Editor's Note: Maureen Jones is a Patch blogger and travel agent named in the Top 25 Travel Agents' by Travel Agent Magazine. The British-born Jones is a cruise specialist.
With newspaper and television coverage of the disaster of the Carnival Triumph cruise ship losing its engine in the Gulf of Mexico, and the terrible conditions with which the passengers had to put up, several people have asked me, what one can do in a situation like this?
Here is my sixpenny worth of advice on this subject.
If you've used, or use a travel agent, you already have some vetting. Cruise passengers have favorite cruise lines, and their agents know it is important to match the client with the destination, and of course, the budget. Travel agents take care of the important items like making sure the cabin is near a lift, if the passenger is a slow walker, or in a wheelchair and other accessibility issues, if need be. If you book a cruise yourself, with no expert advice, then of course you take a chance on what you get. For example, sailing on a 4,000- or 5,000-passenger cruise in the first place is, I feel, a mistake.
Now, when a problem occurs, the cruise line is usually ethical on offering you some compensation, either a partial refund (to be used on a future cruise) or a free cruise at a later date. They normally never offer cash. When things occur like what you have heard recently, there are always some people who will file a law suit claiming “pain and suffering” but the cruise lines have large expert legal teams who have been faced with this kind of legal action before, and know all the answers to put before the judge. This can be an expensive route for you to take, and I think it would be a waste of your time and money.
Working with a travel agency you can avoid some of the pitfalls, as good agents know what they are and how to be prepared for them.
However, if you are on a ship and a disaster happens, you should always have travel insurance. This is a must, and is purchased when you make your cruise deposit. Travel insurance is very important. You should always have it on every trip.
You should never, however, book travel insurance with the cruise company or tour operator you are going with; go, rather, with a third party insurance company. Otherwise, if the cruise or tour company goes bankrupt, you have lost everything. Also, cruise and tour line companies’ insurance may not settle your claim in cash, but only in a discount on a future cruise.
Travel insurance costs vary, according to your age, and the cost of the trip. Read the policy carefully and always call the insurance supplier’s toll free number for any explanation you may need about coverage before you purchase it.
Here are two cases of travel insurance disaster for a client: A man booked a cruise for a family of six with no insurance. He signed a waiver with the travel agent, declining the insurance. The night before the cruise left, the grandmother died; they didn’t take the trip. He lost $60,000 because he had no insurance.
A client declined travel insurance on a cruise to Mexico. In the second port of call, she fell off a sidewalk and broke one arm and one leg in 4 places. She was four weeks in a hospital in Mexico. Her bill was $52,000.
Here are some tips of things to carry on every cruise:
I always travel with a small flashlight. Have a sealable bag in which to put your important documents like passport, credit card, cash, etc. so it’s ready to grab in a hurry. Be prepared for an emergency, no matter which cruise line you are on.
Everyone should have a passport, even if just traveling to Mexico or Canada. In the case of the Carnival cruise to Mexico, those passengers with passports would have possibly been able to get off in Mexico and fly home, whereas those without would have had to wait for a US port to disembark and make their way home.
Know where your medications are and keep your doctor’s contact information handy. You should have one week’s extra medication with you in addition to your supply. I always carry emergency supplies with me, such as Pepto Bismol, an antihistamine, antibiotic, and anti-motion sickness as well as pain and fever remedies. Always have bottled water in your cabin, plus some fruit or snack food. Some people travel with a small container of antiseptic soap.
Have back-up power supply for your portable electric devices, smart phones and tablet.
Spare batteries are important.
If you have children with you, carry a deck of cards to keep them busy.
No matter which cruise you choose, think ahead!
Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street in downtown Los Altos. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure travel.