Vacationing in the hurricane season

Ships: Don't worry. Resorts: Consider making last-minute reservations.

Strategies

August 29, 2004|By Cheryl Blackerby | Cheryl Blackerby,Palm Beach Post

Hurricane Charley's path of destruction -- across Pine Island, Punta Gorda, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva on the west coast of Florida and inland over Arcadia and Lake Wales -- is a grim reminder of the perils of hurricane season.

Two tropical storms, Earl and Danielle, came on the heels of Charley, and travelers are wary of what else may be coming. Hurricane season runs through Nov. 30.

Travelers also are wondering whether they should take that Caribbean cruise in September or that trip to St. Thomas in October.

Making the decision even more difficult is the fact that hurricane season coincides with low season, when cruise ship fares and Caribbean resorts are at their least expensive. Is the rock-bottom-priced cruise or the cheap resort package worth the risk of a hurricane? Probably.

For cruise passengers, the decision is easy -- ships will not travel near a hurricane. They will relocate to other ports to stay out of harm's way. The worst thing that can happen? You may get an altered itinerary, which may not be a bad thing. For example, if the hurricane is in the southern Caribbean, you might go to Antigua from Puerto Rico instead of Barbados.

On rare occasions, your cruise could be canceled -- if, for example, a hurricane is headed to Fort Lauderdale and the ships are moved out of the port. Instead of giving your money back, though, the cruise line may want to reschedule your trip -- and if you can't get additional time away, you may be in trouble. So hurricane season might be the time to ask your travel agent about insurance policies for cruise passengers. Carefully read the small print.

As far as vacations to the Caribbean during hurricane season, travelers should stay informed about storms forming over the Atlantic. The best insurance for Caribbean vacations is to make last-minute reservations a week or two before departure if you can be flexible. What are the chances of a hurricane hitting your island on the five days you happen to be there? It's extremely remote if you book a week before departure and the Atlantic looks clear of storms.

But if you have locked in a date months in advance and a hurricane is heading to your island, the resorts and airlines will probably postpone your reservations at no cost -- remember that a resort's interpretation of a hurricane risk might be different from the traveler's. Depending on the hotel's cancellation policies, if you don't show up and the hurricane has gone to other places, you could lose your money.

Meanwhile on Florida's west coast:

The Fort Myers and Sanibel area -- Sanibel and Captiva islands, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Estero, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Boca Grande and Outer Islands, North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte -- is in the midst of cleanup operations and assessing damage from Hurricane Charley.

Officials recommend that anyone with immediate reservations in the area reschedule. At press time, many accommodations were without power and were not accepting guests.

For the latest information on the cleanup and estimates of reopenings, call the Lee County Visitors Center (239-338-3500) or visit www.FortMyersSanibel. com. Early estimates are that it will be at least a few weeks and most likely months before resorts open in the hardest-hit areas.

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