Millions of Florida residents are battening down the hatches and evacuating in advance of the monstrous Hurricane Irma, which has already wrought havoc and devastation across many island nations of the Caribbean. But Florida is also a major travel and tourist destination for millions of visitors every year, whose plans to go to or through the affected areas are obviously going to be disrupted. So what are your rights and responsibilities if your vacation has to give way to the forces of nature?
Some islands, like St. Martin and Barbuda, have been completely devastated and will take years to rebuild; all tourist itineraries in the area will obviously be off the table for quite some time to come.
Even if an itinerary doesn’t go to a damaged port in the Caribbean, though, many major cruise lines leave from major American ports in or near Miami and Ft. Lauderdale — both of which are directly in the obscenely powerful storm’s path.
As a result, dozens of cruises that go to or through major ports in the area affected by Hurricane Irma have already been cancelled or rerouted, the Los Angeles Times reports — and many more may follow in the weeks after, once the damage is done.
So what should you do?
Pay attention to cruise line communications.
If you’ve got a trip booked already, and it’s been cancelled or rerouted, your cruise line is probably trying to tell you directly. Go ahead and make sure you open up that email as soon as you can.
You can also keep up with your cruise line on its website and social media; the major lines tend to push out updates on Twitter and/or Facebook, and you can usually log in to a site to view changes to your itinerary. Additionally, some cruise lines, like Carnival, are allowing passengers to receive hurricane-related updates by text.
Read the fine print about refunds.
You should be able get your money back for a vacation you can’t take, but cruise lines have different terms and conditions for cancelled itineraries.
Some may give you credit towards a future cruise, onboard credit, or other perks as well as refunding your fare. Others may be decidedly less generous, or may offer perks for rebooking sooner but not later.
Sort out all those other costs.
Unless you live right near the port of departure, the cruise itself is only one part of the cost. There are also associated costs with getting to the ship in the first place, like airfare, hotel, and ground transportation.
Airlines and hotels may refund you or allow you to rebook; airlines are waiving their usually-hefty cancellation or change fees for some itineraries because of the hurricane.
If you bought travel insurance, read the fine print of your policy and check in with them, too. It may cover cruise, hotel, airfare, and other ancillary costs in whole or in part depending on the terms you agreed to.
Many passengers who were already prepared to travel may be stuck in the region with a hurricane bearing down on them, and cruise lines are preparing to help where they can.
Norwegian, for example, will basically be using one of its ships as a shelter to sail stranded travelers and crew away from the storm. The company shortened a recent itinerary on the Norwegian Escape to five days from seven, and adds, “For those guests who did not drive to PortMiami and are unable to secure a flight back home, we strongly encourage them to stay onboard the ship. Norwegian Escape will set sail from Miami on Thursday evening on a course away from the storm. While we are unable to confirm at this time when and where the ship will return to port, we welcome all guests to remain onboard to stay safe and secure.”
If your travel plans are being affected by Hurricane Irma and you’re having trouble getting a refund or changing plans, drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.