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Before You Set Sail: BBB Tips for Planning a Cruise
February 25, 2013

Cruising is big business and with the Port of Baltimore in our backyard, its economic impact can't be ignored. According to Cruise Market Watch's 2013 Cruise Trends Forecast released in late November, the industry was estimated to crest at $36.2 billion - a 4.8% increase over 2012. One of the top two lines, Carnival Corporation, not only garnished the lion's share of the market, it has been headlining the news since the Triumph disaster began off the coast of Mexico on February 10.

With images of the crippled Carnival Triumph splashed about, you may be re-thinking a vacation at sea. Yet, while it's impossible to foresee extreme weather conditions or make allowances for mechanical failures, there are things travelers can do to improve the odds of a care-free cruise.

Your BBB recommends the following tips:

Research the cruise line. Like most things, there are high-end and budget-friendly lines. Make sure you compare apples-to-apples, including amenities, dining options, ports and not just price.

Inquire about the ship's history. When was it first entered into service? When was the last dry dock? How long was the last dry dock? A dry dock for a couple of weeks may be long enough to allow for paint and some sprucing up, but a longer period is necessary for major renovations. Considering the cost and time it takes to build a new ship, ships are being kept in service for decades. Some ships are even renamed to make them sound new. Carnival's "Destiny," launched in 1996 is going through an overhaul right now and will emerge as "Sunshine."

Check your itinerary and ports of call for travel/safety alerts.
Before you put your money down, be sure to get the latest information on your destinations. The U.S. Department of State has some great information for travelers at http://travel.state.gov/. In addition to travel warnings, the website offers the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program as a way to keep you advised about specific warnings that may arise after you've made your plans.

Consider travel insurance. There are circumstances that could force you to cancel your trip, return home early or require you to seek emergency medical treatment while traveling. Before you purchase coverage, check your homeowner’s or medical insurance policies to avoid any overlapping. Here are a few things you should know before you purchase a plan:

· Trip Cancellation/Interruption. If your plans suddenly change and you have to cancel or end your trip early, TCI will reimburse you for reasons on the policy, such as injury, sickness, the death of a family member, business partner or traveling companion. Watch for exclusions about pre-existing medical conditions.

· Emergency Medical Evacuation. If you are going on an adventure vacation or to an area that is far from modern medical facilities, you may want to give this some thought.

· Baggage Loss. The U.S. Department of Transportation caps airline liability to $3,000 per passenger for domestic and $1,500 for international flights. However, if your luggage is lost, the airline may reimburse you according to their published policy, which could be less than the U.S. DOT cap, as long as the policy is posted at a prominent location. Your homeowner's insurance may also cover some or all of your loss. Be sure to check your policy or contact your agent before opting for additional coverage.

Know the weather. For domestic ports, check with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, http://www.weather.gov/ . While there are no guarantees that you'll have perfect weather, you can find plenty of information online about seasonal weather patterns, winds, storms and hurricanes.

If you’re new to cruising, give thought to working with a trustworthy travel agent who is knowledgeable about cruise lines, ships and destinations. You can find reliable travel agents and check their Business Review at www.bbb.org