How to Have a Hurricane-Proof Vacation

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Mike Theiss/Corbis

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Smart tips for
traveling to the Caribbean and Mexico during hurricane season.

When Hurricane
Wilma—the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, with maximum wind speeds
of 175 mph—cut a swath of destruction across Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula in
October 2005, thousands of travelers in the region’s popular Caribbean-coast
resorts were left terrified and stranded. Hotels were destroyed, roads were
made impassable by fallen trees and debris, electricity and running water were
disabled, and commercial flights were grounded.

Although the
Mexican government, tourism authority, and local business owners all mobilized
to help travelers cope (the New York–based tour agency Travel Impressions, for example, chartered
its own Airbus to fly 150 of its Wilma-stranded customers home), even six years
later, remembering Wilma’s devastation has been enough to make some travelers
think twice about visiting hurricane-prone destinations.

Peak hurricane
season, which runs between August and October in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of
Mexico, and the U.S. south Atlantic coast, is certainly nothing to take lightly.
And this year’s season may see a fair bit of storm activity: according to the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there’s a 70 percent
chance that in the next few months 14 to 19 storms, with winds of at least 39
mph, will be generated. Seven to 10 of these storms may be hurricanes, with
winds of 74 mph.

Still, the lure of
these warm-weather destinations, especially during the off-season, can be hard
to resist. Crowds are thin, prices are excellent, perks—like free meals and spa
treatments—are numerous, and very often, the weather winds up being perfectly
fine (if slightly more humid than in high-season months). So, the question is:
are there ways to “hurricane-proof” a vacation—to minimize the chances that a
storm will ruin a low-season trip to the tropics?

Indeed there
are—although most of the tricks for lessening hurricane risks require some
research on the traveler’s part. There are websites devoted to tracking local
weather patterns, for example. And booking accommodations
and flights with companies that offer hurricane guarantees (most often in the
form of penalty-free rebooking) is a good way to safeguard a vacation; so is
shopping around for and purchasing traveler’s insurance (the further in
advance, the better).

Other
“hurricane-proofing” methods are less obvious, but can be just as helpful for
ensuring a tropical holiday. Many travelers don’t know that booking a cruise,
for instance—or vacationing at one of a handful of Caribbean resort areas and
islands that fall outside common storm paths (like Bonaire and the San Blas
Islands)—can make a big difference in hurricane risk.

While these
strategies may not be foolproof, they can go a long way toward protecting
travelers' tropical vacation plans (and, worst-case scenario, the travelers
themselves). There may not be any way to control the weather, but there are
plenty of ways to maximize security—and the likelihood that a dream vacation
won’t become a nightmare.

How to Have a Hurricane-Proof Vacation

Smart tips for
traveling to the Caribbean and Mexico during hurricane season.

When Hurricane
Wilma—the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, with maximum wind speeds
of 175 mph—cut a swath of destruction across Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula in
October 2005, thousands of travelers in the region’s popular Caribbean-coast
resorts were left terrified and stranded. Hotels were destroyed, roads were
made impassable by fallen trees and debris, electricity and running water were
disabled, and commercial flights were grounded.

Although the
Mexican government, tourism authority, and local business owners all mobilized
to help travelers cope (the New York–based tour agency Travel Impressions, for example, chartered
its own Airbus to fly 150 of its Wilma-stranded customers home), even six years
later, remembering Wilma’s devastation has been enough to make some travelers
think twice about visiting hurricane-prone destinations.

Peak hurricane
season, which runs between August and October in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of
Mexico, and the U.S. south Atlantic coast, is certainly nothing to take lightly.
And this year’s season may see a fair bit of storm activity: according to the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there’s a 70 percent
chance that in the next few months 14 to 19 storms, with winds of at least 39
mph, will be generated. Seven to 10 of these storms may be hurricanes, with
winds of 74 mph.

Still, the lure of
these warm-weather destinations, especially during the off-season, can be hard
to resist. Crowds are thin, prices are excellent, perks—like free meals and spa
treatments—are numerous, and very often, the weather winds up being perfectly
fine (if slightly more humid than in high-season months). So, the question is:
are there ways to “hurricane-proof” a vacation—to minimize the chances that a
storm will ruin a low-season trip to the tropics?

Indeed there
are—although most of the tricks for lessening hurricane risks require some
research on the traveler’s part. There are websites devoted to tracking local
weather patterns, for example. And booking accommodations
and flights with companies that offer hurricane guarantees (most often in the
form of penalty-free rebooking) is a good way to safeguard a vacation; so is
shopping around for and purchasing traveler’s insurance (the further in
advance, the better).

Other
“hurricane-proofing” methods are less obvious, but can be just as helpful for
ensuring a tropical holiday. Many travelers don’t know that booking a cruise,
for instance—or vacationing at one of a handful of Caribbean resort areas and
islands that fall outside common storm paths (like Bonaire and the San Blas
Islands)—can make a big difference in hurricane risk.

While these
strategies may not be foolproof, they can go a long way toward protecting
travelers' tropical vacation plans (and, worst-case scenario, the travelers
themselves). There may not be any way to control the weather, but there are
plenty of ways to maximize security—and the likelihood that a dream vacation
won’t become a nightmare.

Mike Theiss/Corbis

How to Have a Hurricane-Proof Vacation

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