What You Should Know About Cruising During Hurricane Season (Video)
It’s become commonplace: gloomy, cloudy skies, flying debris and rain gear clad reporters being pelted by rain while holding on to microphones for dear life as palm fronds narrowly miss their heads. Of course people are going to be weary of travel with images like those in their heads; but, you shouldn’t necessarily be concerned with traveling during hurricane season because after all, weather can’t be predicted.
In fact, one of the many benefits of booking during hurricane season is pricing. Cruise lines, along with airlines, generally reduce fares after Labor Day so you really can get a steal of a deal. Actually, hurricane season is the lowest pricing point of the year.
And ironically, it’s actually safer for you to book cruise vacations versus land vacations during hurricane season. After all, if a storm hits while you’re vacationing on an island, not only might you be forced to ride out a storm but you may also have a hard time getting home during the powerless aftermath that follows.
That won’t happen on a ship.
That said if you’re itinerary contains a destination - be it departure port, dock/tender port, or arrival port here are a five things you should know…
1. When is Hurricane Season?
For starters, the Atlantic hurricane season is from June 1st to November 30th, smack in the middle of summer and clear through a couple of fall holidays. Peak hurricane season is from mid-July to early-October. These are great travel dates but a storm or disturbance could potentially make your dream vacation a complete nightmare if your dream is itinerary specific.
Sailing during hurricane season requires a level of flexibility. If your heart is set on visiting a specific spot or sailing a certain itinerary, you may want to think twice about booking sailings during hurricane season. While cruises are rarely canceled, they are often redirected. You’ll want to plan accordingly for the possibility that what you’ve booked might not happen as expected.
2. Will My Sailing Be Canceled or Modified?
With the exception of extreme cases or short (2-3 day) sailings, cruise lines will not cancel a sailing. Diminished revenue is better than no revenue and it’s this same concept that pretty much guarantees your itinerary will be modified if any portion of it sits in the predicted path of a storm or close to it, regardless of cruise line.
Part of the fine text included in passenger ticket contracts and agreements signed prior to boarding indicate that itineraries may be modified based on need. However, that’s often easier said than done.
When itineraries need to be modified, the port changes can really be a nightmare for cruise line staff. It’s not as easy as deciding to go to another location. As a general rule, most cruise lines usually have multiple ships sailing alternating itineraries. Factor in the number of cruise lines out there and suddenly, diversions to an alternate port may be thwarted because ports are already full to capacity.
It can be cumbersome and disappointing but rest assured cruise lines do make every effort possible to minimize inconveniences due to modifications. It’s also quite a bit of money to change ports and the cruise lines do not receive refunds for missed destinations nor do they charge you if they incur additional expenses.
Keep in mind that these changes can also result in missed flights on either your arrival or return so it’s not a bad idea for you to plan an extra day in the home port both before and after the sailing. This way, if you do have any delays, you won’t miss your flights or the ship.
3. How Will I Know If My Sailing Is Affected?
Generally, travelers will find out ahead of time about changes through their own actions.
Most people, in anticipation of their long awaited vacation, usually follow local news and weather for destinations on their itineraries. So of course, you check the internet and watch the weather channel for weeks. Sunny skies. White Sands. But, once you spot that orange blob on your TV screen, a quick call to your cruise line usually follows.
If you’re the type to book and forget it, you may want to check your cruise line’s web page periodically. Passenger alerts regarding weather related incidents are usually displayed in bold coloring or ticker-style messages directly on main pages. Cruise lines may also contact you directly via e-mail or phone to advise of modifications and options.
As a last resort, it’s common for cruise lines to assemble teams of employees whose specific duties are to call passengers on affected sailings. It’s the cruise line’s attempt to avoid having less upset passengers at onboard during the sailing. This is why it’s very important, regardless of booking method, that you always give correct contact information.
4. Will The Ship Sail Through A Storm?
Are you crazy? Those ships are worth billions. They take years to build- even longer to plan and design. There’s no way a captain is going to put the ship’s safety in jeopardy. Besides, the captain values his life as much as yours. All joking aside, you are his guest. That’s his ship. His job is to make sure the ship, the crew and the guests are safe at all times. Well that and I’m sure the cruise lines don’t want to be liable for any injuries or loss of life that could occur from something as suicidal as riding out a hurricane on a ship! It’s in their best interest to protect their ship and their passengers and keep them comfortable so they can enjoy their sailings. Think: less complaints and less refunds.
So if you’re a daredevil, sorry to burst your bubble but the ship will not be battered by humongous waves, no 100 mph winds and no torrential downpours. (Note: on very rare occasions, for example when a storm forms overnight, there are exceptions to this rule. See the video and picture below)
Actually, a cruise ship is probably one of the best places to be if a hurricane is looming. You know why? Because they can crank on those engines and high tail it out of the storm’s path. Yes, cruise ships can out run storms.
