Hiring A Weather Forecaster A Prescient Move For Royal Caribbean

Cruise Week

The year 2017, once again, reminded us how the cruise business can be undone by the weather, but Royal Caribbean is working hard to minimize the uncertainty.

You may recall that two years ago, Anthem of the Seas departed Bayonne to Pt. Canaveral and ran into "extreme wind and sea conditions" off the Carolinas. Royal said the situation was unexpected, but many news outlets, both social and traditional, disagreed.

That situation has been cited as one of the reasons Royal Caribbean hired James Van Fleet as the industry's first meteorologist last May.

As it turned out, the hiring was prescient. A few months later the Atlantic was hit by the worst Caribbean hurricane season in more than a decade. "Certainly since 2005, it was the busiest that I can recall," Van Fleet tells Cruise Week, adding: "Timing is everything. Who knew?"

Van Fleet's role for the company is wide ranging. "Initially, Royal wanted somebody who could break down the science of weather for bridge officers on the ships," explains Van Fleet, adding: "There's never been that person before for ships, whereas airlines have teams of meteorologists."

Mariners are well versed in reading charts, notes Van Fleet. But sometimes that’s not enough. "There's never been that middle man to say, 'This gives you a little bit of [extra] lead time. Yes, the charts are saying this, but it's based off of that model, and right now that model's not good in this part of the world.'"

The bottom-line is that sometimes ship captains have only a general idea of what to expect. "They could make a plan, but if we could afford them a little more time as to what to expect, it would create a lot of value, both for the ship and the financial part for the company," Van Fleet says.

The meteorologist also brings valuable knowledge directly to passengers. "If they knew ahead of time we've got this excursion planned for a port but we might get scrubbed because of whatever happened this morning, it can add value to their vacation," he says, speaking generally.

He provides a specific example that occurred the day of our interview: "We did a video this morning on Enchantment that's going out to all our Atlantic and Caribbean ships. In the stateroom, there's a minute-and-a-half video that says, 'Here's what we're tracking and expecting.'"

Essentially the message was that if your sailing is heading to Coco Cay on Sunday, don't be surprised if the port call is cancelled. Van Fleet explains, "We reported, 'That's a tender port, and the wind threshold, although not dangerous for the ship, may be too high for the tenders to safely take you on the island.'"

The advantage to passengers is that if they know ahead of time that this part of the vacation may be skipped, they can plan for alternatives and may not feel as big a letdown.

"If you know a day ahead of time this might get cancelled, you might be able to keep plan A, however, be ready for this; then it becomes, 'that's now going to be an at sea day, do we want to make reservations at Chops Grill a day early so we get in?'"

Summing it up, Van Fleet views himself as a translator. "For many people these are the most valuable days of their year," he said.

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