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Cruise Line Cancellation Policies: A Closer Look
Home > Features > Cruise Policies & Inside Info > Cruise Line Cancellation Policies: A Closer Look
Would you gamble with your vacation investment? Some passengers like to play the odds, plunking down thousands on cruises and foregoing the extra few hundred dollars in insurance. After all, healthy, predictably employed individuals rarely have to cancel cruises, right?

But even with positive odds, not everyone wins. Peruse Cruise Critic's forums, and you'll find plenty of sad stories about an unexpected cancer diagnosis, a parent suddenly hospitalized or a cruise partner who drops out of the trip. These unanticipated situations send uninsured, would-be passengers scurrying to their cruise cancellation policies to see if they can salvage their vacation funds.

What they find are contracts that are rarely forgiving, even in the most heartstring-rending circumstances, to travelers who did not buy vacation insurance. To make matters worse, the policies are complex and inconsistent, even among cruise lines that are owned by the same parent company. Read the fine print, and all sorts of variables pop out. For example, many lines, including most in the Carnival family of brands (Princess, Carnival, Cunard and Holland America), have policies that lump the actual cruise in with every other aspect of the trip that has been pre-booked -- shore excursions, airfare, and pre- and post-hotel stays, for instance. (Penalties charged on these extras are often more costly because the actual providers may also ding you.)

Some lines, such as Holland America and Norwegian, treat name changes the same as cancellations. Then there's the ubiquitous "cancellation policy exception," which warns that a specially priced promotion is totally nonrefundable as soon as it's paid. And don't think the cancellation fees will be waived if the line resells the cabin: Penalties are charged regardless.

Even careful reading doesn't promise full understanding. For example, most lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, start the countdown on the day prior to sailing. In other words, if the policy reads 120 days before sailing, the cancellation has to be made 121 days before the ship leaves the dock.

Even for those who are comfortable with legal jargon, the playing field often changes, and rules frequently morph. Just because a cruise line was benevolent in doling out a voucher a few years ago does not mean the same procedure is followed today. Cruise lines came under serious scrutiny for harsh cancellation policies immediately following 9/11, but did an about face the following year, easing up on penalties and launching generous insurance options. The pendulum, however, has since swung back. In the past few years, most of the major lines have instituted the strictest cancellation policies in cruise history -- charging higher penalties farther out and adding new penalty levels (like Norwegian tacking on a 75 percent penalty level between the 50 percent window and the 100 percent window).

Our advice: Find out your line's cancellation policy early on, and make an informed decision about whether you should buy travel insurance or not. To help you out, Cruise Critic has taken a close look at the cancellation policies for 16 of the world's top cruise lines.

Azamara Club Cruises

Overview: Azamara has straightforward, middle-of-the-road penalties that apply to all its sailings. Cancellations may be made via telephone. It has very liberal cancellation policies for shore excursions, which are refunded if cancelled 48 hours in advance of tour. Hotel costs are refunded if cancelled at least 31 days prior to departure.

For All Cruises
91 days or longer prior to sailing: $25
90-60 days: 20 percent of cruise fare
59-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Carnival

Overview: Carnival's cancellation policies apply to all associated cruise bookings, including transfers and airfare. "Pack & Go" cruises, which are typically offered close to sailing dates, are subject to a 100 percent penalty from the time of booking. Early Saver fares, which apply to cruises booked far in advance, are also subject to a nonrefundable deposit, regardless of cancellation date. Cruises to nowhere (roundtrip sailings with no port calls) follow the penalty schedule of two- to five-night cruises, but also incur a fee of 25 percent of the cruise fare when cancelled 61 or more days out. Per-person deposits range from $50 to $400, depending on cruise length. Also, when the required deposit is greater than the required penalty, the entire deposit is forfeited. Cancellations may be made via telephone.

