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How cruise lines weather tropical storms

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On September - 12 - 2008

Cruise line operations managers are seasoned sailors employed by cruise lines to make daily operational decisions. They also have a reputation for being unflappable in stressful situations. But managers for Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Lines have been getting the ultimate test of their cool under pressure these past two weeks with three hurricanes in a row and a tropical storm in the Pacific.

War room

“We’ve gone through 36 hurricane seasons,” says Tim Gallagher, Carnival’s vice president of public relations, “So it’s not really new to us.” Carnival activated its emergency command center last week when Hurricane Gustav strengthened and threatened the line’s homeports of Galveston and Mobile.

Gallagher says the command center is a conference room located in a “hurricane resistant” area of Carnival Cruise Lines’ complex – an important factor if the storms directly impact the South Florida area. The entire building is supported by generator backup so the command center has an uninterrupted power supply.

Inside the situation room are multiple large-screen televisions with information from the National Hurricane Center, NOAA, satellite weather information, and a map showing the locations of various ships. Additionally, there are multiple computer connections for laptops and phone land lines so Carnival can speak directly to any ship’s bridge and its captain.

Gallagher says meetings between various departments are convened three times a day — more if necessary. Carnival’s command center is headed up by the vice president of port operations, Captain Domenico Tringale. His department monitors the storms, stays in touch with the U.S. Coast Guard, and keeps tabs on ports to come up with the safest strategy for all affected vessels.

In turn, port operations coordinates with the various departments at Carnival. For example, notifying the air/sea department who may have to change flights or ground transportation for affected customers. In addition, public relations will get the word out to the media, post information on the company’s Web site, and work with affected ships in communicating port changes to the guests.

Likewise, Royal Caribbean International has a very similar operation set up to Carnival. ”I remember a few times when we had sleepovers in the office keeping track of all the ships while hurricanes were blowing outside,” said Michael Sheehan, associate vice president of corporate communications at Royal Caribbean.

He notes it’s a complex operation that requires enormous teamwork. “There is no one way to deal with a hurricane,” says Sheehan. He says each storm is dealt with on a case by case basis with factors including size, speed, and direction in order to figure out how it will impact an itinerary. He goes on to say there are a “myriad of issues” involved including how far the winds go out from the storm that could affect ports not directly impacted by the storm. “We try to minimize the itinerary changes, but safety always comes first,” he said.

Ship shuffle

The good news for travelers on cruises affected by hurricanes is that unlike a hotel, a ship can move out of the way. Cruise lines work hard to keep guests onboard their ships entertained and safe like a normal cruise. Guests are kept updated on the storm situation and the captain tries to keep the vessel in good weather.

Currently, Hurricane Ike has redirected six Royal Caribbean ships to revise itineraries and substitute some ports of call. Carnival has eight vessels that are affected with revised port schedules with several having to skip Grand Turk due to extensive damage to the cruise center there. That port is expected to reopen in October.

Nevertheless, the big story for Carnival is its Galveston homeport near where Hurricane Ike is expected to make landfall. Despite the mandatory evacuation in Galveston, the Carnival Ecstasy sailed on schedule Thursday evening — albeit in a different direction than originally planned — to avoid Hurricane Ike. The new itinerary calls for the ship to visit Veracruz, Mexico on Saturday instead of Cozumel. Carnival says the Carnival Conquest is still expected to sail on Sunday from Galveston.

Not all the storm action is Caribbean-based. Tropical Storm Lowell is wreaking havoc with Mexican Riviera itineraries out of San Diego and Los Angeles. The Carnival Elation had to skip Cabo San Lucas and Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas had to skip Mazatlan.

Passenger rights

So, what happens to guests on current cruises that are affected by the storms? Whenever a cruise is canceled, passengers are entitled to a full refund. All cruise lines reserve the right to skip or change ports during a cruise — a normal occurrence in hurricane season. Cruise lines aren’t required to compensate passengers in those instances, but some do offer partial refunds, shipboard credits or discounts on a future cruise. Carnival allows customers to cancel without penalty if a ship’s departure port changes and passengers on Royal Caribbean who chose to cancel will be given a credit toward a future cruise, but not a refund.

