In 2017, Royal Caribbean brought on James Van Fleet, as the first chief meteorologist in the cruise industry. During that time, he’s done great work with our captains to continue keeping an eye on weather around the world for our fleet of 25 ships.
Growing up around tornadoes in Oklahoma, James was always fascinated by weather. Studying meteorology and then becoming a TV weatherman was a natural fit for him; and since he’s joined Royal Caribbean, it has been an adventure. “Because we’re a global company, I can be looking at beautiful weather in one part of the world and typhoons in another at the very same time,” James says. Even though his home base is our corporate headquarters in Miami, James also travels the world monitoring weather patterns to ensure safe passage of every ship.
With hurricane season approaching, we chatted with James about his best travel tips—and what vacationers should know before they set sail.
What region generally experiences the worst weather during hurricane season?
It all depends on the season; no one area is worse than the other. For example, some caution areas could be around the Yucatan or north of the Bahamas when you have storms curving up toward New York. My number one piece of advice, if you’re planning to travel during hurricane season, is to get travel insurance. It’s totally worth the extra dollars for the peace of mind.
What is the first step our guests should take if they’re concerned about bad weather?
What do you do when hurricanes or inclement weather are on the horizon?
We’ll initially see something that could develop about two weeks out, and then we look at itineraries and notify any ships that are scheduled to sail in the area. All of our expert bridge officers and captains are well versed in weather, so we get things done as quickly as possible. We’ll start a dialogue and then say “This part of the cruise could be impacted—here are plans B, C and D;” and we make the call.
How does a cruise line select alternative ports of call?
It depends on the size of the ship. Our smaller ships have a wider variety of ports they can sail into, while our larger vessels – like our Oasis Class: Harmony of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas – are limited to a certain number of ports. Each situation is unique, and we take a look at every possible destination to ensure our guests still have a memorable vacation with us.
What tactics do you use to avoid storms?
For hurricanes, we’re talking about a broad area of the ocean. Sometimes that means reversing an itinerary or changing an Eastern Caribbean cruise into a Western Caribbean route. Adjustments can present challenges, of course, such as making sure we have enough of everything, like fuel, food, beverages, entertainment and shore excursions. Our amazing teams come together to make it all happen with minimal impact to our guests while keeping everyone safe. It’s pretty incredible.
How has your time at Royal Caribbean been since you made the move from TV?
It’s been great, the chief meteorologist role and the work we’ve been doing has been well received within and outside of Royal Caribbean. For the last 23 years of my life, I thought it was good to be on TV, but then I realized you’re in a dark studio a lot of the time. I’ve loved all the exploring this opportunity has afforded me. I’ve been to the Caribbean, Europe, Cuba and the other side of the world in Asia and Australia, and so far, it’s been quite the ride.
What are some things you’d want every Royal Caribbean guest to know about cruising and weather?
Our guests can be confident that we have their backs – even when navigating Mother Nature. Royal Caribbean has given me and our officers all the tools to keep a watchful eye on every one of our ships, so don’t let hurricane season keep you from taking your next vacation.
To book your next adventure, head here, and know that James and our teams at sea will make sure it’s nothing but smooth sailing.