9 Horror Stories From Cruisers Who Had No Insurance (It All Went Horribly Wrong!)

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click one, I may earn a commission at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

You should never travel on a cruise without buying insurance. Too much can go wrong, and leave you with some serious problems to face up to, financially and logistically.

cruise travel insurance policy

And that’s what these stories show. Thankfully there aren’t hundreds of horror tales out there about cruise passengers who didn’t have insurance, because most people know how important it is.

But there are some nightmare stories to share, which highlight why insurance is so important – and in some of these cases, passengers had insurance but still weren’t covered!

So let’s take a look at real horror stories related to cruise insurance so that you can see it really isn’t worth taking the risk when you book your next cruise escape.

1. Stranded In The Bahamas

Aerial view of a tropical island in the Bahamas with a clear view of the airport runway, surrounding turquoise waters, and scattered cloud shadows, capturing the essence of being stranded in a picturesque location.

One of the most shared cruise insurance nightmare stories is that of Bruce Campbell, a US tourist who took a cruise to the Bahamas with his wife, sailing with Carnival.

During the cruise, Bruce showed signs of a stroke, and had to be evacuated to a hospital in Freeport, where he was told that the hospital couldn’t manage his worsening condition and they would need to transfer. But because they had declined to take out insurance, they couldn’t afford it.

The couple set up a GoFundMe page, but that takes time and so they couldn’t get the money. The government offered to loan them the money, but as the cruise was taking place over the Christmas holidays, they would’ve had to wait for the government offices to re-open.

Eventually, they did make it home, thanks to an anonymous donor who paid $20,000 of their own money to cover the cost of the flights back to the US. Sadly Bruce did not make a full recovery and passed away a couple of days later.

Bruce Campbell and his wife smiling while seated in a plush, horse-drawn carriage, with the driver wearing a colorful tropical shirt, capturing a joyful moment of their vacation.

Carnival did help the couple by paying the medical bills for the three days they spent in the Freeport hospital, which the cruise line wasn’t obligated to do. The couple still complained that they felt the cruise line could’ve done more, though.

This definitively shows why insurance is a must – they could have transferred to another hotel quickly and without the financial stresses involved had they been covered.

After all, not everyone will be able to find an anonymous donor willing to pay a five-figure sum to fly you home.

2. Hefty Bills Following A Fall

Hefty Bills smiling in front of a storefront next to a whimsical golden statue, her bright orange long-sleeve shirt adding a pop of color to the cheerful urban scene.

Denise Hammond, a US cruise passenger onboard a Carnival ship, was enjoying a Pacific cruise in late 2023 when she had a fall and fractured her hip and her arm.

She was treated onboard for three days before the ship reached Manado in Indonesia, where was was transferred to a local hospital. However, it wasn’t equipped to treat her fully, which meant a transfer to a Singapore hospital, with a cost of $60,000 for the transfer and a $40,000 deposit needed.

Instead, Denise’s daughter Rachel was able to raise enough money via GoFundMe to get Denise airlifted to a hospital in Bangkok, where she was finally able to get the surgery she needed – 13 days after her original fall!

The Hammond family claimed that Denise had “great insurance” but that the company was refusing to pay out, which reinforces the need for everyone to make sure they get comprehensive cruise cover and are insured against anything that could go wrong. 

It’s reported that the insurance did at least help Denise to secure flights home after her treatment, but it’s not clear why the insurance company wasn’t helping with the massive medical bills.

3. The Gamble That Didn’t Pay Off

Chris Redman and family

The Redman family took a cruise to Canada in 2022 to fulfil a dream, but it quickly became a nightmare as Chris, the mom of the family, suffered a heart attack while on the ship.

Thankfully she was able to be saved thanks to the amazing treatment of the crew on the ship, but she was transferred to a hospital in Canada which discovered more serious issues. Chris then had to be flown back to New Jersey for open heart surgery in order to save her life.

The cost of the medical care on the ship alone was $7,000 and the flight back to New Jersey, with the medical team involved, cost between $12,000 and $15,000. The total out-of-pocket expenses for the incident were well over $20,000, but the family had chosen not to get insurance.

According to the GoFundMe established by a family friend, “Deciding whether to get that insurance feels like a gamble no one wins – paying a lot of money for a week’s worth of insurance just about no one ever needs, or finding yourself with no coverage in an emergency.”

The GoFundMe page also stated that the cruise line refused to take insurance unless it had been purchased directly with the cruise line. 

That’s extremely unlikely – most major cruise lines will accept proper cruise insurance whether booked through the cruise line or independently. Some small cruise lines might have a policy like this in place, but I’ve never found evidence of it.

It’s unclear whether the statement in the GoFundMe simply meant that Chris didn’t have proper cruise insurance and was hoping their regular medical insurance would cover costs, which it typically won’t.