For guests sailing who find their travel plans interrupted by a storm, both lines allow passengers to call family and if needed help with changing flight arrangements. However, sometimes a ship may not be able to return on schedule, which was the case last week for the Carnival Fantasy out of Mobile. Hurricane Gustav forced the ship to extend the voyage by two days. The ship returned too late for guests to catch their flights, so Carnival paid for hotels rooms along with changing airline reservations.

In the end, it’s all about doing the right thing. “We apologize to all of our guests who have had their vacations disrupted by itinerary changes as a result of hurricanes, but our focus throughout is the safety of our guests and crew,” says Carnival’s Gallagher.

52 Responses to “How cruise lines weather tropical storms”

  1. “Whenever a cruise is canceled, passengers are entitled to a full refund.” It seems good,however ,I think that passengers should receive more compensation.

  2. I hope cruise customers understand that any changes in a cruise itinerary are in the passenger and crew’s best interest – safety first!

  3. Groepsreizen says:

    Actually, this is good advertising for Carnival. I’m really pleased by their approach, and I bet customers that experience this kind of service will recommend Carnival, even after a huricane.

  4. Jeff says:

    Safety comes first and any changes to the route is for the crew’s and client’s safety. Better be safe than sorry.

  5. spanuva says:

    Wow, great this is good marketing for Carnival.

  6. madeira says:

    but how well would a cruise liner do in an actual hurricane?

  7. dedy says:

    hurricane in cruiser is scary, safety must be first priority

  8. James says:

    Hi, I found your blog on this new directory of WordPress Blogs at blackhatbootcamp.com/listofwordpressblogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, i duno. Anyways, I just clicked it and here I am. Your blog looks good. Have a nice day. James.

  9. James says:

    It is nice to hear that the cruise line paid for the hotels and airline reservations. With that service, family’s feel a little less stressed and worried over the potential costs that a storm can bring upon a cruise vacation.

  10. countertop says:

    great this is good marketing for Carnival.

  11. Eric Shan says:

    You know I think it’s really not the cruise ships decision if they can sail or not..I think is the coast guards call on the specific port they are in..🙂

  12. Adidas says:

    Interesting i am always curious about to know the cruise …

    This is some good stuff thanks a lot …

  13. I always thought about how well a cruise ship could navigate out of the hurricane…

    good article

  14. I have always wondered how a cruise handles these sorts of problems. With all of the hurricanes lately, I would never dream of getting on a cruise ship. First, I really don’t like the things since so much goes on, rape, murder, missing people….nahh, i’ll just go to disneyworld! 🙂

  15. Modern cruise companies are having perfect service. They are also making huge money so it won’t cost them much refunding money once a year.

  16. Önder says:

    Learning about that topic is good before going a holiday.

  17. Bryan says:

    I hate hurricanes! I would try to schedule my cruises away from that time of year, but I know some people don’t have a choice. At least the cruise lines are good about dealing with the situations.

  18. Goran Maric says:

    hurricane,huh i dont wanna cruise if one can get me ….

  19. yah its right, the passengers should benefit on what they have paid in there reservation. but they should consider the safety of there passenger, so of there is a storm they should realize what is the benefit of canceling cruising.

  20. krysblog says:

    I was actually in one of these cruise ships in awful weather… scary. I will never argue with the crew wanting to take an alternate route. Safety has to be the number one priority.

  21. Tom Schavo says:

    I traveled in cruise quite a few times but i never dealed with any such situation.

  22. rie says:

    However, face hurricane when cruise ship isn’t a good choice for holiday.. It can become terrible experience… .

  23. Kenneth says:

    Wow! I think I’m not really comfortable going out on holiday with nasty weather surrounds me.. even how big the ship is, its still just a dot of a long white bond paper.. everything is unpredictable..

