This past September, two Category 5 hurricanes, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, wreaked havoc on the Caribbean islands. Lives were lost and there have been billions of dollars’ worth of damage to the buildings and infrastructure to many of the islands like Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Turks and Caicos, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and more. Months later, many of the Caribbean islands have only just regained power and water – while others, like those in Puerto Rico, are still waiting.
Today, the Eastern Caribbean is beckoning tourists, including cruisers, to make their way back to the islands. Tourism is the main industry for many of these islands, with cruises being their top money makers. And since cruisers sleep, bathe, and often eat on the ship, there is little stress placed on the island itself to host cruisers after a Category 5 hurricane. The island may not have reliable water, sewage treatment, or power – making hotel stays impossible – but it can still host an adventure hike, serve cocktails on the beach, or lead a cultural tour.
Crown Princess recently resumed its itinerary of cruising around the Eastern Caribbean and I was one of the fortunate few to be aboard. The ship ventured from Fort Lauderdale to Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, Saint Thomas, and Grand Turk.
When I boarded the Crown Princess, I was skeptical of how the trip would pan out. Would I feel trapped? Cranky? Bored? While other passengers mused on what they’d dish up first at the all-you-can-eat buffet, I wondered aloud about the odds of contracting norovirus. I wondered if the islands would be ready to receive an influx of visitors after the one-two punch of the hurricanes.
Over eight days, we dined, partied, danced, lounged, were entertained, and explored the Eastern Caribbean via a ship that felt like home. I never felt bored and the forced downtime that comes with being at sea was surprisingly refreshing. Perhaps the only timeframe more relaxing than island time is ocean time.
When my friend sang “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion at a boisterous karaoke night, she was met with a standing ovation.
I fully embraced the cruising lifestyle.
While there was no visible damage to some of the ports like Saint Kitts and Antigua, other islands like Grand Turk and Saint Thomas had visible signs of ruin. Homes were split apart, debris bordered the roads, and we were told that some parts of the island received power and water just days before our arrival.
Despite the destruction, we were still able to scuba dive, zipline, hike, snorkel, swim, kayak, go on cultural excursions, and venture throughout the islands in a similar way that most visitors would have before the hurricanes hit.
Tourism is often a sensitive subject to discuss after a natural disaster occurs. How can you enjoy a destination when the locals are struggling to cope with a new reality? Was tourism contributing to the islands’ growth? Or putting unnecessary stress on a strained infrastructure? As I discovered, the cruise lines and the islands have a symbiotic relationship. For both to thrive, rebuilding the Eastern Caribbean is essential. Some cruise companies, like Carnival, sent crew ashore to aid some of the most damaged regions. Without tourism money flowing in, repairing the billions of dollars of damage caused by the hurricanes would be nearly impossible.
If you’re wondering whether now is the right time to visit the Caribbean, the answer is yes. The islands are still beautiful, still welcoming, still warm, and still offer countless activities for laid-back and adventurous travelers alike.