4. “Nobody Told Us We Should Have Insurance”

A large white cruise ship with a distinctive red funnel docked in a harbor, with modern high-rise buildings in the background under a clear blue sky, evoking a sense of unexpected travel issues with the mention of insurance.
Matthew Baker, CC BY-SA 3.0

While the horror stories of huge medical bills while stranded in foreign countries are (thankfully) rare, there are plenty of nightmare tales of people who’ve had to cancel a cruise before they sailed and realised they weren’t about to get a refund since they weren’t insured.

This story was sent to John Heald, the Brand Ambassador for Carnival, and detailed a couple who had to cancel their cruise due to a workplace accident three days before they were due to sail.

A Facebook post by John Heald dated 21 January 2016, addressing Velda, who shares her unfortunate experience of her husband injuring his fingers before their Carnival Inspiration cruise, leading to a plea from John about the importance of travel insurance.

As it was well past the final payment deadline, the cruise line is not bound to offer a refund as per the terms of the contract guests signed. And the guests claimed that this was unfair and that nobody had told them to take out insurance.

Cruise lines always recommend guests purchase insurance. Claiming ignorance will never work – it is the responsibility of the traveller to ensure they have the proper cover in place for incidents just like this one.

5. “We Were Healthy… Now, We Aren’t!”

Another person who admits that they took the gamble of cruising without insurance, and then lived to regret it.

This passenger booked a cruise with their partner, and because they felt healthy, they decided not to take out insurance.

A forum post by user 'happy5' dated July 24, 2023, expressing regret for not purchasing travel insurance for an upcoming cruise due to a sudden health issue, and seeking advice on obtaining some refund from the cruise line.

Then, just a week before the cruise, the husband needed to have a heart procedure and would no longer be able to sail.

Again, the cruise line is in no obligation to give a refund, since selling the place onboard at that late stage would be extremely difficult. The contract you sign when you book your cruise states that you are liable for the fare once you get past a certain date.

Lesson learned, you would hope – don’t assume that, just because you’re healthy now, things won’t go wrong before you travel! You never know what’s around the corner for you.

6. “I Guess We Are Screwed. Thanks For Nothing.”

A dramatic scene of a stormy weather with heavy rain and lightning striking over a deserted road, flanked by dense pine forests, emphasizing the intensity and danger of driving in such severe conditions.

Sometimes it’s not a medical issue that can prevent you from joining your cruise, but the elements.

You can’t predict the weather, especially if you’re booking a cruise months out. And if there are storms which mean you can’t even get to the ship, you need to make sure you have travel insurance for cruises that will refund you.

Because guess what – it’s not Carnival’s fault that there are storms holding up your flights either. And nor is it Carnival’s fault that you didn’t make contingency plans for your travel, and what you would do if flights were grounded due to the stormy weather.

Screenshot from John Heald's facebook page.

The attitude of this person shows that they feel Carnival should bear the responsibility of the lost money, whereas if the passenger had just taken out insurance as they should’ve done, they would at least have got most of their money back and could cruise again in future.

7. Close Family Emergency

This one didn’t end up being quite the horror story that it could’ve been, but it’s a great example of unnecessary stress caused by gambling.

This passenger revealed that they had a close family emergency within a month of their cruise, past the final payment deadline, and they had chosen not to get cruise insurance. They later revealed that the emergency was their dog being diagnosed with cancer.

A senior dog with a wise expression, lying on a turquoise cushion with a backdrop of a warm-patterned sofa, capturing a moment of rest and the care needed for an aging pet's comfort.

Thankfully, as the diagnosis was further explored, it was revealed to be treatable, and it sounds like the passenger was still able to go on their cruise and leave their dog with family members during the treatment.

A screenshot of an online post titled 'Can't Go on Cruise - No Insurance - Am I Screwed?' where a user discusses a dilemma of a booked 12-day cruise in Asia without travel insurance, complicated by a family emergency due to their dog's illness, and seeks advice on possible remedies.

But take heed – it’s not just human medical emergencies that could stop you. If you have a beloved pet then something could happen with them to make you feel like you need to cancel.

Just make sure you’ve read your cruise insurance policy though, as they might only cover cancellation for human medical conditions.

Indeed, there’s another guest who wrote in to John Heald on Facebook about cruising, dogs and insurance:

Screenshot from John Heald's facebook page

This guest didn’t take out insurance, and then while on their cruise they felt too sad to continue their sailing as they were missing their dogs too much.

A King Charles Spaniel puppy and a brown Labrador Retriever sitting together outdoors, with the curious puppy looking up at the older dog against a backdrop of greenery and flowers, illustrating a tender canine companionship.

But without insurance, they were unable to get a flight home without paying for it themselves, and they were unhappy that Carnival would not help. Quite what they expected the cruise line to do is another thing – should a cruise line pay to fly you home if you decide not to continue with your cruise?

(OK, one British cruise line does offer this, but only if you’re unhappy within the first couple of days of your cruise).

Not all cruise insurance policies will cover you for cancellation just because you’ve changed your mind either, but some do offer the option of cancellation for any reason. Another reason to be careful when taking out a policy, so you know exactly what you’re covered for.

