The conventional wisdom is that the Caribbean is a no-go zone during hurricane season. The conventional wisdom is wrong—even though some parts of the year are more statistically likely to see hurricanes, that hardly means one is guaranteed. On most days of the year, most destinations are enjoying balmy, sunny days and calm seas.
Hurricanes affect only a small part of a big region at a time. (The whole region is some 1,900 miles from Barbados to Belize, about as far as New York is from Salt Lake City.) Even if a hurricane were impacting the southern Bahamas, most of the Bahamas would be having ideal vacation weather, says Frank J. Comito, CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. So the risk is slight, and the rewards for taking it can be great: lower rates and lighter crowds. Here’s what you need to know.
Your travel window has majorly expanded: According to the National Weather Service, hurricane season in the Atlantic runs from June 1 to November 30. If you’re willing to travel then, you’ve just taken back half a year of potential vacation time.
Head south: The islands closest to South America typically see fewer hurricanes: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao (collectively known as the ABCs, and a mecca for scuba diving), posh Barbados (with its polo and botanical gardens), and Trinidad and Tobago (popular for music and culture) are usually safer bets. But throughout the Caribbean, it’s business as usual most days of the year. Wildlife, swimming, and ocean conditions in September are generally much like they are in February.
Understand the deals: No one explicitly markets “hurricane rates,” but shoulder-season promotions are abundant. (Many islanders take advantage of the deals to travel within the islands.) Although a lot of hotels close for annual maintenance for a few weeks or months, they’re open much of the season. Look for fall promotions. For instance, both Carlisle Bay in Antigua and Le Guanahani in St. Barth are offering guests four nights for the price of three this fall. As when booking any hotel, book with the hotel directly and ask about any promotions that may be going on.
Buy travel insurance: Lastly, make sure to get travel insurance that includes NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) warnings and alerts for tropical storms; most also cover cancelation or interruption if a destination is deemed uninhabitable, as long as the policy was purchased before a hurricane or tropical storm was named. Sites like InsureMyTrip.com, which casts a wide net, and TravelInsurance.com, which offers tighter, more curated lists, let you comparison shop for the best policy. Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, says, “You could get high-quality coverage for what amounts to the cost of a nice dinner out on vacation.” While prices vary depending on destination, trip cost, desired benefits, and even travelers’ ages and residences, travel insurance costs between 3 and 10 percent of the trip being covered—perhaps $100 or $200 for a couple planning a $2,000 vacation.
Book a cruise: Ships will reroute when they receive storm warnings, meaning that unless you had your heart set on a particular island, your vacation will be virtually unaffected. Options range from the high-luxury small ships of Silversea, Seabourn, and Azamara to the big vessels of Celebrity and NCL.
…and, if a hurricane DOES strike: If you did book a trip (and didn’t buy travel insurance) and a hurricane hits, don’t panic. Everyone will have plenty of warning. “We in the Caribbean have become more experienced at dealing with the impact of storms and better at planning because of improved communications. We know as soon as any system forms on the African coast and have pretty accurate predictions as to ETAs,” says Johnson JohnRose, communications specialist for the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Local governments and hotels are keeping a close eye on things, and they have detailed activation plans for evacuating guests or sheltering in place. And if an impending storm looks serious, hotels and airlines often let guests cancel or reschedule without penalties. Ask about policies when you book, and if trouble seems to be looming, ask again about your options. “We are regularly made aware of instances where guest satisfaction levels increase during a storm, says Comito of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. “They are well taken care of by the resort and staff.”
Travel writer Ann Abel‘s 96-page passport is almost full.
© 2016 AFAR Media