Beautiful sunsets and crystal blue seas are the quintessential views you expect to find on a cruise. For me, seeing the ocean resemble a sheet of glass never gets old - and always leaves me in awe that something so powerful can also be equally as peaceful.
Rocky seas, storms and hurricanes are never part of our cruise plans, but sometimes you have to prepare for the worst. This is especially true for some areas of the world, which can be notorious for having rough seas and unpredictable weather patterns. Once you step onboard your vessel, you’re at the mercy of the ship, captain and crew to help you safely arrive to your ports of call.
For example, if you are adventurous enough to sail to Antarctica, you have to sail through the infamous Drake Passage. This passage between Antarctica and South America has some of the most treacherous seas in the world. The rocky seas have even been dubbed the name, "The Drake Shake" because of how harsh conditions can be.
You might not be planning to sail to Antarctica anytime soon; but, if you’re like me and find yourself sailing around Northern Europe, you might be surprised to know you'll be sailing among some of the most dangerous seas.
I just returned from a cruise to Iceland from Amsterdam on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas. Do not be mistaken, this was not an expedition cruise of any kind. Instead, we looked forward to spending four days in Iceland before sailing to ports in Northern Ireland, Ireland and England on a midsized cruise ship.
Essentially, I booked a cruise on one of the world’s most dangerous seas and didn’t even know it at the time. Here’s my experience sailing around the North Sea and how the experience both totally surprised me and taught me a valuable lesson.
Before booking this cruise, we didn't even think twice about the enhanced risk of rough seas or storms interrupting our vacation.
Every time you cruise, you give up practically all of your control when you sign on the dotted line of the cruise contract. This is a risk we all take when deciding to go on a cruise. Although rare, your itinerary might need to be altered for any sort of emergency, rough seas, or weather disruption.
(Medical evacuation by helicopter on Mariner of the Seas in January 2023, causing our arrival into Cozumel to be 5 hours late)
When booking this cruise, our top priority was picking an itinerary that visited Iceland. This country was the top of our bucket list. We knew the island country would most likely have some rainy, cold weather. But, I had no idea that the North Sea was actually one of the most dangerous areas to cruise in the world.
Of course, no one can control the weather so it is something I try not to worry about too much. Unless I am booking a cruise to Antarctica or a transoceanic voyage, I don’t usually twice about the typical sea conditions. What will be, will be.
I’ve been cruising for most of my life, so I’ve had my fair share of rough seas.
The craziest storm that I have ever encountered was in the English Channel while sailing from Southhampton during my Semester at Sea study abroad program in college. To avoid a massive storm, we left port early but still managed to run into rough seas and massive swells. Everyone was seasick and puke bags lined and hall for the first few days.
Later in the voyage, I expected rough seas when crossing the Atlantic Ocean, but the entire week was very calm. Weather can just be unpredictable like that.
Surprisingly, I have never missed a port of call due to weather. (knock on wood!). I know this can certainly happen though - and it even recently happened to follow CruiseBlog writer, Hayley, on her NCL Bliss Caribbean cruise. I’ve also been very lucky that my cruise has never been caught in a hurricane or storm, as Hayley also sailed around an inclement hurricane last fall on Margaritaville at Sea.
Two weeks before our sailing departure, I saw a headline about cruise ships being rerouted from Iceland due to rough seas and poor weather conditions.
With our cruise quickly approaching, reading this headline out of Iceland made me feel uneasy and anxious. I started to research more thoroughly what to expect with the weather in Iceland as our departure date neared. Even though it was May - and our sailing was early June - the country was experiencing an unusually harsh winter storm that impacted the entire country. The airport was closed, roads were icy and cruise ships had to be rerouted.
In fact, one of the cruises that we considered booking on Norwegian Prima was scheduled to visit multiple ports in Iceland, but all of them had to be cancelled due to the storm. Sky Princess, a vessel from Princess Cruises, also had to skip four ports in Iceland because of the harsh weather conditions. Reports from those onboard said the seas had been rough during their cruise and many were extremely disappointed about missing Iceland.
(News headlines from Iceland regarding the winter storm and impacted travel (left) and text messages regarding my new anxiety)
I had an internal panic reading these headlines. This was a big reminder that weather can totally derail your vacation plans. I texted my friend that I truly had not even considered how weather in this region of the world could really impact our cruise. While we all know this is true when traveling and cruising, we typically pack for and plan our vacations for the best case scenario.
In all honesty, I would have been heartbroken if we could not visit Iceland. That was the entire reason we had booked the trip. But, this is absolutely one of the risks you take when you book a cruise, as the ocean doesn’t care about anyone's plans.
Heightening my anxiety, I did some quick research and found that the North Sea is one of the world’s most dangerous seas.
