August 30, 2011

3 Must-Do's When Planning a Cruise Vacation

This week there were reports of travelers left stranded when cruise ships were forced to set sail early due to Hurricane Irene. These events reinforced three key things that I have stressed over and over again to clients planning a cruise:

1) Purchase travel insurance - Each cruise line handled the situation differently. Some took care of the passengers accommodations for the night and arranged for them to fly to the ship the next day. Another only helped clients who booked their air with the cruise line, and told the others they were on their own because it was a weather-related incident.

If you think the cruise line is required to make good, you'd better re-read the fine print in the cruise contract. They generally have it pretty well covered that they can change anything without notice, especially when it’s due to bad weather. Instead of spending your time on hold with the cruise line trying to argue about the fairness of it, you can be on the phone with the insurance company’s customer service department working on your alternate arrangements. And you can submit a claim to get your extra expenses reimbursed, including hotel stays and transportation to the ship, subject to the policy’s terms & conditions. 2) Arrive in the embarkation city at least one day early – When a ship’s schedule is moved up, passengers arriving the same day have a much shorter time window in which to absorb schedule changes. Traveling can be nerve-wracking at times, but when schedules are packed too tightly, the slightest mishap can send stress sky-rocketing. This week, even if the ships were going to leave at the scheduled time, inclement weather could have caused flight delays into the port city. Arriving the day before is always a good idea, even if your destination is just a short flight away. Imagine the airport being completely shut down because of a bomb threat, a hazardous chemical leak, etc. Unless you are able to drive yourself to the port at short notice should flying become impossible, you should fly in at least a day early. For travel across an ocean, I’d suggest 2-3 days early.

Now you may say, “I was smart & bought insurance, I’m covered if my flight is delayed.” But did you read the fine print to know if there a minimum delay time required for insurance to kick in? For example, your policy might require a delay of at least 5 hours before they will cover you for missing your ship. What if your flight was only delayed 3 or 4 hours, but your schedule was so tight that you still couldn’t make the ship? You may be out of luck. 3) Carry a valid passport (and make sure it does not expire for at least 6 months beyond the last day of your trip) -
Some cruises, such as closed loop itineraries which sail to & from the same US port, still allow travel with only a birth certificate and photo ID. But a prepared traveler ALWAYS takes a valid passport. During Hurricane Irene, passengers that were trying to reach their ship needed to fly to the next port. But if they didn’t have a passport, they were out of luck, a birth certificate is not acceptable ID for air travel outside the US.

Similarly, what if something happened that required you to come home early, such as illness, injury, or family emergency. Or what if the ship had mechanical problems and was forced to unload passengers in a foreign port? You will be scrambling to contact the nearest embassy in order to get home.

Whether or not a cruise line acted fairly is not the issue here. When you’re traveling and things go wrong, you want them fixed ASAP so you can get on with your vacation. Even if someone could guarantee you that your travel supplier was wrong and you were owed compensation, that’s no comfort in the moment, when all you want to do is go on that family vacation you have been dreaming about. Be proactive, and do everything you can to minimize stress, delays, and expense when something goes wrong, by following these three rules.


Suzy said...

Good tips! I hadn't considered to always have my passport on me, for any kind of travel, but it makes sense just as a security. You never know what might happen.

Cheap Accommodation said...

Wow... list and tips are sounds very excellent. I love it so much. The place and preparation are perfect.