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Hurricane Irene sparks more cruise itinerary changes

(Updated Aug. 23, 5:30 p.m. EDT) Hurricane Irene, the ninth named storm and first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season, is hammering the islands of Turks and Caicos as it surges for the Bahamas. Weather conditions have forced lines to alter itineraries for some 15 cruise ships, and Royal Caribbean is preparing to secure and evacuate Cocacay, its private Bahamian island resort.

The National Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. EDT advisory places Irene some 50 miles south-southwest of the popular cruise port of Grand Turk. Maximum sustained winds have weakened slightly to 90 miles per hour, but the storm is expected to intensify into a major hurricane by Wednesday night or Thursday.

Irene has been tracing a path through the Caribbean since forming Saturday. According to Reuters, 800,000 people in Puerto Rico -- half of the island's electricity customers -- were left without power when the storm brushed the island's east coast, felling trees, swelling rivers over their banks and flooding some roads. President Obama has declared a state of emergency, which releases federal aid to help with local response efforts. Early Tuesday, Irene skirted the north coast of the Dominican Republic, bringing heavy winds, rain and surging seas.

Cruise Ship Itinerary Changes

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Norwegian Jewel, which is in the midst of a week-long Bahamas and Florida cruise, arrived in Great Stirrup Cay Tuesday (NCL's private Bahamian island) as originally planned. Instead of calling on Nassau Wednesday, Jewel will spend the day at sea, then head north en route to its New York homeport. It'll reach N.Y.C. on Saturday as scheduled.
  • Norwegian Sky is in Nassau Tuesday as scheduled. The ship will cancel its Wednesday call in Great Stirrup Cay and spend the day at sea instead. Depending on the path of the storm, the ship may also have to cancel its call in Freeport on Thursday. Sky completes its four-night cruise on Friday in Miami.

Royal Caribbean

  • Monarch of the Seas will not call on Cococay, the line's private Bahamian island, Tuesday. The ship, which left Port Canaveral Monday on a four-night Bahamas cruise, is in Nassau today and will spend the next two days at sea before returning to Port Canaveral Friday.
  • Majesty of the Seas will not be able to call on CocoCay Wednesday. Instead, the ship is sailing directly to Key West, where it will arrive at 4 p.m. on Wednesday and stay overnight until 6 p.m. on Thursday. Majesty is scheduled to conclude its four-night Bahamas and Florida cruise in Miami on Friday.
  • Royal Caribbean reversed the itinerary for Oasis of the Seas, which left Fort Lauderdale on Saturday for a week-long Western Caribbean cruise. The ship visited Cozumel on Monday; is spending Tuesday at sea; calling on Falmouth, Jamaica on Wednesday; and visiting Labadee, the line's private peninsula in Haiti, on Thursday. Oasis will spend Friday at sea before returning to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday as scheduled.
  • Freedom of the Seas, which left Sunday from Port Canaveral on a week-long Western Caribbean cruise, is sailing a reversed itinerary. The ship is now calling on Cozumel (Tuesday), Grand Cayman (Wednesday), Falmouth, Jamaica (Thursday) and Labadee (Friday).
  • Oasis' sister ship, Allure of the Seas, is visiting all the ports originally scheduled on its week-long Caribbean cruise, but in a slightly different order. The ship will visit Nassau, Bahamas on Saturday (August 27) instead of Monday (August 22). Visits to St. Thomas (Wednesday) and St. Maarten (Thursday) will take place as planned.
  • Royal Caribbean has scrambled the order for Serenade of the Seas' seven-night Southern Caribbean cruise, which left from San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sunday. The ship is now visiting Aruba (Tuesday), Curacao (Wednesday), St. Kitts (Friday) and St. Thomas (Saturday).

Carnival Cruise Lines

  • Carnival Pride, which left Baltimore on Sunday for a week-long Bahamas and Florida cruise, will sail a revised route. The ship will now visit Port Canaveral (Tuesday, instead of Wednesday) and Freeport (Wednesday), after which the line will determine the remainder of the itinerary based on Irene's projected path.
  • Carnival Triumph, which sailed from New Orleans on Saturday for a week-long Bahamas and Florida cruise, is swapping its Bahamas calls for visits to Western Caribbean ports. The new route includes stops in Key West (Tuesday, as planned), Cozumel (Wednesday) and Progreso (Thursday).
  • Carnival Destiny, which departed Miami on Monday for a five-night cruise to Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay and Nassau, will instead visit Key West (Tuesday), Cozumel (Wednesday) and Costa Maya (Thursday).
  • Carnival Conquest, which left Galveston on Sunday for a week-long Bahamas and Florida cruise, will now sail a Western Caribbean itinerary. The new route calls for visits to Costa Maya (Wednesday), Cozumel (Thursday) and Progreso (Friday).
  • Carnival Victory had to cancel Monday's call at St. Thomas and is proceeding to Barbados for its scheduled call on Wednesday. Spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the line is still evaluating the remainder of the itinerary. Victory is on a seven-night cruise from San Juan.
  • Carnival Liberty, in the midst of a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise from Miami, stopped in Grand Turk Monday instead of spending the day at sea as originally planned. The line is evaluating the remainder of the itinerary.
  • Carnival Miracle, which embarked from New York Thursday on an eight-night Eastern Caribbean cruise, is sailing an altered itinerary. Instead of visiting San Juan, St. Thomas and Grand Turk, the ship called on Grand Turk Monday and is visiting Half Moon Cay Tuesday.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line likewise has no changes at this time for its one Bahamas-based ship, Disney Dream.

Weather Outlook: Possible Affected Ships and Ports

The core of the storm will move near or over the southeastern and central Bahamas Tuesday night and Wednesday, and near or over the northwestern Bahamas, where the cruise ports of Freeport and Nassau are situated, by Thursday. A hurricane warning is in effect for the Turks and Caicos, and all of the Bahamas.

The current forecast shows the center of Irene making landfall Saturday afternoon somewhere near the northeast part of North Carolina. Meteorologists expect Irene's impact to be widespread along the East Coast. The last time a hurricane made landfall in the U.S. was in 2008, when Ike's 100 mph winds slammed into Texas, severely damaging the Gulf Coast, including the popular embarkation port of Galveston. 

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