Cruise Guide: Cruise lines brace for hurricanes

By Mike Coleman

My e-mail inbox is usually filled each week with questions from readers who are either planning a first voyage or are so enthralled by the cruise vacation experience that they seek advice about an upcoming sailing.

I’m constantly asked to name the best of the best: Who operates the best cruise line? Who has the world’s best ship? Who serves the best cuisine? What line is best for families? Is cruising really one of the best vacation experiences?

When answering such queries I usually shy away from selecting just one cruise line. After all, today’s mega-liners and their intimate counterparts can easily provide a memorable vacation experience for first-time or experienced cruise passengers. What it really boils down to when choosing a trip on the high seas is individual taste and how much potential passengers are prepared to pay for the voyage.

This time of year, the correspondence tone changes dramatically. Best-of-the-best queries were relegated to the back burner, as local readers collectively sought the answer to but one question: How safe is cruise ship travel during hurricane season?

According to officials at the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), North America’s largest cruise industry organization, representing 24 member lines (over 150 ships) and 17,000 travel agencies, passenger and crew safety is a paramount concern.

“Passengers should rest assured that CLIA-member lines have the latest technology and information to closely monitor weather conditions and take all actions necessary to make certain its passengers enjoy a safe and enjoyable cruise vacation,” said CLIA president and chief executive, Terry Dale.

In the event of severe weather conditions, said Dale, cruise lines follow strict operational protocols. Because ships are mobile, cruise lines are able to alter, cancel, shorten or extend ship itineraries to keep passengers safe. Modern cruise ships also feature technologically-advanced weather forecasting systems, which enable cruise lines to reposition a ship well in advance of significant weather-related disturbances.

In addition, ships are able to work around port closures caused by severe weather conditions. In the event that ports of embarkation and debarkation are closed, cruise lines can use an alternative port. In such cases, cruise lines also coordinate the logistics of loading food and supplies and getting passengers to and from the original port.

By means of e-mail, telephone calls or overnight express, cruise lines also effectively communicate potential itinerary changes to their passengers, right up to their respective sailing dates. There’s simply too much at stake for today’s major cruise lines not to take proactive and preventative means to ensure passenger, crew and vessel safety prior to or during a storm.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, with peak activity occurring through October.