Should you book a Caribbean cruise during hurricane season?

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Lido deck on Carnival Miracle (Photo: Carnival Cruise Lines)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on August 15, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Caribbean, Carnival, cruise, disaster, Erica Silverstein, low season.

Every summer, we see the photos: dark gray skies, palm trees bending at 90-degree angles with their leaves whipping in the wind, liberated roofs taking to the skies. With such dramatic images of tropical storms, it's no wonder people think twice about booking a cruise during hurricane season. But is it really in your best interest to avoid all Caribbean cruises between June and November?

The negatives may be obvious to you, but you may not have considered the positives. Here's a look at both sides.

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Cons: Uncertainty and skipped ports

Notice that I did not list safety as a negative aspect of cruising during hurricane season. "The main goal is to stay out of harm's way," says Vance Gulliksen, public relations manager for Carnival Cruise Lines. "But the benefit of a ship-based versus a land-based vacation is that ships are mobile." When a tropical storm or a hurricane forms, cruise lines try to keep their vessels at least 150 to 200 miles away from the storm front. You shouldn't be tossed about on rough seas or subjected to a day in port under torrential downpours and fierce winds.

The flip side of this itinerary flexibility is that the cruise line will alter or skip ports-of-call in order to keep passengers safe. Your ship may be delayed returning to or leaving from its homeport. These schedule changes can result in missed flights, last-minute changes to travel plans, and skipped shore excursions. In the worst case, a sailing will be canceled completely. If you're determined to see a particular island and your vacation will be ruined if you don't, you should play it safe and book a winter or spring departure.

If you do choose to book a cruise during hurricane season, it's essential that you purchase travel insurance that will cover you if you need to rearrange or cancel your travel plans. You must be ready to be flexible, both with the dates of your vacation and with the activities you do on it. You might even consider padding your cruise vacation with an extra day in the homeport city before and after the sailing. That way, if your departing flight is delayed or your ship returns a day late, you won't miss the cruise or your flight home.

Pros: Low prices and favorable statistics

Any way you look at it, a cruise vacation is certainly better than a land vacation during hurricane season. A cruise ship can dodge a storm, keeping you safe and dry. If you're at an island resort when a storm hits, though, you may have trouble getting home and be forced to weather the deluge and its aftermath.

The main reason to book a cruise during hurricane season is price. "Generally, fall is our value season," says Gulliksen. Prices drop for departures after Labor Day, and airfare to your cruise port will generally be cheaper in the fall as well. Though summer sailings are typically popular with families, bookings were slow in the Caribbean this year, leading to even more discounts.

Chances are good that your cruise won't run into any trouble at all. "Carnival has 1,300 voyages per year," states Gulliksen. "Very few of those are impacted by hurricanes." Most vacationers will find sunny days and calm seas, with perhaps a quick afternoon shower. Even during the thick of hurricane season, most ships follow their planned schedule to the letter.

Should your cruise itinerary be altered for a storm, you'll generally receive some sort of reimbursement. Although the cruise line makes decisions on a case-by-case basis, typically Carnival guests receive $20 to $25 per day for a missed port. If the length of your cruise is shortened, you'll receive a credit for the pro-rated cost of that day. Other lines have similar policies.

The decision is yours

To cruise or not to cruise ... that is your question. If you're wedded to a specific destination, the risk of an altered itinerary may be too great. If you're looking for a relaxing vacation at a great price, though, a fall cruise could be the perfect solution.

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