This is your captain speaking from the bridge. I know many of you were looking forward to a week of fun in the sun on stops in San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Unfortunately, all those ports are closed indefinitely because of the train of hurricanes that’s churned through the Caribbean this year.
Our shore specialists have been working day and night trying to reschedule our itineraries. A great advantage of a cruise ship is that we can avoid storms and change island destinations, something that resorts on land can’t do.
Meanwhile the pool bars are open and the ship’s restaurants are well supplied as we chart a new course. And fingers crossed, the worst of the weather is behind us.
Here’s a snapshot at the ever shifting map of islands that may be off the Caribbean itineraries for the foreseeable future:
Wounded but recovering
Key West, Florida
The port has reopened in time for October’s Fantasy Fest, where folks who may have lost the shirts off their backs at least don’t have to wear them. The Conch Republic’s recovery has been quicker than anticipated from the heavy damage of Hurricane Irma. Most cruises that had given it a pass in September favor of an extra day at sea are planning to return.
Some attractions and restaurants remain closed and damaged store windows are boarded up, but roads to the Keys have been repaired and supplies of food and drinks are reported to be ample. Limes for margaritas may be at a premium, though as at least half of Florida’s citrus crop was wiped out by the hurricane.
Down for the count
San Juan, Puerto Rico
The port itself was not significantly damaged but the horrendous damage to the island from the storm will linger for months. The government reports that San Juan’s airport has resumed full operation. However, much of the island is still without electrical power and less than half of telecommunications and cell service has been restored.
The port currently is busy as a staging area for relief supplies, food and fuel. Several cruise itineraries that included San Juan have been altered to avoid Puerto Rico.
In a conference call Oct. 11, Royal Caribbean International’s President & CEO, Michael Bayley said he and a team from the cruise line were encouraged by recovery efforts in Puerto Rico as well as the Virgin Islands and are optimistic that the line’s ships could return to the ports by early November. Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas has resumed sailing scheduled itineraries after doing humanitarian relief service. It’s using San Juan as home port, with stops in Martinique rather than St. Croix.
Carnival Corp. president and CEO Arnold Donald said Carnival believes Old San Juan is ready to receive tourists and the line is resuming scheduled cruises from Puerto Rico. However, scheduled cruises of Carnival Fascination from San Juan have been cancelled until February, 2018 because the ship has been chartered for relief efforts. All of Carnival Corp. brands are adjusting itineraries that had scheduled visits to the worst-hit islands — St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Thomas and Anguilla — until the end of the year.
Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Tortola Pier Park’s cruise and shopping facility won’t open until at least Nov. 1 and even then only about half of the retail and food and beverage stores will be operating, according to Mark Vanterpool, the minister of communications and works..
A majority of the hotels in the territory are currently closed with no immediate word on opening dates. Many homes were destroyed or are without roofs and water supplies, power and communications remain intermittent. There was also heavy damage on popular cruise tour destinations, Virgin Gorda and Jost van Dyke.
The port remains closed and Norwegian Cruise Line has cancelled all of its cruises there. MSC Cruises has replaced the island on its itineraries with a port stop in the Dominican Republic. Smaller cruise lines like SeaDream Yacht Club and Star Clippers are keeping an eye on recovery and still planning on visiting the island in December and January.
Barbuda (but not Antigua)
Antigua’s small sister island suffered catastrophic damage from a direct hit by Irma, with 90 per cent of homes and all hotels on Barbuda reportedly destroyed. All 1,800 residents have been removed from the island. Low Bay port is closed indefinitely. Only SeaDream had Barbuda on its itineraries for 2018.
Meanwhile, the good news is Antigua itself escaped major damage and the port and hotels are still operating.
The hedonists and sybarites who normally flock to the French island in the winter are likely destined to flock somewhere else this year. Toney resorts like the Eden Roc and Hotel Le Toiny have no reopening dates set. Le Guanahani will not be reopening until summer, 2018.
Roadways have been cleared, water production has resumed and electricity has been restored, but Gustavia, St. Bart’s port with its many high-end shops was severely damaged and the harbor is currently only open to relief efforts. Silversea Cruises and Seabourn Cruises are considering alternatives to the island for planned calls this fall.
Philipsburg (St. Maarten) and Marigot (St. Martin)
Both the Dutch and French sides of the island were severely battered by Hurricane Irma and the ports remain closed to cruise business indefinitely. The Princess Juliana Airport was so devastated it may not be in full operation until the summer of 2018, aviation minister Mellissa Arrindell-Doncher told The Daily Herald.
Land-based resorts were badly damaged and many hotels have canceled all reservations on the island through the remainder of 2017. The hardest hit was the Sonesta, which is planning to refund deposits through next March.
On the French side, some hotels have already said they will not reopen this winter. Windstar Cruises has announced it is switching home port for its cruises from Philipsburg to Bridgetown, Barbados.
MSC Cruises is replacing calls in St. Maarten on itineraries with St. Kitts.
