Is it worth the risk to plan a cruise to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Mexican Riviera or even Canada or New England during hurricane season? Absolutely, with one major caveat: Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Statistically speaking, the chances that your particular voyage is going to be affected by a hurricane are very slim. But changes to your plans are a possibility and it's important to approach a hurricane season cruise with the right attitude.
Keep an eye on the storms at Cruise Critic's Hurricane Zone, which features round-the-clock updates on storms that might affect cruise travelers, as well as information on itinerary changes and any impact on cruise ports.
Cruise schedules and itineraries may well be affected by storms, anticipated or otherwise, but the chances you'll actually be caught in one are slim to none.
These days, solid engineering and satellite equipment allows cruise lines to follow the paths of storms (and quickly send ships elsewhere); Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises are two lines that have established situation rooms -- which enable staffers to monitor storms and respond to changing circumstances.
Key Hurricane and Cruises Tips
Look for a deal. Discounts abound, particularly in the peak period between mid-July and early October. But this is not the time to make a visit to one particular (scheduled) port a crucial element of the holiday (planning a wedding in St. Thomas or a family reunion in St. Maarten, for instance). Itineraries can be disrupted by even the mere threat of a storm.
Be flexible. Know that you may have trouble getting to an airport in south Florida or in San Juan (where many, though not all, Caribbean-bound cruises depart).
Buy insurance. Whether you obtain insurance through the cruise line or through an independent provider, make sure the policy covers disruption in case of weather-related events.
Hurricane Season 101
Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through November 30 (though this turned out to be anything but true as recently as 2005, when storms lingered into January). Although hurricanes are generally unpredictable, conventional wisdom has dictated that peak season varies by geography. In the Eastern Caribbean and along the U.S. East Coast, the season tends to be busiest between mid-August and mid-September. In the Western Caribbean, it picks up in mid-September and stretches into early November. Early- and late-season hurricanes (June and mid- to late-November respectively) are rare but not unprecedented.
An "average" hurricane season means we can expect eight to 11 tropical storms; of these five to seven could develop into full-fledged hurricanes. Note, however, that not all hurricanes strike land.
How Safe Are Cruise Ships During Hurricanes?
Most likely you'll never need to know. That's because cruise line strategy across the board is to avoid rather than confront a storm. Cruise lines have been operating in the Caribbean for years and have, by virtue of experience, specific hurricane/tropical storm emergency response plans in effect. These cover everything from outfitting ships with state-of-the-art satellites to designating a bridge officer as the weather monitor during the season -- and to backing up onboard efforts with expanded staff at headquarters.