In 2017, James Van Fleet signed on to be the first chief meteorologist in the cruise industry. He’s kept an eye on the weather around the world for Royal Caribbean’s 25-plus ships since then. Considering these ships sail to more than 240 destinations in 61 countries, at the same time, Van Fleet and our captains could see sunny skies in one part of the world while storms form in another.
Growing up around tornadoes in Oklahoma, Van Fleet was always fascinated by weather. He studied meteorology and spent almost two decades working as a TV weatherman. Today, he’s based out of Royal Caribbean’s headquarters in Miami and travels the world to monitor weather patterns and ensure every ship and private destination—like Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas—is always safe.
With hurricane season taking place June 1 to Nov. 30, Van Fleet shares his tips and the inside scoop on what to expect.
Q: What do you do when hurricanes or inclement weather are on the horizon?
Van Fleet: 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 cruise in that 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’ll make the call. All the while, we’re keeping everyone informed as much as we can on board and over social media.
Q: What tactics do you use to avoid storms?
Van Fleet: For hurricanes, that’s a broad area of the ocean. Sometimes that means reversing an itinerary or changing an Eastern Caribbean cruise into a Western Caribbean sailing. Other considerations we keep in mind for adjustments include the amount of fuel, food, beverages, entertainment and shore excursions we have. Our amazing crew members and teams come together to make it all happen while keeping everyone safe. It’s pretty incredible.
Q: How does Royal Caribbean select alternative destinations?
Van Fleet: It depends on the destinations and whether they can accommodate us. Our smaller ships have a wider variety of places they can visit, while larger ships like Allure, Harmony, Oasis, Symphony and Wonder of the Seas have a more specific lineup of destinations to consider. Each situation is unique, and we take a look at every possible option so that our guests can still have a memorable vacation.
Q: What is a first step guests should take if they’re concerned about bad weather?
Q: Which region generally experiences the worst weather during hurricane season?
Van Fleet: It depends on the season; no one area is worse than another. Because Royal Caribbean ships sail to more than 240 destinations in 61 countries, I may be looking at beautiful weather on one side of the world and typhoons on the other at the same time. For example, one day we could have eyes on the Yucatan and then the area north of The Bahamas when storms are curving up toward New York. My number one piece of advice is to get travel insurance. It’s worth the extra peace of mind.
Q: How has your time at Royal Caribbean been since you made the move from TV?
Van Fleet: It’s been great. The chief meteorologist role and the work we do has been well received within and outside of Royal Caribbean. For 20 or so years of my life, I thought it was good to be on TV, but I also realized you’re in a dark studio a lot of the time. I love all the exploring this opportunity has afforded me. I’ve been to many parts of the Caribbean, Europe, Cuba and the other side of the world in Asia and Australia—it’s been quite the ride.
Q: What are things you’d want everyone to know about cruising and weather?
Van Fleet: Be confident that we have your back—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 and private destinations, so don’t let hurricane season keep you from taking your well-deserved vacation.
Knowing that Van Fleet and the team will make sure your getaway is smooth sailing, you can book your cruise to the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe and more here.