While looking for reassurance that our cruise would hopefully not be impacted by bad weather or rough seas, I started to do some research. While I expected to see places like the Drake Passage as being dangerous, I was truly surprised to see that the North Sea was one of the most dangerous seas in the world!
According to a report released by the World Wildlife Fund, the following seas are the most dangerous in the world, based on 15 years’ worth of data:
- The South China Sea and East Indies
- Eastern Mediterranean
- Black Sea
- North Sea
- British Isles
Even less comforting was seeing that the British Isles was also on the list, which is where our sailing would visit after Iceland. However, any ocean can be dangerous thanks to unpredictable rogue waves, storms, hurricanes, weather changes and more.
I combed through cruise forums to see if others found the North Sea and British Isles to be especially rough. About half of the responders said they experienced rough seas while the others said they had perfectly fine weather during their sailing - not necessarily helpful.
I packed extra seasick medication and prepared us for the worst, including rough seas and missed ports.
My husband and I typically do not get seasick and we’ve cruised around the world, from Alaska to Asia and Europe. However, I didn’t want to take any chances so I prepped with extra seasickness medication while packing.
More importantly, I set some realistic expectations with myself that our vacation could have not only rough seas, but we could easily miss ports in Iceland if the weather does not cooperate. While this would indeed be heartbreaking, there is nothing you can do to control the weather. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Icelandic weather reports called for sunny skies by the start of June, which is when we would be visiting our ports of Reykjavik, Ísafjörður, and Seyðisfjörður. This gave me hope! Our sailing would go so far north that we would cross the Arctic Circle, so having a decent forecast was assuring.
Regardless, being on a cruise ship leaves you very vulnerable. You are placing your safety literally in the hands of the ship’s captain, officers and crew members.
Also, we know the ocean is vast - it can be ruthless and very unforgiving. Getting caught in a storm would be far more dangerous than rerouting and missing our ports in Iceland. No one wants to be stuck in a vicious storm on the North Sea. Luckily, weather in Iceland called for some wind and rain, although nothing too out of the ordinary.
As we set sail from Amsterdam, I was very anxious about setting sail on the North Sea.
While my husband remained cool as a cucumber, I didn’t want to set myself up for extreme disappointment if something were to happen with our itinerary. Should we encounter rough seas or unexpected storms, we might miss Iceland entirely.
I didn’t even feel comfortable booking our rental car for Reykjavik until the night before we were set to arrive in port. Perhaps I was being overly anxious (actually, I know I was), but I really wanted to ensure we were actually going to make it to Iceland after everything I read online.
Ultimately, I completely psyched myself out. This was one of those cases where I worried for nothing - isn’t that how it always goes?
Contrary to my research, the North Sea was unusually calm during our two day voyage to Iceland from Amsterdam.
Despite its reputation as being one of the world’s most dangerous seas, the North Sea reveled a sheet of glass during our sailing to Iceland. Every time we came back to our cabin, I would open the doors to look at the sea conditions. It was almost like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
We even saw whales and dolphins jumping from the sea, which was a magnificent surprise.
I laughed to myself thinking that these ocean conditions were probably some of the calmest I’ve ever experienced. The only waves I could even see were those that trailed behind our ship’s wake. We breathed a big sigh of relief as the ship docked in Reykjavik and the weather forecast just showed a bit of rain.
Again, you can control many things in life, but weather just isn’t one of them. Sometimes you get lucky, and other times you can be very unlucky.
After four days in Iceland, we continued to sail on extremely calm seas to our final ports in Belfast, Liverpool and Cork.
After having such good luck sailing on the North Sea, I figured our luck would run out. But, sailing on the British Isles was equally as uneventful. We had beautiful, calm seas for almost every day of our 12-night cruise.
In fact, these were probably some of the best sea conditions of any cruise that I’ve taken. It’s hard to believe that we were sailing on one of the world’s most dangerous seas on this cruise. Only one evening did we have some motion during sailing, but even this was minimal compared to what I had anticipated and stressed about.
Also, this goes to show that most of the things we tend to worry about, never happen. While it was good to be prepared.
You can thoughtfully prepare for so many things when booking and planning for your upcoming cruise. Everything from dining to shore excursions and entertainment can be researched to ensure you have a wonderful cruise vacation.
However, it's also important to remember that things outside of your control can - and will - happen. The cruise contract that you sign states your itinerary can be changed at a moment's notice and none of your ports are guaranteed. Those who cruise enough have undoubtedly experienced wrecked plans because of unexpected weather or emergencies.
For this reason, it's important to book travel insurance and realistically set your expectations, especially if you're sailing to notoriously rough areas. Some travel insurance will cover missed ports, which is something to also consider. But, try not to worry too much about things outside of your control - a valuable lesson I learned during this sailing on the North Sea.