Mother Nature is impossible to predict. When it comes to cruising, you can plan around the weather all you want and still be faced with rainy days, rough seas that prevent you from visiting a specific port and storms that change your ship's original course. During the Atlantic hurricane season (June 1 through November 30), your chances of running into the aforementioned buzzkills are greater. But that doesn't mean you won't enjoy a sunny, tropical getaway.
Rest assured: You'll never actually sail into a tropical storm or hurricane. Unlike land-based hotels and resorts, cruise ships have an out. They can reroute to avoid dangerous conditions. While you'll likely have the opportunity to get your beach day and tan on, you just might not visit the destination you originally planned.
It's a gamble. But if you run the numbers, you'll see the likelihood of your cruise being affected by a storm is low. To find out if a cruise during hurricane season is worth the risk, we break down the reasons you should and shouldn't, and share our expert tips.
Price: Hurricane season deals prevail during peak storm season (mid-August to late October), when there's a greater chance your itinerary will be affected. For example, a five-night Carnival cruise to the Bahamas might cost $250 in September as opposed to $450 in July.
You're Safer at Sea: If a hurricane is bearing down on your resort in Jamaica or your hotel in Miami, your only options are to hunker down and wait out the storm or try to fly out before it hits. If you've booked a cruise, your captain can alter the ship's itinerary to avoid the hurricane's path, keeping you safe. You will never sail into the middle of a hurricane. Sure, you may end up visiting ports you hadn't planned on, but you'll get to enjoy activities on sea and on land rather than huddling in your hotel room or storm shelter, playing cards and hoping a palm tree doesn't fall on you.
Surprise Itineraries: Not knowing where you're headed can be exciting and puts a little extra suspense into your annual Caribbean cruise. If you're okay with change and don't have your heart set on specific ports, then you might love a hurricane season cruise. They're also good for travelers who just need a vacation, regardless of where it is.
Fewer Crowds, Fewer Kids: Peak hurricane season coincides with "back to school" season. Between the end of August and October, expect to see fewer kids and families. Plus, the fall is a slower travel season in general, and ships and ports won't be as packed with vacationers.
Last-Minute Itinerary Changes: If you will be devastated when your Bermuda cruise turns into a Bahamas cruise (or a Canada and New England cruise), then a hurricane season cruise is not for you. When a storm is forecasted, your captain will usually have a number of alternative plans to keep away from the storm, such as rearranging the order of ports so that none are missed or skipping one for an extra sea day. Only in the most extreme cases will the entire cruise destination be swapped. In any event, bear in mind that all the alterations are being made to keep you safe.
Canceled Shore Excursions: Missing a port is bad enough. Now imagine if you couldn't get a refund for your canceled shore excursion. Cruise lines will fully refund your shore excursion if the ship misses port, but not all independent tour operators do. Always check the fine print before you book. (More on independent shore excursions, below.)
Travel Delays: In rare cases, storms that directly hit homeports may prompt delays on land, air and sea. High winds, storm surge, flooding and damage to the cruise port, airport or area roads could prevent a ship from embarking or returning to port. Additionally, flight cancellations can hinder your schedule, even if you fly in early. You run the risk of missing your cruise departure, getting stuck in port waiting for a ship to depart or arriving home late and missing extra days of work and school.
Rough Seas: Cruise ships generally avoid hurricanes and tropical storms, but cruisers can experience rough seas if a ship is forced to pass through the outskirts of a storm.
Purchase Travel Insurance: The most important piece of advice we have for cruising during hurricane season is to purchase travel insurance. Travel insurance can cover you for cancellations and delays that aren't covered by the cruise line -- for example, if you miss a flight or part of your cruise due to bad weather. Make sure you know what's included in your plan, and purchase it early. Travel insurance only covers unexpected events, so it won't cover hurricane-related delays and trip interruptions after a storm has been forecasted.
Consider the Southern Caribbean: If you plan to cruise during hurricane season, we recommend a Southern Caribbean cruise in one of the peak months. Islands such as Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao are on the outskirts of the hurricane belt and tend to see less storm activity than those to the north. Itinerary-wise, it's the best bang for your buck.
The Southern Caribbean is the most exotic of the Caribbean regions and thus more expensive; it's less visited and full of lush rainforests and award-winning beaches. Between August and October, cruises here can cost a few hundred dollars less than what they would in say, July -- and in some cases, cheaper than a Bahamas cruise outside hurricane season.
Book Independent Shore Excursions Carefully: Big companies like ShoreTrips and Viator offer a full refund for canceled shore excursions, but smaller ones may not. If you choose not to book through the cruise line, we recommend going with a bigger tour operator that guarantees you'll get your money back.
Choose Your Flights Wisely: Typically, when a hurricane or storm causes a cruise ship delay, the cruise lines are more generous in assisting travelers who booked airfare through the line than with those who booked independently. Consider your cruise line's air-sea package if you're booking a late-summer or early-fall cruise during the peak of hurricane season. If you are committed to booking flights independently, you might want to go with a more major airline or one that has lots of flights into and out of your embarkation city, so you'll have more options if you need to rebook.
Be Prepared for the Worst: While the majority of hurricane season cruises take place as planned, yours might be the one that gets stuck at sea for an extra few days (or a week) or gets its itinerary switched around. Be prepared for all possible situations. Bring extra necessities (such as daily medications, seasickness remedies or diapers) in case your cruise gets unexpectedly extended, have contingency plans for childcare or petcare if you arrive home late, and carry contact information for your travel agent, airline and private tour guides in case you need to reschedule.
Have a Good Attitude: We think cruising during hurricane season is a chance worth taking, as long as you can go with the flow if your plans do change. Come prepared, and always remember that cruise lines are working hard to keep you safe at sea.
Updated February 20, 2020