Taking a cruise comes with unique risks that are not like any other holidays, and you may need more comprehensive forms of travel insurance.
If cruises are your vacation method of choice, then beef up your travel insurance!
There are plenty of terms and conditions when you agree to a cruise; and the circumstances are very different from being on solid ground.
Here’s why you want to be extra careful with insurance on cruises, and how.
A Note on Specialised Cruise Insurance
Some insurance policies are specially designed for cruises. Known as cruise insurance, these tend to come bundled with your cruise package, or are an optional purchase.
When choosing between cruise insurance and buying regular travel insurance, never assume the former is better. Check the terms and conditions carefully; it’s possible that regular travel insurance provides better payouts, or has wider coverage. When in doubt, ask your financial adviser to do a comparison.
Remember, just because it’s bundled with the cruise doesn’t mean it’s better.
1. Medical Evacuation is a Top Priority
If you fall ill or get injured on a cruise, you must know two things:
First, the facilities aboard the ship may not be sufficient to treat you. On most cruise ships, infirmaries are meant to treat minor injuries and illnesses, or to stabilise a patient’s condition. Anyone with a serious condition, such as a heart attack or stroke, still needs to be medically evacuated to a hospital.
This is almost always done by air, and the cost can be in the range of S$10,000 to S$15,000.
Second, the medical treatment received on a cruise is not “part of the package”. The fees are charged to your cabin. To make it worse, the medical staff are not part of the cruise company: they are considered independent contractors (so you can’t sue the cruise line if they’re guilty of malpractice).
You have no way of knowing how these independent contractors derive their fees. Unlike, say, a government hospital, there will be no subsidies on treatment or medication. There is also no adherence to cost guidelines, such as the ones stated by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Singapore. If the contractors choose to charge high prices, there isn’t much you can do about it.
As such, it’s important to get back to a hospital in Singapore, as soon as you can.
Make sure the travel insurance you buy provides coverage for medical evacuation. Some cheaper policies don’t provide this at all, and only have coverage for repatriation of remains (i.e. it only covers the cost of sending your body back if you pass on).
Better policies will provide coverage for medical evacuation, and some even provide unlimited coverage for this cost.
2. Delays and Cancellations Can Happen Due to Weather
Cruise ships are subject to weather hazards. Whether it’s having to take an alternate route or slow down, this can cause trip cancellations and delays.
It’s already stated in the terms and conditions that the cruise company has a right to cancel the trip (or impose a massive delay of 24 hours or more). How they’ll compensate you is up to their internal policies. You may get your money back, or you may only get a partial refund. For delays, you may get nothing; not even a voucher.
Your only way to be reimbursed for these costs is to get a good travel insurance policy. You have to buy the policy early, not on the exact day of the cruise; that way, you can be compensated if the cruise happens to be cancelled a day or two before the trip.
Remember that, unlike airlines, there’s no “alternative flight” you can be booked on (unless your intention is solely transport; but most people who book a cruise want to be on that specific cruise ship).
3. Cruise Ships Put You at Higher Exposure to Certain Risks
The most obvious of these are slips and falls. These are less likely to occur on a plane, as you’re seated most of the time (and told to belt in when turbulence occurs).
On a cruise ship, swells and high waves happen quickly and without warning. If you’re climbing a staircase when it happens, or in a corridor with nothing to grab hold of, you face a real fall risk.
And while it rarely happens, do remember the risk of falling overboard. This is a risk unique to travelling by ship, and some generic insurance policies don’t cover it (check the terms and conditions).
4. There May be Island Stops, Which May Not be Covered by Insurance
A common feature of many cruise ships are island stops. These allow you to visit various islands, where locals sell handicrafts, put on shows, prepare meals, etc.
If you are relying on non-travel insurance policies, such as a Personal Accident Policy, you must check if they apply during such stops. Otherwise, you may find there’s no payout for, say, breaking a leg while touring one of these islands.
Even if you do get travel insurance, you need to be sure that these stops are covered.
As an alternative, you can choose to stay on the ship, if you’re not insured for such stops. You’d be missing out on part of the entertainment though!
5. There is No Immediate Law Enforcement on Cruise Ships
This is the biggest source of worry on a cruise ship. Unlike an airplane, there are plenty of dark corners and empty hallways in which a crime can be committed. This is aggravated by the fact that there’s no immediate police force to call, which makes criminals more brazen when operating on the ship.
Also note that prosecuting crimes on a cruise ship can be difficult, as it may not be under the legal jurisdiction of Singapore. Someone who steals your belongings – even if they’re part of the crew – may face nothing more than being fired and sent home.
For these reasons, your travel insurance should have good coverage against theft and injury (in case you are outright robbed or assaulted). Be warned; some cheap forms of insurance don’t pay out anything for lost cash, and have low payouts for electronics (e.g. only S$100 payout for a lost smartphone).
The best form of safety is to not bring valuables or cash on board (most expenses can be charged to your cabin). Only bring such items if you absolutely must, and even then, get the best travel insurance coverage (you can afford) for them.