Reader: we muffed the question. Unlike other call in radio shows on which the hosts know the questions in advance (ahem, Car Talk on NPR!), we have no idea what's going to be thrown at us until minutes before we have to talk (a computer screen displays the callers name, hometown and one sentence on their question).
My father and I told the caller that only she could make the decision about whether or not to go, and that, since Irene's path was still uncertain at the time of the call, we'd probably go ahead with the vacation.
Here's what I wish we'd said:
- Get insurance! Of course, you can't buy it once a storm is announced. But if you're ever planning to venture into the hurricane zone during storm season, its a good idea to protect yourself. Know, however, that insurance only works to a certain extent. If, say, the lovely pink sand beach at the hotel you've chosen is swept away by a storm, along with all the sheltering palm trees, but the hotel itself is still standing and operating, you may not be able to get your vacation money back. Insurance doesn't cover the "quality" of the vacation just whether or not its doable. And don't insure your airfare for the reason below.
- Be in close contact with your airline: They don't want to fly into the path of a storm any more than you do. Inevitably, when storms are announced, airlines allow passengers to change tickets without penalty. Here's a round-up of airline policies regarding Irene.
- Choose your island/destination carefully: Historically, the Bahamas have been hit with the most storms over the years and it looks like Irene is going to wallop them once again. Conversely, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and Margarita, in the Caribbean, lie outside the storm zone and haven't been hit with a hurricane in decades.
- Choose a cruise over an island vacation: Mother Nature is not as fast as our modern cruise ships, all of which can outrun storms. Because of this, no major cruiseline has been caught in the eye of a storm for decades. That doesn't, however, mean that they're foolproof at this time of year. Just this week, Royal Caribbean managed to strand 145 passengers in Puerto Rico when it left port 8 hours early to get out of the path of Irene. And don't choose to cruise if you're doing so to hit a particular island: cruise lines change their itineraries when storms materialize, as has happened with Irene.
Last year, was a particularly bad season for hurricanes, the third worst on record. Meteorologists are predicting that 2011 will be just as fierce. Forewarned is forearmed!