Need to Cancel a Cruise? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to cancel a cruise, you should know what to expect when the unexpected happens.

Need to Cancel a Cruise? Here's Everything You Need to Know

No one can deny that you deserve that cruise vacation — but sometimes, life gets in the way. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to cancel a cruise, the best outcome is that the process is at least quick and painless.

Follow these tips and guidelines for canceling a cruise so you know what to expect when the unexpected happens.

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Need to Cancel a Cruise? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Canceling a Cruise: Where to Start?

Maybe it’s illness, injury, or your plans have simply changed. You need to cancel your cruise but you’re not sure how to go about it. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

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How did you book your cruise?

If you booked through a third-party website, like Expedia, you won’t have much luck canceling directly through the cruise line. You more or less have to end the reservation where it began, and that is with the original booking method.

As soon as possible, contact either the cruise line, your travel advisor, or the customer service number of an online agency, depending on who has your reservation information.

Some cruise lines do require written documentation to accompany a cancellation. Be sure to inquire about these policies with the cruise line (or a travel agent).

Did you purchase travel insurance?

Remember that discussion about adding the insurance to your cruise? Now is the time to thank (or curse) your past self over whether you booked the correct travel insurance policy. There are different forms of cruise insurance, which cover various reasons for cancellation. But some full-coverage policies called “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) can help recoup nearly the entire amount.

Need to Cancel a Cruise? Here's Everything You Need to Know

Once your cruise is canceled, it’s time to read the fine print of your policy to decide how to file a claim and what you might be entitled to. If anything, these policies might help you cover the costs of any other related expenses of your cruise vacation, like canceled flights or hotel stays.

When is final payment due?

You might think that the most pertinent date to canceling a cruise is the sail date, but it’s also based on the payment schedule. Deposits made prior to a cruise line’s final payment date typically have a fully refundable option. When booking, some cruise lines do offer the option for a refundable or nonrefundable cruise fare. This means that if you booked a refundable fare and have to cancel, you will be reimbursed for any deposit made prior to the final payment date.

If you booked your cruise after the final payment date, the amount is due in full and harder to recover. Most cruise lines require full payment about four months prior to sailing. So unless you booked your cruise way in advance, the payment schedule might not be relevant to you anymore. In that case, it’s important to cancel as soon as you know you must. The amount you can be refunded does vary depending on how far out you are from the sail date.

The Exception to No Refund

One key exception to each cruise line’s cancellations penalties is the port taxes and fees associated with your cruise fare. If you don’t sail, any of those associated costs will be refunded back to you. You will also receive a refund for any optional prepaid packages or gratuities booked.

Need to Cancel a Cruise? Here's Everything You Need to Know

Careful if You Change Your Name

Booking a cruise as a honeymoon and not departing until after you are sporting your new married name? Be sure to notify your cruise line or travel advisor immediately of any name change on the reservation. Name changes to any cruise reservation are automatically considered a cancellation and will be processed as such without prior approval.

Is there still an exception for COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the entire cruise and travel industry over the past few years. So it follows that cancellation, refund, and insurance policies have also evolved to accommodate these changes. Unfortunately, at the time of publication, most cruise lines’ more generous refund caveats surrounding cancellation due to COVID-19 have ended.

There are still cruise lines that will award a full future cruise credit (FCC) to anyone who has to cancel due to a positive COVID-19 test. However, these decisions are constantly shifting. Thus, it’s best to contact your cruise line directly if you or someone in your travel party tests positive prior to your voyage.

It’s always better to stay home if you feel sick, rather than embarking on a vacation while under the weather and risk exposing others.

Is cancellation the same for all passengers in a cabin?

In short, no. The refund policy for third and fourth occupants as opposed to the standard policy for double occupancy might differ. Cancellation policies can also vary depending on whether you are booked as a solo cruiser in a single occupancy room or as part of a large group. Ask ahead so you know what these differences are in case you need to cancel.

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Timeline for Canceling a Cruise

Once you’ve paid for your cruise, you will likely owe a charge if you do need to cancel. The charge increases the closer you get to your sailing. These cancellation penalties vary by cruise line but typically follow a similar format. 

The first thing you will lose is your deposit amount if you cancel your cruise. Then, you will be charged somewhere between 25 and 100 percent of the cruise fare, depending on when you cancel. Some cruise lines offer no refund once you are within 30 days or less of your sail date. Others offer a slightly more generous 14 days or less benchmark.

While you might not always know that you need to cancel until closer to embarkation day, the general rule of thumb with canceling a cruise is to do it as soon as possible. Keep the cancellation timeline for your cruise line handy so you can be sure not to linger too long. Even the difference of a few days could mean a refund of 25 percent less.

The Longer the Cruise, the Harder to Cancel

To add insult to injury, canceling your dream 21-night sailing around South America will be more difficult than a short getaway to the Bahamas. Unfortunately, it’s much trickier to cancel a longer cruise itinerary than a short sailing. Most cruise lines offer different cruise penalty timelines, based on the length of the cruise.

