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Bad weather and cruising

We ventured into storms twice and made the best of it. But sometimes, things can get serious

By John Toth

The Bulletin

One of the misadventures of cruising is that the ship could sail into a nasty storm. We have so far avoided that, but we did have a couple of almost-close calls.

I assume that the big cruise lines have their own weather forecasters and that the captain gets the best information available to stay out of harm's way. But the weather can turn quickly, and ships move relatively slowly.

I made the mistake of watching a clip on YouTube of cruise ships that got caught in some really nasty weather, and passengers were less than comfortable on the Lido Deck. No pool parties that day. The water was sloshing out of the pool; pool furniture was flying around; and passengers were crawling on the floor as they tried to make it inside.

The ship’s captain made a decision based on the latest data. Then the weather changed, and the ship got caught in the middle of some hurricane-strength gusts and driving rain.

And, we won’t mention the tragic fate of the Costa Concordia. The Italian ship capsized on Jan. 13, 2012, after it struck rocks off the coast of Giglio Island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The captain will be released from prison in 2033. Yes, he screwed up big time.

Nevertheless, cruising is one of the safest ways to travel, even safer than flying. But that doesn’t mean that things can’t go wrong.

Our first weather encounter was on the Carnival Vista, which we took last year to the Western Caribbean in late August. If you’re going to cruise, why not do it at the peak of hurricane season?

The Vista has a capacity of about 3,500 passengers. Our destination was Mahogany Bay, Honduras, Carnival’s private beach. On the second day, the weather began to turn bad as a storm that ended up being Hurricane Idalia started to pick up strength.

The captain must have received some top-notch weather information, because nothing had changed on the ship. During the storm, we went to see a comedy show, ate dinner, saw a theater production and then partied the night away. There was some rocking, but nothing major. We didn’t see any pool furniture become airborne.

We went to sleep, and the next morning, we woke up to beautiful and peaceful Roatan, Honduras.

This January, Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas sailed into a decent-sized storm as we made our way back from Cozumel to Galveston.

The last day of the cruise is always filled with mixed emotions, anyway, as suitcases are pulled from under the bed and filled with mostly dirty laundry. We had a little diversion to take away from the sad mood caused by knowing that the next morning the cruise would be over.

The weather turned ugly pretty quickly right after we finished playing putt-putt. Sharon - my cruising companion and travel editor - and I decided to observe the storm from an open look-out deck above the bridge.

This was not a huge storm, but seeing nothing but waves in a dark, angry Gulf of Mexico was humbling. I felt tiny and helpless as the waves smashed into the hull of the ship below us. To make things more interesting, part of the look-out’s flooring was glass. I could see the waves 15 decks below me.

Some of our fellow passengers observed the storm from a hot tub, perhaps because the air temperature dropped in the storm, and it was just more comfortable to stay in there. The buckets of beer they ordered soothed any fears they may have had.

It lasted about a half hour. The ship didn’t really rock that much. But I still stayed away from the elevators until the storm passed. Others didn’t, including a piano player who set up shop in one of the glass elevators and entertained passengers. I had seen him before. He has his ups and downs.

Admittedly, our experiences cruising through storms is limited at best. Weather can wreak havoc on cruise ship itineraries and alter which ports the ship will visit.

That’s in the contract cruisers sign before boarding.

Luckily, we have not had that happen - yet. If it does, so be it. Take me away. I don’t care where. Just keep the free lobster tails coming in the dining room (only the first one is free, but that’s good enough.) 


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