And then, if you do get dog-sick, you could at least fly home if you really needed to, and had the cover in place.

8. World Politics At Play

One more thing you can never predict when planning a cruise is what’s going to be happening in the world, and how that might impact your travel plans.

If your cruise is cancelled because of world events, the cruise line will refund you. But sometimes it isn’t quite that straightforward.

A forum post by user 'fibola' on October 19, 2023, detailing frustrations over a lack of travel insurance for a Caribbean cruise, issues with a travel agency's response to cancellation inquiries, and a call for more flexibility and sensitivity from the company in light of a cancelled flight from Israel.

That’s a post from a cruise passenger in Israel, who had booked a cruise out of the US to the Caribbean.

Obviously, the cruise is unaffected by world events, but the passenger was unable to get a flight from Israel to the US to begin their cruise, due to the ongoing conflict in the country at the time. 

They were not past the final payment date, but they weren’t too far out from their cruise, so cancelling would’ve meant sacrificing 75% of their cruise fare. They couldn’t risk leaving it longer, as that might mean losing 100% of their fare.

If they had bought insurance, they could’ve recovered most of the costs of their cruise, but they hadn’t and they claimed that it’s common in Israel to only buy insurance a few days before you travel.

They didn’t blame the cruise line for their failure to buy a suitable insurance policy, but they were angry that the company hadn’t shown flexibility to help them in this situation.

But it goes to show, you should always make sure you’re insured from the moment you’ve booked, and not to put off the purchase.

Then there’s this scenario, also related to the Israel/Palestine conflict:

A screenshot of a post by 'George and Family' from November 30, 2023, on a travel forum, expressing their distress over being unable to cancel a Uniworld River Cruise in Egypt due to the Israeli/Hamas War without losing a significant amount of money, highlighting the lack of compassion and inflexibility in the company's cancellation policy.

The cruise line has, understandably, refused to offer a refund on the river cruise because of world events taking place 200 miles from where the cruise is sailing. The cruises aren’t cancelled, and so the guest is not entitled to a refund.

The passenger is worried about travelling there and so has lost around $5,000 per person on the trip. But if they had comprehensive cruise cover, they may have been able to get more money back.

Again, it would depend on the policy, because it wouldn’t be automatic to get a refund on a cruise that is sailing. If you choose not to cruise, that’s different from having a reason that is outside your control and that’s stopping you from cruising.

9. Upfront Transfer Costs Too High

In May 2024, Loretta Cox cruised to the Caribbean with Carnival but fell ill while onboard, being placed on a ventilator as fluid built up in her lungs.

She was transferred to a hospital in the Dominican Republic, but didn’t have the right travel insurance to cover her costs, meaning she was facing a $28,000 bill for the hospital transfer and an extra $4,000 for each day she spent in hospital.

The family were desperate to get her back onto US soil, where her regular insurance would cover treatment. But they were told that the cost of an air evacuation would be $25,000 and payment was needed upfront.

That was money the family didn’t have, but they were able to raise most of it from donations – an impressive $18,000 in just two days, and by covering the rest themselves, they got Loretta back to a Florida hospital just two days after she was hospitalised.

If it wasn’t for the generosity of the public, the medical expenses could’ve spiralled even further out of control.

Bonus – Loyalty Points Fairness?

This story doesn’t concern insurance directly, but I found it while researching this guide and wanted to put it to you.

A forum post by 'calicakes' on March 6, detailing the cancellation of a Great Barrier Reef cruise due to an injury, with travel insurance covering costs but the loss of Captain's Club points with Celebrity Cruises is called into question, reflecting the user's disappointment over the perceived unfairness in loyalty benefits.

The passenger had to cancel their cruise close to their sailing date. They did have insurance, so would’ve received an almost complete refund from their policy, barring their excess payment. The cruise line kept their money, as it was past the final payment date.

But the passenger felt it was unfair that they wouldn’t be getting their loyalty points for the cruise. After all, they paid for it, and the cruise line got to keep the money, but the policy is you have to sail to get the points.

Who’s right? Should the passenger get their loyalty points despite only being slightly out of pocket, due to their insurance refund?

The Bottom Line

Whether it’s avoiding medical emergencies abroad, or dealing with unexpected reasons to cancel your cruise before you travel, you always have to make sure you have cruise insurance in place.

And don’t dawdle over it. Buy your insurance on the same day you book your cruise. Then if anything happens that would stop you sailing, you know you’ll at least get most of the money back.

The good news is that, for every horror story I found when researching this guide, there were hundreds of success stories where people had used their travel insurance when on a cruise, either for a medical emergency, or to get a refund before they sailed.

Make sure you check out my Cruise Insurance Buyer’s Guide for more information on what to look out for when choosing a policy, and how to get the best prices for your cruise insurance.

My Recommendation

My recommendation for cruise insurance depends on where you live.

These are trusted price comparison sites that will quickly get you lots of quotes to match your exact needs.

Related Topics

If you found this interesting, please share!

Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

Read more about me

Leave a comment