For Europe, Panama Canal and Transpacific Cruises of Seven Nights or Longer
90-56 days prior to sailing: deposit
55-30 days: 50 percent of the cruise fare
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises of Six Nights or Longer
75-56 days: deposit
55-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For Cruises of Two to Five Nights
60-46 days: deposit
45-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Celebrity Cruises

Overview: Per-person deposits are $100 for up to five nights, $250 for six to eight nights and $450 for nine nights or longer. Cruise cancellation requests may be made via telephone. Celebrity has separate cancellation policies for other pre-booked items, such as lodging and shore excursions.

For Holiday and Galapagos Cruises of Six Nights or Longer
89-64 days prior to sailing: deposit
63-43 days: 50 percent of the cruise fare
42-22 days: 75 percent
21 days or less: 100 percent

For Holiday and Galapagos Cruises of Five Nights or Less
89-64 days: deposit
63-43 days: 50 percent
42-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises of Six Nights or Longer
74-57 days: deposit
56-29 days: 50 percent
28-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises of Five Nights or Less
59-43 days: deposit
42-29 days: 50 percent
28-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Costa

Overview: Unlike most cruise lines, Costa bases its penalties on itinerary alone. Cancellation requests must be made in writing. Airfare cancellations incur a $50 penalty during the first penalty phase. After that, regular cancellation fees apply to airfare and hotels booked in conjunction with the cruise. Shore excursions can be cancelled without penalty up to five days out. Per-person deposits are $250 for Caribbean cruises and $400 for non-Caribbean itineraries.

For World or Grand Cruises
90 days or longer prior to sailing: 15 percent of the cruise fare
89-57 days: 25 percent
56-45 days: 50 percent
44-30 days: 75 percent
29 days or less: 100 percent

For Caribbean Cruises
75-57 days: deposit
56-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises
89-57 days: deposit
56-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Crystal Cruises

Overview: Like all luxury lines, Crystal has tougher cancellation penalties for its World Cruise and World Cruise segments, but its policies are generally among the most lenient. Associated bookings (shore excursions, hotel stays, etc.) are included under the cruise cancellation policies. Cancellation requests are accepted by telephone or in writing.

For World Cruises of 53 Nights or Longer
150-76 days prior to sailing: 20 percent of the cruise fare
75-45 days: 50 percent
44 days or less: 100 percent

For World Cruises of 52 Nights or Less
90-61 days: 10 percent
60-31 days: 50 percent
30 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises
75-45 days: 10 percent
44-15 days: 50 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Cunard Line

Overview: Cancellation policies apply to advance bookings made in conjunction with the cruise, such as shore excursions and hotel stays. Certain discounted promotions and special cruises are 100 percent nonrefundable from the time of payment. Cancellation may be made via phone with written confirmation.

For Cruises of 30 Nights or Longer
120-91 days prior to sailing: 25 percent of the cruise fare
90-64 days: 50 percent
63-43 days: 75 percent
42 days or less: 100 percent

For Cruises of 29 Nights or Less
90-61 days: 25 percent
60-31 days: 50 percent
30-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Disney Cruise Line

Overview: Disney bases its cancellation fees not only on the length of the cruise, but also on whether the itinerary departs from a U.S. or foreign port. It also charges a cancellation fee from the day of booking (no matter how far in advance), and it has more severe cancellation policies for most upscale cabin categories and special departures, such as the inaugural Disney Fantasy cruise. Per-person deposits range from $100 for a two-night cruise to $600 for a cruise of 10 nights or more. Guarantee cabins, booked under the GTY promotion, incur a 100 percent cruise cancellation fee from time of payment. Disney is one of the few cruise lines that considers the day of sailing as day one in the cancellation fee countdown. Cancellations may be made by telephone or in writing. Separate cancellation fee schedules apply to other advance bookings, such as airfare and hotel stays.

