How do cruise ships and hurricanes interact? The answer is they try not to, but understanding how hurricanes can impact cruise travel can help passengers plan their next cruise vacation without worrying about the consequences of these powerful storms.
Hurricane are cyclonic tropical storms that produce extremely high winds, flooding, wave surges, tornados, lightning, and copious amounts of rain - none of which is welcome on a vacation. Hurricane season extends from June 1 through November 30, with the majority of severe hurricanes forming between mid-August and the end of September. Annually, there may be only a few storms or if the conditions are right, more than a dozen substantial hurricanes could potentially disrupt cruise travel.
Cruise Regions Affected by Hurricanes
Hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions can occur in most of the popular cruising regions, and depending on other weather patterns they can move to intercept many popular cruise destinations, including:
- Western Caribbean Cruises
- Eastern Caribbean Cruises
- Bahamas Cruises
- Grand Cayman Cruises
- Key West Florida Cruises
- Jamaica Cruises
- Cozumel Mexico Cruises
Hurricanes or cyclones that form in the Pacific Ocean can also impact ports along the Mexican Riviera as well as Hawaiian cruises and Australian cruises. Depending on where the hurricane moves, many cruise ports can be affected, particularly the Port of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Galveston, New Orleans, and even Boston and Norfolk.
When Cruise Ships and Hurricanes Meet
Ideally, cruise ships do not encounter hurricanes directly. Cruise lines and many modern ships are equipped with sophisticated weather tracking and communication equipment to predict the path and intensity of storms, and because hurricanes move relatively slowly, cruise ships are able to sail out of the way with ease. At times ships sailing during hurricane season will encounter rough water, but the ship's stabilizers and other features can help prevent any cruise ship tilt and other adverse effects of the storm.
When a hurricane directly threatens a ship's itinerary or ports of call, the cruise line will make every accommodation necessary to ensure passenger safety. Options may include:
- Rerouting ships to different ports that are out of the danger zone.
- Extending a ship's time at sea to avoid a storm passing through the area.
- Canceling particular ports that are affected by storms or have been recently damaged.
- Accelerating or delaying a cruise ship's itinerary to work around the storm.
Cruises are canceled only as a last resort, and each cruise line will offer refunds, future cruise credits, or discounts to compensate for passengers' inconvenience if their voyage must be canceled due to weather. It should be noted, however, that passengers who voluntarily elect to cancel their cruise because of a threatening storm may be subject to the cruise line's standard refund and cancellation policies and penalties.When a cruise line changes an itinerary at the last minute to accommodate a storm, they are not obligated to compensate passengers in any way. Many cruise lines do offer minor compensation, however, such as:
- On board discounts
- Additional cruise activities if more days at sea are offered
- Refunds on port taxes for ports that will not be visited
- Assistance with travel plans if the ship's departure or return is affected
Benefits of Cruising During Hurricane Season
There are several benefits to cruising during hurricane season for passengers who don't mind potential disruptions or changes to their travel plans. For experienced cruisers, the best benefit may be an unexpectedly longer vacation if the ship is kept from returning to port for a day or two to wait out a storm. Many cruise lines also offer substantial discounts during the most active part of hurricane season, and savvy travelers can take advantage of great deals on discount cruises.
Unscheduled visits to different ports can also make a familiar cruise itinerary more exciting, but passengers should be flexible with their travel plans so they are not disappointed if itineraries must be changed. Passengers should also be familiar with seasickness prevention in case the ship does encounter rough water.
Avoiding Hurricane Season on a Cruise Ship
Passengers who prefer to avoid mixing cruise ships and hurricanes can still cruise during hurricane season without risking an encounter with a vicious storm.
- Cruise early in the season. Far fewer hurricanes form during early June and July, and booking a cruise during the early weeks of hurricane season has a greater chance of avoiding any storms.
- Cruise in a less affected region. Alaskan cruises are a perfect option for hurricane season voyages since the cooler waters in the north are not prone to hurricanes. Similarly, Mediterranean cruises are a safe and enjoyable option.
- Purchase adequate travel insurance. Adding travel insurance to the cruise fare can provide a financial buffer for changing plans, helping passengers make arrangements if a storm does interfere with their cruise vacation.
Cruise ships and hurricanes don't often meet, but when they do the results can be disastrous for passengers who are not prepared. Understanding how these storms can impact cruise travel can help passengers plan a great cruise vacation during hurricane season without worrying needlessly.For more information about hurricanes, visit the National Hurricane Center.