From the Bridge: Wild Winter Weather

From the Bridge: Wild Winter Weather

When Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas unexpectedly hit a massive storm on a Cape Liberty, NJ-based Caribbean cruise last month, the details from passengers aboard the rough ride painted a pretty uncomfortable picture.

And when the same ship, just a few weeks later, ended a cruise early because of threatening weather patterns, it made us wonder:

In conversations with numerous cruise executives and cruise ship officers at lines other than Royal Caribbean,

First, there was no impact on other lines operating winter cruises in the area, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, with its New York-based Breakaway and Carnival Cruise Line, with Baltimore-based Pride.

The real issue isn’t what Royal Caribbean’s navigators did or didn’t do, industry sources said. The real issue is that predicting weather — not just in winter but also during hurricane season — can be a tricky business.

Traditionally, captains are responsible for ensuring that logistics are well planned, including evaluating the possibility of adverse weather. When unusual weather does develop, the captains do receive support from the lines’ shoreside teams. This includes “sophisticated weather tracking technology, third party weather advisory services, communications with port and governmental agencies, and the advice of our own experts," said Rick Miller, Carnival’s vice president of nautical and safety operations

Now, cruise companies are finding even more sophisticated ways to make storms, and cruises, as predictable as possible.

"The event, exceptional as it was, identified gaps in our planning system that we are addressing," Royal Caribbean said in a statement after the Anthem sailing. "Though that system has performed well through many instances of severe weather around the world, what happened this week showed that we need to do better."

From the Bridge: Wild Winter Weather

The line noted that it would strengthen its storm avoidance policy, and add resources at its Miami headquarters to provide additional guidance to our ships’ captains.

Royal Caribbean’s pledge to improve is right in line with a cruise industry mantra, according to another cruise line executive.

"We have a history of being a learning industry — and that’s helped each of us share best practices and look at opportunities to improve operations," said Roger Frizzell, Carnival Corporation’s chief communications officer. "That’s a hallmark in the cruise industry."

Technology is deepening the relationship between ship and shore. Carnival Corporation’s Costa Group recently opened a marine operations unit in Hamburg to support the 25 vessels of Costa and AIDA. Operating at all times, this fleet operations center can monitor every ship, assist with safety concerns, and support officers in optimizing route planning should weather issues arise. Of course, the unit goes well beyond storm-related assistance (hazard prevention, water and waste management, energy consumption and medical support are a few more of its many functions).

“It is our goal to pursue a ‘zero-incident’ policy," said Jens Lassen, executive vice president of Carnival Maritime, at the unit’s launch last fall; parent company Carnival Corporation plans to expand the concept to its other brands. And a Royal Caribbean spokesperson told Cruise Critic that the line is working on developing new support initiatives and storm avoidance policies, which it will announce soon.

While some passengers say they have no interest in cold weather cruising, Cruise Critic’s members are not ones to let weather deter them. In a poll, 56 percent said dicey conditions wouldn’t deter them from taking such a trip; only three percent said they’d avoid it altogether. (the other 40 percent said they preferred to fly to warm weather ports to embark).

Cruise Critic member rkacruiser summed up the "can-do" winter cruise attitude. "," he writes. ""

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