Cruising is a wonderful experience, but be sure you are covered by trip insurance — Photo courtesy of Britus / iStock Via Getty Images

Ocean and river cruises have significantly gained in popularity among all age groups over the past few years. And it’s no wonder: It’s a delight to unpack once and watch the world float by from the comfort of your stateroom on the best new cruise ships.

Because of the relaxing nature of a cruise vacation, many people might not think of purchasing travel insurance. But there are many compelling reasons why cruise insurance should be included in your cruise expenditures.

Here are some expert tips to ensure smooth sailing.

What is covered by cruise insurance?

It is important to review travel insurance coverage advertised by a cruise line or an independent travel insurance company to understand what it does and does not cover. Reading the fine print is paramount. Here’s what to look for.

Trip cancellations

Trip cancellation insurance is a pre-departure benefit that can reimburse a traveler’s trip cost if they need to cancel their trip for a covered reason. Along with the most common reasons travelers cancel their trip (i.e., a medical emergency), most plans offer a wide variety of scenarios that are also covered under this policy. Be sure to verify what, if any, penalties will be applied if you have to cancel your trip.

Cancel for any reason (CFAR)

Cancel for any reason is separate from trip cancellation. This coverage protects the insurer if they have to cancel the cruise for any reason. Policies vary with each insurance company, so make sure you discuss the details with your agent before purchasing signing on the dotted line.

Pre-existing conditions

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It is important to check with your travel insurance to know what coverage may be available for a sudden recurrence of a pre-existing health condition, as it might be less than what is covered for a new injury or illness.

Medical coverage

Depending on whether you are sailing nationally or internationally, it’s important to speak to your designated insurance agent to determine the best plan to address your current health issues.

Lost and delayed luggage

Baggage delay coverage allows you to purchase essential items you need for your personal comfort while you are waiting for your bags to arrive at your destination. Most plans offer reimbursement for purchased clothing and essential items if your baggage is lost or stolen, but check beforehand.

What type of insurance do you need for a cruise?

According to Suzanne Morrow, senior vice president of InsureMyTrip, travel health insurance can come in handy for a cruise.

For older folks, it’s important to know that Medicare does not cover health care services when the ship is more than six hours from a U.S. port. Even if you’re young and in excellent health, travel health insurance covers a wide range of issues and accidents that can arise — especially while embracing that carpe diem vacation spirit. Polar bear plunge in the freezing waters of Antarctica? Sure! Count me in!

If your medical emergency is serious, it may require an airlift off the cruise ship to the nearest hospital. A medical evacuation alone can cost as much as $100,000 or more. Travel health insurance can greatly reduce this cost.

Opt for CFAR coverage

Morrow also recommends that cruisers purchase travel insurance with CFAR coverage. If you need to cancel a cruise for any reason, CFAR may reimburse you up to 50% to 75% of your prepaid, nonrefundable costs.

Don’t assume your policy covers an unexpected trip cancellation unless explicitly defined in your contract. If you aren’t sure what is covered, speak with a representative before you elect coverage.

“There may be benefits under travel delay coverage, but that would only reimburse expenses up to the policy max, such as accommodations or food that is purchased during the delay,” says Meghan Walch, also of InsureMyTrip.

Does travelers insurance cover flight cancellations?

Last-minute flight cancellations are happening more and more these days. On a recent cruise to Iceland, we were disembarking the ship when we received a text alerting us that our flight home was canceled. Apparently, some flight crew members didn’t report for duty that morning.

We ended up rebooking a direct flight home — at our expense — because the airline’s only offer to stranded passengers was a grueling 27-hour flight itinerary back to the United States.

We had travelers’ insurance, but we discovered — after enduring months of correspondence with the insurance commission after the fact — that insurance companies aren’t liable for canceled flights due to crew not showing up.

Other scenarios are covered by travel insurance, such as weather and mechanical issues, but not this particular situation. This was an important, and costly, lesson learned.

Who offers travel insurance for cruises?

There are dozens of cruise insurance companies out there, so you’ll have to do your homework to find the right one for your situation. To get the maximum value from any travel insurance plan, buy it within 14 days of paying your trip deposit. The earlier you buy cruise insurance, the sooner you are protected.

More cruising tips for smooth sailing

Arrive to your home port early and take carry-on luggage only to mitigate stressful situationsArrive to your home port early and take carry-on luggage only to mitigate stressful situations — Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

In addition to purchasing cruise travel insurance, there are things you can do before you embark on your dream cruise to ensure smooth sailing.

Arrive at your cruise home port a day in advance

An early arrival at your cruise ship’s home port should definitely be on your itinerary. While it may mean using an extra day or two of vacation time, and the expense of overnight accommodations in your cruise port, in this new world of frequent flight delays and cancellations, it can seriously make all the difference as to whether or not you will “miss the boat.”

Cruise with carry-on luggage only

Most cruise lines offer free laundry facilities on each deck, or you can use the sink and bathroom drying lines in the bathroom (one good reason to put clothespins on your cruise packing list), so it’s smart to pack light and take advantage of these amenities. It will save you time and trouble not having to check bags.

If you must check bags, travelers’ insurance can come in handy should your luggage never make onto the ship.

We experienced this scenario when an aunt and niece on a Seine river cruise lost their luggage on their flight from the Midwest to Paris. They were finally reunited with their luggage — weeks later at home.

Cruise insurance would have paid for replacement clothing, either bought on board or in the port towns along the cruise route.

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