  24. Hendrik says:

    Having a cruise seems to be a perfect experience, but in cases of emergency, it should be safety that comes first.

  25. Yeah, it’s really not safe and it’s scary inside the cruise ship during bad weathers 🙁 ..I’ve experienced it before.

  26. buy essay says:

    the most important thing is safety. Its ok if the trip has to be cancelled as long as your safety assured.

  27. Bruce Blinds says:

    I had a cruise cancelled last year due to bad weather. We where given a full refund and a discount off our next cruise holiday, so I think in the view of safety, its far better to keep the ship in port than risk the lives of passengers who are inexperienced at sea.

  28. G. Jonson says:

    Wow, this is what I have been looking for,I am going to reccomend you to everyone on my mailing list (about 5000 people)You are truly an artist at your craft,and I could not have said it better my self🙂

  29. fair and nice decision, for cost and safety.
    thanks for share.

  30. I agree. Safety should allways be on first place. Better safe than sorry.

  31. Garret Moore says:

    Between the storms and our rapidly failing economy I wonder if we’re going to see a lot more cruise ships docked this year, or going out only half full. I imagine with the stockmarket / financial world as unstable as it is people are less likely to want to travel right now.

  32. nick says:

    Learning about that topic is good before going a holiday.

  33. dianna says:

    yes safety is the first i think..I have in scary situation on cruise

  34. Eugene says:

    I am looking for some idea and stumble upon your posting 🙂 decide to wish you Thanks. Eugene

  35. It’s tough to get through this situations. But these guys are experienced and they know what they are doing. I trust them!

  36. I can relate to this ! , I’ve heard some goody things about this blog !

  37. John Segal says:

    Wow! I had no idea cruises did that, however I was a bit interested.

  38. Jpm Hussain says:

    We should know something about this !

  39. snks says:

    hurricane,huh i dont wanna cruise if one can get me

  40. mido says:

    However, face hurricane when cruise ship isn’t a good choice for holiday.. It can become terrible experience… .

  41. Blue Benz says:

    I agree with Jeff:
    Safety comes first and any changes to the route is for the crew’s and client’s safety. Better be safe than sorry.

    But they must receive another compensation since they plan to cruising and we know, sometime planning is about canceling 1 or 2 meetings, vacations or other activities.

  42. BulkSMS says:

    This is very good to learn before going to a holiday.

  43. It is happy to hear that the cruise line paid for the hotels and airline reservations.

  44. Living right next to Port Canaveral, I’m familiar with rerouting ships because I have worked with cruisers for quite a few years. Overall, it’s not a bad thing from the feedback I’ve gotten from passengers. Port Canaveral is the second busiest cruise port in the world. So, I’ve heard quite a few comments and have to say most people were satisfied and still enjoyed their cruise. In the past 4 hurricane seasons, I only remember one ship having to return to a different port other than here. The lines are very good about returning to the home port and the alternate ports of call are usually very satisfying. If you haven’t cruised out of Port Canaveral, there are good hotel tips in A Unique Guide to True Port Canaveral Hotels and extremely valuable tips in Travel Plan Guide for Port Canaveral Transportation. Don’t let hurricane season steer you away!

  45. mach says:

    i agree with Jeff, dianna and Blu benz..

    Safety is the most important thing..

  46. Serge Senna says:

    Really cool blog. I found it on yahoo. I am looking forward to read more posts.

  47. maria says:

    Wow, great this is good marketing for Carnival.

  48. savaş oyunu says:

    So, I’ve heard quite a few comments and have to say most people were satisfied and still enjoyed their cruise. In the past 4 hurricane seasons, I only remember one ship having to return

  49. sedat says:

    I wish the Moran’s much luck on their future cruises with Norwegian.

    I’ve cruised and had issues on both lines. Royal Caribbean always resolved issues to my satisfaction, Norwegian on the other hand pretty much told me to go fly a kite most of the time. I’ll take Royal Caribbean over Norwegian anytime.

  50. Dentalbridge says:

    Did the Carnival paid for hotels rooms along with changing airline reservations.

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