What could be more relaxing than a cruise on a luxury liner? How about a cruise on a luxury liner that's not rammed by a 40-foot rogue wave, causing injury to passengers. Or a cruise that's not curtailed by an outbreak of Norovirus or Legionnaire's disease? Or one that's not, God forbid, hijacked by terrorists? Yes, all these things have happened to cruise ships, and you need to know what to do if something goes wrong on yours.
The Ticket Is A Contract
The ticket and the accompanying documentation govern the relationship between you and the cruise line. For that reason, you should read it very carefully. For one thing, it is going to state the length of time you have to sue the cruise line should something bad happen to you during the trip. You won't want to miss this contractual limitations period if it does.
Your cruise contract also will probably specify the place where you agree in advance to sue the cruise line if something goes wrong. This specification is critical. Waiting, and then suing in the wrong jurisdiction, which could be the wrong court type or in the wrong place, has caused some to miss the deadline to properly file a lawsuit at all.
These documents also are going to explain under what circumstances the cruise line may cancel the trip or change the itinerary, and what your rights are if it does.
You're Not in Kansas Anymore
When you take a cruise you are leaving the country in more than just the travel sense. In most cases the law that governs things that happen while you're aboard the ship is that of flag the vessel flies. If the ship is registered in Panama, Panamanian law applies. Norwegian Cruise Lines, for example, registers all of its ships in the Bahamas.
This is very important. The laws of foreign countries can be very different from those of the US. This can affect not just your rights, but also the procedures for enforcing them or getting compensation if you're injured or your property is damaged.
You Are an American
Of course you'll need your passport on any cruise that calls in foreign ports. You won't be let aboard without it. Bear in mind you are an American and in some places some people may consider you unwelcome. Keep a low profile, try not to look touristy. You can research clothing styles that allow you to blend in with the locals or at least with non-American tourists.
Your citizenship can come in handy if something untoward should happen. Contact the American embassy or consulate if it does. You may get invaluable advice or assistance in some cases.
The ship's doctor may look like the Love Boat's Dr. Bricker and may be just as nice. This does not mean he'll be competent to render critical medical assistance with the highest standard of care. In all likelihood the ship's doctor and its infirmary will be perfectly able to deal with typical, non-life threatening illness.
If however you have special medical needs or a chronic and potentially dangerous condition, like heart disease, you need to do some homework. Make inquiries into the ship's ability to take care of you and especially the qualifications of the medical staff. It would be helpful to know if the doctor is qualified in internal medicine or cardiology, or is instead perhaps a psychiatrist.
Next: Personal Safety Concerns and Taking Action