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Cruises after Irma: Expect ship reroutings, cancellations and credits

Hurricane Harvey forced Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the

Hurricane Harvey forced Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Sea, seen Aug. 29, 2017, to be diverted to Miami from the port in Galveston, Texas, due to heavy rains and flooding. Photo Credit: TNS via Getty Images / Miami Herald

With Florida and the Caribbean the epicenter of the American cruise industry, it’s easy to see how hurricanes can create havoc for travelers — especially when storms hit back to back like Harvey, Irma and now possibly Jose.

The good news is that cruise companies prioritize safety and have state-of-the-art weather-forecasting tools at their disposal.

“Cruising is the safest vacation available,” said Stewart Chiron from TheCruiseGuy.com. “I would much rather be safe on a cruise than dealing with Hurricane Irma.”

Cruise companies were swift in canceling and rerouting ships before and during Irma — on Sunday, for instance, the “Carnival Pride” ship left Baltimore for Halifax and Nova Scotia instead of its initial Bahamas destination; passengers had the option to cancel and get a credit. Royal Caribbean canceled its “Empress of the Seas” cruise to Cuba departing Sept. 13 and its “Majesty of the Seas” Bahamas cruise departing Sept. 15. (The ships will be used to help relief efforts, with fares and fees fully refunded and an offer of a 25 percent credit on a future cruise.)

More changes in departure ports and ports of call are to be expected.

“Norwegian Cruise Line will be shifting their ‘Norwegian Escape’ from the Eastern Caribbean to the Western Caribbean through at least November, and other cruise lines are sure to make similar announcements,” said Chris Gray Faust, senior editor at CruiseCritic.com. “We anticipate that some beloved ports on Eastern Caribbean itineraries will not be able to accept ships for several months as the islands rebuild. About a dozen ports have been impacted in some way. Some, like San Juan, have already begun taking tourists again. Others, like the dual-nationality island of St. Maarten/St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands, will likely take longer to recover.

“Florida is our country’s largest cruise hub, so there could be a massive impact. It all depends on how much the ports and cities are affected. Hurricane Harvey, for example, didn’t do much damage to Galveston’s port, but it remained closed for quite some time to allow for efforts in Houston to begin and airports to reopen to travelers.”

The longer term is even more murky for Caribbean cruises. “This is a storm unlike many we’ve seen before, and so it’s a waiting game as far as what it means for the industry and what steps lines might take to address future storms,” Faust said.

In the meantime, experts advise patience. The Disney Cruise Line’s contact center was closed on Sunday, with no date posted for its reopening; the website stated that “updates regarding any necessary itinerary changes will be posted beginning Sept. 12.”

Likewise, Norwegian’s Miami headquarters are not reopening until Sept. 13; expect a longer-than-usual wait if you try to reach the company’s call center.

“People booked on future sailings to certain itineraries should review cruise-line websites but not make any contact until the dust settles,” Chiron said. In any case, he said, “it’s always a good idea to purchase travel insurance.”

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