For Cruises of 10 Nights or Longer and All Cruises That Embark AND Debark Outside the United States
45 days or longer prior to sailing: deposit for suites and concierge staterooms
119-45 days: deposit for all cabins except suites and concierge
44-30 days: 50 percent of the cruise fare
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For Cruises of Nine Nights or Less and All Cruises That Embark or Debark in the United States
45 days or longer: deposit for suites and concierge staterooms
75-45 days: deposit for all cabins except suites and concierge
44-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Holland America Line

Overview: Holland America's cancellation policies are among the most complex, as they vary by itinerary. Penalties for cancelling longer and more exotic itineraries are among the most stringent in the industry. Cancellation policies also apply to shore excursions, hotel stays and other advance bookings. Cancellation requests must be made in writing. Per-person deposit requirements range from $350 for a short cruise to a two-tiered deposit totaling between $2,500 and $10,000 for the Grand Voyage.

For Any Segment of a Grand World or Grand Voyage Cruise; An Incan Empires or Amazon Explorer Cruise; Hawaii, Tahiti & Marquesas Cruises of 28 Nights or Longer; and Transatlantic Europe Cruises of 30 Nights or Longer (or Segment Thereof)
120-91 days prior to sailing: deposit
90-76 days: 60 percent of the cruise fare
75 days or less: 100 percent

For All Holiday, Australia/New Zealand, Other South Pacific, Asia, Prinsendam Europe and Other South America/Antarctica Cruises
90-64 days: deposit
63-43 days: 50 percent
42-22 days: 75 percent
21 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Itineraries
75-57 days: deposit
56-29 days: 50 percent
28-16 days: 75 percent
15 days or less: 100 percent

MSC Cruises

Overview: MSC has one of the industry's simplest and least stringent cancellation policies. Notice of cancellation must be made in writing. Cruise cancellation charges are also assessed on all aspects of pre-booking, including airfare, hotels and shore excursions. Deposits range from $250 to $500 per person, depending on cruise length.

For All Cruises
75-46 days prior to sailing: deposit
45-16 days: 50 percent of the cruise fare
15 days or less: 100 percent

Norwegian Cruise Line

Overview: Norwegian bases cancellation penalties on both cruise length and cabin category. Cruise cancellation policies also apply to shore excursions, hotel stays and other advance bookings. Cancellations can be made via telephone. Like Disney, Norwegian considers day-one to be the actual cruise embarkation date. Deposits range from $50 to $400 per person, depending on cruise length. Like Carnival, when the deposit is greater than the required penalty, the entire deposit is forfeited.

For Haven and Norwegian Suite Bookings on All Cruises
119-90 days prior to sailing: 25 percent of the cruise fare
89-56 days: 50 percent
55 day or less: 100 percent

For Holiday Cruises of Six Nights or Longer
90-56 days: deposit
55-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises of Six Nights or Longer
75-56 days: deposit
55-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For Holiday Cruises of Five Nights or Less
75-45 days: deposit
44-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises of Five Nights or Less
60-45 days: deposit
44-30 days: 50 percent
29-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Oceania Cruises

Overview: Oceania sports a fairly stringent cancellation policy, although it has lesser penalties compared to Regent for those cancelling more than 30 days out. More liberal cancellation policies apply to advance bookings made in conjunction with the cruise, including hotel stays and shore excursions. Cancellation notices must be made in writing. Deposits are 20 percent of the cruise fare for the highest suite categories and $750 per person for all other stateroom or suite categories.

For Cruises of 20 Nights or Longer
150-121 days prior to sailing: deposit amount
120-91 days: 50 percent of the cruise fare
90-61 days: 75 percent
60 or fewer days: 100 percent

For Cruises of 19 Nights or Less
90-76 days: deposit amount
75-61 days: 50 percent
60-31 days: 75 percent
30 or fewer days: 100 percent

Princess Cruises

Overview: Like many mainstream cruise lines, Princess has more severe penalties on cruises sailing over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Cancellation policies also apply to shore excursions, hotel stays and other advance bookings. Special promotions are 100 percent nonrefundable. Cancellations may be made via telephone, but written confirmation is required. Deposit requirements are typically 20 percent of the cruise fare, except World Cruise segments of 44 nights or longer, which require a 30 percent deposit.

