COVID-19 canceled your cruise. Here’s how you can use that money for a future vacation

Michelle Marchante
Miami Herald

Miami — Will you be able to celebrate the holidays while enjoying a margarita on a cruise?

It looks unlikely.

Many cruise companies, including Florida-based Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Disney Cruise Line, have continued to cancel trips as they work toward the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 40-page conditional sail order. The order requires the companies to meet certain COVID-19 safety benchmarks — including testing for all passengers and crew on embarkation and disembarkation days — before they can set sail.

The CDC also has a Level 4 travel warning in place for cruises — its highest level.

Passengers who have had trips canceled or postponed during the pandemic by their cruise line can typically request a refund or receive cruise credits for a future trip. The credits don’t last forever and some of the deadlines to use them or to request a refund are coming up.

Some cruise lines have also loosened their cancellation and refund policies, an incentive for customers who worry they might lose their money if they get sick and are unable to travel. It can also be a safety net for customers who change their minds about traveling during the pandemic.

The bad news is that refunds might take forever. Some customers are still waiting to get their money back eight months after all cruises were canceled, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Another thing to keep in mind: These relaxed policies might not apply for airfare, even if flights were booked through the cruise line.

If the cruise line suspended your trip, you should receive an email with your options, instructions and what the deadlines are. If you’ve lost the email, give them a call or check online. Many cruise lines are posting updates online about suspended trips with credit and refund information.

While policies may vary, here’s what to expect if you booked a cruise with Florida-based Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Disney Cruise Line:

— My cruise was canceled. When is the last day I can request a cruise credit or a refund?

Many cruise lines are automatically issuing future cruise credits you can use to book your next trip with them. Some are also throwing in bonuses to sweeten the deal.

If cruising after COVID-19 doesn’t sound appealing, you’ll need to request a refund, and that’s when deadlines kick in.

A notable exception for most, if not all, cruise lines: If you haven’t paid in full yet, you won’t be offered a future cruise credit and will get a refund instead.

Here’s an example of what to expect if you’ve paid in full. Keep in mind that deadlines may differ depending on when your cruise was set to sail, so always double-check with your cruise line.

▪ Carnival Cruise Line — May 31, 2021, is the last day to request a cruise credit or a full refund for select cruises canceled in 2021 and 2022. If you do not make a selection, the company says it will give you a cruise credit equal to the amount of cancellation fees on your original booking.

Check your cruise here.

Cruise ships line up along Port Miami of Miami, including Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, as cruises have been canceled due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, on March 15, 2020, in Miami.

For Carnival-owned Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, cruise credits will be given automatically for select cruises canceled in 2021 but if you want a refund, you will need to fill out an online form by Dec. 31, 2020. For Princess Cruises, click here and click here for Holland America Line visit. 

▪ Royal Caribbean International — Cruise credits will be available automatically but if you want a refund, you will need to fill out an online form and deadlines vary. For sail dates starting May 12 through December 31, 2020, you have until Dec. 31, 2020, to request a refund. The same deadline applies for some Quantum of the Seas, Odyssey of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas cruises that were set to sail in 2021.

For sail dates between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, 2021, refund deadline is March 31, 2021, and for select cruises, including those whose sail date was on or before April 10, 2020, deadline is Dec. 31, 2021.

Check your cruise here.

For Royal Caribbean-owned Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea, cruise credits will be given automatically. For refunds, your deadline is Dec. 31, 2020.

Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara are also offering a third option, “Lift and Shift,” which gives you the flexibility to move your existing booking to a 2021 sailing, with price protection if it meets select criteria.

Contact your travel adviser or call the cruise line.

To check Celebrity Cruises, visit their website here. For Azamara, check out this link and for Silversea, click here.

▪ Norwegian Cruise Line — Anyone who had their cruise suspended through March 2021 will receive a refund in their original form of payment by Jan. 7, 2021, according to a Dec. 2 update by the company.

