cruisemates newsletter

8.16.2007

Hurricane Season Gets a Late Start
While hurricane season officially begins on June 1st and lasts through November 30th, the first hurricanes of this season have just appeared this week. But we have had three already, and one of them is a rare Pacific storm.

Fortunately, two have already becomes little more than a blip as far as cruise lines are concerned, and the only itinerary changes noted so far are NCL-America changing its two Hawaii ships to avoid "Flossie" by spending a day at sea instead of visiting Hilo and Kona, ports on the big island of Hawaii, last Tuesday and Wednesday.

Flossie eventually passed 90 miles south of Hawaii's South Point, but is dropping a considerable amount of rain.

Itinerary changes are the usual response to hurricanes by cruise ships. In most cases, they will send the cruise ship to the opposite side of the Caribbean from the one experiencing storm activity. For example, if the storm is hitting the Eastern Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, St. Martin or Puerto Rico, they will send the ship to the Western Caribbean isles of Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.

All cruisers should know that hurricane season is a good time to pick up a Caribbean cruise bargain, and chances are very low you will be affected. The worst possible outcome in almost all cases is a change in itinerary. Avoiding the storm is easy, but hurricanes can be very large storms (unlike tornados) and ships usually cannot go around them. Most people will see as many islands as were scheduled anyway.

The worst case scenario occurs when ships leave from more northerly ports like Port Canaveral and don't have the Western Caribbean as an option because the storm lies in the East Caribbean - between them and their destination. Such ships often have few options other than the Bahamas. Sometimes cruises to Bermuda are similarly cut off from the island and may be re-directed to the Bahamas and the near Caribbean.

Such itinerary changes are purely the cruise line's decision, and it is not mandatory or even common practice to give passengers any kind of refund or rebate when a storm prevents a ship from reaching its scheduled ports. Every cruise contract specifically states that ports are subject to change and no compensation is required.

However, if the stand-in itinerary is exceedingly dull or repetitive, the cruise line may choose to reward the passengers' patience with shipboard credit or other perks. Such compensation is more likely when a ship is forced to spend many days at sea because there are few available ports.

More about Hurricanes:

Caribbean hurricanes almost always start in the deep southern Atlantic, off the southwest coast of Africa, and then move northwest very slowly for a few days before they choose a path to the west or the east. The amount of change in direction is the primary concern and most unpredictable aspect to hurricane watchers.

Some hurricanes go almost directly west (a left turn) and end up in the warmer gulf waters to land anywhere from Venezuela to Yucatan or Alabama, often with considerable force. Others make a hard right turn and run over the Eastern Caribbean islands or just go straight up the Atlantic and may hit the mainland USA anywhere from Florida to Maine, or never hit land at all. Any hurricane may grow or fizzle, or stall or change direction at any time.

Hurricanes are fueled by warm, southerly ocean water, so they tend to "lose steam" the farther north they go. The wind is the first concern, as gusts nearing 200 miles per hour can lift and move heavy objects, but in most cases, as with Katrina, the most damage is done with the surge of water that the storm carries with it.

All hurricanes tend to move forward at very slow speeds, from a near standstill to about 20 miles per hour, which is what makes it extremely easy for cruise ships to avoid them.

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