What to expect on a cruise ship during a hurricane

It’s hurricane season in Florida and the Caribbean, and the damage has started earlier than usual. Hurricane Beryl has become the earliest category 3 or higher storm to ever hit, and it’s a sort of appetizer for a period that many expect will contain more named storms than any year since storms have been named.

Booking a cruise during hurricane season (June 1-Nov. 30) comes with some risks. Your cruise ports could get changed and it’s even possible your entire itinerary could change.

Related: MSC Cruises has 1 edge over Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises

It’s worth noting that if you’re booking a cruise because of a specific destination, there’s always some risk to that. All cruise lines reserve the right to change itineraries and they can do so for weather, or other reasons (like the political unrest that’s an issue in Haiti now preventing Royal Caribbean ships from stopping in Labadee.

Every cruise line, however, puts the safety of its passengers and ship ahead of everything else. There are times, for example, when rough seas make it impossible to dock safely in certain ports.

When that happens the cruise line may find an alternate, or it may end up adding a sea day. Passengers will receive a refund for any port fees or taxes they paid for that stop and any cruise-line-booked excursions will be refunded as well.

Sometimes cruise lines offer onboard credit as an apology for certain mixed ports, but that’s not the usual practice and it’s not required.

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Seas can be rough during hurricane season.

Image source: Getty Images

What is it like being on a cruise in bad weather?

The experience varies greatly based on the size of the ship you are sailing on. When I was sailing during very rough seas on Celebrity Summit a few years go, the pool decks were closed one night because water from waves was hitting the deck, and the pools were sloshing water onto the deck.

That’s a smaller ship by modern standards (about 2,158 passengers) and you could feel the ship moving, items fells off your desk or other counters, and many people experienced motion sickness. 

It only lasted a few hours, and much of the ship remained open, but the main production show was altered to protect the performers, and many passengers opted to stay in their rooms. 

Summit’s captain provided regular updates and made it clear that he was sailing us to the safest spots possible, but the weather was widespread in the Caribbean, so there was no calm spot to sail to. We actually made all of our ports, and aside from some people putting the airsick bags, which were discreetly put out in all the bathrooms and on some railings, to use, it was a relatiely mild interruption.

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Last year, on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, one of the largest cruise ships in the world with a double occupancy capacity of 5,602 passengers, I sailed out of Bayonne, New Jersey while a hurricane worked its way around the east coast and the Caribbean, and seas were visibly rough.

You could also see water moving back and forth in the pools, and there spots on the ship where you felt movement. Airsick bags were also put out, but on a ship that large, the rough seas were more visual than impactful. A few passengers noticed, but nothing really changed about our sailing.    

Expect missed ports and rain

Some cruise ports are harder to dock in then other during rough weather. No cruise line wants to change itineraries, but ships will stay clear of the worst weather. That can mean losing a stop you really wanted to visit in favor of one you have no interest in (or a sea day).

In addition, you should expect a period of rain most days when sailing in the Carribbean. Usually, rains lasts less than an hour and it can go from intense to beautufl very quickly. That’s also important to remember in port as it’s never a bad idea to pack a poncho and/or an umbrella.

In rare cases, ships can get diverted quickly. A few times a year, for example, cruises leaving from New York/New Jersey headed to the Caribbean end up switching to a New England and Canada itinerary.

If you do not have travel insurance that covers a changed itinerary, you have no recourse and won’t get a refund (aside from port fees and excursions). You can buy insurance from your cruise line or privately. You can also buy annual travel insurance if you cruise and travel often, but it’s very important to know what your policy covers.

Related: Get the best cruise tips, deals, and news on the ships from our expert cruiser

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