This week marked the beginning of the six month hurricane season in the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean. This year has also served as a reminder that hurricane season really is just dates on a calendar. We have already had two named tropical storms this year, one of which became a hurricane on January 10th. Hurricanes can (and do) form any time of year; hurricane season is simply the six month period when they are more likely to occur.
Hurricanes are one of the many concerns that first-time cruisers tend to worry about. They look to avoid hurricanes by booking outside of the hurricane season but that shuts them out of half of the year, including the popular school summer break. As travel advisors, it falls on us to educate our new cruise clients, as well as the general traveling public, about the ins and outs of cruising during hurricane season (or really, any time of the year).
Arrive the day before departure
I know clients on a tight budget resist things like paying for an “unnecessary” hotel room for the night before the cruise. However, hurricanes can not only affect cruise ships, but they can affect airline flights as well. Arriving at least one day before departure can help hedge their bets against flight delays or airport closures.
Of course, if a tropical storm or hurricane is baring down on an embarkation port city (i.e. Tampa), the cruise line may need to reroute the ship to another port to offload and board passengers. Therefore keeping in touch with the cruise line, and an eye on the weather reports is important.
When hurricanes form, itineraries change. I had this happen with a group cruise on Oasis of the Seas in 2009. As the lifeboat drill finished up, the captain came over the PA system and started talking about crew and passenger safety. I knew what was coming next before any other passengers; the captain announced our itinerary was changing significantly. Days at sea became port days, port days became days at sea, we skipped the private island altogether and ended up with Nassau on the itinerary instead. Passengers whined about the change (apparently no one wanted to go to Nassau), but ultimately safety is paramount.
And this one of the beauties of cruising. Ships can move! Hotels cannot. I remember a story of a family demanding that Disney Cruise Line cancel their cruise and put them up at Disney World instead. The cruise line accommodated them; and then they spent several days of their Disney World stay hunkered down in their resort room as the hurricane passed directly over Florida. Meanwhile, the cruise ship changed itinerary and had sunny weather for all 7 days.
When booking a cruise for any time of the year, make sure your clients understand that ports of call are not guaranteed and itineraries can change for many reasons. Also help them understand that being on a cruise ship is usually better than being land based during storms. I say usually because occasionally a ship can get caught off guard by an unexpected storm.
Get travel insurance!
Again, something that budget conscious clients resist but is too important to bypass. Travel insurance helps with multiple issues, but in the hurricane season scenario, it can be invaluable if the clients are not able to get to the ship, such as if their home airport is closed due to weather.
Ultimately it is our responsibility to our clients to help them navigate the issues that can occur when hurricanes or bad weather in general affects their cruise. We should also be educating the general public, in hopes of helping them understand cruising better. Remember, only about 30% of the US population has taken a cruise. That leaves a lot of potential cruisers out there for us to educate and book.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.