Typhoon Merbok. Hurricane Fiona. Hurricane Ian. I'm quickly learning in the cruise industry to follow the weather just as closely as I do the newest ships.
Three storms have threatened to wreak havoc in major North American regions in the last two weeks. The first was Typhoon Merbok, which was so strong that when it no longer qualified as a typhoon it still lashed Alaska with 90-mile-per-hour winds and heavy enough rain to cause flooding.
Then there was Hurricane Fiona which slammed into Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from 2017's Hurricane Maria. One week after the storm, half the island's power customers are still without electricity and about 20% without water. The hurricane also crashed into Turks and Caicos Islands, leaving the pier at Grand Turk Cruise Center in need of repair and derailing Carnival Cruise Line's calls there for the next week.
And now Hurricane Ian is poised to plow through Florida as a major hurricane.
With hurricane season running until Nov. 30, I reached out to several travel advisors to ask how they deal with hurricane season.
Sabine Harris, the owner of Southern Girls Travel in Tampa, was supposed to leave for a cruise out of Southampton, England, on Thursday but had to change her flights and travel arrangements. Tampa is in the projected path of Hurricane Ian.
In addition to making her own preparations, she's making phone calls to clients who are traveling and is preparing to be on standby for them.
"It's stressful because you have to rebook everything when the cruise is canceled, and often times, this is the only time the clients get their vacation time," she said. "It can get really crazy when everyone is calling and nobody knows what is going to happen. Only the actual hurricane knows."
Still, she said, "I often tell my clients not to worry if they book a cruise and a hurricane comes along: the cruise line is not going to take them where it's not safe."
This has been a slow year for hurricanes, said Henry Dennis, a leisure travel advisor for Frosch in Charlotte, N.C. When a storm system is announced, he begins by looking at where the storm appears to be headed. Once that track is more defined, he cross-checks those destinations with his bookings to see who might be affected and how.
He'll ask himself: Are they heading to an island in the path of the storm, or are they looking at wind and rain? But he often has to wait on cruise lines to see if they'll drop a port of call in anticipation of the storm, flip the order of their itinerary or scoot from one region of the Caribbean to another.
"All we can do is advise the client based on what information the cruise line gives us and when they give it to us," he said. "Many times, though, this is at last minute as the storm track [and] projection can change fairly quickly."
He reminds his clients sailing during hurricane season that a storm is possible and that the peak part of the season is late August, September and October - but he tells them that he wouldn't let that deter him from traveling.