Cruise Insurance & Fee Waiver Programs: What to Know

Cruise Insurance & Fee Waiver Programs: What to Know

A cruise can be as expensive as any other vacation. But unlike other trips, a delay or mishap could result in more than arriving a day late somewhere – a vacationer could miss their cruise entirely and, essentially, lose the money they spent on it. Cruise insurance offered by the boat companies or independent insurance companies protects travelers from that financial loss.

What Does Cruise Insurance Cover?

Most cruise insurance policies include coverages related to the necessary travel before and during a stay on the boat, or any medical issues encountered on board. For example, a family might need to fly to the port city a cruise is departing from. Having a delayed or canceled flight may cause the group to miss their boarding time and the cruise altogether – something that might be worth insuring.

Example of Cruise Trip Cancellation or Interruption Coverage

Below is an example of travel insurance coverage from Nationwide, one of several insurance companies that offer cruise-specific policies.

BenefitsCoverage Limits (Per Person)
Trip CancellationMaximum 100% of non-refundable trip costs.
Cancellation for Any Reason (must cancel at least two days before departure)Maximum 70% of non-refundable trip costs.
Trip InterruptionMaximum 150% of non-refundable trip costs.
Interruption for Any ReasonUp to $500
Missed Connection/Trip Delay$1,500/$750
Lost/Stolen Baggage$2,500 max., $600 max. for special items, $300 per article limit.

Example of Travel Health Insurance Coverage in a Cruise Insurance Policy

Both cruise lines and independent travel insurance companies also sell also more comprehensive cruise insurance policies. These typically include travel health insurance (coverage for medical emergencies such as a norovirus outbreak or prescription drugs for seasickness), an accidental death and dismemberment benefit, a waiver for preexisting conditions and medical evacuation. Below are some of the coverages included in Nationwide's Choice Cruise Plan.

BenefitsCoverage Limits (Per Person)
Emergency Accident and Sickness Medical Expense$100,000/$100,000 (secondary coverage)
Emergency Dental Expense$750
Emergency Medical Evacuation$500,000
Accidental Death & Dismemberment$25,000
Pre-Existing Condition WaiverIf purchased prior to final trip payment and all eligibility requirements are met.

Cruise Insurance Medical Coverage vs. Your Regular Health Insurance Plan

Most health insurance policies will not cover medical expenses incurred on a cruise or during any port of call stops. If your health insurance covers those expenses, they will most likely be considered out-of-network costs, which will meaning paying more for the services. Cruise insurance policies can offer health benefits in addition to travel ones, for a higher premium.

Cruise ships are required to have a doctor and hospital facility on board in the event anyone is injured or becomes ill. However, these infirmaries are typically designed to stabilize patients and make them as comfortable as possible until the ship reaches its final destination or the nearest port of call. In emergency situations, a vacationer might also need a medical evacuation - when either a helicopter or another boat transports them immediately from the cruise to the necessary facility. Medical evacuations are very costly and without insurance that covers them, a cruise-goer would have to pay for those bills out of pocket.

Cruise Insurance Offered By Cruise Lines

Most cruise lines offer a comprehensive travel insurance policy tailored to cruises that is underwritten by an insurance company. Many also have another form of cruise insurance – that is technically a waiver – and provided by the cruise line itself that covers a trip cancellation. In the event a cruise-goer needs to cancel their trip, the waiver ensures they get a higher percentage or all of their money back (with some stipulations, of course). Some waivers guarantee a 100% reimbursement for the cost of the cruise for only a set list of reasons, including an illness. Others might allow a traveler to cancel for any reason or as soon as up to two days before embarkment.

Carnival Cruise Line, for example, offers both a waiver and a more comprehensive cruise insurance policy. The company’s Cancellation Waiver Fee Program goes into effect immediately when purchased and the policyholders can get 100% of the cost of their trip back in cash for qualified reasons. If they need to cancel for any other reason, they can, but will only receive 75% back toward a future cruise with Carnival. Without the cancellation fee waiver coverage, the cruise line charges a penalty if a trip is canceled after the final payment is made, which can be as far as 90 days before embarkment.

Below are some of the most popular cruise lines and their respective waiver and protection programs. You'll notice some cruise lines do not offer a fee waiver, only the more costly comprehensive coverage. Someone who is only interested in the cancellation coverage might be able to get it through an independent insurer and save by forgoing a comprehensive plan.

