Late September’s hurricanes Irma and Maria had an unprecedented effect on the cruise industry, resulting in more than 100 canceled, delayed, or rerouted cruises and 44 ports-of-call impacted. While some islands in the Caribbean were left relatively unscathed (St. Kitts and Antigua, for example), others, notably St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Florida's Key West, were battered. While the islands work to rebuild, cruise lines have scrambled to modify itineraries and deliver much-needed assistance to the affected ports. In the wake of the disasters, we’ve rounded up the five most pressing questions that you might have about your upcoming fall or winter cruise.
For more cruise-related hurricane information, visit Cruise Critic's Hurricane hub. (Cruise Critic is owned by TripAdvisor, Oyster.com's parent company.)
Will my cruise still sail?
Most likely, yes. While some cruises were canceled during and immediately after the hurricanes, many lines are back up and running, albeit with modified itineraries. Of course, hurricane season doesn’t officially end until November 30, so there is a possibility that your sailing could be affected should another hurricane pop up.
What Eastern Caribbean ports are closed? When will they reopen?
At this time of this writing, eight of the most popular Caribbean destinations, including St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, St. Barts and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, are closed to ships in the coming weeks and months. Some ports, such as Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos, remain closed now but might open for sailings as soon as early November.
If we can’t go to our first ports, where will we go instead?
Cruise lines are working to reroute Eastern Caribbean itineraries to stop in ports that were less affected by Hurricane Irma and Maria, such as Basseterre in St. Kitts, or Bridgetown in Barbados. In the case of Norwegian, all of their Eastern Caribbean cruises are rerouted along Western Caribbean routes, so your new ports of call may include Cozumel, Jamaica, or Belize. Several Carnival cruises that departed in mid-September onward are also making stops at Cozumel, and Nassau, Bahamas. The Bahamas were minimally affected, so it’s likely that Freeport and Nassau will see an influx of ships in the coming months.
Can I get my money back if I’m unhappy with the new itinerary?
When you book a cruise, you sign contract that allows the cruise line to change your itinerary for any reason -- including a natural disaster. While some cruises were outright canceled and therefore passengers were refunded, a rerouted trip doesn’t entitle you to a refund. During the hurricanes, however, many lines offered good-will gestures of refunds or rescheduling to those who didn’t wish to cruise.
How can I help those affected while I’m on my cruise?
Cruising in the wake of such a disaster poses an ethical dilemma for many travelers, who are left wondering how they can help those who have potentially lost everything in the storms. After the storms, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line delivered supplies to areas in need, and Carnival is subsequently providing supplies to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Grand Turk, and Key West. In fact, it’s possible that your ship might stop at a port in need to drop off supplies before continuing on your itinerary.
Additionally, both cruise lines have set up donation sites to encourage their guests to give-- Royal Caribbean will be matching donations up to $1 million, and Carnival has pledged up to $10 million in funding.
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