Friday, August 26, 2011

Could You be Stranded on Your Cruise

Q: Do I Really Need a Passport ? 

Q: Why Should I Purchase Travel Insurance? 

A: Hurricane Irene Strands Passengers

We are frequently asked if it is necessary to have a passport book to cruise.  Please read on ...

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires U.S. and Canadian travelers to present a passport or other document that denotes identity and citizenship when entering the U.S.  

WHTI went into effect June 1, 2009 for land and sea travel into the U.S. WHTI document requirements for air travel went into effect in 2007.

Technically U.S. citizens taking “closed-loop” cruises are not required to have a passport but will need proof of citizenship and a government-issued photo ID, such as an original or certified copy of a birth certificate and a driver’s license.  (More information)  It is still highly recommended that you travel with a valid passport.  The following true story is just one reason why we make this recommendation.

Carnival, Royal Caribbean Strand 450 Passengers in San Juan

Last Sunday, Port Authorities in San Juan ordered two cruise vessels to depart early to avoid Hurricane Irene.  Traffic in/out of the port was limited starting at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Carnival Victory (ordered to leave at 6 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.)

300 passengers had not boarded when the ship was ordered to leave. Carnival reached out to all guests who were unable to meet the ship and either spoke to them directly, talked to emergency contacts listed by the passengers, or reached out to passengers' travel agents.  In some cases, they had to leave voice mails.

The cruise line offered complimentary hotel rooms for two nights in San Juan to all 300 passengers, regardless of whether they booked air through the line. The 300 impacted passengers were also offered a free flight to Barbados to meet the ship. The flight required that they have a passport.  About half of the passengers took the hotel and air offer.

Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas  (ordered to leave at 5:30 p.m instead of 8:30 pm)

145 passengers were left stranded at the pier when the ship sailed 3 hours early.  Hotel accommodations and flights to Aruba to meet the ship were provided to the 15 Serenade of the Seas passengers who had booked the air/sea package through Royal Caribbean. 

The balance of cruise-only passengers were, upon arrival at the cruise terminal, "advised of hotel availability in San Juan," said the line. The expense of both the potential hotel stay and airfare to reach the ship was the passengers' responsibility -- or covered by their travel insurance, depending on the policy -- because the early departure was a weather-related incident.

According to Royal Caribbean, there wasn't time to alert the passengers of the early exit. "Since this decision was made by the Port of San Juan on Sunday while the ship was docked alongside, there was no way to notify our guests of this change in departure time," the line said in the statement. RCI did, however, have port agents at the pier assisting guests who did not arrive in time to meet the ship. 

Royal Caribbean is not providing compensation for passengers who missed the sailing, because the early departure was a weather-related event. Any passenger who missed the Carnival Victory cruise will be refunded in the form of a future cruise credit. 

UPDATE - RCI Changes Mind - Compensates Passengers
In a statement, the line said it is "compensating these passengers because we understand that this was an unusual situation, and we want to provide our guests with another opportunity to sail with Royal Caribbean International in the near future."

Those passengers who did fly from San Juan to Serenade of the Seas mid-cruise will, as we reported this week, receive a 30 percent future cruise credit.

No Passport = No Vacation 
No Travel Insurance = Out of Pocket Expense 

Hopefully you now understand why two pre-cruise travel expenses could make the difference between salvaging a vacation or returning home with disappointment and potential financial loss.

We often hear  "we intend to go on this trip no matter what", so we don't need insurance.   Mother Nature was in control for the past two weekends.  No matter how much you wanted to go on your cruise, you might find yourself trying to catch up to a ship that departed without you.   To do so, you'd need a passport.   You could also incur additional expenses along the way, which could either come out of your pocket, or be reimbursed by the travel insurance company.

Be sure to cover your entire trip cost.  This includes any shore excursions which you might book independently.   Hurricane Irene has scrambled itineraries for more than a week now.   Some independent providers will charge you for being a "no show".   Don't forget those pre or post-cruise hotel stays as well as flights.   Every item that could be canceled could cost you money if it isn't covered.

You should book and pay for travel insurance at the time of cruise booking.   In some cases, there may be additional benefits to doing so, such as pre-existing health condition waivers.  Perhaps you are healthy and that doesn't apply to you.  Another reason to do so is that once an event has begun (Hurricane Irene in this case) coverages are limited to policies that were in force prior to the event.

Be sure to read travel policies for any limitations.   There are many other reasons to have a passport and purchase travel insurance.   Don't forget about the folks you leave at home.   What happens if something happens to them and you need to leave your cruise early.   Would you be able to do so, or could you be stranded at a foreign airport?

Travel Worry Free with Travel Guard's Travel Companion - Don't forget your Passport

Disclaimer:  We are not insurance agents and make no claims about coverages or limitations. We offer this advice as a service to our readers. Always check directly with the insurance company regarding any specific circumstances that need clarification. Click on the "Protect your vacation" image above to learn more about travel insurance.

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