Phone and internet communications have been restored to most parts of the island and roads and beaches have been cleared. The terminal at Blowing Point was so badly damaged it must be demolished and a new dock will be built. The island still remains on cruise itineraries, but no ships are scheduled to call at the long, flat island until late November. The hotels that are open are currently housing recovery crews and many of the luxury hotels including the Four Seasons Resort & Residences have no plans to open until the new year. CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa needs so much restoration it isn’t likely to re-open until the summer of 2018. However the island’s Chief Minister reports that recovery is exceeding expectations and the island will be ready to welcome visitors for the Christmas season.
Ports in St. Thomas and St. John are open, but currently being used for relief efforts. On Nov. 10, Royal Caribbean will dock in St. Thomas for the first time since early September with Adventure of the Seas.
In partnership with the government of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Royal Caribbean also has committed to undertaking the complete restoration of Magens Bay. Damage to hotels has been severe and most hotels, including Ritz-Carlton, St Thomas and Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort are closed until further notice.
Because of the lack of accommodations in the Virgin Islands, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has chartered the Carnival Fascination for housing relief workers through February, 2018. Guest booked on Fascination cruises for the next four months will receive refunds.
This U.S. Virgin Island became to go-to port after St. Thomas was slammed by Irma, but was heavily damaged by Maria. It’s now also off the map for the foreseeable future.
St. Croix’s deep water cruise ship facility withstood the wind and storm surge from Hurricane Maria, according to U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp. However, the island experienced severe flooding in the western and southwestern portions. “It’s going to be a long road to recovery. It ain’t gonna happen overnight. We have to manage our expectations realistically and we will get through this,” Mapp said.
The island has faced severe damage from both Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the port of Roseau is not expected to reopen anytime soon. However, ferry company L’Express Des Iles has resumed service between Dominica and Saint Lucia.
While main roads have been cleared, access roads to natural areas were damaged and remain closed. The government reports about half of the total number of guest rooms on the island have been heavily damaged or destroyed. Soft corals and sponges on reefs were damaged and diving will not be resumed on a limited basis until January. Many of the wooden colonial buildings in the capital were levelled, but power is being restored slowly.
Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands
Damage on the low lying island was severe, but water and power have been restored in Providenciales, North & Middle Caicos and South Caicos and a number of hotels have reopened. Carnival Corp. said it is still assessing when it can return to the port and has replaced upcoming calls with the line’s private port, Amber Cove. Carnival Sensation has been diverted to call at Freeport, Bahamas.
The French Government is still tallying the damage caused by rain and winds that also lashed Martinique. Serious flooding and fallen trees left Guadeloupe without power and destroyed sections of roads. The storm also battered three islands to the south that are popular with yacht cruises: Les Saintes, La Désirade and Marie-Galante.
Business as (sort of) usual
Cruises scheduled for Cuba, including ships of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, are still planning to go there as usual. However, the U.S. State Department still has travel warnings advising Americans travelling to Cuba to “carefully consider the risks of travel to Cuba while Hurricane Irma recovery efforts are underway.”
Norwegian Cruise Line, which visits Havana on Norwegian Sky from Miami, said its cruises there continue to operate as scheduled. “There have been no reported incidents involving tourists or other cruise ship passengers,” said a Norwegian statement. “We continue to believe that the best way to travel to Cuba is via cruise ship and look forward to continuing to offer our guests the opportunity to explore Cuba’s beauty, culture and friendly people.”
Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero Cruz was quoted by the official Granma newspaper as saying Cuba will be ready for the high tourist season. He said power, water, and communications have been restored in 100 per cent of the country’s tourist resorts, adding that damage in Havana and Varadero was “minimal.” The minister said that of the 18 hotels located on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, 14 plan to reopen by Nov. 1.
The ports of the Dominican Republic and most hotels reported only minor damage. Cruise ships resumed sailing to Amber Cove shortly after Irma gave the island a glancing blow. Punta Cana International Airport reports normal operations.
St. Kitts and Nevis
The Port Zante cruise pier in Basseterre did not sustain damage and all hotels in St. Kitts report being up and running. The port of Charlestown as well as the Four Seasons Resort on Nevis are also reported back to normal.
Haiti (Labadee Private Island)
Haiti was relatively undamaged by Irma. All services supposedly remain in operation. However, Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas have swapped out Costa Maya for Labadee, the line’s private island, until further notice.
Bahamas private islands
Half Moon Cay and Princess Cay, both ports operated by Carnival Corp., were evacuated during both hurricanes. Half Moon Cay, sustained some damage from Irene and Carnival ships dropped the stop in favor of a “Fun Day” at sea. Carnival and Holland America now say the islands are back in full operation and will be on future itineraries.
Update: Carnival Triumph, Carnival Dream, Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Splendor, Carnival Breeze, Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas all have been rerouted in early October to avoid Hurricane Nate, which affected Latin America and New Orleans. The damage was not severe enough in the American Gulf affect future cruises.
This story updated Oct. 18 will be refreshed as the latest information becomes available.