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Travel insurance for your cruise vacation

You've worked hard and saved your money so you can finally take that cruise of a lifetime. Deposits were paid long ago, the remaining balance was taken care of last month. You've stopped delivery of the mail and newspaper, asked the neighbors to keep an eye on your house, and left your itinerary with your mother-in-law so you can be reached, just in case. All details are tended to. Or are they? Click here for last minute cruises

It could be you skipped a very important step in your plans, and now it's too late to do anything about it. Decisions about travel insurance must be made when you purchase your cruise. You can't buy a cruise, then decide days or weeks later that you need travel insurance. Be sure you make the right decisions at the right time.

Most vacationers are understandably excited when they book that long-awaited cruise. Nonetheless, they should remember they're making a purchase decision involving thousands of dollars. The fine print of the cruise contract spells out details on non-refundable payments and cruise companies' waivers of responsibility. A study of these details will convince most people they need some kind of insurance. The only exception is the a buyer who is prepared to forfeit thousands of dollars should the unfortunate happen.

Cruise travelers should be prepared to deal with situations like these:

* You're forced to cancel a cruise or interrupt your trip because of death or illness within your immediate family.

* A flight or travel delay prevents you from reaching the ship before the cruise departure.

* You become sick or injured during your trip and need medical assistance outside the U.S., or perhaps even need emergency ambulance service to get back home.

Comprehensive policies that cover a variety of situations are widely available, as are more specialized policies that may cover your unique needs. Start by getting details on what your cruise company offers, then compare that to some independently available policies. Your travel agent will have details on both. You can also get quotes for your needs from your regular insurance agent or from several insurance companies through their web sites.

It is critical to buy the coverage when you purchase your cruise. Some companies will require you to buy a policy immediately as you make your cruise purchase, while some may allow the purchase to be made within seven days. The time to evaluate your needs is when you are shopping for your cruise. Consider these scenarios as you decide what kind of coverage you need.

Scenario 1: A few days before your trip, an emergency forces you to cancel. This could involve your own illness or injury, the illness or death of a family member, or a similar situation. Without insurance, most if not all of your cruise payment is non-refundable within the last few days before your trip.

These days, if the travel provider says your payment is non-refundable, believe it! Be sure you know the cancellation dead lines when you buy your cruise. Upon learning the details, you'll probably elect to buy some kind of protection against the last-minute cancellation.

Scenario 2: You have to interrupt your trip. Your first concern is the non-refundable airline ticket you bought weeks or months ago. Airlines used to be more compassionate in helping their customers with changes, even when dealing with non-refundable tickets. All a passenger had to do was buy a new ticket, then later provide documentation of the legitimate emergency to receive a refund. This is no longer the case.

When you buy a discounted ticket, you will fly when the ticket says you'll fly, unless the airline itself reschedules your flights for its own purpose. If you don't fly, you get no refund. Imagine needing to return home suddenly from a distant island or port city. A single airfare claim will more than pay for your travel insurance.

You've probably heard that airlines will make changes to a non-refundable ticket for a charge between $150 to $200, a cost you may think is a reasonable risk. Such options are often possible if you need to change the date of your return, as long as you are returning from the airport stated on your ticket. If your cruise is interrupted and you are several days from being at that airport, this option most likely won't help you. Also, this change option only applies if there are seats on the plane in the same fare category that was used to purchase your original ticket. An emergency return home will cost you at least a few hundred dollars per person.

Travel insurance rarely covers trip interruption for any reason. The cause usually must be related to the sickness or a death involving the traveler or an immediate family member. A business emergency, for example, probably won't be covered.

Scenario 3: A flight or other travel delay prevents you from arriving at the dock before the ship sails. You need to either fly to the ship's next port-of-call while missing a portion or your cruise, or perhaps miss the cruise entirely and return home. Either way, you are probably holding a non-refundable airline ticket for a return flight home that was scheduled for the end of your cruise. Without insurance, you're about to spend quite a bit of money.

If you are buying an air-sea package from the line, ask what the cruise company's obligation is to you should the flights it schedules cause you to miss your departure.

Scenario 4: You're taken ill or have an accident while traveling and you require medical assistance. Study the details of your regular medical insurance policy. Some provide restricted coverage or none at all outside the United Stales.

If you're an active vacationer, you may find that accidents involving power boats, scuba diving, or even rented motor-scooters aren't covered by your regular insurance policy, especially if you're outside your home country when the accident occurs. Some travel insurance policies will restrict coverage for specific activities as well.

In addition to needing medical assistance, you may require emergency evacuation to your home country. Emergency air ambulance service that returns a patient to the U.S. from the Caribbean can easily cost between $10,000 and $50,000. Be sure you get the coverage that fits what you plan to do on your cruise.

The best buy is usually a comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers most losses connected with a specified trip. Typical benefits include coverage for losses resulting from a trip cancellation or interruption, and for payments for medical assistance should you be taken ill while on the trip.

Many policies even cover such details as the money you are out should your luggage not make it from the airport to your departure point for a cruise. Policies often include life insurance that pays your beneficiary if something were to happen to you while you are on the covered trip. The strength of these policies is their comprehensive coverage of virtually anything that can go wrong. They are usually a good buy when considered as part of the total cost of a trip.

Your travel agent should be able to provide information on what the cruise line offers, along with other good programs from insurance companies. An advantage to the policy from the cruise line is you'll have access to company officials who are familiar with the program should you need assistance during your cruise. You can compare the options from your travel agent to policies available for direct purchase on the internet. Your regular insurance agent may also offer travel insurance coverage. Look at this possibility, but since this probably is not coverage your regular agent sells every day, his or her expertise on the subject may be limited.

Physically active travelers may want to look at specialized providers to protect them against accidents they may encounter in their pursuits. For example, a scuba diver whose regular medical plan provides no coverage for diving injuries may want to look at Divers Alert Network (1-800-446-2671; www.diversalertnetwork.org). This nonprofit organization provides medical consultation to physicians who may be unfamiliar with diving injuries. It also offers an insurance policy to cover treatment for such incidents. Other clubs and associations dealing with your particular pursuit may direct you to providers of similar coverage.

We'll end with the same warning that began this article: Study your insurance needs and options so that you are prepared to make a buying decision when you purchase your cruise. You can't buy a cruise then decide days or weeks later that you want to purchase insurance. A timely and intelligent decision regarding travel insurance can contribute to a truly worry-free (and much deserved) cruise vacation.

Travel insurance Search Results

Along with travel insurance policies offered by your cruise company and those offered by your travel agent, you can check the internet for policies that are available for direct purchase. Many web sites give you an instant quote for coverage after you complete an on-line questionnaire to provide details about your trip. If you are a frequent traveler, some companies offer policies that cover all your travel for a year. Go to a leading search engine and enter "travel insurance." You'll find many companies offering travel insurance.