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How to Cancel a Cruise

Canceling Through the Cruise Line

Some cruise lines offer online portals for customer service or cancellation requests (and to help free up phone lines). But most people might feel more comfortable speaking to a representative on the phone about their reservation. These customer service numbers should be easily identifiable somewhere on the cruise line website or provided with your original booking.

If you are a member of a cruise line loyalty program, you may have a dedicated customer service number with theoretically less wait time.

All the terms and conditions about canceling through your cruise line can be found in the cruise ticket contract. Everyone is required to sign this contract when booking a cruise. Remember that some cruise lines require a written form of documentation to officially cancel your sailing.

It’s important to note that even if you are eligible for a partial refund, cruise lines are notorious for taking their time to pay you back. Some reserve the right to refund within 180 days. 

Canceling Through a Travel Agent

Travel agents are useful in guiding you to the correct sailing and snagging you some discounts or extra perks. But they are also beneficial when it comes to travel hiccups and even cancellations. If you need to cancel a cruise booked through a travel agent, contact the travel agent as soon as possible.

Even though travel advisors don’t have any special sway when it comes to getting you out of cancellation fees, they are responsible for correctly canceling your cruise. That means that instead of spending your own precious time on the phone listening to hold music, your travel agent will cancel the cruise on your behalf.

Need to Cancel a Cruise? Here's Everything You Need to Know

Because travel agents are paid a commission for any booking through the cruise line, there shouldn’t be any charge or penalty passed along to you as the customer when you need to cancel or change your cruise booking through your travel agent.

Canceling Through an Online Agency

In addition to any cruise line penalties, an online agency could charge you an additional cancellation fee. For example, automatically charges $100 for any cancellation in addition to a nonrefundable $24.99 processing fee. However, if you book a different cruise while on the phone, the cancellation fee could be waived.

Even if the cruise deal seems like a steal online, always read the fine print in the event you have to cancel or make a change to your reservation.

Canceling a Cruise with Travel Insurance

Before you file an insurance claim, you have to cancel your cruise, whether it’s through a travel agency or the cruise line.

Now that your cruise is officially canceled, it’s time to see if booking trip insurance was a worthwhile investment. As it turns out, many policies don’t cover canceling your cruise unless you’ve paid for a policy called “Cancel for any reason,” also referred to as CFAR. This type of travel insurance typically reimburses up to 75 percent of nonrefundable trip costs. The other nice thing is that you can book a CFAR policy within two to three weeks after making your first cruise deposit.

CFAR is generous in terms of allowing you to cancel your cruise for any reason without losing all your cruise fare. However, even this type of insurance has its limits. Policy holders typically need to cancel their trip within 48 hours in order to be able to file a claim. It’s much better than the 14 to 30 days that cruise lines require but does not account for night-before emergencies.

While CFAR can help you recover from your cruise cancellation, it costs about 50% more than the average travel insurance policy.

Cruise Line Cancellation Policies

Cruise cancellation policies do vary by cruise line. Here are a few examples to guide you in your quest to cancel.

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Carnival Cruise Line

For cruises five days or less, the final payment date is 76 days prior to sailing. For sailings six days or more, final payment is due 91 days prior to embarkation. Deposits are refundable before then unless you book a fare or promotion like Super Saver or Early Saver.

From 55 days to 30 days prior to sailing on Carnival Cruise Line, the cancellation penalty is 50 percent of the total fare, or the standard deposit amount (whichever amount is greater). From 29 to 15 days prior to sailing, the penalty to cancel is 75 percent of your cruise fare. No refund is offered 14 days or less before the date of your sailing. This is except taxes, fees, port expenses, and any optional prepaid gratuities.

Read Carnival’s full cancellation policy here.

Celebrity Cruises

For cruises of five nights or longer, including holiday sailings and cruise tours, there is no charge to cancel with a refundable deposit 90 or more days from sailing with Celebrity Cruises.

From 89 to 75 days prior to sailing, you will be charged 25 percent of your cruise fare. 74 to 61 days out, the penalty is 50 percent of your cruise fare. From 60 to 31 days prior to your Celebrity sailing, you will pay a 75 percent cancellation charge; and with 30 days or less notice, you will not be granted a refund, with the exception of taxes, fees or fuel supplements. 

The cancellation timeline differs for Celebrity cruises lasting four nights or less.

Disney Cruise Line

According to Disney Cruise Line terms and conditions, reservations for Inside, Outside, or Verandah stateroom categories with restrictions are nonrefundable and nontransferable.

For cruises of six nights or more (excluding suites and Concierge staterooms), deposits are required from 119 to 56 days prior to your Disney cruise. After that, 50 percent of your cruise fare is due from 55 to 30 days prior to the sail date. You can still recoup 25 percent of your cruise fare from 29 to 15 days prior to sailing. But once you are 14 or less days from embarkation, you will not be issued a refund.

The timeline for cancellation penalties is slightly stricter in higher category cabins, like Concierge staterooms or suites. You’ll still owe half your cruise fare if you cancel 89 days out, and no refund is offered after 29 days. Conversely, Disney’s cruise cancellation policy is slightly more lenient for sailings of five nights or less.

