COVID on a Cruise: How Much Does It Cost?

For nearly 2 years, I avoided COVID. Despite all of the naysayers, I even went on multiple cruises! But it finally caught me on my 7th sailing during the Omicron surge of late 2021. I was on a New Year’s Eve sailing with a buddy and we were having a blast. That is, until Ensenada, Mexico when I started feeling under the weather. By the time I got back onto the ship, I could tell I had a fever. As an avid cruiser, I knew the protocol: Call the medical center and await instructions.

I visited the medical center where they tested me for COVID. 45 minutes later, my test came back and the doctor broke the news to me: I was positive and I would have to quarantine for the rest of my cruise. They prescribed a pain/fever reliever and cough medicine and sent me back to my room to pack up my belongings so that I could move to a deck 1 quarantine room. Carnival provided me with free Internet so that I could communicate with family back home and they delivered food via room service multiple times.

The morning I was to debark, Carnival connected me to a local hotel in Long Beach where I would have to stay post cruise. I was able to easily change my Southwest flight without penalty, only paying the difference in fare. When I eventually debarked (after noon, and after the next cruise began boarding), I was told it would cost hundreds of dollars to transport me to the local hotel. Due to a communications mix up where they never informed me of this fact, they waived the charge and took me at no charge.

How Much Did This All Cost?

At the time, cruise lines were still trying to get cruisers to return after the nearly 18-month pause in operation. To help rebuild confidence, there were policies in place that if you got COVID on board, all of your medical care was covered. That means, my visit to the medical center, testing, and medicine cost me nothing. That’s right, a total bill of $0. And while the hotel, increased flight cost, and meals in Long Beach ended up costing just about $350, it certainly could have been worse.

The Difference A Year Makes

This week on Twitter, a user by the name Scrub Jay reached out to share that his girlfriend got COVID on her Norwegian Getaway sailing and how unhelpful the cruise line was. In addition to not being helpful, he shared her unbelievable medical bill.

My mouth dropped.

COVID Charges Add Up

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, a receipt in the amount of $4,180.47. At first, I asked whether it was actually supposed to be $400 and the above was just a typo? Nope. Scrub Jay shared with me the actual itemized charges from the medical center visit (which I don’t plan to post here for privacy reasons). $199 for an “Admission Doctor Consult,” another $199 for “Admission to Medical Center,” another $207 for “Nursing Fee,” and so on. Also itemized are all of the individual tests, fluids, pulse oximetry charges, and a whole bunch of hand-written items that are mostly illegible (ranging in price from $1.23 to $295.32).

I didn’t realize how fortunate I was as I look back on my itemized receipt of $0.

Insult to Injury

In addition to the medical center charges, Scrub Jay shares the line didn’t offer wifi, didn’t offer room service (her mother brought down food the rest of the sailing), and didn’t help coordinate anything post cruise. Once moved to quarantine, she was on her own. They “did give her Paxlovid,” Scrub Jay admits, but otherwise, says they did little to help.

Options For Compensation

When asked if Norwegian would provide any compensation, the family was told that the cruiser could file a claim with the line for missed port and missed onboard amenities while in quarantine.

I shared with Scrub Jay some tips that I share with other travelers and frequent cruisers. While the first option isn’t helpful in this case, the other two options could be:

  1. Review travel insurance options before any major trips as you never know what could happen. I tend to shy away from trip-based insurance plans and recommend an annual plan that covers all of your travels (flights, cruises, etc.). Be sure to watch out for any COVID restrictions. And, if you’re a regular cruiser like me, make sure the plan has plenty of evacuation coverage. It’s not cheap if you need to be airlifted off a cruise ship!
  2. Medical care provided for an “emergent” situation on a cruise ship is likely covered by your medical insurance. When I had appendicitis onboard the Carnival Magic, I racked up the bills down in the medical center. If this ever happens to you, make sure you capture ALL paperwork, receipts, doctors notes, and signed copies of forms (this is critical). When I got home, I submitted all of the paperwork (via fax, of course), and all of my medical expenses were reimbursed minus my deductible.
  3. Some credit cards have travel and trip interruption benefits if booked on the card. It might be a stretch, but if neither of the first options are available, it’s at least worth exploring option 3. With that said, I don’t ever have much confidence in this option. When I tested positive for COVID and incurred additional charges on my New Year’s cruise, I gathered all paperwork, receipts, doctors notes, travel change costs, etc. and submitted them to the insurance processor the credit card uses. They gave me the runaround for months before finally deciding that my additional expenses weren’t covered because they were at the end of the trip. Dumb.

In Conclusion

While the experience may vary by cruise line (and, honestly, even cruise ship), know that the days of free medical care for COVID and COVID-related symptoms are likely no longer covered on your next cruise. As you’re planning out your dream vacation, be sure to think about how you’ll protect yourself and your loved ones in case of an emergency situation.

I’m happy to report that the cruiser’s symptoms have subsided and that she was able to make her way back home to Florida.

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