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Travelers flee Hurricane Irene

By A. Pawlowski, CNN
Raging waves whipped up by Hurricane Irene batter the seafront in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Tuesday.
Raging waves whipped up by Hurricane Irene batter the seafront in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Tuesday.
  • Airlines are allowing passengers to change plans as Hurricane Irene approaches
  • Travel waivers mean you can make changes to your itinerary without a fee
  • Hurricane has also forced more than a dozen cruise ships to change their itineraries
  • Royal Caribbean evacuates CocoCay, its private island resort in the Bahamas

Editor's Note: Check out "Open Story: Hurricane Irene," a collaborative effort of CNN and iReport contributors who are documenting the storm as it moves across the Atlantic Ocean. Read more about Hurricane Irene from CNN affiliate WSAV.

(CNN) -- Leisurely vacations in the Caribbean have quickly turned into a race to get out of the region for tourists, planes and cruise ships in the path of Hurricane Irene.

The storm continued to pound the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Wednesday.

As the huge hurricane churned northwest toward the United States, it forced more than a dozen cruise ships to change their itineraries, reported.

Those ships include the Carnival Sensation, which had been docked in Freeport, Bahamas, but is coming back to Port Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday night -- or several hours earlier than scheduled -- to stay out of harm's way, said Jennifer de la Cruz, a Carnival spokeswoman.

"It's ahead of the storm and it's fine," de la Cruz said.

"We monitor the storms closely and make strategic changes to the itineraries to keep them away from the storm. The nice thing ... is that there are a lot of destinations in the Caribbean, so we have lots of options."

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Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean evacuated CocoCay, its private island resort in the Bahamas, the cruise line said on its blog.

Port calls are not expected to resume in Nassau until Saturday, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation said.

The dangerous storm has prompted the ministry to recommend "strongly" that people with plans to travel to the Bahamas in the next few days postpone their trips.

It also asked tourists already there to leave.

"Even though the hotels in the Bahamas are fully prepared to accommodate guests under these circumstances, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation is strongly recommending that all visitors voluntarily evacuate the destination," the ministry said.

Tourists abandon Bahamas as Irene nears

The Bahamas Hotel Association's hurricane cancellation policy is in effect for travelers who need to postpone or cancel their vacation in the islands. The policy allows vacationers either to use their deposits or payments toward a future stay at the same property or request a full refund.

If you plan to fly in or out of the region this week, most carriers will let you change your itinerary without a fee.

United Airlines will allow changes for travel to, through and from more than a dozen airports in the Caribbean -- including San Juan, Puerto Rico; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and several locations in the Bahamas -- for travelers scheduled to fly through Friday. Continental Airlines has a similar policy.

Delta Air Lines is waiving change fees for travelers scheduled to fly to, from or through Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Bahamas through Thursday.

US Airways also has relaxed its change-fee policies for passengers scheduled to fly to or from several Florida cities -- including Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami -- through Friday.

The policy also applies for travel to or from the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Turks And Caicos through Sunday.

American Airlines has issued a travel waiver for passengers flying to or from more than a dozen airports in the Caribbean, including St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos through Friday.

JetBlue is waiving change/cancel fees and fare differences for fliers traveling to and from the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos.

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