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Holland America Line

Holland America Line offers a Platinum Plan of travel insurance, available to residents of most states and territories. This plan offers a 90 percent reimbursement if you need to cancel your cruise at any time up until departure.

Otherwise, voyages of six nights or longer receive a total refund on cancellation if made 90 or more days prior to embarkation. Holland America will keep your deposit on cancellations from 89 to 76 days prior to sailing. A cancellation penalty of 50 percent of your gross fare is due if you cancel 75 to 61 days prior to your Holland America voyage. 75 percent of your cruise fare is kept if canceled 60 to 31 days prior to sailing. No refunds are offered 30 days or less before travel, unless your cruise is five nights or less (then you have until 16 days before your sail date to get a partial refund).

The refund schedule for cancellations of longer HAL sailings such as world cruises, grand voyages, or any other sailing longer than 28 days is much more restrictive. On these cruises, no refunds are offered once you hit 75 days or less prior to your sailing.

MSC Cruises

The schedule for cancellation fees when you book an MSC cruise varies by length and stateroom category. Your refund amount will vary depending on whether your cruise is four nights or less; five to 14 nights; 15 nights or more; a world cruise; or if you are booked in one of the suites of the MSC Yacht Club.

For example, if you book an MSC cruise from five to 14 nights, your deposit is nonrefundable less than 90 days prior to sailing. From 60 to 46 days prior to your cruise, you can recover only half of your cruise fare. From 45 to 16 days, you will owe a penalty of 75 percent of your cruise fare. No refund is given on cruises after 15 days prior to sailing unless you are booked on a world cruise.

Oddly, world cruise cancellations with MSC are more lenient, offering a 25 percent refund on cancellations up to 10 days before the embarkation date. All of these cancellation penalties are less any government or port taxes and fees.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian offers plenty of cruise package deals, but for any cruise booked with a BOGO promotion, your deposits are nonrefundable. Otherwise, there is no penalty to cancel your cruise 90 or more days out from sailing.

When canceling a Norwegian cruise, your deposit will be lost from 89 to 75 days prior to your cruise. From 74 to 50 days out, you will owe just 25 percent of your cruise fare. From 49 to 29 days, half your cruise fare is due; and from 28 to 15 days prior to sailing, 75 percent of your cruise fare is due. Norwegian Cruise Line does not offer cancellation refunds after 14 days or less prior to sail date.

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Princess Cruises

On Princess Cruises sailings of five days or less, final payment is due 75 days out from departure. On sailings of six to 24 days (including world cruise segments), final payment is due 90 days from departure. Sailings of 25 days or longer (including world cruises) require final payment at least 120 days out from departure.

Unless a Princess guest is booked with a reduced deposit promotion, the initial cancellation fee amount will not exceed the standard deposit amount. For your average cruise (six to 24 days), Princess charges the deposit amount from 89 to 57 days prior to departure. At 56 days to 29 days prior to sail date, cruisers owe a cancellation penalty of 50 percent of their cruise fare; 75 percent of the cruise fare is due 28 to 15 days prior to departure. Princess does not offer a refund on cancellations made 14 days or less prior to departure.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean offers two cancellation policies. This depends on if your cruise is one to four nights or five nights or longer.

Except for nonrefundable deposits, nothing is charged if you cancel 90 days or more in advance of your five-night-or-longer cruise and 75 days or more from your four-night-or-less cruise. For short cruises, 50 percent of your cruise fare is charged between 74 to 61 days; and 75 percent is charged between 60 and 31 days prior to departure. No refund is offered with a cancellation made 30 days or less before embarkation.

For all other cruises of five nights or more, 25 percent of your cruise fare is charged between 89 and 75 days prior to departure; half is due 74 to 61 days prior to departure; 75 percent is charged for cruises canceled 60 to 31 days prior to sail date; and again, no refund is offered 30 days or less before departure.

Read Royal Caribbean’s full cancellation policy here.

Viking Ocean Cruises 

Need to cancel your Viking ocean cruise? Viking is one of the cruise lines that requires written cancellation notices. These must be received on the following timeline for all cruises or cruise tours of 35 days or less. The timeline differs on cancellations of cruises or cruise tours longer than 35 days.

A cancellation fee of $100 is charged on written cancellations received 120 or more days prior to departure. From 119 to 90 days from departure, guests pay a penalty of 20 percent of their cruise fare. 35 percent of the full fare is charged on cancellations received from 89 to 70 days out; and 50 percent of cruise fare is charged as a cancellation penalty 69 to 50 days prior to sail date. Up to 25 percent of your cruise fare can be recovered if you cancel within 49 to 30 days prior to departure. Otherwise, there is no refund after 30 days. 

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Did you find this guide on how to cancel a cruise helpful? Have you ever had to cancel a cruise vacation due to unforeseen circumstances? Drop us an anchor below to share your experiences.

Brittany has covered cruising professionally for more than a decade. She embarked on a world cruise as a college student aboard Semester at Sea, and never stopped sailing. Formerly a Cruise Critic editor, Brittany now writes about ships and their many destinations for various industry and consumer outlets. She is a lifelong resident of the Jersey Shore.
Brittany Chrusciel, Contributor
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Need to Cancel a Cruise? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

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