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What will 2018 hurricane season bring to cruising: canceled trips or fair-weather sailing?

What will 2018 hurricane season bring to cruising: canceled trips or fair-weather sailing?
Evelyn Padilla and Luis Calzada ride back to their hotel in Hollywood Beach, Fla., as rain from subtropical storm Alberto hits the area on May 29. (Mike Stocker / Tribune News Service)

The 2018 hurricane season officially kicks off Friday, but subtropical storm Alberto on Monday brought heavy rain to the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf Coast, with more expected across the southeastern U.S. this week.

Is that an indicator the upcoming hurricane season might mirror last year's nasty season?

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Nearly half a million cruisers were affected last year by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria. It's enough to make any traveler a bit nervous.

Should you think twice about taking that Caribbean vacation you were planning?

Experts say Alberto's early arrival probably means nothing at all. It's still too early in the season to tell.

"You have to wait until August and September for the heart of hurricane season and the greatest threat for major hurricanes," said Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather hurricane expert. But there could be "another storm or two that forms June into July."

The experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, issued their annual hurricane season forecast Thursday, only a day before Alberto began closing in on Florida. It basically said the upcoming year will have a normal to slightly-above-normal risk of storms.

"NOAA's forecasters predict a 70% likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 4 major hurricanes," the report said.

An average season in the Atlantic Basin, which officially runs from Friday until Nov. 30, produces 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. A Category 3 hurricane or stronger is classified as a major hurricane.

By Monday, Alberto, the first named storm of the season, brought heavy rainfall to southern Florida and western Cuba, according to NOAA reports. The center of the storm was expected to move over Alabama and into the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday, and into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Last year’s hurricane season brought an enormous amount of devastation to many people and places," said Colleen McDaniel, a senior editor with Cruise Critic. "Many islands in the Caribbean saw significant damage, which also directly impacted tourism dollars that are so important to the region.

"While cruise ships have the benefit of being able to adjust sailings to avoid storms and keep guests out of harm’s way, we did see cruises that were canceled entirely, sailings that were shortened and itineraries that were altered to avoid ports of call in the storm’s path," she said.

Most of the ports that received significant damage have reopened and "are eager to welcome visitors now," she said.

Cruise Critic advises travelers to:

--Purchase travel insurance early; companies will only insure your trip prior to a storm being forecast.

--Consider booking airfare through the cruise line, which might help you adjust your travel plans if a trip is canceled, shortened or extended because of weather.

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--Add a few days' buffer to your travel dates if you have important dates on your calendar (such as, a friend's wedding, the first day of school, etc).

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