For Norwegian-owned Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, the cruise lines say cruise credits will be given automatically. For refunds, you’ll need to contact the cruise line no later than close of business on December 16, 2020, to submit your request. The same deadline applies for Regent Seven Seas Cruises that were canceled on Dec. 2, 2020.

Check your Oceania Cruises here

Check your Regent Seven Seas Cruises here.

▪ Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy — If your Disney cruise was canceled, you can opt for a future cruise credit or refund. You have until May 31, 2022, to decide which one you want, a Disney spokeswoman said.

To check your cruise, click here.

— Does my cruise credit expire? When is the last day I can use it?

Cruise credits expire, though the deadlines will vary and may differ depending on when your cruise was originally set to sail. So always check with your company or travel agent. Carnival Cruise Line, for example, recently extended its deadline to book a cruise using its future cruise credit from Dec. 31, 2020, to May 31, 2021.

But if your booked trip was with Carnival-owned Princess Cruises, many of its cruise credits expire on May 1, 2022, and must be used for a cruise that sets sail by that date.

Norwegian Cruise Line credits will be valid for a year (starting from its issued date) and must be used for a cruise departing on or before Dec. 31, 2022. For Royal Caribbean International, the deadline is either Dec. 31, 2021, or April 30, 2022, depending on your cruise’s original sail date.

Silversea future cruise credits are good for two years from the issue date. And if it’s a Disney cruise, you’re looking at a May 31, 2022, deadline.

What if you use a future cruise credit to book a cruise that later gets canceled? You’ll likely get a new future cruise credit.

— I asked for a cruise credit but I’ve changed my mind. Can I get a refund instead or vice versa?

If you change your mind on a cruise credit, it depends on the cruise line’s policy. Celebrity Cruises, for example, will allow you to switch from a cruise credit to a refund as long as you do it before the deadline. You can also switch from a refund to a cruise credit if the refund hasn’t been processed yet.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises on the other hand says your selection is final. So if you opted for the future cruise credit originally and then had a change of heart, you’re out of luck.

If you’re not sure cruising is in your future, check your policy to see if the cruise credits can be transferred to someone else. While some cruise lines like Princess Cruises won’t let you share credits with someone else, others like Norwegian Cruise Line and Silversea will let you transfer credits to families and friends.

— I booked a flight through the cruise line. I also booked a package and bought insurance. Will it be refunded if the cruise is canceled?

If you booked flights separately from the cruise, contact your airline or travel agent to see what options are available. What if you booked it directly through the cruise line? It depends.

Flights purchased through Disney Cruise Line will be refunded, for example, if the company cancels your cruise, a spokeswoman said. But if the cruise is still set to sail and you no longer want to go, you’ll likely get stuck paying some flight cancellation fees.

If you purchased a nonrefundable flight, that’s when it can get a bit complicated.

Royal Caribbean International, for example, says it will automatically refund flights and hotel reservations bought through them if the cruise was canceled. However, if you booked a nonrefundable flight, you’ll have to contact the service provider directly to see what your options are. Yes, even if the flight was purchased through the cruise line.

Some cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises, say they will also refund taxes, fees, port expenses, prepurchased shore excursions, packages or other special service items if the company had to cancel your cruise, whether you chose a cruise credit or a refund.

Other cruise lines like Norwegian will add the taxes, hotel packages, prepaid service charges, travel protection plans and shore excursions to the future cruise credit instead of giving you a refund.

The Miami Herald investigated COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships. Explore the findings of the most comprehensive tracking system of coronavirus cases linked to the cruise industry.

— My cruise isn’t canceled but I’ve changed my mind or fell ill with COVID. Can I get a full refund?

If you haven’t realized it by now, you should be reading your cruise line’s cancellation and refund policy before booking any trip, and maybe even get a travel protection plan, especially in the time of COVID-19. If you’ve recently booked a trip and are now regretting it, check your policy immediately to see what your options are.

The earlier you cancel your trip, the better it usually is for refund purposes. While many cruise lines have changed their policies during the pandemic, there still might be a lot of “if, and or but” in the fine print. While some might give a full or partial refund, others might give a future cruise credit instead.