Hurricanes and the Cruise Line Industry

Hurricanes and the Cruise Line Industry


For the most current hurricane updates for your cruise line, please click the links below.

For Current Weather Conditions and Tropical Storm Updates:


What is a hurricane?

According to the National Hurricane Center, "hurricane" is a name for a tropical cyclone, or low-pressure systems that develop in tropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean. In North America, we call them hurricanes, but in other parts of the world they are also called cyclones and typhoons.

Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 mph are called "tropical depressions." Once the tropical cyclone reaches winds of at least 39 mph it is typically called a tropical storm and assigned a name. If winds reach 74 mph then it is called a hurricane.

Hurricanes are defined by the following characteristics:

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When is hurricane season?

Hurricane season officially begins June 1st and continues through November 30th. During this period, tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes form in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Many of these storms stay out at sea, but some threaten the Caribbean, the eastern and gulf coasts of the United States, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. If you plan to cruise at this time its possible that a storm could be present and affect your travel.

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How are hurricanes named?

According to the National Hurricane Center, the word "hurricane" comes from the name "Hurican," the Caribbean god of evil. To better track hurricanes, weather officials decided to name them and the names are chosen by the World Meteorological Organization. The first hurricane of the season is given a name starting with the letter A, the second with the letter B and so on.

Hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean are assigned a different set of names than Atlantic storms. For example, the first hurricane of the 2001 hurricane season was a Pacific Ocean storm near Acapulco, Mexico, named Adolf. The first Atlantic storm of the 2001 season would be named Allison.

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How are hurricanes categorized?

Once a hurricane forms, it is rated on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. There are five categories in this rating system determined by the sustained wind speed found within the storm. This directly relates to the effects the storm will have when it makes landfall including the depth of the storm surge and the extent of the flooding and structural damage it causes.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

Category Wind Speed Effects

Cat 1

74 to 95 mph
(119 to 153 kph)
  • Storm surge 4 to 5 ft (1.2 to 1.5 m) above normal
  • Some flooding
  • Little or no structural damage

Cat 2

96 to 110 mph
(155 to 177 kph)
  • Storm surge 6 to 8 ft (1.8 to 2.4 m) above normal
  • Trees down
  • Roof damage (shingles ripped off)

Cat 3

111 to 130 mph
(178.6 to 209 kph)
  • Storm surge 9 to 12 ft (2.7 to 3.7 m) above normal
  • Structural damage in houses
  • Mobile homes destroyed
  • Severe flooding

Cat 4

131 to 154 mph
(210 to 247.8 kph)
  • Storm surge 13 to 18 ft (4 to 5.5 m) above normal
  • Severe flooding inland
  • Some roofs ripped off
  • Major structural damage

Cat 5

>155 mph
(> 249.4 kph)
  • Storm surge at least 18 ft (5.5 m) above normal
  • Severe flooding further inland
  • Serious damage to most wooden structures

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What's the difference between a Hurricane Watch and a Hurricane Warning?

The Weather Channel Online lists four weather alerts for tropical storms and hurricanes.

A tropical-storm watch is issued when sustained winds from 39 to 73 mph are possible in your area within 36 hours. A tropical-storm warning indicates that these conditions are likely in your area within 24 hours.

A hurricane watch is issued when hurricane conditions, sustained winds greater than 74 mph, are possible in your area within 36 hours. A hurricane warning is issued when these conditions are likely in your area within 24 hours.

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Are cruises ever canceled because of hurricanes?

The Number One priority of any cruise line is the safety and comfort of their passengers and crew. The cruise line will only cancel the cruise if absolutely necessary. The cruise lines know how much youve been looking forward to your vacation, and they also realize that it may not be possible for you to take your trip at another time. With that in mind, they will make every effort to provide their guests with a comfortable and satisfying cruise experience, as long as its possible to work around any safety concerns.

In many situations in the past, ships have been able to adhere to their scheduled embarkation and disembarkation dates, and get out to sea before the storm gets too close to land. But there are rare cases when a cruise must be cancelled.

In 1992 Hurricane Andrew made landfall just south of Miami on a Monday morning. Because the safest place for a ship is at sea and away from the storm, the cruise lines delayed the return of all ships due in to Miami on Sunday, the day before the storm, and again on the Monday when the storm came ashore. Therefore, those passengers already at sea enjoyed an extended vacation and the cruises that were scheduled to sail on Monday were cancelled. However, since hurricanes pass quickly, cruise schedules are usually back on track in just a few days.

Your cruise line will be closely monitoring the situation in the days leading up to the storm. In an effort to minimize the affect of the storm on ship departures and schedules, they will avoid making announcements more than one or two days in advance of your scheduled sailing. The best thing to do it to watch the cruise lines website for the most up-to-date information.

