Hurricane Season Cruising

By ,   February 16, 2016 ,   Ships and Lines

Hurricane season should not stop you from cruising. Most of the itineraries remain unaffected, but what to do if a storm bears down on your vacation? Cruise ships and hurricanes try not to interact, but understanding how a hurricane can impact cruise travel will help you plan your next cruise vacation without worrying too much about the consequences of the powerful storms.

Hurricane season is not the best time to cruise, but will help you score some fantastic values on Mexican Riviera, Caribbean and transatlantic voyages during the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic hurricane seasons. It's common to see cheap cruises with fares ranging as low as $39 per person, per night, especially in the Caribbean. And if you know when and where hurricanes are most likely to appear, you can wisely choose an itinerary that has less of a chance to be disturbed. Even if your voyage is affected, there are ways to soften the damage. 

Hurricanes are cyclonic tropical storms producing extremely high winds, wave surges, tornados, flooding, lightning and abundant amounts of rain, none of which are welcome on a cruise vacation. Hurricane season usually lasts from June 1 through November 30. The majority of severe hurricanes form between the middle of August and the end of September. There may be only a few storms annually, or if the conditions are right, over a dozen substantial hurricanes could disrupt cruise travel.

Which cruise regions are affected by hurricanes?

Tropical storms, tropical depressions and hurricanes can occur in most cruising regions. Depending on other weather patterns these can move to intercept a wealth of popular cruise destinations, such as Western and Eastern Caribbean, Bahamas, Grand Cayman, Key West Florida, Jamaica and Cozumel Mexico.

  • The Atlantic hurricane season is a problem for the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, and the U.S. East Coast of the United States. Eastern Pacific hurricane season can affect Mexican Riviera ports, such as Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta
  • Hurricanes can also strike Hawaii: The season in the Pacific featurs severe storms, that are most active between July and September. 
  • Avoid the worst of it - Eastern Caribbean itineraries from the middle of August through the middle of September and skirt around Western Caribbean from the middle of September through the beginning of November. 
  • If you’re traveling to the world's southern hemisphere - Australia and New Zealand, be aware of cyclones with peak season Down Under during March and April.

Cruise experts counsel travelers to choose an itinerary heading "as far into the southern Caribbean as possible". Ilands like Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Trinidad and Tobago are on the far edge of hurricane zone and are rarely affected by tropical storms.

Depending on where the hurricane moves, lots of cruise ports can be affected, especially the Port of Miami, Tampa, Galveston, Fort Lauderdale, NOLA New Orleans and even Norfolk VA or Boston MA.

Hurricanes have become difficult to forecast. After 2012 Hurricane Sandy, the season of 2013 was predicted as particularly nasty, but not a single major storm surfaced.

Avoiding Hurricane Season Cruising

Vacationers who prefer to avoid mixing hurricanes and cruise ships can still sail during hurricane season with no risk to encounter with a violent storm.

  • Cruise early. Far fewer hurricanes form early in the season, during June and July. Booking a cruise during the beginning of hurricane season has a better chance of avoiding storms.
  • Choose a less affected region. Alaskan voyages are a perfect opportunity for hurricane season cruising since the cooler northern waters are not prone to hurricanes. Mediterranean cruises are another safe option.
  • Hurricanes don't often meet cruise ships, but when they do the results is disastrous for a passenger who is not prepared. Understanding how such storms can impact cruising can help travelers plan a great vacation during hurricane season with no need to worry.
  • Buy adequate travel insurance. It can provide a good financial buffer for changing plans, and you will be able to make arrangements if a storm interferes with your vacation.

A good travel insurance plan will cover you for cancellation, interruption or trip delay, in the event of a major storm, minus the compensation you get from the airline or cruise line. If bad weather forces you to reroute or miss a flight, miss part of a cruise due to travel delay or unexpectedly get stuck in a city overnight, you should be covered under an insurance plan. But if you need to reschedule your flight and the airline agrees to waive change fees, or if a voyage is cut short by a day, but the cruise line reimburses for the missed day, you will not get an additional compensation payment. And more importantly, you won't be covered for a change of cruise itinerary. 

Also have in mind that travel insurance covers only unexpected events. In case you've neglected to pre-book insurance, and the weatherman is reporting on an upcoming storm, don't call up an insurance broker as it's too late to be covered. Sign up right before or within 24h after the final payment due date, because you're committed to going on the voyage and cannot back out without penalty, but it is early enough to be covered by insurance for unforeseen events that pop up at the last minute. 

Cruise line protection plans are not insurance plans, as they are not backed by a government agency. You'll have better coverage and outlet for help in case of a dispute with your plan provider if you book through a 3rd-party provider. Don't forget to read the fine print before committing to a plan, to determine what circumstances are covered. 

