5 Ways Cruise Ships Avoid Bad Weather


If you are taking a cruise you may be wondering how cruise ships plan for, and avoid bad weather. I’ve been on a number of cruises where these methods have been used, during this post we will look at the cruise lines options for avoiding bad weather.

How do Cruise Ships Avoid Bad Weather?

Cruise ships avoid bad weather by changing their itineraries either in advance or last minute. Cruise ships will often leave a port earlier, arrive late or change the sailing itinerary in order to avoid the worst of a storm or hurricane. In a worst case scenario cruise ships may return to port ahead of schedule of cancel the cruise completely. 

In the event of bad weather it’s likely that the cruise line will use a number of the methods mentioned above. Due to the fact that weather is ever changing the cruise line has to be constantly monitoring the situation to decide on the best approach to take.

Avoiding Bad Weather #1: Change Itinerary Ahead of Time

If a cruise line knows that there is likely to be bad weather in a certain area they are usually able to change the itinerary ahead of time. Weather forecasting is better than ever and the cruise lines are consistently checking on what the weather will be like on their planned itinerary.

How Far in Advance Could This Happen?

It could be as early as 5 days or a week before the cruise that the itinerary changes. This usually only happens due to things like hurricanes but could in theory happen for any bad weather. Generally speaking the worse the weather is expected to be the further in advance the cruise lines will start making adjustments to their itineraries.

If this happens all guests onboard the cruise will receive information from the cruise line about where the new itinerary is going. This is usually in the form of a letter or email but on occasion guests won’t receive this and will only find out when onboard. The cruise line will do everything that they can to let the guests know but with many already having started their journeys at this point it can be difficult.

This is providing that the cruise starts and ends in the same port, if there was a dramatic itinerary change such as it starting in another port the cruise line would do their best to call each passenger or the travel agent would do this. In reality this very very rarely happens and cruise lines will do almost anything to avoid changes to the embarkation or disembarkation ports.

Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner
Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner

Are You Entitled to Compensation?

Guests are not automatically entitled to any compensation for itinerary changes but it may be possible to reclaim something from your travel insurance provider depending on the policy which has been bought. To find out more about compensation, including when you’ll be given a full refund, check out this post: Do You Get Compensation For Missed Cruise Ports?

Avoiding Bad Weather #2: Leave Port Earlier or Later

One of the most common things that happens in bad weather is that a cruise ship may leave a port earlier or later to try and avoid some of the worst of the storm.

This has happened to me on a couple of occasions where we have been told the day before that the next day we would be leaving earlier than scheduled in order to miss some bad weather.

harmony of the seas caribbean cruise

How Far in Advance Could This Happen?

If this does happen you’ll be told in advance. A cruise ship wouldn’t be able to change the all onboard time once the guests have already disembarked because if they did they’d be risking leaving a number of guests on land. Cruise lines do not want to leave guests on land!

Moving the sail away time earlier is quite common and could happen for a variety of reasons. The most common is when there is expected to be a storm the cruise ship may leave early to try and outrun the bad weather. It can also be difficult for cruise ships to manoeuvre certain cruise ports and in situations like this is may be easier for the ship to be at sea when the bad weather hits.

How Much Easier Could we Leave?

There isn’t really a minimum amount of time that a cruise ship has to spend in port. Generally speaking most cruise ships will be docked for a full day, for example 9am – 6pm but I have been on cruises where we have arrived at 7am and left at 11am. Itineraries like this are very uncommon.

I recently took a cruise with Celestyal Cruises around the greek islands where we visited 7 cruise ports in 4 days, we had two ports most days and that is why we left so early on occasion. To learn more about cruising with Celestyal, and why I think it’s the best way to visit the Greece, check out this post: Celestyal Cruises: Review and Daily Photo Diary 2019

In reality, if the all aboard time is moved earlier to avoid bad weather it’s likely to be only 2 or 3 hours and still leave you with at least 6 or so hours to explore the port.

Avoiding Bad Weather #3: Change Sailing Route

It’s not uncommon from cruise ships to change the route which they are sailing if if they are not changing the destinations or the timings. If a storm is to be in a certain area, for example the Bay of Biscay, cruise ships may take a slightly different itinerary to avoid the worst of the storm.

