Hurricane Season for the U.S., Mexico and Caribbean Islands runs from the beginning of June to the end of November every year. Hurricanes & strong storms appear leaving many desperate families looking for hurricane vacation help.
The U.S. National Weather Services announces on their National Hurricane Center website their hurricane predictions. The British have a similar website of Tropical Storm Risks. This is when our staff keeps one eye on the weather forecasts and heave a heavy sigh because we know it's that time of year again. Hurricanes and tropical storms often create havoc with family vacation plans every summer.
Unfortunately hurrricane season colides with many long awaited school breaks and family summer vacations. Vacationkids has compiled a list of tips, suggestions and travel planning to help your family weather any storm...
The Weather Reports Look Bad!
Often we get calls from families who have summer vacations planned to Caribbean destinations. They've checked the Weather Reports for their particular destination. They become very upset when they see that the forecast calls for storms every single day of their trip. First of all, kindly remember, we're travel agents here at Vacationkids. We don't control the weather. If we could control weather, we'd all be rich living in a mansion on a sunny beach! Kidding aside, no parent wants to think about a week of solid rain shut in a tiny hotel room with bored children. Yes, this desperate scene can certainly happen but generally it's not the case. During tropical rainy season it usually does rain for at least a few minutes every day. Usually it's a quick down pour that freshens everything up from the tropical heat and then the sun is out and shining. I've traveled to the Caribbean more times than I can count during the rainy season. Time and again this is what I've encountered. To be fair, summer tropical or summer rainy season does not mean that you will encounter a complete wash-out every single day.
The Weather Reports Look REALLY bad!!!
...Should we still go on vacation?
This is a difficult decision and one that is different for every single family. Almost everyone on our staff here at Vacationkids has traveled during a hurricane so we speak from first hand experience. It's certainly not fun! It often is a finacial decision but it certainly depends on your personality, flexibility and sense of adventure. We had one family in Cancun during Hurricane Wilma that was evacuated, sent to a shelter, moved to a second shelter when the roof caved in on the first one and ate nothing but crackers for two days. They thought the entire adventure was a bonding experience that put life into perspective for their children, taught the family team work and created a life-long memory for their family. When they got home they immediately booked another vacation for the following summer. No they are not crazy. They just wanted to return and see local friends that they had come to know during their evacuation. It all comes down to your level of tolerance. These people have an amazing perspective. Should you do decide to continue with your family's vacation plans under the threat of a storm remember patience is a virtue, keep your eye on weather reports, pack a sense of humor, lots of extra plastic zip bags, food and playing cards.
The U.S. State Department Hurricane page offers great advice for families. FEMA offers a great site that will help kids understand the implications no matter what you decide. Also it's a good idea to plan ahead and designate one person back home to be your contact person. This way you only have to worry about making one phone call out when phone lines are busy. Give them a call list with appropriate contact numbers, photocopies of your passport and other emergency information.
Where Should We Go?
Again I say, we're travel agents. If we had a crystal ball, we'd probably out of the office playing the Vegas odds. But generally speaking, there are some Caribbean Islands and tourist destinations that are more prone to the path of hurricanes than others. The nice folks from the Caribbean Storm Network have compiled a statistical analysis of all the Caribbean Islands and tourist spots according to how likely they are to be hit by hurricanes. Math geeks may have their own holiday pouring over all of these numbers. Bottom line, the Bahamas gets hit the most and the Dutch ABC Islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao usually enjoy the mildest summer weather thanks to their geography and preferred climatology position.
TRAVEL INSURANCE...Don't book a summer family vacation Without It!!!
Vacationkids highly recommends travel insurance. Generally speaking, travel insurance usually costs around 5-7 percent of the total cost of your trip. With a family vacation, your costs can easily add up to thousands of dollars. Most families cannot afford this type of loss. When talking about travel insurance that old saying about Never ASSUME anything...jumps to mind. Our best advice is to be sure and Read the ALL fine print! Not all travel insurance is equal and every policy has different rules attached to it. Some travel insurance will cover you for hurricanes and trip intruption or cancelation. Other policies consider a storm to be an act of God and will not cover you. Again read all policies carefull and ask questions if you do not understand their legalese.
Do Vacation Companies offer Weather Guarantees?
Many companies are now offering special guarantees during the summer vacation hurricane season. Apple Vacationsoffers a weather guarantee. One of the reasons they top our list is because after hurricane Wilma in 2005, Apple Vacations mobilized their local staff to clear the runways at Cancun Airport. They were the first to fly chartered planes full of relief supplies into Cancun and the first to evacuate Americans back home. Their outstanding humanitarian efforts yielded them an award from the Pennsylvannia House of Representatives as well as our loyal respect. Resorts like Beaches Resorts and Club Med offer vacation replacements but again specific rules apply. The same holds true with many theme parks. In all cases, the rules are very specific about these cancellation policies. Often it depends on the severity of the storm or if area airports and hotels expect to be out of service due to the emergency.
Every airline and hotel chain does have weather emergency protocols in place. Some are better than others and our staff certainly share our past experiences and advice with our clients. Vacation guarantees are definitely a good thing but often we find ourselves and our vacationing families sitting by their computers, monitering many of the websites mentioned in this article, waiting and watching for last minute travel news about their doomed trips. It's very stressful for everyone but unfortunately we cannot control Mother Nature.
What about our flights?
Generally if a hurricane or severe storm threatens travel to a particular destination and airport, airlines will usually allow passengers to change their tickets without without additional penalties. This holds true for even non-refundable tickets. Again, fine print comes into play. There may be specific windows of time or rules associated with re-ticketing so be aware. Often these policy changes are handed down at the very last minute. Vacationkids travel agents often intercede with the airlines on behalf of our clients and again we appreciate patience and understanding as situations like this are stressful for thousands of travelers all seeking answers at the same time. Once again, yet another reason for travel insurance with trip interruption coverage. In some cases, families may be faced with long airport waits. Be prepared with extra snacks, entertainment, clothes and carry on items for your kids. If flight changes are announced, use your cell phone to call airline reservations while waiting at the airport ticket counter. More often than not, the cell phone call will yield quicker answers.
What happens with Cruise Ships?
Remember the Caribbean is a huge geographic area. Think of it this way, it could be snowing in New York City and 80 degrees in Miami beach on the same day. The same holds true with the Caribbean, well maybe not the snow, but you get the idea. Cancun may be experiencing a dreadful storm while it's a perfect tropical day in the Dominican Republic. Cruises can and usually do sail but may have to change their itinerary or ports of call to avoid the bad weather. Murphy's law, you've planned your whole entire life to cruise to Turks and Caicos and thanks to the storm, the cruise line won't be docking there. Because nothing is ever simple, every cruise lines have their own policies regarding credits and refunds. Again, read the fine print.
Family vacations are suppose to be fun-filled and carefree. Hurricanes are one of those forces of nature that are well beyond our control. They are a reality and unfortunately can dampen the spirits of families who have waited all year long to enjoy a vacation. It's a fact of life and we hope our advice here will help families deal logically in making travel decisions. Again, it's all a matter of perspective. Often when I speak to angry, frustrated parents faced with changing travel plans, I remind them to think about the families who live in hurricane areas. Those whose health, homes and livelihoods are threatened by the storm. They often don't have the luxury of escape. This reminder often changes their opinions of inconvenience.