(Updated 5:35 p.m. EDT) -- Hurricane Irene, a Category 3 storm packing winds of 115 miles per hour, is hammering the northwestern Bahamas, but Nassau was spared the brunt as the storm passed well east of the popular cruise port. Hurricane warnings and watches are now in place for portions of North Carolina, and weekend departures from Northeast embarkation ports like New York may be delayed.
All told, dangerous weather conditions have forced lines to alter itineraries for more than 20 cruise ships in the Eastern Caribbean and the Bahamas, and vessels in Bermuda are racing back to their Northeast homeports early in order to beat the storm.
The National Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. EDT advisory places Irene some 150 miles north-northeast of Nassau, and 575 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C. Some additional strengthening is possible Thursday night and Friday.
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 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. Early Tuesday, Irene skirted the north coast of the Dominican Republic, bringing heavy winds, rain and surging seas. On Wednesday, the southeastern Bahamas took a lashing. A report from the Nassau Guardian said the storm caused severe flooding, brought widespread power outages and "wiped 90 percent of the settlement in Lovely Bay, Acklins off the map." There were no immediate reports of major injuries or deaths, but property damage appeared likely to be extensive, reported the Associated Press.
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Cruise ship itinerary changes
HAL's Veendam, which left Sunday from New York on a seven-day Bermuda Cruise, will now depart Bermuda at approximately 5 p.m. on Thursday rather than Friday, and arrive in New York one day early on Saturday. Passengers will be able to disembark on Saturday or overnight until Sunday. There are currently no changes to Veendam's next cruise, a seven-night Bermuda sailing leaving New York on Sunday, August 28. The ship is scheduled to sail at 4:45 p.m. But, according to a statement from the line, "based on the storm's progress and intensity, departure may be delayed." That decision will not be made until Saturday evening or Sunday.
Maasdam, which is nearing the end of a 35-night roundtrip Boston sailing, remains on schedule. The ship is due to arrive in Boston on Saturday, August 27, at 7 a.m. Maasdam's next sailing, a Canada and New England cruise that leaves from Boston at 5 p.m. on August 27, also remains on schedule. According to HAL, itinerary adjustments will be made as storm conditions warrant, but any changes will not impact the time of departure from Boston.
Celebrity Summit, currently sailing a Bermuda cruise, will depart King's Wharf, Bermuda Thursday at 6 p.m., a day earlier than originally scheduled. The ship will now arrive at its Bayonne, New Jersey homeport on Saturday, August 27, at 6 p.m. instead of Sunday morning.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Gem, which left Sunday from New York for a week-long Bermuda cruise, arrived in King's Wharf, Bermuda 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 Sunday, August 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 spent the day at sea, then headed 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 spent the day at sea. On Thursday, the ship will miss its call to Grand Bahama Island and visit Key West instead. Sky completes its four-night cruise on Friday in Miami.
Explorer of the Seas will now embark from Bayonne, New Jersey, on Saturday, August 27, at 4 p.m., one hour earlier than originally scheduled. The ship will be sailing a five-night Bermuda cruise.
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, was in Nassau Wednesday and will spend Thursday at sea before returning to Port Canaveral Friday.
Majesty of the Seas did not call on CocoCay Wednesday. Instead, the ship sailed directly to Key West, where it arrived at 4 p.m. Wednesday and is staying 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; called on Falmouth, Jamaica on Wednesday; and is 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) took 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 new order is as follows: Aruba (Tuesday), Curacao (Wednesday), St. Kitts (Friday) and St. Thomas (Saturday).
Carnival Fantasy which left its Charleston, South Carolina homeport Thursday for a six-night cruise, will not be able to call on King's Wharf, Bermuda on Saturday and Sunday. The ship will visit Cozumel (Sunday) and Key West (Monday) instead.
Carnival Fascination which left its Jacksonville, Florida, homeport Thursday for a four-night cruise, will sail an altered itinerary. The ship will no longer call at Freeport (Friday) and may have to swap its Saturday call in Nassau for a visit to Key West.
Carnival Sensation which left its Port Canaveral, Florida, homeport Thursday for a three-night cruise, will no longer call on Nassau on Friday and Saturday. The ship will instead spend two days in Key West (Friday and Saturday) and return to Port Canaveral Sunday morning as planned.
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 was in Freeport Wednesday. Pride is no longer stopping in Nassau Thursday. To stay ahead of the storm, the ship is now spending Thursday, Friday and Saturday at sea, and it may have to return to Baltimore early to stay ahead of the storm.
Carnival Triumph, which sailed from New Orleans on Saturday for a week-long Bahamas and Florida cruise, swapped 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 called on Cozumel Wednesday and is visiting 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 includes visits to Costa Maya (Wednesday), Cozumel (Thursday) and Progreso (Friday).
Carnival Victory had to cancel Monday's call at St. Thomas, but was in Barbados for its scheduled Wednesday call. The remainder of Victory's seven-night cruise from San Juan is proceeding as scheduled.
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 remainder of the cruise is as scheduled.
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.
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The core of the storm will move north of the northwestern Bahamas Thursday night and pass well offshore of the east coast of central and northern Florida late tonight and early Friday. A hurricane warning remains in effect for the northwestern Bahamas, and has been issued for coast regions of northern South Carolina and North Carolina.
Farther north, a hurricane watch is now in effect from Surf City, N.C. to Sandy Hook, N.J., including portions of the Chesapeake Bay. The NHC is urging interests along the U.S. coast -- all the way to New England -- to monitor Irene's progress.
Forecasts show Irene's eye coming close to Cape Hatteras, N.C., early Saturday, then heading north over water toward the eastern edge of Long Island, N.Y., on Sunday. 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.