At we will also be staying on top of things for you. If your booking is potentially affected we will call you and keep you informed.

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Can the cruise line change my cruise itinerary because of a hurricane?

Yes, a cruise line can change your cruise itinerary and they make that clear on their websites, tickets and brochures. This is the most common way that the cruise lines avoid hurricanes and still provide their guests with the safe, cruise vacation theyve been looking forward to.

Although hurricanes can be quite large and even span may miles, they are very localized storms. Outside the perimeter of the storm the skies are clear and the seas can be surprisingly calm. And even though the winds inside the storm move at incredible speeds, the storms themselves move across the ocean quite slowly on a relatively predictable path and can be tracked for days. The National Hurricane Center in Miami uses highly sophisticated equipment to anticipate the storms movement, plus, cruise ships also have state-of-the-art technology to monitor weather conditions. Using this data, its easy for the cruise line to make decisions about re-routing the ships itinerary.

Its important to know that every cruise line can change any itinerary at any time, and for any reason, without advance notice. That includes altering the arrival and departure times in the ports of call, changing the order of the ports, or substituting one or all of the ports on the itinerary. Again, these measures are only taken when absolutely necessary for the enjoyment of the passengers, and the safety of everyone on board. So to avoid too much disappointment its best not to choose a cruise just for one port of call.

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What happens if theres a hurricane during my cruise and when will I know whats going on?

If there is a hurricane present during the time when you are scheduled to take your cruise, the cruise line will probably reschedule your itinerary to an area away from the projected path of the storm.

If it is anticipated that the hurricane may affect your port of embarkation and/or disembarkation, its possible that the cruise line may be forced to not only reschedule your itinerary but also your departure or arrival time. For example, your ship may change its departure time to a few hours earlier than scheduled so that it can stay ahead of the storm.

Your cruise line will be closely monitoring the situation in the days leading up to the storm. In an effort to minimize the affect of the storm on ship departures and schedules, they will avoid making announcements more than one or two days in advance of your scheduled sailing. The best thing to do it to watch the cruise lines website for the most up-to-date information.

At we will also be staying on top of things for you. If your booking is potentially affected we will call you and keep you informed.

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Can I choose to cancel or reschedule my cruise if a hurricane threatens?

Unfortunately, not without incurring a penalty or incurring additional costs. The best thing to do is to be as patient as possible until the cruise line has made a formal announcement.

By the time its determined that a hurricane will be affecting the departure of a specific cruise, all of the reservations for that date will probably be in a 100 percent cancellation penalty period with the cruise line. That means that any voluntary cancellation on the part of the guest, for any reason whatsoever, will be penalized.

In addition, the cruise line treats a request to postpone or reschedule a reservation as a cancellation of the original booking, and it will be subject to the cancellation penalty. Plus, a new booking must be made at whatever rate is applicable at the time so you may have to pay more for the very same cruise.

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Will a cruise ship visit a port that has been hit by a hurricane?

After a hurricane has passed the cruise line will assess the situation at hand and visit a port of call as long as its safe and able to support your expectations of the port experience.

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Will travel insurance help me if I cant make it to the ship because of a hurricane or if my cruise is cancelled?

Most travel protection plans have provisions that offer coverage in the event of a natural disaster which would cause you to miss the ship, provided the policy was purchased prior to the development of the storm, or the realization that it may affect your cruise itinerary.

For example, in August of 2004, both Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley were predicted to come ashore in Florida and it was anticipated that they would affect ship arrivals and departures, as well as passengers ability to travel to the port of embarkation. With that in mind, travel protection companies notified travel agents that policies purchased after the formal announcement made by the National Weather Service would no longer afford coverage for trip cancellation associated with these storms. The important point to remember is that travel protection is designed to be a preventative measure.

Unfortunately, its not possible to predict the outcome of cancellations or interruptions to your trip due to weather-related circumstances; nor is it possible to predict the outcome of a travel insurance claim. However, travel protection is always highly recommended because it is unwise to rely completely on a possible goodwill gesture from the cruise line, and it may make the difference between having some possible recourse or having none at all.

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Where can I learn more about hurricanes?

There are a lot of good websites you can refer to for more information. Much of the general content about hurricanes found in this article came from a very informative site named

The Weather Channels site at offers tropical updates, satellite photos, maps and more.

The National Hurricane Centers website at has a complete section called Learn About Hurricanes and a Hurricane History Center which is great for school projects. You can even print hurricane tracking maps just like the pros use.

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Last Updated : Dec 2011

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