Hurricane Paula Skirts Cozumel Cruise Port, Surges Toward Cuba

October 13, 2010

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(11 a.m. EDT) -- Hurricane Paula, the sixteenth named storm of the active 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season, is surging toward the western tip of Cuba, hours after skirting the popular cruise port of Cozumel and sparking some nine cruise ship itinerary changes.

According to the Associated Press, there were no immediate reports this morning of major damage to Mexico's Yucatan resorts. More than 1,800 tourists remained on Cozumel after authorities suspended all sea transportation, but city officials said only a family of six had arrived late Tuesday at one of three emergency shelters made available.

In its 11 a.m. update, the National Hurricane Center reports that Paula is currently located about 80 miles east-southeast of Cabo Catoche (on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula) and 65 miles west-southwest of the western tip of Cuba. Maximum sustained winds remain at around 100 miles per hour, making Paula, the ninth hurricane in the Atlantic this year, a Category Two storm. The latest NHC tracking shows the storm twisting eastward over the Yucatan Channel today and weakening as it approaches western Cuba late tonight or early Thursday.

A hurricane warning remains in place for parts of western Cuba; at this point, the Mexican government has discontinued the hurricane warning for the Yucatan Peninsula and replaced it with a tropical storm warning.

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 on Tuesday a little earlier than scheduled and departed a little earlier as a result.

Carnival Valor, which was in Grand Cayman on Tuesday, headed 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 was in Grand Cayman on Tuesday, altered its original itinerary, which called for stops in Cozumel (Wednesday), Roatan (Thursday) and Belize (Friday). The ship will now call in Ocho Rios 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 is calling in Veracruz today (Wednesday) instead.

Carnival Triumph also swapped two ports for one to avoid Paula. Instead of stopping in Progreso and Cozumel, the ship is visiting Key West today (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 is no longer calling in Belize City, Roatan or Costa Maya as originally planned. The revised itinerary includes visits to Half Moon Cay (HAL's private resort island) on Wednesday and Grand Turk on Thursday.

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

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line declined to make any itinerary changes.

Weather Outlook: Next Affected Ships & Ports

Winds are expect to increase over the lower and middle Florida Keys late Thursday, so a tropical storm watch is now in effect for the Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas, a swath that includes Key West. The tropical storm warning means that tropical storm force winds are possible soon, typically within the next 48 hours. Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas and Carnival Destiny are expected there on Friday; neither line has announced any itinerary changes.

The hurricane warning for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio, which is located roughly 100 miles from Havana, remains in place. There are no cruise ships currently scheduled to visit Havana. (While U.S. lines do not visit Cuba's capital, British lines Fred. Olsen and Thomson Cruises do make calls there.)
We'll keep you posted.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor