If the attractively priced fall Caribbean cruises have piqued your interest, be sure to begin your vacation planning process with knowledge and eyes wide open. Fall is hurricane season in the Caribbean and South Florida, where many Caribbean cruises depart from. These great deals on cruise fare might just have a catch.
Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, with hurricanes tending to be most active in September and October. Hurricane season follows the summer travel season, and you’ll almost always find lower cruise prices from September through November. The children are back at school and the cruise lines are working hard to attract vacationers.
Our family recently returned from a cruise in September which was about 40% less expensive than the identical cruise in June. We snagged the lower price and pulled our kids out of school. Then Hurricane Ian arrived. Here are eight things I wish I had known before booking a cruise during hurricane season.
1. Travel insurance/travel protection is important
Whether you purchase a Cruise Protection Plan as part of your cruise, a single trip policy, or comprehensive travel insurance that covers any trip you take during a specified period, make sure you have Something in case plans go wrong due to weather or any other reason.
Whatever type of coverage you get, be sure to be clear about your coverage. Specifically, make sure you understand what, when, and how hurricane or tropical storm coverage comes into play. In other words, get the insurance and read the fine print.
As a travel journalist, I have an annual policy that covers most things that can go wrong. If you’re not a frequent traveler, I recommend budgeting for coverage like you would any other travel-related expense. Speak to your trip planner or insurance representative for more specific advice, but in the case of hurricanes and tropical storms, the general rule is to make sure you buy coverage. before the storm has a name.
2. Your cruise probably won’t be canceled
Canceled cruises are rare. A cruise line is more likely to adjust the itinerary to circumvent the storm or delay departure than to cancel outright. It can be disconcerting knowing you’ve booked a vacation and watching a hurricane’s path unfold. If you’re an anxious traveler or can’t stand uncertainty, waiting to see what a storm will do is stressful.
Many cruise lines today join cruise-specific Facebook groups that allow them to connect with other passengers and ask cruise-related questions. If a tropical storm is looming, you can be sure that group discussions will turn to weather-related topics. In the group on my September 2022 cruise, there was a lot of panicked discussion as Gaston, Hermine and Ian took shape.
The most asked questions were about whether or not the cruise line canceled. Several band members said they proactively canceled their plans. While it’s not for me to call someone else’s reaction to bad weather unnecessary or knee-jerk, please be sure to understand the financial implications of canceling your cruise due to weather conditions. future or unknown.
If your cruise is canceled it will probably only be at the last minute. The cruise line will use email, text or in-app notifications to spread the message of cancellations, so make sure you’re signed up to receive alerts. Resist the temptation to call the cruise line. People handling the call center will not have information about weather-related cancellations.
3. Don’t be super attached to your itinerary
People choose cruises for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is choosing a cruise based on where the ship is going. Navigating around a storm may mean missing ports or stopping at ports in a different order than originally routed.
Our recent September cruise had three stops in the Bahamas. We booked harbor activities and packed our snorkel gear with our sights on lazy beach days and using our GoPro to capture underwater shenanigans. One stop was completely skipped. We had an extra day at sea to avoid the storm. A stop was almost as planned but ended early due to a torrential downpour. The stop that went as planned (Nassau) was the day we had booked activities on the ship.
We still had a great time. There was some disappointment on the snorkeling adventure that wasn’t. When I planned this cruise I was very excited for the 2 days where the plans went a little south due to the weather. I had a little trouble staying positive. At the end of the day, I kept in mind that I was on a nice boat with my family and someone else was doing the cooking and cleaning.
4. Know the cancellation policy for shore excursions
If you book your shore excursions through the cruise line, cancellations due to missed ports of call will be automatic. In most cases, customer services will help you make a new reservation. If you booked a shore excursion outside of the cruise line, you may need to do a little more leg work.
Make sure you know what happens to your money if your ship skips a port or your port day changes. Most independent tour operators require customers to pay in full when booking. Make sure you know the refund policy.
5. Know your tender ports
Sometimes your cruise ship will dock directly in a port. Other times the ship will drop anchor offshore and you will take a smaller boat (tender) ashore. Whether a ship will dock or use a tender can depend on several factors: the size of the ship, the size of the port, the number of other ships in the port or the depth of the water.
If the sea is rough, using a dinghy to disembark may not be safe. If the tender is the only option for guests to disembark, this could be a factor in the decision to skip a stop in the event of bad weather. If your litmus test for cruising success hinges on a particular port, knowing if it’s a tender port can help you manage expectations…or prepare for a little more motion sickness.
6. Pack extra seasickness remedies
Although most ship’s infirmaries provide remedies for seasickness, I always recommend bringing your own. If this is your first cruise and you’re not sure if you’re seasick, I suggest packing a few different options. If you’re sailing during stormy season, you’re more likely to encounter rough seas, so be sure to pack some extra.
I don’t usually get seasick, but did have a slight discomfort on our last cruise. Our captain and crew did a fantastic job getting around Hurricane Ian, but I definitely felt the movement of the ship more than normal. It didn’t get bad enough where I needed to take medication, but I was glad I had more.
My husband is the motion sickness guy in our family. He uses a Relief Band, which is a bracelet that sends an electric current to his median nerve to prevent nausea. It also doubles up when the sea is very rough and uses transdermal patches. This is what I use for my kids if they start to experience motion sickness symptoms.
7. Your cruise might not be affected, but your return trip might be
If a storm has made landfall or your port is under storm watch/warning, your return flight may be delayed or cancelled. Although there’s not much you can do about it, being aware that it’s a possibility can help you formulate a plan B, if necessary.
Don’t travel broke. If you need to stay in a hotel due to a canceled flight, make sure you have the resources to do so. Expect to pay more or have to travel far from the port/airport to find accommodation. If it happens to you, it will also happen to others.
Know your airline’s change policy. Our return flight was heading in the same direction as the storm. Ian had made landfall while we were at sea and traveling north, so we found another flight that avoided the direction of the storm. Our airline waived the change fee for travel related to Ian and we got a flight that suited us better.
8. Trust the cruise line
Accepting the unknowns and the things you can’t control is a big part of cruise travel during hurricane season. The cruise line and crew know this is hurricane season and place a high priority on protecting passengers, their resources and their personnel. They’re not going to lead you into a storm and put you in danger so you can get scared and have a lousy vacation.
If you’re going on a cruise during hurricane season, you need to be able to trust these things and resign yourself to going with the flow (literally) and not knowing every step of sausage making. Start watching the weather forecast a week from now and be informed, but agree with yourself and your travel party that the cruise line has everyone’s best interests at heart.
Would I do it again?
Now that I went on a cruise during a hurricane, would I book another cruise during hurricane season?
I’m a “never say never” traveler and I’m a sucker for a bargain. That said, I told my husband that I didn’t want to book another cruise during hurricane season. We moved a cruise we had booked for September 2023 to later in the year, which significantly increased the price of our cruise.
I’m a seasoned enough traveler to know flexibility is important, and we were able to pivot and still have a great trip. I don’t regret taking this cruise and the time spent with my family, but if we book again during hurricane season, I will approach it differently. I would make sure I was more invested in enjoying the ship and less invested in being in a particular port on a particular day. If you can embrace that philosophy and live with a little last-minute uncertainty in your travel plans, then go grab these fall cruise deals.
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