On its New York to Bermuda run this week I was among 4,800 passengers sailing aboard Norwegian Breakaway who got some bad news. Hurricane Cristobal, a late-developing storm that gave a lashing to the Dominican Republic and Haiti and bounced tropical showers off the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas, is headed straight for, you guessed it, our three port days in Bermuda.
As a result, our voyage will feature stops at Florida’s Port Canaveral and the Bahamas’ Nassau. Nice, but not quite, dare we say…the ports we’d all planned for.
Welcome to peak season hurricane cruising. While storms can occur anytime between the months of June to November (and even occasionally earlier or later), mid-August to mid-October is prime time. This affects itineraries primarily, but not exclusively, in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Atlantic Canada, the Mexican Riviera and Hawaii. (In Asia, at the same time, typhoon season can plague itineraries there.)
The good thing about cruise travel vs. resort stays in potentially affected regions?
“A cruise ship is the safest place to be in a hurricane,” said our captain, Evans Hoyt. “Because we can choose to be where the hurricane is not.”
Celebrity Summit, which had also planned a three day Bermuda port stop, was also affected, as was Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas, which left Bermuda a day early to avoid the storm.
In a PowerPoint presentation in Breakaway’s atrium Monday, Captain Hoyt calmly discussed the unusual move of changing a ship’s entire itinerary — midcruise. He showed graphics of the track of the storm with the National Hurricane Center as his source. He explained the factors behind the decision (the sudden transformation of our sunny morning to an ominous dark cloud situation in the afternoon provided helpful visual support). When he was done, the several-thousand-strong group of passengers ringing the atrium applauded. That’s right. Their vacations were completely uprooted and yet, passengers still clapped.
Overheard, afterward, a passenger — completely calm — said, “I’m on a ship so I’m already in my happy place.” In contrast, another passenger who had (according to the rumor mill at the forward elevator bank) planned a wedding on one of the Bermuda port days, was livid and loudly demanding compensation.
In Cruise Critic’s Hurricane Zone, we offer lots of advice about cruising during the almost half-a-year period in which storms could possibly disrupt your trip. And while you can find it there, some of it bears repeating.
*Weather — at a resort or on a cruise ship — is not guaranteed. Tread carefully when it comes to planning major life events on shore at this time of year. Investigate insurance possibilities.
*If you have booked your port tour through your cruise line, it will of course refund the money should the ship not make it to port. But independent tour operators are a grey area; before you commit, make sure you understand what their cancellation policies are should your ship not make it to port. In this case, Viator, an independent operator we’d booked a tour with, told us it would refund Breakaway passengers who’d purchased its Bermuda tours.
*Flipping an entire itinerary is highly unusual (more typically storms may re-order port schedules or drop a stop to avoid bad weather), but cruise lines have no liability for such changes.
*Once kids go back to school (mid-August to mid-September), hurricane season cruises are just about the best deals you can get. But remember the catch.
In our case, Captain Hoyt’s decision to abruptly change our route meant that the sea turned calm and the once-threatening sky turned happy again; cheers and shrieks resumed from families having fun at the pools, ropes course and waterslides; and the Maltings Bar on the ship’s Waterfront was packed with passengers sipping whiskey and playing Mah Jongg.
All that’s left is to hope, fervently, that Bermudians stay safe and the island is spared.