Cruising During Hurricane Season

3 Aug

Caribbean hurricane season runs from May-November. This means if you’re going to be cruising to Bermuda, the Bahamas, or any part of the Caribbean during these months that your travel plans could be affected by severe weather.

It can sometimes be a hassle or a disappointment, but your safety is the Captain’s #1 priority, and any changes he/she makes are to keep you out of danger. If you are prepared, have good travel insurance, and keep an open mind then you will still have the trip of a lifetime in spite of the weather.

Sailing Around the Storm
My first cruise to Bermuda was during a hurricane, and I was a basket case worrying that the cruise would be canceled or our beach excursion would be ruined by rain. This is what happened – the Captain diverted us way out to sea so we could sail around the storm. We were late getting to Bermuda and missed Day 1 (of 3), but when we arrived the storm was over and the sky was blue.

Change of Itinerary
I’ve heard of cruise lines reversing the itinerary. For example, if you were going to go to Costa Maya-Roatan-Cozumel they may flip it to Cozumel-Roatan-Costa Maya instead. Sometimes they will go to a different port if it’s available. One time a cruise ship couldn’t get to Bermuda safely so the Captain sailed north and went to Canada instead. In fact, that is how Saint John, New Brunswick first became a cruise ship destination (incidentally I always pack a some warm outfits just in case this happens again). Bermuda-bound ships have also been rerouted to the Bahamas. Also, the Captain may cancel a port of call completely and make it a sea day instead. It’s disappointing when that happens, but your safety is their biggest priority. Usually no compensation is given when ports are cancelled, but they should refund your port fees and taxes. Seems unfair, but that’s just how it is. Read your contract carefully and know what is refundable and what isn’t so that you’re not disappointed. Many things you’d expect to receive compensation for are excluded. Unlike a retail store, you won’t get your money back if you’re disappointed.

Seasickness
The seas on my cruise were rough, and even the most hardy folks can get sick when sailing around a hurricane. I’m a roller coaster thrill ride fanatic, but even I get a little nauseated when the boat is rocking. There are lots of remedies out there from green apples and ginger to wrist bands and pills. If you are truly seasick don’t leave it to chance. Prevention is the best bet. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you. I always bring prescription patches with me just in case the water is rough. There are lots of great medications available by prescription or over-the-counter, but they all have side effects or limitations. Your primary care provider is the best person to advise you on what’s best for you.

Pack Extra Just In Case
Always bring extra medicine and clothing in case you cannot return home on the day you expected. Ships have been known to extend the cruise of an extra day or two because severe weather prevents them from reaching the home port. While it sounds like a dream come true to me to have a 7-day cruise turn into 8 or 9 days, it can be devastating if you don’t have enough medicine or supplies with you.

Back Up Plan
It’s also a good idea to have a back up plan in place in case you are late coming home. What will you do if you can’t make it into to work? Who will take care of the dog or the kids for that extra time? If the storm is also affecting your hometown will someone be able to board up the windows, put the patio furniture inside, etc.?

Travel Insurance
I’ve written an entire thread on this and could write a dozen more. This is an important topic that many people seem to ignore so I’m not going to sugar coat it. If you cannot afford to lose the money you’ve spent on the cruise, then please always get travel insurance. Do your research and make sure you get insurance that covers the things relevant to you (i.e. trip delay, lost luggage, medical problems, cancel for any reason, work related events, etc.). Cruise lines generally will not give you your money back for expenses that occur as a result of weather. This is why you need insurance if losing that money, or incurring additional expenses, will be a hardship for you.

Hurricanes have been known to result in delayed departures that require a hotel stay. Imagine if you’re sailing out of New York, and after you’ve hopped on the plane, you find out the ship will be leaving a day later – how much is a hotel going to cost you at the last minute in NYC? The cruise line could even decide to sail a day early and you need to rearrange your flight – can you afford to the fees associated with changing your flight? You could miss the ship if it suddenly needs to leave the port an hour early because of a storm – can you afford to pay for a hotel and flight to the next port (or back home)?

The cruise line is not obligated to help you in any way if these things happen. The usual exceptions would be if you booked your flight through them and the flight gets delayed.  Or you were on a ship-sponsored excursion and the ship left before you got back. But if you booked your own flight, or were off doing your own thing on the island, then the cruise line probably won’t be willing to reimburse you for the unexpected expenses that were incurred as a result.

Sometimes, very rarely, a cruise line will have a change of heart when many passengers are affected by the same issue. However, don’t count on this. The lack of monetary compensation is an industry standard so no matter which company you sail with this will most likely be the case. You’ll probably find it buried deep within the fine print of your contract. Read more the importance of travel insurance and how Hurricane Irene affected travelers in 2011.

In Conclusion
If you find your cruise is affected by the weather try to keep a positive attitude. You are still on a luxurious ship with crew that is there to cater to your every need. Make the best of it and take advantage of the indoor activities the ship has. You’ve got gourmet restaurants, professional entertainment, casinos, night clubs, health club, spa, scrapbook classes, wine tastings, and whatever other activities your cruise has on board to help you pass the time. You’re still on vacation, so enjoy it!

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