Hurricanes have filled our news lately whether it’s named Harvey, Irma or Maria, it’s brought flooding and destruction to a wide variety of nations and their people. Relief efforts are underway for the Northern Leeward Islands and the Northern Caribbean, which were the hardest hit. Many of the islands depend on tourism as their main source of income and have been reeling in recent days from both lost of basic needs and lack of an income source.
Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, St. Maarten, St. Barts, Tortola, and Barbuda are facing a long and expensive road to recovery. Getting the airports and cruise ports open remain a priority, not only for tourism, but most importantly for delivering basic supplies such clean water, food, ice and other provisions to be brought in for their residents. Cruise lines are currently scrambling to replace the damaged ports on their itineraries to accommodate their booked guests in the coming months
I’ve been extremely proud of the cruise industry during this terrible time. Cruise lines rescheduled itineraries, ended cruises early, and extended other ships voyages as well as cancelling cruises altogether. Guests that couldn’t get a flight out before the storms or lived in the path of the storm were even allowed to stay on the ship at no cost. Cruise lines opened the phones lines, made free wifi available, and waved gratuities to accommodate guests. They offered refunds, future credits and rescheduled customers. Headquarters for many cruise lines are in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas, which were directly in the path of Hurricane Irma. The management and the employees accomplished much of this while balancing their own safety as well as their family’s evacuation.
Some of the things that the cruise lines have done are: Norwegian Cruise Lines brought food, water and much needed supplies to St. Thomas as well as evacuating several thousand residents and visitors immediately following Hurricane Irma. Following Maria’s destruction, Carnival Cruise Lines ships have been traveling to destinations in the Caribbean donating supplies, water and food and have pledged $10 million to hurricane relief. Royal Caribbean took relief supplies to St. Maarten following Hurricane Irma and were back immediately following Hurricane Maria to help out the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and San Juan. The list is incomplete but be assured that they did more than they got credit for. One of my clients took a picture of generators being unloaded in St. Thomas to an awaiting crowd and another one showed their ship stopping in Key West just long enough to unload supplies. Many cruise ships were the first on the scene to offer assistance.
Royal Caribbean cancelled this week’s sailing on Adventure of the Seas in order to utilize the ship for evacuation and humanitarian efforts. It will return to Fort Lauderdale to bring evacuees back before returning to San Juan to prepare for the Oct. 7 cruise. Norwegian Cruise Line announced on Tuesday that it was partnering with “All Hands Volunteer,” a disaster relief organization for Texas and struggling Caribbean Islands matching funds up to $1.25 million of donations. The cruise lines have been on the front line of aid and support for the islands and have done much without seeking the spotlight.
As big as the Hurricanes were, only a small portion of the Caribbean was affected. Travelers should be aware that the southern portion of the Caribbean with such islands such as Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, St. Lucia, and Barbados were untouched by the hurricanes. The Western Caribbean which includes Cozumel, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Belize ports were also missed and remain open for business. The Bahamas, luckily, remained relatively unaffected.
The Florida Keys suffered much damage from Hurricane Irma. Many of my fellow agents cheered this week when the Key West cruise port opened to guests this week several weeks ahead of schedule. While it will take the Keys some time to recover, tourism dollars will help with that effort. Cuba took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, but recently reopened its Havana port with ships from Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean sailing there this week.
Cruising is all about fun and seems to represent only good times. It’s gratifying in times of trouble, the cruise industry expands its hospitality reach and opens its heart. Islanders and stranded tourists alike have felt the generosity of a business that looks first at doing the right thing and secondly at their bottom line. Proud to be a small part of this great big travel world.
Marci DeWitt owns a local travel agency, Anchor and Away Travel, a Dream Vacations franchise. She can be reached by email at mdewitt@DreamVacations.com.