A cruise is not just a vacation-it is an investment. And you need to protect that investment. How? Purchasing some type of travel insurance is a necessity for any travel booking today. The need goes beyond personal factors that could surface, like a family medical emergency.

The tragic events of 9/11 coupled with horrific weather disasters that have disrupted travel for weeks brought home the reality that the unforeseen can happen and disrupt even the best-laid travel plans. As a result, the purchase of travel insurance has skyrocketed since then.

This has caused the scope of travel insurance to completely change. Suppliers defaulted, others went into bankruptcy and travel insurance companies went through major overhauls of what they cover and how they price their coverages, with more options varying with the type of coverage needed.

When looking into insurance options for your group cruise you can consider two possibilities purchasing travel insurance offered by the cruise line or buying a separate retail travel insurance policy. Regardless of which option you select, it needs to be clearly included in the trip offering description. Secondly, if your group opts to take a separate insurance policy it needs to be done immediately, at the time of deposit. Why? Many retail travel insurance policies will waive certain exclusions (such as pre-existing medical conditions that might be under control at time of booking) if the insurance coverage is purchased immediately, usually within a week or two of when the original deposit was submitted to the cruise line.

Even if your group opts to take insurance through the cruise line, it should be included at time of the actual booking. A few cruise lines even require that the insurance cost be submitted with the initial deposit. Finally, if anyone declines coverage, it is imperative to have the person sign a waiver stating they were offered insurance, declined it, and are aware of the cancellation penalties that apply. Be sure to get it in writing, as a verbal, We are going and do not want to take any insurance, is not sufficient. Be sure to always have clients pay by credit card, as the Fair Credit Act provides some protection not available to those who pay via cash or check. Finally, most insurance coverage plans are usually available for purchase by U.S. citizens only.

First and foremost, each group member needs to decide on his needs, just like buying car or homeowners insurance. What exactly should be covered if an emergency does come up and that group member cannot travel? Think in terms of the worst case scenario and work back from there. For instance, are there any pre-existing medical conditions that could result in last-minute cancellation, when penalties are in effect? Do any of your group members have any elderly immediate family members or young children not accompanying them on the trip who could have an emergency and cause that member to cancel the trip at the last minute, or result in having to fly back during the trip? Also, travelers may already be covered under existing insurance or through their credit card, although some coverage may not extend out of the country.

Many cruise lines have customized plans developed with their insurance carrier. Most base the premium cost on the price of the cruise package, although Carnivals is based on the number of days of the cruise. Recently some lines have begun to offer an upgraded insurance package, as well as the basic coverage. Princess Cruises, for instance, has a Princess Travel Care Gold plan, which doubles the limits of certain insurance coverages. And Holland America Line now offers a Platinum Cancellation Protection Plan.