Here's how Carnival's updated plan, which is similar to a traditional insurance policy, works.
Purchase VPP on or after July 15, the date on which the changes go into effect. Plans can be purchased as late as two weeks prior to sailing date. Rates start at $49 per person, and vary depending on cruise fare. Insurance for a cruise costing $1,099 per person, for instance, will run you $119 per person. Note: Coinciding with the expansion in coverage, Carnival has instituted price hikes -- of $6 to $10 depending on cruise fare -- nearly across the board. Those who purchased the plan before July 15 can "upgrade" by contacting the line and paying the difference.
Besides the standard coverage -- trip cancellation/interruption, trip delay, baggage delay, emergency medical services -- Carnival's plan now provides for reimbursement up to the total cost of a cruise if you lose your job. The insurance covers you in the event of your own job loss and anyone else sharing a cabin, as long as they also purchased the plan. You can cancel up to the time of the sailing. The caveats: You must have worked for your employer for at least one continuous year.
The job-loss portion of the policy will reimburse you for 100 percent of the cruise fare paid (minus the cost of the plan, of course). Like other job-loss protection policies (including NCL's), an entire family sharing a cabin will be covered even if just one parent loses his or her job -- as long as everyone has purchased the policy.
But while job-loss protection has become a trend, there was something far more unusual in Carnival's announcement: a new clause protecting folks from cruises affected by severe weather -- and even those that might be affected. The following severe weather protection coverage is also effective for plans purchased on or after July 15.
The severe weather watch/warning protection provides reimbursement in the event the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and/or National Weather Service issues or maintains a severe weather watch or warning within 48 hours of a cruise departure. Should the watch or warning affect either the cruise departure city or the passenger's route to that city, the plan will allow for cancellation and reimbursement up to the full amount of the cruise cost. We're reminded here of Galveston, the Texas cruise port devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008. NOAA warnings were inside Carnival's new 48-hour window. The latest policy changes allow for cancellation in a similar situation.
Most traditional plans from third party insurers (such as Travelguard) offer trip interruption and trip cancellation insurance -- but not the chance to cancel a cruise if a storm could possibly affect your travel plans. Just to clarify, the clause doesn't cover cancellations if the NOAA issues a warning or watch for your destination -- just the departure city. If the itinerary is changed from Western Caribbean to Eastern, but your Miami homeport is fine, you'll be stuck.
Carnival has also added a trip delay due to severe weather clause, which is far more common with insurance plans. If you're traveling to the cruise departure port via a common carrier (airplane, bus, train, etc.) and inclement weather ultimately causes you to miss 50 percent or more of a cruise, you may receive reimbursement up to the total cost of the cruise.
When it comes to insurance policies, Cruise Critic typically recommends purchasing a policy through a reputable third party insurer -- and we can't stress enough the necessity of shopping around and reading the fine print. It's up to each individual traveler to make sure they know what they're getting into. For more information on choosing a travel insurance provider, check out our helpful feature, Travel Insurance: Pros and Cons.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor