While the off-season brings about savings, it also brings about weather concerns for some destinations.
With relatively affordable prices from cruise lines year-round, some cruisers find even more savings during the hurricane season. Cruises are always a great introduction to visiting multiple countries on a budget and help travelers ditch the cooler weather for tropical climates for their fall and winter vacations.
Truthfully, most destinations have a season where the weather, specifically natural disasters, can seriously impact travel. It does not necessarily make them unsafe to travel to, but there are some precautions to consider. Taking a cruise during hurricane season (June 1-November 30) is similar to those other destinations. Being amid a raging sea on a ship can be terrifying. But, the likelihood of feeling any kind of effects from a storm is slim to none.
How Cruise Lines Handle Storms
Historically, every cruise I have ever been on has occurred during hurricane season, and I never felt any concern about the weather. Paired with ever-growing technology, thorough training, and situational awareness, cruise directors and their crew are adequately equipped to make the right decision for everyone’s safety. In fact, in 2017, Royal Caribbean hired James Van Fleet, the first chief meteorologist in the cruise industry. Van Fleet shared this comforting sentiment in a Royal Caribbean blog post: “A common misconception is that the open water is the most dangerous place to be in inclement weather. It’s the total opposite: If a storm is coming your way on land, you have fewer options. Your home is a potential target that can’t be moved. On a cruise ship, captains can sail out of the way—and quickly.”
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So, yes, it is safe to cruise during hurricane season. And here’s why.
Cruise lines are constantly monitoring the weather, even outside of hurricane season. When there is a looming storm, they use weather maps, computer models, and satellite technology to monitor the storm and its estimated trajectory. Every cruise line has a different protocol and operating procedures; this technology allows them to decide the appropriate course of action and to ensure the ship is no longer in the storm’s path. Cruise ships, like the ones in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, have stabilizers. Van Fleet further explained, “Stabilizers act like airplane wings. When you think about it, air is water vapor, so these stabilizers essentially lift the ship over waves the same way a wing lifts a plane over rough air. This keeps the “rise and fall” from being too noticeable.”
Despite any changes, rest assured that the cruise line will do everything in its power to ensure the enjoyment of all passengers. Some of the changes your cruise line may make are:
1. Attempt to reroute the ship where possible by changing the port-of-calls. If one of the ports is in the storm’s path, the cruise line will select a port that is not. While this is the ideal response, it is not always possible. Sometimes a port has to be removed from the itinerary, and a substitute port is not an option.
2. You may spend more time at a port.
3. The length of your cruise may be shortened or extended.
4. In more severe scenarios, the captain may change the path of the cruise entirely.
What Are My Passenger Rights and What Kind of Reimbursement Can I Expect?
Our passenger rights are outlined in the fine print or the cruise ticket contract, which we often skip over when booking. The wording will vary based on the specific cruise line, but most have adapted a statement similar to the one below on the Royal Caribbean site:
“In the event of strikes, lockouts, stoppages of labor, riots, weather conditions, mechanical difficulties, or any other reason whatsoever, Norwegian Cruise Line has the right to cancel, advance, postpone or substitute any scheduled sailing or itinerary without prior notice.”
Essentially this means they can do whatever is necessary to ensure that your cruise still happens, including changing the itinerary. If you are monitoring the weather ahead of any potential storm, you may be entitled to a full or partial refund according to cruise line policy before the start of the sail date. Given that most weather concerns would happen just days before your departure, it is unlikely. The only guarantee of receiving a full refund for a cruise due to weather is if the cruise line cancels your cruise entirely. Meaning, they are also unable to provide an alternative route. This course of action is a rare occurrence. Companies are in the business of customer satisfaction and may do things outside of their standard policy as a gesture of good faith or common courtesy. With that in mind, how you get reimbursed in these situations once you set sail depends on the specific cruise carrier and what kind of itinerary changes you may have. The possible types of reimbursement are:
1. If your cruise experience a change of ports whereby one port gets switched for another, there wouldn’t be any kind of reimbursement or compensation.
2. In instances where there is a change of ports whereby a port is dropped from the itinerary completely without being replaced, you might receive onboard credits or a voucher/gift card towards your next cruise as a form of compensation.
3. When a cruise gets extended, there are no additional costs to you. If it’s shortened, you should be paying a pro-rated amount.
4. Although some cruisers may find it cheaper to book third-party excursions, I recommend booking them directly through your cruise line. In the event of a change of port or itinerary, the cruise lines will refund you the cost of those pre-paid adventures. They are unable to provide any compensation for excursions booked through third-party vendors.
5. You can expect a refund for any fees associated with a missed port.
6. If the cruise line cancels your cruise completely, you can expect a full refund and cruise credits for your next booking.
Cruise lines are aware that changes in the itinerary can also affect other travel aspects such as flights, rental cars, et cetera. They are exceptionally considerate by offering passengers free benefits such as Wi-Fi to make any necessary changes to travel plans in the event of shortened or extended trips.
Yes, You Need Travel Insurance For Cruises Too
Your vacation starts well before your cruise. For me, it typically means booking a flight a day or two ahead of the departure date, arranging transportation, and a hotel stay. All of these components can be affected during hurricane season. While each provider handles things differently, the best safety measure is travel insurance. Insurance policies are a great way to ensure reimbursement for unexpected costs or cover any losses that cruise lines do not.
One of my favorite insurance carriers is Faye. They offer policies that reimburse you for missed excursions (I had this happen in Cartagena). They also provide instant payouts to absorb costs during delayed or canceled flights. It is a godsend feature to have during peak and crazy travel times!