At max speeds of 22 knots, cruise ships blow away storms which generally only move between 8 and 10 knots.
Since cruise lines generally try to keep their ships within 150 to 200 miles of a hurricane or tropical storm’s path, the advantage of ship-based vacations versus land-locked ones is air apparent.
5. Will I Receive A Refund?
Here’s where your question can be case, sailing and cruise line specific so definitely contact your cruise line for their policy. Most cruise lines have not only ‘Hurricane Policies,’ but ‘Modification/Port Change Policies’ as well. These incidents are actually commonplace but you will need to verify specifics with your cruise line.
As for the modifications, as a general rule, there are no refunds for port changes. Cruise lines are only required to provide the time offered aboard the ship. That’s why they make the disclaimer about being able to modify itineraries. However, for your inconvenience, you’re likely to receive some sort of coupon for a discount on a future sailing in like accommodations but here too remember to read the fine print. These offers are usually valid for travel during future hurricane seasons.
You may also be offered cash in the form of shipboard credits that can only be used to purchase things aboard the ship while on the sailing. Keep note though as any unused credits are usually forfeited to the ship upon disembarkation.
Also, cruise lines will not issues refunds if you choose to cancel because of fear or concern to travel or anything similar. If your sailing is ever shortened, because the cruise line is obligated to provide you with duration of the sailing, you can be guaranteed a refund for the missed time; but a refund for the sailing or your choice to cancel? You’d have better luck winning a lottery!
Cruising during hurricane season certainly has both it’s pros and cons but the advantages- cost and flexibility, certainly outweigh the mathematical probability of a storm. Statistically speaking, the chances that a storm will affect your sailing are slim.
The likelihood you’ll be affected by a storm is close to nil. Yes, there have been years where you’ve seen them make landfall on a weekly basis but then there years where there are lulls.
The 2003 Atlantic hurricane season brought 9 named storms that affected Caribbean sailings. The following year there were 8 including Hurricane Ivan who decided to give it a second shot and doubled back as a tropical storm. 2005 brought a total of 12 named storms to the Caribbean area including devastating Katrina. In comparison, there were only 4 named storms that impacted 2006 sailings and only one of those was a hurricane. As of October 2007, there have been three hurricanes and three tropical storms- including the recently formed Tropical Storm Noel. It’s weather. You can’t predict it.
If you do happen to be affected by a storm, they don’t last very long. Hurricanes generally pass through in a few hours with rainy remnants remaining for about a day. This is great if you’re on a longer sailing as only a 2-3 day portion of your sailing might be affected. On the shorter sailings, the entire itinerary is usually changed.
Should you choose to sail during hurricane season, do yourself a favor and purchase travel insurance that will cover you if you need to cancel or change your travel plans due to a storm- just one last thing you’ll have to worry about. Make sure to purchase coverage with arrival and departure delays as well itinerary changes and trip interruption. Dependent upon the specifics of the policy, you can receive everything from refunds to alternate vacations.
Additionally, hurricane season is a great time to purchase air fare through cruise line air programs. Always more expensive than retail, you have the added benefit that if your flights are canceled or delayed, the cruise line must make the necessary accommodations to get you to your destination. Travelers who book their own flights commonly face issues such as rebooking/change fees and lack of availability. In some cases, travelers never make it to the ship.
Honestly, the best thing you can do for yourself if sailing during hurricane season is to participate in cruise line air programs and purchase travel insurance. Consider the extra $600 investment on that $5000 you just paid for the whole vacation peace of mind. You buy similar coverage for your home, cars, self while hoping you won’t need to use it. Unless you don’t mind losing your money, a vacation should be no different.
I am happy to provide you these tips on cruising during hurricane season. I can’t tell you how many times I spoke to hurricane sailing passengers while employed as a customer service agent for a major cruise line in Miami. I fielded multiple years’ worth of calls. The relief in the voices of passengers who were just told their vacation was saved and/or their money was not lost because of their coverage, was amazing. On the other hand, it was awful having to vapidly say the obligatory “Madam, were you able to read your passenger ticket contract?”
Like with all modes of travel, an unplanned experience is what you make of it—as is well documented in the video below—Take a look and listen to this French-speaking couple having a blast sailing through stormy seas:
ABOVE: Carnival Triumph rides out Hurricane Isabel. A passenger described the experience of sailing through the storm as “there is a slow push from the floor as the bow rises over the swell, then a slight weightless feeling as the bow drops over the edge, followed by a big shudder that rattles the entire ship as the bow smacks into the bottom of the trough (which seems to be the moment captured in the above picture - keep in mind the ship is 180 feet high above the water)”.
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