It's no fun when a vacation gets canceled due to a family emergency or personal illness -- especially when the cruise line refuses to give you a refund. My husband and I neglected to take out travel insurance. Never, ever again will we be so careless.
The Wanderbird It began in spring of 2004. We decided to celebrate our daughter's wedding by taking the most unusual cruise we could find for a reasonable price. Like many people these days, we did not consult a travel agent; instead, we browsed the Internet, where we found The Wanderbird. We liked the photographs of the ship, Captain Rick and Captain Karen, and their weathered, seafaring dog. I remember sending an email or two inquiring about the size of the bunks and the cabins (my husband is a big guy).
I went online again and looked at the cabin photographs, all taken with a wide-angle lens, which distorts the width and depth of the rooms. I didn't ask about the dimensions and didn't notice that they were not listed under the pictures. I was excited, and not thinking clearly: An environmentally correct cruise, a whale watch, five days at sea! What could be better? The room and the bed seemed big enough, and Captain Rick reassured me more than once that he was a big guy too, and all would be well.
So we booked the cruise and paid on our credit card - without travel insurance.
Dead Fish and Black Flies About 10 miles out of Winterport, Maine (where the Wanderbird was moored), we flipped the radio to a local station, eager to find out if the cold, rainy weather would abate in the coming days. But instead we heard something unexpected: A fish-bait storage facility in Winterport had broken down. The rotten fish had been cleaned up, but there was still a "problem." We could smell it before we even pulled off the highway. We wondered why we hadn't received a phone call on our cells from Captain Rick or Captain Karen to warn us about the deep potholes in the muddy lot, or the swarm of black flies feasting on the remains of the rotten fish.
As we stepped onto the wooden dock we were right in front of the open doors of the storage facility. Surprisingly, no one from the ship greeted us as we struggled with our duffels and an umbrella. The umbrella protected me, but my husband was attacked by the flies on his head and face. By the time we reached the ship, he looked like a watermelon.
There was still no crew in sight as we threw our duffels aboard and clambered down the 90 degree stairs, where we found Rick and Karen giving a ship tour to some other passengers. My husband went into our assigned cabin, looked in the mirror, and dabbed some cold water on his face. I could see we had a serious problem. But whose responsibility was this? I was already feeling peeved by the challenges of our arrival and the size of the room, which was so different from the pictures on the web site.
To the Emergency Room But most important at that moment was my husband. I asked the Captains if they had any medication on board. Captain Karen kindly handed me her own supply of topical Benadryl, when another passenger said, "That won't be enough. You better get him to the emergency room." An ER? What a holiday opening ! But it was obvious we had to do it. We made a quick decision to take our luggage with us, as we had to drive further north to Bangor. The ship was sailing at 10 a.m. the next morning, and there was a chance we wouldn't make it back. We didn't.
The Wanderbird's contract, which we had signed, has a clear cancellation policy: 45 days prior, in writing, and only if the space can be rebooked. To his credit, Captain Rick offered us a credit good for a future cruise, but somehow the bad feeling deepened as the issue of shared responsibility remained unresolved. Two years later, we have still not been able to use the credit because a second room or a double-bunked room has never been available, even though we continually requested one and offered more money.
The Right Way to Do It Last spring, we took a wonderful NCL cruise to Bermuda, and loved it. We reserved that trip through a travel agent who reminded us to take out insurance. It was less than $100 and included full coverage for cancellation and much more. If we sign up for a vacation online again, we'll consult the numerous web sites offering travel insurance - a booming, competitive industry.
For $100-$250, two people can get coverage for cancellation, interruption in the midst of a journey, medical coverage, baggage loss and damage, even a trip interrupted by terrorism! Each web site has a free quotation service and ranks the top 20 travel insurance companies by price, reputation, and the amount and type of coverage. Among the many informative sites are: insuremytrip.com, travelex-insurance.com, and travelinsure.com. Don't forget to read all the small print when you take out a policy.
Carol Bergman's short stories and literary nonficiton have been published in Willow Review, Onion Review, A Room of One's Own, Absinthe Literary Review, The Bridge, Potpourri, Epiphany and many other publications in the US and the UK. "Objects of Desire," appearing in Lilith and Whetstone Literary Review was nominated for a 1999 Pushcart Prize in nonfiction. "Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories," was published by Orbis Books (US/Canada) and Earthscan Books (UK/Commowealth) in October, 2003 and was nominated for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize. It has been translated into Korean and Chinese. Her articles, essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in numerous publications in the UK and the US including The New York Times, The Times (of London), The Christian Science Monitor, The Daily News Magazine, The Amsterdam News, Newsday, Cosmopolitan, Woman's World, Family Circle, Art Times, Cineaste, and Salon.com. She is the author of two film biographies (Mae West & Sidney Poitier) and the ghostwriter of Captain Kangaroo's autobiography, Growing Up Happy (Doubleday, 1989). A memoir, "Searching for Fritzi," was published in 1999. A book of novellas, "Sitting for Klimt," will be published in Fall, 2006. She has a BA from the University of California at Berkeley and an MA in Media Studies from The New School. She is one of the founding faculty of Gotham Writers' Workshop and has been teaching in the NYU writing program since 1997. www.carolbergman.net