Cruise Guest Handed Hefty Bill – During Evacuation

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Frequent cruise travelers know that one’s final onboard bill must be settled before debarking the ship, but what about if you are leaving the ship unexpectedly?

One couple has learned that even during an emergency medical evacuation, they can be handed a bill and expected to pay. Their story is a cautionary tale to others about what medical care on a cruise can cost, and when those bills are due.

According to an account first published with NPR, 31-year-old Vincent Wasney and his fiancée Sarah Eberlein received their first cruise as a gift from their real estate agent after buying their first home in 2018. Due to the pandemic shutdown, however, they did not set sail until December 2022.

Independence of the Seas, Vincent Wasney
Independence of the Seas, Vincent Wasney

The couple chose a 4-night Royal Caribbean voyage aboard Independence of the Seas that included Perfect Day at CocoCay, since they had heard great things about the award-winning private island destination. Their cruise departed on December 8 from Port Canaveral.

Yet, on the day they visited CocoCay, Wasney began to feel ill. The next day, he had three seizures within a 10-hour period. He was treated in the ship’s medical center, and while he had a history of seizures, he hadn’t had one recently. Still, each seizure was worse than the last, and ultimately a medical evacuation was ordered.

Before the couple boarded a rescue boat – they were close enough to Fort Lauderdale to make a boat evacuation feasible – they were handed a mid-cruise guest statement bill. The charges listed included internet access, drinks from several different bars onboard, four days of onboard gratuities, and $2,500 in medical fees from the ship’s medical facility.

The medical charges included anticonvulsant medication, blood gas testing, observation, and other services.

While Wasney does not recall much about receiving the bill as he was being debarked – seizures often cause brief memory loss, grogginess, and disorientation – Eberlein does remember the confusion and astonishment.

“Are we being held hostage at this point?” she remembers asking.

Independence of the Seas, Vincent Wasney
Independence of the Seas, Vincent Wasney

The couple was asked how much they could pay, and ultimately put hefty charges, including a significant overdraft, on their credit cards to cover the bulk of the bill.

Royal Caribbean International’s cruise ticket contract, section 5(d) specifically states that a “guest shall pay for all medical care or other personal services requested or required, whether onboard or ashore, including the cost of any emergency medical care or transportation.”

After the evacuation, the couple had additional medical charges from continuing care in Florida. To this day, Wasney is not sure what may have caused his seizures.

Would Insurance Help?

Wasney did not have personal medical coverage at the time of the incident onboard Independence of the Seas, though insurance from his employer began several weeks later.

The couple also did not have travel insurance, and had been unaware of the option to purchase it. Since the vacation had been a gift from their real estate agent, they were not prompted to purchase travel insurance at the time the cruise was booked.

Furthermore, because they were unfamiliar with the types of coverage offered by travel insurance policies, they believed such coverage would only apply for lost luggage, travel delays, or similar circumstances, not for medical emergencies.

Independence of the Seas Cruise Ship
Independence of the Seas Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Ceri Breeze / Shutterstock)

Read Also: Passenger Loses Out on Antarctica Cruise Over Lost Luggage

Travel insurance policies can vary widely based on the type of coverage purchased and the individual provisions within the policy. Travelers should always be careful to thoroughly understand the terms of their coverage – before they set sail.

Some policies may also require that travelers pay expenses themselves, then submit claims for reimbursement rather than paying upfront.

In the end, the couple arranged payment plans and a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the medical expenses. Now 18 months after the event, they still owe more than $3,000, but are gradually making progress on the payments.

To be clear, the couple is in no way blaming Royal Caribbean for the expenses, but acknowledges that better clarity of charges and how such emergencies should be handled would be helpful.

All cruise travelers should consider such experiences when planning their own cruise getaways, and be thoughtful about whether or not travel insurance would be a wise investment for their own voyages.

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