(Updated 5:15 p.m. EDT) -- Hurricane Irene, now a Category 3 storm packing winds of 120 miles per hour, is punishing the southeastern Bahamas. Weather conditions have forced lines to alter itineraries for 16 cruise ships, and Royal Caribbean and HAL have evacuated employees at their private Bahamian island resorts.
The National Hurricane Center's 2 p.m. EDT advisory places Irene some 215 miles southeast of the popular cruise port of Nassau. Some additional strengthening is forecast as over the next day or so, and Irene could become a Category 4 storm by Thursday as it approaches Nassau and Freeport.
Tuesday evening, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for U.S. citizens in the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos, urging Americans there to "locate shelter, monitor media reports, and follow all official instructions."
The storm 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 on Monday when Irene brushed the island's east coast, felling trees, swelling rivers over their banks and flooding some roads. Crews are still working to restore power to tens of thousands. 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.
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Cruise Ship Itinerary Changes
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Gem, which left Sunday from New York for a week-long Bermuda cruise, arrived in King's Wharf, Bermuda, on Wednesday morning. The ship will leave Thursday at 6 p.m., a day earlier than planned, to avoid the path of Irene. Norwegian Gem will arrive in New York on Aug. 28 as scheduled.
Norwegian Jewel, which is in the midst of a week-long Bahamas and Florida cruise, was 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 visited Nassau Tuesday as scheduled. The ship cut its Wednesday call in Great Stirrup Cay and is spending 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.
Monarch of the Seas did 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 Wednesday and will spend the next two days at sea before returning to Port Canaveral Friday.
Majesty of the Seas will not 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; spent Tuesday at sea; is 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 new itinerary includes 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 visited Aruba Tuesday, and is calling on 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, is sailing a revised route. The ship visited Port Canaveral Tuesday (instead of Wednesday as planned), and is in Freeport Wednesday. We're awaiting word on the rest of Pride's itinerary.
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, instead visited Key West Tuesday. It's calling on Cozumel Wednesday and Costa Maya Thursday.
Carnival Conquest, which left Galveston on Sunday for a week-long Bahamas and Florida cruise, is now sailing 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 in Barbados for its scheduled Wednesday call. 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 Half Moon Cay Tuesday.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line 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 through Wednesday night, and near or over the northwestern Bahamas, where the cruise ports of Freeport and Nassau are situated, Thursday. A hurricane warning is in effect for the Southeastern, Central and Northwestern Bahamas, and the N.H.C. is now urging interests in eastern North Carolina and the Mid-Atlantic states to monitor Irene's progress.
The current forecast shows the center of Irene skirting the coast of North Carolina on Saturday before making landfall at the eastern part of Connecticut late Sunday or early Monday. 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.