Cruising During Hurricane Season

The National Hurricane Center defines hurricane season in the Atlantic as the time period between June 1 and November 30.  In the Pacific Ocean, it’s May 15 to November 30.  Of course, hurricanes (like any storm) don’t really care what date it is – they’ll come when they come and we have to do our best to deal with it.

Cruises depart from the United States each weekend, hundreds of them, many of them bound for hurricane-prone areas like the Caribbean islands, Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mexican Baja coast.  What does a cruiser need to know about hurricanes & tropical storms, and how they can affect the cruise experience?

There are usually two main occurrences if a hurricane or storm threatens a cruise itinerary:

  1. The cruise could be canceled
  2. The itinerary itself could be altered in some way

Obviously, the cruise lines do everything possible to prevent a cancellation of the cruise.  This costs them money: typically, if the cruise is canceled, the passengers are entitled to a full refund.  Plus, the cruise line loses out on the potential revenue from that cruise, including drinks, shore excursions, and more.

So that leaves changing the itinerary.  Some cruisers choose their next cruise based on the ports it visits; those folks tend to be the most upset when the itinerary is changed.  Cruise lines will often substitute an alternative port or add in an extra sea day if storms threaten the original route.  Here’s where it gets a little tricky: the cruise line has the right to do that.  Even better, they aren’t required to provide any compensation for missed or changed ports of call, but many times they provide shipboard credit, partial refunds, or other compensation as a gesture of goodwill.

I always highly recommend travel insurance for any cruise, but especially more so during hurricane season.  Travel insurance provides a safety net for trip cancellations or interruptions or other situations that can turn a vacation experience sour in a red-hot minute.  Check out my post about travel insurance for more details.

One caveat – while most travel insurance policies provide coverage for severe weather, including hurricanes, disrupting travel, they often don’t provide coverage for cancellations just because the itinerary changed unless a “purchase for any reason” rider is purchased along with the policy.  Keep that in mind, especially if the ports of call on your cruise are important to you.  Regardless of which travel insurance policy you select, be sure to read any and all fine print so you know exactly what is and is not covered.  Many times, travel insurance must be purchased before a hurricane is officially named, so it is vital to purchase this as early as possible, preferably at the same time you provide a deposit for your cruise.

The bottom line is that cruising during the hurricane season really isn’t all that bad if you are flexible with changes that may occur.  By sailing during this time, it’s important not to get hung up on missed ports of call or shore excursions and just go with the flow.  If that’s not something that you are willing to do, you should consider cruising during other times of the year.  Your cruise experience, and that of your fellow cruisers, will be much better for it!

Sudden storms can often cause cruise ships like the Carnival Triumph to hit stormy waters, but often they are avoided.

Sudden storms can often cause cruise ships like the Carnival Triumph to hit stormy waters, but often they are avoided.