The one-sided cruise passenger contracts give the cruise lines a lot of leeway in how they can respond to the threat of a hurricane. That leeway can leave passengers stranded without even the option of a refund.Of course cruise lines seldom cancel a trip outright, but they can skip scheduled ports, substitute other ports, depart early or late from a port and generally adapt to the threat.
Generally, a cruise line will volunteer vouchers for passengers to take a future cruise or earn on-board credits, but there are no regulations obliging them to any particular reimbursement. In addition, and according to Ed Perkins of Smarter Travel, the cruise lines are generally pretty stiff on what they offer passengers.
When Hurricane Irene pounded toward Puerto Rico this summer, Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise ships stranded hundreds of travelers in San Juan. These two cruise lines treated those passengers very differently – Carnival paid for hotel rooms and flew them to their next port of call to rejoin the cruise (earning them a Hero rating by Cruise Critic), but Royal made that offer only to the small number of passengers who booked their air through Royal Caribbean (earning them a Zero rating by Cruise Critic). The remaining passengers were left to arrange their own accommodations and return flights.
We contacted a couple of travel insurance companies to find out whether travel insurance would have helped these passengers, and unfortunately, it would not. Being abandoned by the cruise ship isn’t the same as missing a connection to get to the departure or a trip cancellation. This situation appears to be one of those where the cruise ships are responsible for the passengers and if they let you down, you don’t have travel insurance to fall back upon.
See our traveler notes on what to do in the aftermath of a hurricane, and to protect yourself while traveling during hurricane season, take a look at our Hurricane Center: The Traveler’s Guide to Hurricane Season and remember hurricane season in the Atlantic isn’t over until November 1st!