel, tours, etc. are only covered if the cruise was cancelled for a reason listed in your policy. These generally include weather, mechanical failure, and even organized labor strikes.
"If a cruise line cancels out of nowhere," says Meghan Walch, product manager at travel insurance aggregator InsureMyTrip, "you might not be covered."
For example, if you're booked on the inaugural voyage of a new cruise ship, and the cruise line decides the ship isn't ready for guests and cancels, your travel insurance policy might not cover your nonrefundable airfare to your homeport.
Another example is the financial default of the cruise line. Some policies cover your expenses if the line ceases all operations, but only if you purchase coverage soon after the trip is booked and if the default happens beyond a specified waiting period.
2. Your Designer Cruise Wear
Comprehensive travel insurance policies offer coverage for lost or stolen baggage; however, the coverages have limits, both per trip and per article for specific items like electronics and jewelry. (Plus, some electronics aren't covered at all.) If your suitcase is filled with a week's worth of designer duds, and the airline (or cruise line) loses it, your travel insurance might not reimburse you for the full value of your lost belongings.
If you do plan on taking expensive clothing and jewelry on your luxury cruise, consider listing those items on your homeowner's policy, which might cover items lost, damaged or stolen while traveling. And look for a travel insurance policy with higher lost luggage limits. Finally, you might want to take photos of the special items you pack to prove what was lost in case something goes wrong.
3. Scuba Diving and Parasailing Excursions
If active and adventurous pursuits are part of your port day plan, be aware that standard travel insurance policies do not cover injuries related to adventurous, dangerous or extreme activities. These can include typical cruise ship shore excursions, such as parasailing and scuba diving. If you get injured while diving and need to seek medical attention in a foreign country, your insurance provider is likely to reject your claim for reimbursement.
However, many plans offer a rider, or add-on to your base policy, to cover more extreme activities. There are also policies specifically for watersports enthusiasts, like the options offered by Divers Alert Network. You'll want to pay for one of these if you plan on booking a thrilling excursion in port.
4. Cancellation Due to CDC, NOAA or Other Government Warning
Say the State Department issues a travel warning for your cruise destination, or the CDC is cautioning travelers not to cruise during a disease outbreak. If you think, "I'll be safe, take their advice and cancel my paid-in-full cruise," you might be in for a surprise because your travel insurance provider most likely won't reimburse you for cancellations due to travel warnings. That applies to storms, geological activity and terrorist activity. Only policies labeled as cancel-for-any-reason would pay in instances where you (or the government) are nervous about a possible event that has yet to happen.
5. A Cruise Bought With Points
Frequent flyers and savvy shoppers who hoard miles and points can actually save enough to get a "free" cruise, paid for with virtual currency. Just don't think you can insure a trip booked that way the same way you insure a paid-with-cash trip.
"You can't place a monetary value on points, and then insure your trip for that amount," says Walch, "but you can insure any associated fees." For example, if your cruise is valued at $2,500, but you paid with points and $100 in fees, you can only insure your trip for $100 and get reimbursed based on that amount -- not its $2,500 value.
However, that doesn't mean you should skip insurance. You'll still get coverage for medical emergencies or lost luggage, and the insurance might reimburse you for fees associated with rebanking your points should you cancel for a covered reason.
6. Missing the Ship in Port
If you forget to set your watch to ship's time, get drunk at Margaritaville and lose track of time, or get stuck in traffic coming back from a far-flung private shore excursion and miss your ship, travel insurance will not pay for your flight to the next port or your hotel for the night. Missing embarkation and getting left behind is not a covered situation for travel insurance, no matter how good your excuse is.
(Injuries or losses due to intoxication are never covered, so if you drink too much and hurt yourself, and the medical records acknowledge that, your policy won't reimburse you for medical expenses.)
7. Death or Illness of a Beloved Pet
If Fluffy gets diagnosed with a tumor -- or worse, dies -- the week before your cruise, we'd understand if you wanted to cancel your trip. However, while travel insurance will typically reimburse you if the same were true of a human in your family, most policies don't extend the coverage to pets.
But if your dearest family members have four legs, you can purchase add-on coverage to certain policies that will cover you for trip cancellation or interruption due to the death or critical condition of a pet.
8. Civil Unrest in a Cruise Port
When riots or protests are taking place in your embarkation port city, or the transportation sector is striking and you're not sure you can get from the airport to the cruise port, you might decide the best course of action is to cancel and rebook your cruise.
Unfortunately, standard travel insurance policies won't reimburse you for canceling due to civil unrest. Unless you bought a cancel-for-any-reason policy, you'll need to brave the chaos -- or eat your vacation investment. As with other governmental warnings or general discomfort with a travel situation, you won't be covered for canceling out of concern or fear. (On the other hand, many policies will reimburse you if terrorism prevents you from taking or interrupts your trip.)
9. Dental Care
Most travel insurance policies offer limited dental coverage -- but might not deem something you consider an emergency as an essential issue. "Some dental coverage, included with medical, will cover you if you have an accident or injury to a natural tooth," says Walch. Though, as with medical, there will be an upper limit on how much you'll be reimbursed for emergency dental treatment.
Travel insurance won't cover the loss of or damage to dental bridges or implants, braces, dentures or mouth guards. Some plans might not cover problems with your natural teeth if they did not result from an accident or injury. (Also, if you get your teeth whitened at the onboard spa and then find out you can't eat and drink what you want for a day or two because your teeth are sensitive -- travel insurance won't make you whole for that, either.)
With travel insurance, there's a time for everything. Miss the window and you miss out. For example, if you want to purchase a cancel-for-any-reason add-on policy or be covered for pre-existing conditions, you must purchase your policy within a few weeks of making the first deposit on your trip. Procrastinate buying insurance, and you'll become ineligible for these coverages.
Same thing with making a claim. "All policies have wording governing how long you have to file a claim, some might be days, months or a year," says Walch. "The time frame varies widely and also can vary depending on which state you live in." She recommends filing right away, both to make sure you don't miss the claim window but also because the information needed for the claim is still fresh in your mind with all the receipts available and not lost.