If you’re going on a cruise to the Caribbean this October, you may be seeing some itinerary changes. That’s because Tropical Storm Gonzalo has swept into the region, and several major cruise lines have already changed course in order to keep passengers safe.
Cruise Fever reported on October 12th that Royal Caribbean was the first cruise line to change one of their ship’s itineraries. The Explorer of the Seas bypassed St. Marteen, where there was a scheduled stop, and went straight to San Juan. Disney and Carnival have also made changes on several of their cruises, with Disney rearranging the order of stops for the Disney Magic, and Carnival outright cancelling a port stop in the Dominican Republic for the Carnival Breeze. The Carnival Liberty and Carnival Conquest, meanwhile, were rerouted from eastern Caribbean to western Caribbean itineraries.
As of this writing, Gonzalo is still considered a tropical storm, but meteorologists report that it is slowly gaining strength and will likely develop into a hurricane as it moves towards the US and Virgin Islands and parts of Puerto Rico. The storm has already hit the eastern Caribbean island of Antigua, where it downed trees and inflicted significant damage on many homes. Regular updates on the storm can be found on the National Hurricane Center website.
What Do Tropical Storms and Hurricanes Mean for Cruise Passengers?
Many vacationers go on cruises during hurricane season, which runs from June 1st through November 30th, without experiencing any major issues. Cruise ships can monitor the weather on their computers and travel faster than tropical storms and hurricanes, so they can largely avoid these storms (although they may still hit choppy water). It’s rare for cruise ships to truly get caught in a hurricane, although it can happen.
What’s more likely is that cruise lines will change their itinerary or even cancel a trip if it looks like a storm is going to hit the area they were planning on sailing. For that reason, passengers who have booked a cruise during hurricane season shouldn’t pay in advance for shore excursions with independent vendors, or bank on making it to a time-sensitive event, like a destination wedding.
Cruise lines typically do not refund passengers for itinerary changes, although several cruise lines offered pro-rated refunds for days of sailing missed during Hurricane Sandy, and a cruise may refund any port charges for missed ports in the form of onboard credit.
Another potential risk of cruising during hurricane season is that the storm will force the ship to delay its return to its home port. When this happens, cruise lines generally make WiFi and phones available to passengers for free so that they can let people know that their travel plans have changed. However, cruise passengers may still have to deal with missing a flight home and getting temporarily stranded in the home port city.
If you’re planning on cruising in the Caribbean before November 30th, it may be wise to purchase travel insurance, which should reimburse you for trip delays, cancellations, and interruptions due to a storm. And keep in mind that while hurricane-specific injuries to cruise passengers are highly unlikely, there are still general safety and health risks—such as slippery surfaces, negligent security, or even outbreaks of norovirus. If you are injured on your cruise, contact a maritime lawyer to learn how you may be able to recover compensation.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of The Law Office of Andrew Winston. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”