As Hurricane Earl bears down on the Eastern Caribbean, passengers aboard some Carnival, NCL, and Royal Caribbean ships are learning first-hand what happens when you’re in the path of a hurricane.

In most cases, a simple itinerary swap is in order.  Instead of visiting the Eastern Caribbean islands like St. Thomas, passengers may find themselves enjoying the beauty of the Western Caribbean instead.  Cruise lines will always pick the safest alternative; in fact, the safest place to be during a hurricane is at sea.

Passengers destined to cruise the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, or even Atlantic itineraries like New England and Bermuda need to be aware that their safety will always take priority over the published itinerary.  This includes changing port times, order, amount of sea days, or even the entire destination should it become necessary.

How much could your itinerary change?  In July of 2005, a hurricane forced Royal Caribbean to famously change the itinerary of Voyager of the Seas from warm, sunny Bermuda to the relatively cooler waters of Canada & New England.  Passengers were furious over the decision, which required several meetings between passengers and crew to explain the decision.  Newspapers carried it.  Cruise message boards debated it endlessly.  And there was a steady stream of incredibly vocal – and angry – passengers to fuel it all for weeks.

Sadly, the passengers aboard Voyager obviously never bothered to read the last few pages of their brochure – which contains arguably some of the most important information cruise passengers should know.  Case in point?  The published itinerary is a ‘guide’ – cruise lines reserve the right to alter it as they see fit depending on the circumstances, and a hurricane bearing down on a three-thousand passenger ship is certainly not something to trifle with.  Sandy beaches take a back-seat to Mother Nature.

In addition, your port of embarkation and disembarkation could change.  If a hurricane damages port infrastructure, it could become impossible for lines to turn around there.  This situation taxes a cruise line to the max; passengers and crew alike end up scrambling to make alternate arrangements.  

So what should you do?  Firstly, know if you book a cruise to one of the aforementioned destinations during the hurricane months of June to November, you might end up with an altered itinerary should you be the lucky chosen few that get hit with changes.  Secondly, purchase trip interruption and cancellation insurance; merely stating “no one told me” isn’t going to get you your money back should things go wrong.

Most importantly, wherever you end up, go with an open mind and have a fantastic time.  After all, a day at sea is still better than a day at the office.


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