Don't Let a Hurricane Ruin Your Vacation

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Hurricane Earl isn't just threatening East Coast beaches with its high winds and strong downpours. The hurricane could also ruin thousands of people's vacations.

The storm has already ripped through the Caribbean with winds up to 135 miles per hour and it now threatens to disrupt everything from beach getaways to flights along the Atlantic coast.

And on the high seas, Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have already changed some ships' itineraries to steer clear of the storm's path.

If you are planning to take a vacation anytime before hurricane season ends on Nov. 30, there are a few steps you can take now to make sure that Mother Nature doesn't ruin your trip.

Karen Schaler, author of the book Travel Therapy, notes that with 8 to 14 named storms predicted for this year, "it's going to be a dicey season."

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But, for those with a bit higher tolerance for risk and flexibility it can be a great time to travel and there are plenty of deals to be found.

"You can save as much as 75 percent, and for budget travelers that is key," Schaler said. Hotels are far from sold out and are cutting rates to fill rooms. "It's like you have the resort to yourself."

Just don't plan that honeymoon or special celebration for this time. The best trips during hurricane season are those where travelers can be flexible.

Not all destinations are the same. Generally, travelling to southern Caribbean islands instead of the northern ones means you are less likely to be hit by a hurricane.

The Dow Jones Island Index says that Curacao is the least likely island to be hit along with Barbados, Grenada, Aruba and Bonaire.

But it's not just the Caribbean that you have to worry about. The National Hurricane Center says the chance of getting hit by a hurricane in Miami, based on the 100 year data, is actually higher than anywhere in the Caribbean.

"But remember that Mother Nature can do whatever she wants to," Schaler said.

Hurricane Trip Insurance

So what about trip insurance?

Anne Banas, executive editor of travel Web site SmarterTravel said that if you do buy insurance, make sure it specifically includes hurricane coverage.

"Also, note that many policies state that you have to purchase it before the storm is predicted, and many only supply coverage once the hurricane actually hits and causes your airline or hotel to shut down for 24 hours," Banas said. "The best advice is to read the fine print to make sure you know what you're getting into, or purchase insurance that allows you to cancel for any reason -- including trip delay, interruption, and cancellation -- even though it might be a little more expensive."

Basically, if the storm is already named, you are way too late to purchase insurance. The hurricane then is clearly not an "unforeseen event."

The costs for travel insurance runs 5 to 8 percent of a trip's prepaid non-refundable cost on average. The cost can vary slightly depending on the length of the trip, age of the travelers and the travel destination.

Another option, Banas said, is to look for travel providers -- such as resorts -- that offer hurricane refund or guarantee policies, though be aware that you won't be covered for things like missed or rebooked flights.

Anne Banas, executive editor of travel Web site SmarterTravel said that if you do buy insurance, make sure it specifically includes hurricane coverage.

"Also, note that many policies state that you have to purchase it before the storm is predicted, and many only supply coverage once the hurricane actually hits and causes your airline or hotel to shut down for 24 hours," Banas said. "The best advice is to read the fine print to make sure you know what you're getting into, or purchase insurance that allows you to cancel for any reason -- including trip delay, interruption, and cancellation -- even though it might be a little more expensive."

Basically, if the storm is already named, you are way too late to purchase insurance. The hurricane then is clearly not an "unforeseen event."

Another option, Banas said, is to look for travel providers -- such as resorts -- that offer hurricane refund or guarantee policies, though be aware that you won't be covered for things like missed or rebooked flights.

Hurricane Forecasts, Weather Alerts

If you are already traveling, or heading to a place that might be in the path of a storm, keep watching the news and stay abreast of all the weather alerts, advises Brooke Ferencsik of TripAdvisor.

"These things can change pretty fast. What's a Category 4 today can change and spin off tomorrow," he said. "Know the evacuation routes if you're planning to be somewhere that is in the crosshairs of a hurricane."

Ferencsik also suggested that families driving to the beach always have a hurricane preparedness kit with snacks, energy bars, water, duck tape, a hand-crank or battery-powered radio, a flashlight and a first aid kit.

And if a storm is definitely coming your way, he said, cancel the trip. It isn't worth risking your life.

"If a storm is imminent, you might want to cancel and reschedule for another time," Ferencsik said.

Cruises and Hurricanes

Cruises can be a great vacation option since ships can reroute around any potentail storm. You might not see the port-of-calls you expected, but your vacation stays intact.

"The chances that you will be affected by a hurricane are slim. But because changes are possible, it's important to approach a hurricane season cruise with the right attitude and travel insurance," said Melissa Paloti, managing editor of Cruise Critic. "Whether you obtain coverage through the cruise line or through an independent provider, make sure the policy covers weather-related disruption."

Also, Paloti said, you will want to ask the insurance provider exactly how you will be assisted or compensated if a storm causes you to miss your ship.

Cruises and Hurricanes

Paloti and the Cruise Critic staff have put together a list of 10 tips for cruises during hurricane season.

Find a Good Deal: The cruise lines are offering some excellent discounts at this time of year.

Watch the Weather: About a week before you go, find out whether there are any storms forecasted in the region you will be visiting, and check out Cruise Critic's Hurricane Zone. (http://www.cruisecritic.com/news/hurricane.cfm).

Plan to Arrive Early: It may not be your ship, but the port of embarkation, that is affected. Plan to arrive a couple of days early in case your flight is delayed.

Buy Travel Insurance: Choose a reputable company, and make sure the policy covers disruption in case of weather-related events.

It's Cheap for a Reason: During hurricane season, cruise lines offer deep discounts on many trips, but accept the fact that your itinerary may change -- and look forward to the mystery tour.

Pack a Seasickness Remedy: Should the winds pick up, the water can be rougher than usual, so it is good to be prepared.

Read the Small Print: Research what your cruise line does/does not offer in terms of compensation before you go.

Don't Make Big Plans: With everything so unpredictable at this time of year, avoid planning an important family reunion onboard or a wedding in Barbados. Your guests may have problems getting to the ship, or you may not stop at your dream port of call.

Contact Your Cruise Line: If you think your itinerary will be impacted by a storm, find out ahead of time if contingency plans are in effect.

Don't Panic: Cruise lines have perfected avoiding bad weather, via state-of-the-art onboard equipment and dedicated personnel. Plus, while a typical storm moves at about 8 to 10 knots, ships can attain speeds of up to 22 knots and beyond and could easily outrun a storm.