How does hurricane season affect cruising?

Are cruise passengers safe during a hurricane?

The cruise line will not take any chances with its passenger and ship safety. If a hurricane is being tracked, you can bet the line is doing so as well to keep out of harm's way.

Cruise ships don't encounter hurricanes directly. Many modern vessels are equipped with sophisticated communication and weather tracking equipment to predict the intensity and path of storms. Because hurricanes move not very fast, ships are able to sail out of their way with ease. At times cruise ships sailing during hurricane season encounter rough water, but their stabilizers and other features help prevent tilt and other effects of the storm.

For a full 6 months during the year, the Caribbean is hit by an average of 6 hurricanes, according to Hurricane season cruising means great deals from the lines, but there are a couple of things to consider before you book:

  • Itinerary changes. If you are unlucky enough to have a hurricane brewing over your route, it may spoil your vacation but, thanks to advanced storm-tracking radars, cruise vessels are alerted long enough before they encounter a storm. Modern cruise ships move twice as fast as the storms, so they can either outrun the storm or simply go around hurricane cells. If you are worried about your sailing being canceled, you can rest assured that it’s highly unlikely. 
  • Bad weather. Booking a cruise during hurricane season is not risk-free and the chances of rain on your beach day are much higher than during the rest of the year. 
  • Rough seas ahead. If you are sailing around the path of a hurricane, you should expect to encounter rough waters during your cruise. You can always avoid seasickness, but a change in your route means missed port calls. The fine print on your ticket states that you won't be refunded if the water is rough and you can’t disembark.

If a tropical storm or hurricane is on path to intercept your cruise vacation, the line will likely tweak its itinerary in order to avoid rough seas and winds. The long-standing strategy of cruise companies is to avoid a storm completely and their experience indicates that going around the storm is the best course of action. That's why voyages are almost never canceled.

One would not think that one of those enormous ships could move very fast, but while a typical hurricane travels at 10-12 knots (with one exception: Hurricane Andrew in 1992 traveled at 16 knots), most modern cruise ships are capable of sailing at above 20 knots.

But while increasingly sophisticated technology can help ships to evade hurricanes, they cannot avoid them entirely and passengers may run into rougher waters than usual. They may even experience storm remnants where they least expect to, such as on repositioning north Atlantic cruises coming out of Europe. 

However, cruise lines have not only outfitted their vessels with the latest communications and satellite equipment, they also have teams which closely monitor the weather - back at headquarters and on board the ship. At all times, these people are aware of any storm developments.

It can be tricky to find an empty port but it’s far more likely the cruise lines will have trouble finding alternate ports to dock at when the cruise ship is re-routed due to hurricane. When all ships in the region are also searching for alternative ports, things get a little crowded, but the line may simply add a couple of extra days at sea.

Some cruise ports may remain closed after a tropical storm. Underwater shifts due to hurricane-driven sand may create new ground near ports. The elevation of the bottom of water may change during a storm. This is why ports may not open right after a storm has passed because the depth has to be re-verified or a vessel could run aground.

Benefits of Hurricane Season Cruising

There are several benefits to hurricane season cruising for passengers who don't mind potential changes or disruptions to their travel plans. For some experienced cruisers, the greatest benefit may be an unexpectedly lengthy vacation if their ship is kept from returning to port to wait out a storm. 

Major cruise lines offer huge discounts during the most vigorous part of hurricane season, and travelers can take advantage of great discount cruise deals.

Unscheduled visits to various ports can make a familiar itinerary more exciting, but travelers should be flexible with their plans so they are not disappointed when itineraries must be changed. Guests should be familiar with seasickness prevention in case their cruise ship encounters rough water.

Cruises are canceled as a last resort, and each line will offer future cruise credits, discounts or refunds, to compensate passengers for the inconvenience if their voyage has to be canceled due to stormy weather. However, cruisers who voluntarily elect to cancel their trip because of a threatening storm may be subject to the line's standard cancellation policies and penalties. 

Do you get any compensation for missed ports? Alas, no. When a cruise line decides to change an itinerary at the last minute due to a storm, they are not obliged to compensate travelers in any way. Many cruise companies offer minor compensation, such as:

  • On board discounts and additional cruise activities in case more days at sea are offered;
  • Assistance with travel plans if the departure or return of the ship is affected;
  • Refunds on port taxes for call ports that will not be visited.

Statistically speaking, the chances that a particular cruise is going to be affected by a hurricane are very slim. However, changes to your vacation plans are a possibility, so it's important to approach hurricane season cruising with the right attitude.