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SHELTER FROM THE STORM:
CRUISING ON CARIBBEAN
PRINCESS DURING HURRICANE
Richard H. Wagner
It was scheduled to be a short four day getaway cruise from New York to the enchanted isle of Bermuda. Caribbean Princess was a ship that I had enjoyed cruising on several times in the past and a number of my friends were already booked. Thus, this cruise promised a great destination, a good ship and good company. Moreover, Princess was offering it at a very reasonable price.
There was an element of risk, however. Cruises along the East Coast of the United States in September and October can be disrupted by hurricanes. Hurricane season does stretch from late June to November but such storms usually do not affect the East Coast until the autumn.
I was on a ship in a hurricane once and as a result, I have great respect for what these storms can do . Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) was making a transatlantic crossing when she encountered the edge of a hurricane. Like most hurricanes, this one was relatively concentrated in size so it did not trouble the ship for long. However, that night few passengers made an appearance in the public rooms or came to dinner. Furthermore, seeing a great ship like QE2 tossed around like a toy certainly put the relative strength of man and nature into perspective.
That was back in the 1980s and weather forecasters have become much better at predicting the path of hurricanes. Captain Bill Wright, Senior Vice President of Maritime Operations for Royal Caribbean International once told me: “We have a lot of practice in avoiding hurricanes. The forecasts today are so good and the speed of the vessels is such that we rarely have serious issues.”
This does not mean that a ship will not experience motion as a result of a hurricane. The ocean can be affected by a storm hundreds of miles away. Whether a passenger will find the movement uncomfortable is very much an individual matter as sensitivity to motion varies from person to person.
Nonetheless, I decided to book the cruise. It had not been a very active hurricane season along the East Coast. Moreover, if a hurricane did appear, I was confident that Princess would do the right thing. In the course of my travels and in doing interviews with cruise ship officers, I have always found the people at Princess to be quite responsible. In addition, just looking at it from a business perspective, no one is going to put at risk a multi-million dollar asset such as Caribbean Princess for the sake of the revenue from a short four day cruise.
As embarkation day for the cruise drew closer, it became increasingly apparent that we would not be going to Bermuda. The National Hurricane Center was predicting that Hurricane Sandy, which was then in the Caribbean, would turn northward. It was expected that the storm would reach Bermuda on the day that Caribbean Princess was scheduled to arrive. Subsequently, the forecast changed so that the storm was predicted not only to impact Bermuda but also to make landfall along the East Coast, somewhere between Virginia and New England. Indeed, the storm might well hit New York City directly.
Such forecasts led to speculation that the cruise might be canceled in its entirety. However, on October 25, 2012, two days before embarkation, Princess sent guests an e-mail stating that the cruise would take place as scheduled. However, because the ship would have to traverse the predicted path of the storm both going to and coming back from Bermuda, Princess was canceling the port call in Bermuda. The e-mail went on to indicate that Princess was looking for an alternative port of call.
Usually when a hurricane prevents a ship that is sailing from one of the ports in the Northeast from going to Bermuda, the Caribbean or the Bahamas, the ship sails north to Canada. Thus, I packed thinking that we would probably be going to Halifax or Saint John. Another possibility was that we would spend the entire cruise at sea - - a four day “cruise to nowhere.”
I had been planning to drive with some of my friends to the cruise terminal, which is located in Red Hook section of Brooklyn. However, inasmuch as the terminal's parking lot is in a low lying area next to the harbor, we decided to use another means of transportation to get to the ship. As will be discussed later, this turned out to have been an excellent decision.
Into The Storm
The sun was shining when I arrived at the cruise terminal on embarkation day, October 27, 2012. Representatives of Princess were on hand to talk with passengers who may not have heard of the change in itinerary. Surprisingly given the Passenger Vessel Services Act's prohibition on foreign-flagged cruise ships such as Caribbean Princess doing all American itineraries, the representatives said that the substitute port would be Boston. Guests were given the option of receiving a partial credit against a future cruise if they decided to forgo this cruise.
I do not know how many people decided not to go on the cruise. However, a travel agent who was onboard told me that out of the 35 people that he had booked on the cruise, only 10 sailed. Still, while the ship did not seem full, it was far from empty.
The hurricane was not predicted to affect New York for another two days. However, by the time we sailed, the sky was overcast and the sea was choppy after Caribbean Princess passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and out into open water.
The next day we awoke to gray skies. There was a 30 knot wind blowing against the port side. However, by shifting the water in the ship's tanks to counteract the effect of the wind, Caribbean Princess was not experiencing much movement. As a result, the day unfolded much like a typical sea day. There were even people on the open deck watching movies on the ship's giant outdoor screen.
Refuge In Boston
We arrived in Boston around eleven at night. There was a fine rain falling but a considerable number of guests came out onto the Promenade Deck to watch the arrival. As we approached the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, we could see that two other cruise ships were already there. Crystal Symphony had been en route from Montreal to New York. Behind her was Jewel of the Seas, which had been scheduled to begin a re-positioning cruise to the Caribbean and Florida that day. The sight of these two ships that had diverted from their scheduled itineraries to take refuge from the storm brought home the seriousness of the situation.
Above: Crystal Symphony taking shelter in Boston.
Below: Jewel of the Seas at Boston's Black Falcon Cruise Terminal during Hurricane Sandy.
Cruise review - - Princess Cruises - - Caribbean Princess