Source: data adapted from Cruise Market Watch. NOAA Hurricane Research Division. Rodrigue, J-P and G.W.Y. Wang (2020) “Cruise Shipping Supply Chains and the Impacts of Disruptions: The Case of the Caribbean”, Research in Transportation Business and Management. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rtbm.2020.100551
The Caribbean is within a zone of high hurricane activity over the Northwest Atlantic that has been dubbed ‘Hurricane alley’ because it is shaped like a corridor beginning in the Atlantic north of the equator and following westward the Gulf Stream towards the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the American East Coast where hurricanes reach their full force and then dissipate as they move northward. The seasonal occurrence mainly takes place between June 1 and November 30, with hurricane activity usually peaking in September. During a hurricane event, forecast of arrivals and warnings, possible storm surges, high wind speed, possible tropical rainfall are critical and could disrupt a cruise and change onboard demand of services. Southern Florida, which is one of the world’s largest cruise markets with its major turn ports (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral) in an area of recurring hurricane risk. The risk is not just for the cruise but also for the home port. For instance, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, returning passengers from a cruise at the Bayonne Cruise terminal found that the cruise terminal parking lot had been flooded with several vehicles no longer operatable.
Despite this demonstrated risk pattern, the frequency, intensity, and path of a hurricane cannot be reliably known until a day or two beforehand. There are annual fluctuations, with some years seeing limited hurricane activity while hurricanes are more frequent and disruptive on others. The path followed by a hurricane is a critical and somewhat unpredictable factor. The same hurricane following a slightly different path could result in a very different disruptive outcome. Under such circumstances, cruise lines rarely cancel cruises but instead change the sequence of port calls to avoid the expected path of a hurricane, which involves last-minute decisions during a cruise. A highly disruptive exception is when a turn port is under the path of a hurricane, leading to the cancellation of incoming cruises and rerouting ongoing cruises to another turn port. Cruise lines have adapted to this by offering the least number of cruises during the peak hurricane season of September. Even if the Caribbean is a perennial cruise market, the risk of hurricanes and tropical storms has a noticeable impact on the offering of cruises during the hurricane season.