Update: Chief meteorologist James Van Fleet is closely tracking Hurricane Irma and its potential impact on current sailings. Check here for all schedule modifications and changes due to this storm.
Possibly the most common thing James Van Fleet—Royal Caribbean International’s chief meteorologist—has been hearing lately is, “Why does a cruise line need a meteorologist?” As the cruise industry’s first official one, he’s not surprised. But the newly created role is key for Royal Caribbean. Based in the cruise line’s Miami headquarters, a seasoned meteorologist has a lot to offer ship captains —as well as guests and crew, no matter where they are.
“We have ships sailing all over the world, and they face different weather conditions every day,” says Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean’s President and CEO. “You have to keep an eye on the weather systems at all times. And with more than 20 years of experience, Jim is an expert we’re excited to have on our team.”
Every day, Van Fleet is tracking the position of Royal Caribbean’s ships along with the weather, while staying in touch with their captains, the company’s executives and the rest of the marine operations team. It’s a 24/7 job—but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Van Fleet has racked up 20 plus years of experience as a meteorologist in television, covering an array of locations from Texas to Florida.
The move to bring his expertise to Royal Caribbean may seem unusual, but to him, its purpose is clear. “[I bring] yet another added layer of safety at corporate for anyone in the world, at any time,” Van Fleet says. “And it makes the team here that much more diverse and strong.”
Given his longstanding broadcast work where he regularly was in touch with viewers, he’s in an ideal position not only to assess the weather for our ships as they sail—but to translate all of it for guests. With hurricane season up ahead for the southeast U.S. and Caribbean, it’s an important time to share with guests just what may happen if a storm develops while they’re on their cruise, and a skilled meteorologist like Jim is perfect to help explain:
With that in mind, Van Fleet shared with us his top intel that he wants guests to know:
- When It Comes To Hurricanes, There Are Few Surprises
“With hurricanes, we have a lot of time to forecast and see them coming; none of that just develops and surprises us. Where it could get tricky is that they often hit in areas where we have large clusters of ships. You’re not just rerouting one ship or altering people’s itineraries—it’s multiple ships, multiple itineraries, and multiple [thousands] of guests.”
- Safety And Comfort Come First
“Safety-wise, we do everything in our power to never have a ship in harm’s way,” Van Fleet says. The beauty of a ship, he adds, is that it can move—unlike luxury hotels or destinations. If a hurricane or other severe weather hits while you’re cruising, Van Fleet and the marine operations team are assessing when it will arrive, how severe it may be, how to maneuver the ship to avoid it—and, if necessary, whether they need to change course altogether.
- The Logistics Would Surprise You
When a storm is approaching, Van Fleet, the captain and the marine operations team also have to consider things like whether the storm will hit a port your ship is scheduled to visit. If severe weather hits while you’re at sea, they think about whether you’re spending time outdoors on the ship’s open decks, or if there’s an outdoor performance scheduled in the AquaTheater. Rerouting is even more complex: canceling a port visit can affect guests’ flights and travel plans, and even have implications for restocking inventory on our ships.
- There is a Plan B And C
That said, the team always has several options they can consider. Once they feel confident in the forecast, they evaluate if the ship can get ahead of it by speeding up, slowing down—or rerouting. If a move is needed, then Royal Caribbean maps out where the ship will go instead.“In these scenarios, the company will try to find something comparable to your original itinerary,” Van Fleet says, noting that you would be reimbursed for any planned Royal Caribbean shore excursions, too. On board, staff will be clear and consistent in communicating with guests what the process is and how they may be affected.
- We Never Forget It’s Your Vacation
“The ships are built to be durable and designed to withstand a wide array of scenarios, but there’s a bigger goal in this process,” Van Fleet says. “We never forget that you’ve invested your money to spend your vacation with us, and we want to make sure we get it right—and that it’s the best it can be.” He keeps it top of mind every day. “I don’t forecast for what the ships can handle; I forecast for what will be your best vacation experience.”
With Jim’s extensive experience as a meteorologist, having him on call will be a major asset for Royal Caribbean’s captains, and most importantly for you and your cruise vacation.