Hurricane Paula Scatters More Cruise Ships as It Barrels Toward Cozumel

October 12, 2010
(5:20 p.m. EDT) -- A strengthened Hurricane Paula, the sixteenth named storm of the active 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season, continues to twist toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, a region that includes the popular cruise port of Cozumel. The storm has prompted a trio of lines to alter itineraries for numerous ships in the region.

According to the National Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. EDT update, Paula is currently located about 105 miles south-southeast of Cozumel and 185 miles south-southwest of the western coast of Cuba. Maximum sustained winds have shot up to 100 miles per hour, making Paula a Category Two storm. The latest NHC tracking shows the center of the storm approaching the east coast of the Yucatan by Wednesday and western Cuba by Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

The NHC calls Paula a "small but powerful storm," and hurricane force winds extend outward just 15 miles.

Cruise Ship Itinerary Changes

Carnival Cruise Lines has tweaked itineraries for Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Elation, Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Triumph, Carnival Legend, Carnival Valor and Carnival Conquest. To steer clear of Paula, Inspiration and Elation arrived in Cozumel today (Tuesday) "a little earlier than scheduled and are departing a little earlier as a result."

Carnival Valor, which is in Grand Cayman today (Tuesday), will head east to say out of Paula's path. The revised itinerary includes stops in Ocho Rios (Wednesday) and Nassau (Friday). The original voyage called for stops in Roatan, Belize and Cozumel.

Carnival Legend, which is in Grand Cayman today (Tuesday) will no longer visit Cozumel (Wednesday), Roatan (Thursday) and Belize (Friday). The ship will now call in Ocho Rios in Jamaica on Thursday (a three-for-one trade).

Carnival Ecstasy will no longer call in Progreso and Cozumel as originally planned. The ship is swapping two ports for one and will call in Veracruz on Wednesday instead.

Carnival Triumph is also swapping two ports for one to avoid Paula. Instead of stopping in Progreso and Cozumel, the ship will visit Key West on Wednesday.

Carnival Conquest's revised itinerary features calls in Montego Bay (Wednesday) and Key West (Friday) instead of Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel as originally planned.

Because some cruises have been dramatically altered, Carnival is offering compensation to some impacted passengers. Company spokesman Vance Gulliksen tells us that, "In addition to receiving a refund of government fees and taxes for the ports missed, guests on the Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Triumph, Carnival Legend, Carnival Conquest and Carnival Valor will receive a 20 percent discount on a future cruise." Per Carnival's inclement weather policy, Imagination and Elation passengers won't get compensation because the line maintained the original number of scheduled calls (rather than reduce that number, as in the other cases).

Holland America has altered the itinerary for Ryndam due to the expected effects from Hurricane Paula. The ship will no longer call at Belize City, Roatan or Costa Maya as originally planned. The revised itinerary includes Half Moon Cay (HAL's private resort island) on Wednesday and Grand Turk on Thursday.

Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Solstice will also sail a modified itinerary. Instead of visiting Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Costa Maya and Roatan as originally planned, Solstice will call in Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Labadee (sister line Royal Caribbean's private beach resort in Haiti) and Nassau.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have yet to make any itinerary changes. Both lines are closely monitoring the situation.

Weather Outlook: Next Affected Ships & Ports

A hurricane warning is in effect for the east coast of Mexico from Punta Gruesa to Cabo Catoche, a swath that includes Cozumel. The Cuban government has also issued a hurricane warning for the province of Pinar del Rio, which is located roughly 100 miles from Havana. The warnings mean that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the designated areas, typically 36 hours before the first tropical storm force winds reach the area. The NHC expects Paula to begin to deteriorate as it nears western Cuba.

We'll keep you posted.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor