The Picard family had looked forward to the cruise for weeks.
"My husband booked the most expensive suite you could get," said Carissa Picard, an Army wife at Fort Hood, Texas. "He did it for me. This was supposed to be special for the family."
Her husband, an Army medevac helicopter pilot, booked the five-day, $2,800 cruise to Mexico for the family during his leave from Iraq in December.
He also took out a loan and couldn't afford the extra cost of traveler's insurance, she said. But they were unable to take the cruise and that loan has become a painful albatross.
Picard thinks the company should refund the entire amount instead of a partial refund.
On Dec. 13, the day they were to leave, the Picards had to take their 5-year-old son to the emergency room, and he was admitted to Fort Hood's Darnall Army Community Hospital. The next day, he was transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, with respiratory problems.
"We couldn't afford the $500 extra for traveler's insurance," Picard said. Her husband "didn't think in a million years our child would be hospitalized."
Her travel agent, Mitchell Bank, president of My Cruise Club, which booked the cruise, and Carnival Cruise Lines both contend the Picards could have bought the insurance for $130.
"What kind of people look at this situation and don't give you your money back?" Picard said. "We already have so much debt."
On Dec. 22, the day they were contacted by Military Times about the situation, Carnival notified Picard's travel agent that it would provide a partial refund.
"I don't think I ever pushed a cruise line as hard as I did in this case," Bank wrote to Picard.
Carnival offered a credit or refund of $1,155. "While we sympathize, Carnival's policy states that cancellations made within seven days or less prior to sailing, or ‘no shows,' are not entitled to refunds," Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said.
Because the cancellation came on the day of the cruise, Carnival had no time to resell the cabin, Gulliksen said.
Picard contends military families deserve a little extra consideration. "It seems like we're less appreciative as a nation," she said. But Bank said Carnival "really went above and beyond. They gave them ... more than what they've done in the past."
Bank said he personally donated $100 to a nonprofit veterans group Picard founded, Military Spouses for Change, and plans to donate another $500 to the Picard family.
"Get traveler's insurance is the advice we give," Bank said.
Travel insurance typically covers trip cancellation due to unforeseen circumstances such as an illness in the family, Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said, and allows the cancellation of a scheduled voyage up to and including the day of sailing.
Travel insurance can be purchased from a variety of sources, including Carnival, Gulliksen said. Carnival's Cruise Vacation Protection Plan is based on the cost of the cruise, and ranges from $49 for a cruise that costs up to $400 to $179 for a cruise that costs $1,801 or more.
Travel insurance is "the only way to protect yourself on a cruise package," said Dan Yount, chief of Army leisure and travel services.
The Insurance Information Institute recommends travelers have adequate insurance before taking a long-anticipated vacation. There are four major types of travel insurance, according to the institute:
Trip cancellation insurance reimburses you if the cruise line or tour operator goes out of business or if you have to cancel the trip due to sickness, a death in the family or another calamity listed. The cost is generally 5 percent to 7 percent of the cost of the trip. Most policies also would reimburse you for an unused portion if you become seriously ill or injured during the trip.
Baggage insurance or personal effects coverage reimburses you if your belongings are lost, stolen or damaged. Check with the airline or trip operator to find out what coverage is provided and with your homeowners' or renters' insurance to see if it covers your belongings on the trip.
Emergency medical assistance coverage pays, for example, for airlifts off a mountain after a hiking accident. Check first with your health insurance to see what kind of coverage you already have.
Accidental death insurance provides coverage if you or a family member dies on the trip.
Check also to see if you have coverage through your credit card company.