My cruise documents haven't arrived yet.
Cruise line policies vary wildly, from an on-full-payment to four weeks prior.
Remedy: Strike pre-emptively by asking, when booking your cruise,
for the approximate send-out date. And then mark that date on your calendar.
Some lines, like Carnival, send documents out about a month before your embarkation
date. Others mail out immediate
confirmation (upon full payment), then ship actual tickets roughly three weeks
prior (and via a traceable service, such as FedEx). Regent sends its tickets
upon final payment. Last-minute cruisers who've booked a trip with two weeks
(or less) notice may have to pick up tickets at the pier itself. If you're worried,
call the cruise line's 800-number (or ask your travel agent to track them down).
Rules: You may be paying a premium for cruise-line-arranged airline
tickets, but don't expect special treatment. In fact, you may actually have less
choice -- over airline, seat assignment and routing. For instance, Carnival,
whose policy is consistent with many other cruise lines, says it will "arrange
itineraries that may include connections, commuter service, charter airlines,
overnight travel and/or forced overnights before or after the cruise. We cannot
guarantee that guests traveling with other guests will be on the same airline
or routing. Due to limited availability during peak travel dates, non-prime
air schedules may be assigned." Princess, for one, has launched a premium service
where passengers, for an extra fee, can specify preferences.
Remedy: Unless you're taking a cruise that begins and ends at different
(and exotic ports) -- we're thinking South American itineraries and some Alaskan
voyages -- book your own airfare, on your own frequent flier airline, and plan
your own flight path. If you have bought cruise line's air and want to change
their assigned routing and/or seating you must work with their in-house Air/Sea
department (call the line's toll-free number), well in advance -- we're talking
several months -- of your cruise, but you may end up paying extra. If you're
taking a cruise that requires a charter (particularly to starting or ending
locations such as Manaus, Brazil, or even Acapulco), you pretty much have to
accept the assigned air. These charters are only offered because the destination
is a challenging one.
Situation: We arrived at the port of embarkation late and missed
There is no guarantee that the ship will delay departure for guests arriving
late to the port, regardless of whether they made air arrangements on their
own or through the cruise line. However, the ship may delay the departure if
the schedule (or other factors, ranging from tidal conditions, to number of
guests still not onboard to port schedule) allows it. At Regent Seven Seas,
"Whether we hold the ship or not can depend on a variety of factors, including
how many guests are still to board, and whether a late departure from the embarkation
port will entail a late arrival at the next port and therefore affect all the
Remedy: The first piece of advice: Get there early. A day early.
Plan ahead, particularly if you're flying during winter seasons (or even summer
thunderstorm seasons). If you must fly to the port on the day of embarkation,
try to catch the earliest possible flight. At the very least, leave a minimum
of a four-hour window between arrival and cruise take-off time. Other tips:
Take a copy of your cruise line's 24-hour emergency phone number -- most have
them -- with you and if you know you're going to be delayed, make sure you call
and let them know. If you do miss the ship, and it's the airline's fault, the
airline is responsible for delivering you to the next port of call -- and picking
up some expenses, like hotel and meals. If it's your fault -- or even if not -- having travel insurance is a good bet because it will reimburse you for any
other out-of-pocket expenses you incur trying to get to the ship (plus hotel
Should I buy travel insurance? Yes. Yes. Oh, and yes. We can't stress enough
the importance of travel insurance, whether it's because you find out you have
to cancel the trip or your luggage is lost or you miss the ship -- or you have
a health emergency.
Rules: There are two kinds. Cruise lines offer travel insurance which
basically -- and reading the fine print is crucial here -- offers all the same
benefits as traditional travel insurance, such as trip cancellation, trip delay,
missing or damaged luggage, or a medical emergency. If you have a pre-existing
condition there may be exceptions. Traditional travel providers, such as Access
America and Travel Guard, will cover pre-existing conditions -- as long as the policy is purchased immediately (or within a week or two) of
buying the cruise itself. There is one big difference between cruise line and
third-party providers: If the cruise line itself goes out of business -- and
the demises of Commodore and Premier, alas, have taught some passengers this
lesson the hard way -- the cruise line's own insurance will not cover your loss.
However, companies like Access America, Travelex and Travel Guard will provide
reimbursement for that type of occurrence.
I have a health condition (blind, deaf, need oxygen tank, am in a wheelchair,
recently had a heart attack). Do I have to let them know?
Rules: Cruise lines require notification of any major disability.
A fairly common policy: "If you have severely impaired sight, hearing and/or mobility
and will not be accompanied by, and share the same cabin with an able-bodied
adult, please contact us prior to your cruise, so that all necessary safety
arrangements can be made." They may impose special requirements; i.e., a blind
cruise passenger traveling solo was recently turned away at the dock (!) by
one line because they felt he couldn't safely travel (and that he was a potential
liability) without a companion. And most do not take responsibility for missed
port-of-call visits that you can't be safely delivered to (particularly when
ships tender, rather than dock).
Let the line know, obviously. This benefits you as well because they can make
special arrangements (i.e., the purser will arrange in advance for assistance
on gangways; reservation agents can forward your info to the doctor onboard
your ship). Travel with a pal if you can -- and if you can't, be sure to mention
it to the cruise line. Choose cruises based on itineraries that are more accessible
(ask ahead if the ship docks or tenders in the ports of call); ask in advance
about tours best suited to your needs. And choose your cruise line carefully:
some are more sensitive -- and even innovative -- than others. Holland America,
for instance, recently announced upgrades to tenders that will make it easier
for passengers with disabilities to see ports of call. Other cruise lines are
introducing state-of-the-art technology into medical facilities; these features,
which mostly are available on lines' newer ships (such as Grand Princess and Carnival's Spirit) offer satellite communication with prestigious
on-shore medical partners, from L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai to Baltimore's Johns Hopkins.
And don't forget to request, if appropriate, one of your ship's cabins that
are specifically designed for passengers with disabilities (especially those
in wheelchairs); typically, these cabins have wider doors, more open space
and bathrooms with roll-in showers.
Situation: I bought a run-of-the-ship (or guarantee) cabin but I
don't like what I was assigned.
Well, that's why you got such a great deal. Cruise lines will sell run-of-the-ship
cabins (the discount you get ranges from fabulous to negligible), and that gives
them the freedom to put you anywhere on the ship, within the type of cabin you
specified (generally limited to inside vs. outside cabins).
Remedy: You can request a change (i.e. from a forward cabin to a
mid-ship stateroom in your category) prior to departure from your travel agent.
Onboard, you can also try to ask the purser's office for a new assignment but
there's no guarantee; the cruise line doesn't have to move you. Want to try
for an upgrade? Good luck -- it's a rare occurrence when you've gotten the cheapest possible
fare. You can still ask for an upgrade but may be required to pay hundreds (if
not more) of dollars extra.