CompanyWaiver ProgramCruise Insurance Offered
Carnival Cruise LineCarnival Cancellation Fee Waiver ProgramCarnival Travel Insurance Program
Disney Cruise LineN/ADisney Cruise Line Vacation Protection Plan
Norwegian Cruise LineN/ANorwegian Cruise LIne BookSafe Travel Protection Plan
Oceania CruisesN/AOceania Cruises Travel Protection Program
Princess CruisesPrincess Cancellation Fee Waiver ProgramPrincess Travel Insurance Protection
Regent Seven Seas CruisesN/AGuest Travel Protection Program
Royal CaribbeanCancellation Penalty Waiver ProgramRoyal Caribbean Travel Protection Program

The majority of the cruise insurance plans offered by the cruise lines (outside the cancellation waivers) are underwritten by traditional insurance companies. Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean’s policies are underwritten by Transamerica. For a cruise-goer, the underwriting insurer makes little difference. It is the coverage and the terms of the policy that matter. If the policy offered through a cruise line is for whatever reason inadequate – for example, perhaps a desired claim limit for category of coverage is too low – then a cruise-goer can always shop for cruise insurance on their own.

Third-Party Cruise Insurance Policies

There are many insurance companies unaffiliated with cruise lines that offer cruise insurance. They tend to offer better coverage in the form of higher claim limits or lower premiusm than policies offered through the cruise companies. In the event a policyholder needs to file a claim, the process for each will be very similar – they would need to contract the insurer, not the cruise. The only exception to the above would be if a policyholder purchases the cruise line’s cancellation and interruption waiver previously mentioned. If someone opts to buy the waiver and needs to use its protection, they would contact their respective cruise company.

Third-party cruise travel insurance also gives a policyholder more coverage flexibility. Typically, there is only a single insurance plan offered through a cruise line, so as a traveler you have to take it or leave it. But there are a number of good comparison websites that gather quotes for dozens of travel insurance policies from multiple carriers. Below are some examples of insurance companies that sell cruise insurance or travel insurance that suits a cruise-goer.

InsurerPolicy NameCoverage Highlights
NationwideUniversal Cruise PlanAn inexpensive policy that refunds up to 100% of nonrefundable trip costs. Also offers baggage protection and emergency accident and sickness coverage.
NationwideChoice Cruise PlanIncludes trip cancellation coverage for any reason up to 70% of nonrefundable trip costs. Also includes medical coverage, but with a preexisting condition waiver, among other benefits.
AIGTravel Guard PlanThe same Silver travel insurance plan that offers comprehensive coverage for all types of trips will also cover a cruise.
AllianzGlobal Assistance Classic PlanA comprehensive plan that includes trip cancellation, baggage and emergency medical and other coverages for all policyholders, including cruise-goers.

Do I Need Cruise Insurance?

You should consider purchasing cruise insurance whenever booking one. At the very least, the market for cruise insurance is probably an indicator of its utility: 70% of U.S. travelers who book cruises purchase some form of travel or cruise insurance, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (UStiA). The most commonly purchased travel insurance benefit is trip cancellation – which reimburses policyholders for nonrefundable costs – and that coverage could prove very beneficial to cruise-goers.

Unlike hotels, the upfront costs of cruises can be very high. Hotels frequently require a deposit when you book a room but almost never charge someone for the full stay unless they check in. That isn’t the case with cruises, which usually must be paid in-full weeks before the ship leaves port and offer limited or no refunds in some situations. We've found that travel insurance premiums can cost $148 for a sample trip costing $2,500.

How far in advance someone purchases a cruise ticket (and the type of ticket they buy) impacts the refund policy and someone might choose to get cruise insurance as a result. For example, the deposits for Early Saver and Early Saver Last Call tickets for Carnival Cruise Lines are non refundable at any time after booking them. After the final payment for those are made, they are completely non-refundable – Carnival only issues non-refundable and non-transferable future cruise credits in the event someone has to cancel.

Here’s another example of when cruise insurance might come in handy: Cruise-goers can save on tickets as long as they have the flexibility to book last-minute deals but, again, the cancellation rules are stringent. For example, the total fare for Carnival’s Pack & Go tickets are non-refundable any time after the booking is made. A cruise insurance policy might cover the cost of the ticket, in the event a qualifying event occurs, such as the traveler or a close family member becoming ill.

Chris Moon

Chris is a Product Manager for ValuePenguin with years of experience in addressing critical questions about mortgages and homeowners insurance. He spends his time evaluating insurance providers and policy features to understand where consumers might find the most cost-effective coverage. Chris has contributed insights to the New York Times and many other publications.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.