It isn’t possible to avoid areas like the Bay of Biscay completely but there are routes which may avoid the worst of bad weather. To learn more about the Bay of Biscay and to find out if you’re likely to experience seasickness there, check out this post: Cruising Through The Bay Of Biscay: What to Expect

Will Passengers Notice?

If the itinerary is changed it will probably go unnoticed by the passengers onboard the cruise. I have many friends who look at cruise maps to see the current locations of cruise ships, they’ll often say things like ‘Oooo look! The MSC Meraviglia is taking a funny route’. I have to admit I don’t really know the standard routes for cruise ships to take but I am assured that sometimes cruise ships will do odd things to avoid bad weather.

Making a change to the scheduled itinerary may mean taking a slightly longer route but travelling faster or it may mean taking a more direct route slower. This may have an affect on how the movement of the ship is felt but generally speaking a change of route isn’t anything for the passengers to worry about.

top deck harmony of the seas

Avoiding Bad Weather #4: Ending The Cruise Early

In extreme cases the cruise itself may come to an end earlier than planned. This usually only happens as the result of hurricanes but may also happen if too many guests onboard get sick with something like Norovirus. Cutting a cruise short means that cruise ships can avoid bad weather by simply not being at sea at the time of the storm.

If this happens there are usually two options. The first is that the cruise ship will return to the disembarkation port a day or two earlier but will remain there for guests to stay on. The cruise ship will act as a hotel in this circumstance and guests will be able to eat, drink and take part in the onboard entertainment as normal. The second option is that guests are asked to disembark the cruise ship earlier than scheduled. The cruise line may have to find flights or hotels for guests in this circumstance.

If a cruise is cut show the cruise line will usually refund this portion of the cruise to passengers but this usually only happens if guests are asked to disembark. Certain travel insurance policies may provide cash lump sums for missed cruise ports but this does depends on the travel insurance policy.

When something like this happens the cruise line will usually let the passengers know as soon as possible. This isn’t usually done in advance and will most likely be a last minute decision by the cruise line. When a decision like this is made onboard it’ll usually be announced over the tannoy and the daily schedule which is delivered to your cabin each night will be amended to reflect this change.

Avoiding Bad Weather #5: Changing The Itinerary Last Minute

In some circumstances the cruise itinerary can be changed last minute. This could be as little as an hour or two before the cruise ship is set to dock.

A last minute change in itinerary is particularly common in cruise ports where guests have to use a tender to get to land. Cruise ships can’t risk operating tender boats in bad weather so if a port is only accessible by tender it’s more likely that the port will be skipped. To learn more about cruise ship tendering, including which boats they usually use, check out this post: Cruise Ship Tendering: Tips 2019

Substitute Ports

Cruise ports can be missed or amended with little to no warning. In most circumstances the cruise line will try to have a substitute port ready which they can visit but this isn’t always possible. If there isn’t anywhere for a cruise ship to go the port day may become a sea day and the cruise lines are prepared for eventualities like this. Most cruise lines will have a backup schedule for a bonus sea day which may occur from missing a cruise port.

What Happens to Excursions?

If your itinerary is changed any excursions booked through the cruise line will be automatically refunded onto your onboard account. Any excursions booked independently will not be refunded and passengers would have to talk to the independent provider with whom they booked the excursions in order to get a refund.

This security is one of the main reasons why some people prefer to take cruise line excursions. I personally usually avoid cruise line excursions because of the cost associated with them but for peace of mind they are definitely the most reliable option.

I’ve been on 29 cruises to date and around 1/4rd of them have had an itinerary change at some point. This has happened to me for a variety of reasons like political unrest within a country that I was due to visit, that said, the most common reason by far for an itinerary changing is to avoid bad weather.

Where To Next?

There is not a lot that I love more than going on a cruise, meeting new friends and realising that I paid considerably less that everybody else for the exact same cruise.

Finding and booking a cruise is no easy task. I’ve been able to cruise for as little as $50 per night and I regularly save over 75% compared to advertised brochure prices. You can do it too!

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Emma Le Teace

Hey! I'm Emma. A cruise blogger, YouTuber and founder of the 'Cruising Isn't Just For Old People' Facebook community and website. You can learn more here: About Me.

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