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(8:15 p.m. EDT) -- Hurricane Earl, the fifth named storm of the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season, is strengthening as it closes in on the islands of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. Numerous Caribbean islands are on high alert, and in anticipation of the storm, Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean and NCL have announced itinerary changes.
According to the National Hurricane Center's (NHC) 8 p.m. update, Earl is some 185 miles east of the joint island of St. Martin/St. Maarten. Given the current forecast track for Earl, tropical storm conditions are expected to materialize in the northern Leeward Islands, which include the popular cruise ports of St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Tortola, starting later tonight and into tomorrow. Hurricane conditions are expected to follow shortly after. Earl is currently a Category One storm with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour; the storm is forecast to grow into a major hurricane (winds of 111 m.p.h.-plus) sometime tomorrow.
Cruise Ship Itinerary Changes
Carnival Cruise Lines has changed the itinerary for Carnival Dream, which departed from Port Canaveral on Saturday. Instead of sailing an Eastern Caribbean cruise with stops in Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten, the ship will sail a Western Caribbean route and visit Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Costa Maya.
Carnival Pride, which left from Baltimore today, will no longer visit Grand Turk on Wednesday as originally planned. The itinerary will now include Port Canaveral (Wednesday), Nassau (Thursday) and Freeport (Friday).
Carnival Victory will change the sequence of ports and will no longer call in St. Maarten. The ship will remain at sea tomorrow instead of visiting St. Thomas as originally planned. Victory will now call in St. Thomas next Saturday before concluding the cruise in San Juan on Sunday (on schedule).
Royal Caribbean has altered the itineraries of both Oasis of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas. Enchantment, which left Baltimore on Thursday, will call on San Juan tomorrow. On Monday, it will visit Samana, Dominican Republic instead of St. Thomas, as originally scheduled. It will stop in Labadee on Tuesday and spend Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at sea as it returns to Baltimore on Saturday.
Oasis will be unable to make its scheduled port calls in St. Thomas on Tuesday and St. Maarten on Wednesday. Instead, the ship will make an extended visit to Nassau on Sunday, spend Monday and Tuesday at sea, and call on Costa Maya on Wednesday and Cozumel on Thursday. It will then spend Friday at sea as it returns to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, as scheduled.
NCL has changed the itinerary for Norwegian Epic, which left from Miami today. The ship will now call in Cozumel and Roatan in place of St. Maarten and St. Thomas. Epic's call in Nassau on Friday has been extended.
A statement on NCL's Web site says that Norwegian Dawn will depart New York as scheduled on Sunday, August 29, but there is a possibility of an itinerary change depending on the storm's path.
A representative from Princess Cruises say that there are no changes for Emerald Princess, which is sailing in the Western Caribbean (outside the current scope of the storm).
Weather Outlook: Next Affected Ships & Ports
Hurricane warnings are in effect for St. Maarten, St. Barth's, Antigua, St. Kitt's and the British Virgin Islands (which include Tortola), among others. According to the NHC, a hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected within the warning area in the near future, in this case within 12 to 24 hours. Tropical storm conditions are expected in this warning area in the next few hours. Hurricane watches are also in effect the Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which include St. Thomas. A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within 24 to 36 hours. Tropical storm conditions should be present in the watch area by Monday.
We'll keep you posted.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor
Other Hurricane News
Hurricane Earl Closing in on Caribbean Ports, Impacting Cruises