Hurricane is a Dirty Word
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Its that time again, time for the dirtiest word in travel to rear its ugly head. Its Itâ€™s Hurricane season, yeah!!!. Ok, let's consider that half of the year is hurricane season since it runs June to November. The worst months though are August and September. That's not to say that you cannot get a deadly storm in the other months, but they are far more common during the two months with the most ideal conditions. As a cruise guide writer and as a cruise agent, the most frequent excuse I get from prospective travelers is that they are afraid to cruise during hurricane season. For some reason they have this notion that a ship will blindly venture into the path of a storm. Hardly. Nice thing about hurricanes is that generally you know where they will hit, at least a few days in advance. Most storms travel about 15 to 20 miles per hour and most cruise ships travel about 20 to 25 MPH. Now I am Blonde and not a math genius but think about it? Add this to the advance warning of Doppler radar and cruise lines have plenty of time and opportunity to alter courses to avoid any danger. In a bad case scenario, your may find that your port of call itinerary is changed. Worst case scenario is that your embarkation port of call is affected and you either have to stay out longer or return to an alternate port. In either case the cruise line will usually take care of all expenses involved due to the changes. This is not generally the case when land based trips are disrupted by storms.
So all those people in Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cancun who booked land based vacations in lieu of cruises during hurricane season are in for a rude awakening this week. As Hurricane Dean bore down on Jamaica as a category 4 storm, tourists scrambled to evacuate. Many airlines added extra flights to accommodate the tourists but nevertheless some were forced to remain. Of those who remained, remarkably some elected to stay voluntarily. They either refused to cut their vacations short or wanted to experience a hurricane first hand. As someone who has experienced these storms first hand, what a bunch of flippin fools. Fortunately for those in Jamaica, the island has plenty of high ground and many resorts do have hurricane proof structures for people to take shelter in. What I do not think they comprehend is how bad it can get. The actual storm is the easy part, it's the aftermath that gets uncomfortable No water, food or electricity (read no air conditioning). In fact the government in Jamaica cut off power to the island before the storm in order to preserve the power grid. Like with anything in Jamaica, do not expect it to be restored quickly.
Grand Cayman is a whole other ball of wax. This tiny narrow island sits barely above sea level with almost no ground higher than 7 feet above sea level. When sailing out in the bay on the far side of the island, you can see all of the cruise ships towering over the island up to 7 miles away. I remember my first trip to Grand Cayman, thinking to myself... â€ś this is the LAST place on earth I want to be when a storm hitsâ€ť. Tourists starting queuing up outside the airport days ahead of time, many camping out there for most of their vacations. Lines snaked for several hundred feet outside and order was kept by the police. While most of the tourists did manage to get out, not all were so lucky. They will now need to rely fully on the hospitality of the government as most of the resorts have been shuttered and abandoned. At this point Dean was only a category 4 and passed just to the south of the island. The coast of the Yucatan Peninsula was not so lucky.
After passing through the Caymans, the storm had hundreds of miles of open warm tropical water to build strength. It hit Mexico and Northern Belize as a Category 5 storm, the deadliest strength. Frequently ravaged Cancun and Cozumel to the north were spared a direct hit but will nonetheless have severe storm impact. Just like in Jamaica and Grand Cayman, tourists assaulted the airports in order to get a flight out. Airlines were helpful in accommodating passengers by sending several empty planes, but all the flights quickly sold out. They waived the fee for passengers to change their tickets but that doesn't do much but get them on a standby list for an over sold flight. It is not only the people currently in these destinations that will be affected by the storm. How about those who are scheduled to visit next week or the week after. Just because the threat of the storm has passed, does not mean that everything is back to normal. It can be weeks or even months before infrastructure is repaired enough to handle tourists.
I have visited Cozumel by ship many times. One trip in particular was in December of 2005. The island had been ravaged by Hurricane Wilma in October and suffered extensive damage. Cruise ships which bring an enormous amount of wealth to the island in the form of tourists were prevented from visiting the port for almost 2 months. Our visit in late December was 3 weeks after the port reopened and almost 3 months after the storm. The devastation was palpable even after so much time had passed. The ships were required to tender in (passengers taken to shore by small boats) because the docks had washed away. A small beach and bar that used to sit adjacent to the pier was now a rubble strewn heap. The Malecon (waterfront promenade) had recovered for the most part and almost all of the shops were open. The local roads did not seem to be moving along as quickly. Good example of the difference between capitalism and socialism. Although several of the hotels had reopened, it was apparent that many were still awaiting needed repairs. The merchants on this island know where their bread and butter are coming from and for that reason I believe the shops were probably ready to go sooner than anything else. Just imagine taking your dream vacation to a resort with leaky roofs and a garbage filled beach. Well, guess what, that is the reality of a hurricane's aftermath.
Letâ€™s compare the average passenger on cruise with that of a land based passenger. The land based passenger has to cut their trip short and spend stressful hours trying to evacuate whereas a cruise passenger is slightly inconvenienced at worst. According to the RCI website only 3 of their 15 ships sailing the Caribbean have altered itineraries this week. The itineraries will be altered only if damage from the storms prevent the ships from entering the port. Most other cruise lines are following similar suit. Therefore the worst case scenario for a cruise passenger is an altered port of call itinerary. They still get to enjoy their full week and not have to waste it trying to evacuate. Huh? They pay less and miss out on none of their vacation time due to hurricanes. Sounds like a case of cruise envy to me.