Hurricane Irma causes widespread cruise cancellations

The Royal Caribbean International cruise ship Liberty of the Seas is shown docked, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, at PortMiami in Miami.

Hurricane Irma has been upgraded to a Category 5 storm, bringing major damage to several small Caribbean islands, including St. Maarten and Barbuda. The storm, carrying winds of 185 mph, has also caused cruise lines to halt operations.

Tuesday night, Carnival Cruises (CCL) announced that it is canceling two cruises scheduled to travel through the projected path of the storm. In a statement, the cruise line expressed that safety was paramount, and passengers would be reimbursed for any inconvenience. Across all cruises, the average fare is $222 a day.

“We will automatically process a full refund, including any pre-purchased Carnival Adventures, Fun Shop purchases, and beverage packages,” said Carnival in a statement. “The refund will be processed to your original form of payment within three weeks.”

Among the canceled cruises are the Carnival Liberty, which was scheduled to depart from Orlando on Sept. 7 and holds 4,134 passengers (including crew), and The Carnival Victory, which was scheduled to leave on Sept. 8 from Miami and holds 3,854 (including crew).

Currently, there are five ships (Glory, Magic, Splendor, Pride, and Ecstasy) out at sea. They will sail on modified itineraries to maintain a safe distance from Irma.

While floating out in the middle of the ocean doesn’t sound appealing, it’s safer than trying to outrun the storm. For instance, The Carnival Glory (which weighs 110,000 tons) travels at 22.5 knots, which is about 26 mph. Meanwhile, Unidata says that the average forward movement of a hurricane is between 15 mph and 20 mph. So, while it’s possible for cruise ships to outrun a storm, it’s probably a better idea to steer clear until the weather improves.

Royal Caribbean (RCL) was initially slow to cancel sailings, but was forced to pull itineraries for three ships: The Enchantment of the Seas and the Majesty of the Seas were both scheduled to depart from Florida on Sept. 8 for cruises to the Bahamas. The Empress of the Seas, scheduled to leave Florida for Cuba on Sept. 9, has also been canceled.

While canceled vacation plans are never easy to accept, those affected by the last-minute change can expect full reimbursement from Royal Caribbean, similar to Carnival Cruises. “The cruise fare and fees will be 100% refunded to the original form of payment,” said Royal Caribbean, which is also offering a 25% discount for a future cruise, based on the fare. To take advantage of the deal travelers will have to book a new cruise in the next 30 days.

Three additional Royal Caribbean cruises have had their departures delayed until next week. Travelers will be refunded if they are unable to travel on the new itinerary. Those choosing to travel on the new dates will still receive a 30%-50% refund of their cruise fare due to the inconvenience.

Meanwhile, a few passengers will have to settle for longer cruise vacations. Royal Caribbean has delayed the return of several ships to Florida, including the Oasis, Harmony, and Allure of the Seas. These ships are being kept out of harm’s way, but it also means that passengers are stuck on the boat until the coast is clear.

Correction: A previous  version of this story said the average forward movement of a hurricane is about 30 mph. In fact, it’s 15 mph to 20 mph. The error has been corrected.

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.

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