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Never Go on a Cruise Without Doing This First, Experts Say

Industry professionals all repeated the same critical warning.

Cruising is a notoriously polarizing proposition: Some travelers love the ease and excitement of voyaging by sea on a tricked-out floating resort, while others would never set foot on a cruise ship for reasons from cramped cabins to the potential for norovirus—or COVID—transmission. But for all of the contentiousness about cruising, experts overwhelmingly agree on at least one critical detail. We asked for feedback from multiple cruise and travel industry professionals, and here's the thing they all say passengers absolutely must do before embarkation.

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Experts agree that every passenger should buy travel insurance before embarking on a cruise ship voyage.

A woman wearing a hat standing on the deck of the ship and look out onto the ocean

Travel experts say all cruise ship passengers should buy travel insurance as an essential protocol before embarking on a cruise—a practice that is especially necessary in the fast-changing landscape of the COVID pandemic. "Get cruise insurance!" insists Steph Shuster, experienced cruiser and CEO of DCL Magazine—the Disney Cruises Fan. "So many guests book last-minute cruises and are then stranded or run into major bills for canceled cruises or medical emergencies."

Beth Schulberg, owner of Cruise & Travel Specialists, underscores the importance of purchasing travel insurance, at least for medical expenses. "Cruise ship infirmaries are not hospitals—they're really for minor issues," she says. "In the case of a major illness or injury, their job is to keep you alive until the ship can get to the closest port with a hospital. You'll want those hospital expenses covered."

She notes that most travel insurance also offers medevac coverage, but that only gets you to the "nearest acceptable" facility, "so we recommend people enroll in an air medical transport program like Medjet as well," she says, referring to the medical evacuation transportation company that moves its members to their hospital at home. Without insurance, those transports can be prohibitively expensive—in the range of $30,000 to $180,000, she explains. "So a $99 Medjet membership is a pretty good deal if getting home for treatment, versus being stuck in a foreign hospital, is important to you."

Make sure you cruise with a valid passport—and keep it safe.

woman holding us passport

In a similar warning about the necessity of getting your documents in order before a cruise, travel advisor Judy Tudor with the agency Fora reminds passengers to make sure their passports are valid and in hand—regardless of your cruise itinerary. It will make your trip easier and allow flexibility—even if only for unforeseen emergencies.

"All cruises from the U.S. have to stop in at least one foreign port due to the Passenger Vessel Services Act," Tudor explains.

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Avoid booking cruises requiring nonrefundable deposits.

Cozumel, Mexico - March 21, 2011: Passengers disembark from the Carnival Dream during a port stop on 7-day Western Caribbean cruise

Tudor also recommends cruise ship passengers protect what could be a hefty financial investment by avoiding cruise ship bookings that require nonrefundable deposits. Look for as much flexibility and wiggle room in the refund timeframe as possible. "We learned this the hard way," she says.

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Never depart for a cruise without downloading the app for your ship.

cruise deck during sunset

In order to get the most out of your experience at sea, never set sail on your cruise without first preparing yourself by downloading the relevant app for whichever cruise line you're sailing with. Shuster calls this step "crucial." If you don't, she says, "not only will you miss exciting itinerary choices ahead of time, but also communications about safety while onboard."

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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