If you travel to the Caribbean in late summer or early fall, you run the risk of having your beach time disrupted by a sudden crash of thunder and a downpour. Weather may be one of those things in life over which you have absolutely no control, but what if you could select a vacation that ensures smooth sailing no matter the weather?
You can – and that vacation option is a cruise. Captain Hernan Zini, Fleet Captain for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., works with the cruise lines’ individual ship captains to guarantee cruise itineraries are altered to move away from any impending hurricanes and into beautiful, sunny weather.
According to Captain Zini, the pro of being on a moving ship rather than a fixed location during hurricane season is that it can take you to better weather. Royal Caribbean’s number one priority is safety, so they have several systems in place for tracking and monitoring storms and deciding on new itineraries if one is sure to hit in a specific port of call.
“We have the official Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), where different stations transmit weather information and advisories,” he says. “That is the law. But our ships are equipped with Internet as well, and the captains get access to many webpages of the world’s meteorological services. That includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) here in the U.S., as well as other commercial systems. We also have a service that gives us a better presentation, though the information is still the same, to anticipate how the ship and the weather will meet each other a couple of days ahead of time.”
On board the ship, the captain and the nautical team are constantly monitoring the weather. If a storm is imminent, the captains are required to notify Captain Zini on land.
“They tell me what they see and what their plan is and we discuss the plan,” he says.
“We are a very collaborative company, so when we have complex situations, we always get on the phone to talk through managing them.”
Logistical issues like supply chain, fuel, crew and guest movement and port availability come into play when discussing hurricanes, but safety of the crew and guests comes first, followed immediately by the guest experience.
“We will always bring the ship to a safe place,” Captain Zini says. “When we have to drop a port, our first thought is always to find an alternative port if it is within our possibilities. Our intention is always to preserve as much of the original itinerary as possible, and that might mean shortening or extending the cruise by a day to avoid the storm. In some more extreme occasions, we may need to sail to a completely different region. The most challenging for any cruise line is when the port affected is the turnaround port, where embarkation or debarkation happens, but we have a very good team working with our guests to make sure they have all the information and help they need.”
On board the ships, captains are always communicating with guests so they know exactly what to expect when it comes to hurricanes and possibly rerouting.
“It is important to us that the guests have a full understanding of the plan of the captain,” Captain Zini says. “No surprises!”