Cruising Through the 2009 Hurricane Season

| August 25, 2009

The 2009 hurricane is one of the mildest yet on record, but any hurricane season does not affect cruise ships as much as you might think.

It sounds odd, but we normally do recommend booking cruises during hurricane season. Why? Because hurricane season is no secret, especially to the number one Florida cruise market, and so we often see bargain prices as incentives. Now, I realize price alone isn't a good reason to recommend taking a cruise during a major storm, but the point is that cruise ships are experts at avoiding these storms, so you should still have a great cruise. You just have to deal with a little scheduling uncertainty.

This year I would have said you were especially prescient for booking a bargain hurricane season cruise. 2009 has so far been one of the mildest hurricane seasons on record. Unfortunately, cruise prices are already depressed for economic reasons so the hurricane price factor just isn't there this year.

Still, the good news is that there has been no significant impact to any cruise yet this year due to a hurricane, although tropical storm Bill could change that by threatening to become a hurricane and hit Bermuda on this weekend. Even more disruptive, it could bear towards the East Coast affecting cruises homeported in Baltimore or New York.

In any case, should the 2009 season get any worse here is what a cruiser needs to know; hurricanes are very slow moving storms so cruises are rarely canceled or even delayed because of them. Rather, the cruise line will substitute different ports of call for the scheduled itinerary and avoid the storm entirely. For example, if a cruise is scheduled to leave from Miami and sail to the Eastern Caribbean a raging hurricane in the Atlantic may compel the cruise line to visit the Western Caribbean instead.

The worst consequence of any hurricane under normal conditions is a delayed departure or return to the home port at the beginning or end of a cruise. The only reason for this would be if the storm was in that home port the same day as the ship was scheduled to be there. But using Miami as an example, a hurricane only hits about once every decade or less, statistically.

People who are new to cruising need to understand that this choice to substitute different ports of call is completely at the discretion of the cruise line. The captain and the cruise line are ultimately responsible for your safety at sea, and they will not choose to sail into a hurricane.

Yes, we actually receive letters from people who are adamant they should receive a full refund because the ship did not sail to the scheduled ports. We do understand that people spend a lot of time pre-planning a cruise and may already know exactly what beach they want to snorkel months ahead of time. But if there is a hurricane it is not the cruise line's fault.

An actual letter said, "Our cruise did not go to the islands they promised us due to a force four hurricane the same week. I feel they broke our contract and we want a 100% refund of our cruise fare." This is after they spent a full week eating the ship's food, sleeping in their beds, watching the entertainment and visiting other ports where they probably did very similar activities to what they had planned anyway.

When I get these letters I just can't help myself. I write back to ask them, "Did you really want to go to an island experiencing 130 mph winds?"

I suppose another alternative would be to cancel the cruise at the last minute, but I doubt most people would want that either. In the end, substituting ports of call always makes the most sense.

In extreme cases a very large storm has meant a cruise line was not able to deliver any ports of call. In these situations they might offer an onboard credit during the cruise, or a discount on a future cruise. But this is also at the discretion of the cruise line and should not be expected.

We do understand that it is disconcerting to have your plans changed at the last minute, but ultimately the best you can do is adapt to the changes quickly and just make different plans for your ports of call. You don't want to be sitting on the ship thinking about what you would have been doing otherwise.

Remember, the cruise experience is usually better when the ship diverges from the proximity of a hurricane as much as possible. For the most part hurricanes are very contained storms - depending on your relative position. You can sail ahead of one and not even know there is a raging inferno just over the horizon. But you don't want to be trailing a hurricane because the winds are sure to have whipped up the seas and such conditions can last for days past the time the storm has passed.

Bottom line, when it comes to hurricanes it is a pretty good idea not to second guess the cruise line's or captain's decisions on where the ship should sail. The cruise lines want to give you best experience possible. Cruising is a competitive business and they want you coming back. You can be pretty sure they made the best decision under the circumstances.

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