For Cruises of 30 Nights or Longer
119-90 days prior to sailing: deposit
89-64 days: 50 percent of the cruise fare
63-43 days: 75 percent
42 days or less: 100 percent

For Holiday Cruises of 29 Nights or Less
89-64 days: deposit
63-43 days: 50 percent
42-22 days: 75 percent
21 days or less: 100 percent

For Non-Holiday Cruises of 6 to 29 Nights
74-57 days: deposit
56-29 days: 50 percent
28-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For Non-Holiday Cruises of Five Nights or Less
59-43 days: deposit
42-29 days: 50 percent
28-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Overview: Regent's cancellation policy is one of the industry's strictest. Its penalties extend farther out than any other line, although it does soften the blow by allowing forfeited "administration fees" to be applied to future cruises. More liberal cancellation policies apply to advance bookings made in conjunction with the cruise, including hotel stays and shore excursions. All cancellation requests must be made in writing. For back-to-back sailings, the cancellation penalty is based on the combined length of the sailing. If you cancel a cruise within the first penalty window, the deposit amount can be applied to a future cruise taken at any time (rather than completely forfeited), as long as the new booking is made within 12 months of cancellation.

For Cruises Longer Than 25 Nights
151 days or longer prior to sailing: $500 (see caveat above)
150-121 days: 25 percent of the cruise fare
120-91 days: 50 percent
90-76 days: 75 percent
75 or fewer days: 100 percent

For Cruises of 25 Nights or Less
121 days or longer prior to sailing: $200 (see caveat above)
120-91 days: 15 percent
90-61 days: 50 percent
60-31 days: 75 percent
30 or fewer days: 100 percent

Royal Caribbean International

Overview: Deposits are $200 for five nights or less, $500 for six to nine nights and $900 for 10 nights or longer; deposit amounts are double for suites. Cancellations may be made via telephone.

For Holiday Cruises of Six Nights or Longer
89- 64 days prior to sailing: deposit
63-43 days: 50 percent of the cruise fare
42-22 days: 75 percent
21 days or less: 100 percent

For Holiday Cruises of Five Nights or Less
89-64 days: deposit
63-43 days: 50 percent
42-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises of Six Nights or Longer and All Cruisetours
74-57 days: deposit
56-29 days: 50 percent
28-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises of Five Nights or Less
59-43 days: deposit
42-29 days: 50 percent
28-15 days: 75 percent
14 days or less: 100 percent

Seabourn Cruise Line

Overview: As is fairly standard, the longer the cruise, the tougher the cancellation penalties. Seabourn's policies are generally in the middle of the pack -- less stringent than Regent's but tougher than Crystal's. Penalties apply to other cruise-related arrangements, including hotels and airfare. Cancellations are accepted via telephone.

For Cruises of 32 Nights or Longer
120-91 days prior to sailing: 25 percent of the cruise fare
90-76 days: 50 percent
75 days or less: 100 percent

For Cruises of 31 Nights or Less
90-46 days: 25 percent
45-31 days: 50 percent
30 days or less: 100 percent

Silversea

Overview: Separate, less stringent cancellation fees apply to hotels, shore excursions, airfare and other bookings made in conjunction with the cruise. Cancellations must first be made via phone and then in writing. Passengers booked on the full world cruise who choose to cancel any portion of the cruise (while still sailing on other portions), will effectively have their entire cruise canceled and rebooked subject to availability, and passengers booked in Silver Suites or higher will forfeit their suites. They will also be subject to published penalties as outlined below.

For World Cruise Segments, Totaling 56 - 115 Nights Onboard
121 days or longer prior to sailing: $250 per passenger for lower-end suites and $500 for the top five stateroom categories
120-91 days: 20 percent of the cruise fare
90-75 days: 50 percent
74 days or less: 100 percent

For All Other Cruises, Including World Cruise Segments Totaling 55 Nights or Less
120-91 days: 15 percent
90-46 days: 50 percent
45-31 days: 75 percent
30 days or less: 100 percent

--by Carol Sottili, Cruise Critic Contributor

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