People plan for months for their cruise get-away. But sometimes real life interferes, and you have to cancel. Just what is the penalty for cancelling your tickets?
Every single cruise line has its own cancellation policy which is very clearly stated. They want this to be as crystal clear as possible so that people cannot complain later about the fees. For example, if you go to the Norwegian Cruise Line site, there is even a table laid out with the exact penalties based on # of days before the cruise sails.
NCL Cancellation Policy
When you sign a contract with a cruise line (i.e. you agree to buy their tickets), that is a legal contract. You now owe them the money agreed to in that contract. It's like any other similar arrangement - signing to buy a time-share, contracting to reserve a wedding hall. If you change your mind at the last minute, now that entity has to scramble to make up the lost income - income they COULD have gotten easily if they'd been able to sell the room to someone else months ago. So you pay a penalty for that reason.
For NCL, for example, let's say you're going on an 8 day cruise. If you sign up early, and then cancel up to 46 days ahead of time (so a month and a half), you lose your deposit of $400/person. I actually feel that's rather reasonable, myself. Most people make cruise reservations FAR longer than a month and a half ahead of time - so by having that room become empty, now they probably will have to discount it to try to sell it, if they even can. All of the security around post-9/11 travel means that the cruise line has to have its passenger list set far ahead of sailing, so the FBI can go through it.
If you cancel up to a week ahead of travel, you get 50% of your money back. Again, this takes into account that now the room is pretty much impossible to resell, but at least they can account for less food having to be stocked. It's not like they can randomly hire or fire their employees based on a few visitors coming or not coming. They still have to pay for fuel, for all of their employees, for the thousands of little fees involved in running a ship. Most of the costs they incur per-passenger will still have to be paid by them, even though your room is now empty.
Finally, if you give them less than a week notice, you are out the full payment. At that point *everything* that they have done to ensure your trip to be fully taken care of has already been done. The ship in essence is going to take care of an "invisible you" the entire time, there will be food on the ship for you, employees on the ship for you, etc. It's just that you won't be there. In fact, most travellers spend extra money while on the ship for alcohol and so on. So they are in fact losing money by you not being there, vs having been able to have sold your room to a real human being that attended.
Always have a printout of your cruise cancellation policy, just in case. Life is never smooth, and glitches DO happen. Be prepared.
I'm not saying that I am unsympathetic to the person who can't go! That person didn't MEAN to get a broken leg or to come down with the chicken pox. But that is what Travel Insurance is for. You always want to be covered in case things go wrong, so that your investment is taken care of. It's like storing your life savings in a box beneath your bed, and not having house insurance. If your house then burns up, it's a really awful thing - but you knew that risk was involved.
Any time you are doing anything with your money, make sure you take the steps to protect it wisely. In the case of a cruise, make sure you 1) KNOW completely the cancellation policy involved, and 2) take out travel insurance if the money involved is "meaningful" to you. Some people don't really care if they lose their $400 deposit. To others, it's an incredibly painful amount of money to vanish. If the money you are spending is financially significant to your budget, get the insurance.