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Cruise deals abound in hurricane season, but is the risk worth it?

The stormy weather that cruise ship Anthem of the Seas encountered Feb. 6 off North Carolina not only shook up passengers but created a wave of ill will among many of the 4,500 passengers who voiced their displeasure about the Royal Caribbean cruise when they disembarked.

"We had to hold onto poles so we didn't fall over into the glass window," the Asbury Park Press quoted New Yorker Kimberly Short as saying.

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Others passengers described flying objects and being jerked from one side of a hallway to another as the ship rolled in 30-foot waves.

Royal Caribbean apologized profusely.

"We simply didn't anticipate what the true strength of the storm would be," said Bill Baumgartner, a company vice president. Then it launched a 30%-off sale, perhaps hoping people would forget or forgive.

I wasn't on that voyage and thus didn't need to do either, but I did need to make sure an upcoming cruise in Southeast Asia wouldn't put me in the eye of a storm.

The answer to my Google question about storm season in Singapore and Southeast Asia: June to November, which isn't when I'm going.

The hurricane season in the Caribbean is June to November, about the same time as in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. In southern Baja, storms are more frequent September through November.

Here's the good news about storm season for the 24 million people who will set sail in 2016, according to Cruise Line International Assn.: Cruise ships can generally navigate around storms. And, perhaps more important for bargain hunters, cruise lines often offer great buys in the Caribbean during hurricane season's peak from mid-August through late October.

"That's when you find those $550 weeklong cruises," said Geraldine Ree, a vice president with Expedia CruiseShipCenters.

Another plus to sailing in hurricane season: Kids are back in school, so if you want to avoid children, it's a good time.

But is it worth the risk? Would you encounter the same kind of weather the Anthem of the Seas passengers faced during that Feb. 6 cruise and again late last month?

Most veteran cruisers say your odds of serious trouble are slim.

"I've been sailing for 26 years, and I've only run into one hurricane" Ree said. "And then we didn't really feel any effect because the ship was just diverted elsewhere out of the storm. It wasn't a problem."

Ree noted that any vacation plan involves some risk. "Most of the time you really don't have much choice when you plan a vacation," Ree said. "You have to go when your family can go.

"You're in better shape when you cruise than you would be if you were staying at a resort and a hurricane headed in your direction. A cruise ship can move somewhere else. If you were staying at a resort you'd be stuck there."

A ship can high-tail it in the opposite direction at up to 22 knots per hour — about 25 mph. Hurricanes move slowly, generally about 8 to 10 knots an hour — about 9 to 11 1/2 mph.

But storms can cause a change in ports of call. You may not be happy if you wanted to go to St. Martin and you end up in Aruba.

To help ensure safety, you could also choose an itinerary whose ports are unlikely to be in harm's way.

Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of CruiseCritic.com, suggested a southern Caribbean trip for those who worry.

"Islands like Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao are all on the outskirts of the hurricane belt and don't see as many storms as in the eastern and western Caribbean," McDaniel said.

If you're still concerned about the possibility, go elsewhere.

"Skip the potential for storms altogether by choosing a cruise to Alaska or the Mediterranean," McDaniel said. '"Both see their peak seasons in the summertime, and low season begins in early fall if you're looking to save a bit on the trip as well."

Many cruise lines avoid the Caribbean during hurricane season, so you'll have plenty of options in Alaska or the Mediterranean.

Still worried? Travel insurance might be the answer.

Travel insurance can help cover costs such as missed flights, a missed part of the cruise, or an unexpected hotel stay because of weather, McDaniel said, but reading the fine print is critical.

"Just make sure your insurance plan includes weather disruption; not all plans will cover these weather-related situations," McDaniel said.

Also, remember you must buy a plan in advance, before any storms are forecast. Travel insurance generally covers trip disturbance only for an unexpected weather event.

Some people like the idea of being at sea during stormy weather and choose itineraries that may include some rocking and rolling, Ree said.

Others like the suspense of not knowing where they might end up, sort of a vacation surprise. After all, it's a vacation. No matter where you find yourself, it's generally better than being at work.

Tips for landing a great cruise deal

Travel agents often are notified of last-minute cruise deals, but most major cruise lines also offer bargain information to consumers through newsletters that promote their last-minute deals. Cruise websites also send out regular newsletters promoting fares. If you're looking for a deal but don't want to clutter your in-box with all the emails, set up a separate email account and use it when you sign up for that communication using the cruise line's website, directing all the cruise mail to it. You can look at it whenever you want instead of every time you open your primary email account.

travel@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 06, 2016, in the Features section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "A season for storms and for lots of deals - CRUISE NEWS" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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