My wife and I led a group of 150 travelers to the Caribbean in March on the Celebrity Reflection. We stopped in Barbados, Antigua, St. Lucia and St. Maarten. We wanted to give you a short update on what we found. There is always confusion about the Caribbean and hurricanes. The media will tell you when they hit and will show the damage, but sometimes the viewer is left with the impression that everything is destroyed. This is never the case with the Caribbean. First of all the region is very large and while hurricanes are large as well, they never cover the whole Caribbean. Secondly, the damage inflicted varies by the strength of the storm and the water damage. So for our 4 ports, the islands of Barbados and St. Lucia were spared the severe wrath of both hurricane Irma and Maria. Even though Barbados has not had a hurricane since 1955, the tourism fell off for this season because people thought there was damage here. I can personally report that all of the tours, restaurants and shops on both St. Lucia and Barbados are running normally as they would during the tourist season.
Antigua was hit with fairly high winds from Irma but the resilient people were able to put their island back in shape in a very short time. Their sister island Barbuda was not so lucky. The full brunt of Irma hit Barbuda, and it devastated that island. The people have been temporarily relocated to Antigua until Barbuda is habitable again. For the cruise tourists, the activities on Antigua as well as the shops and restaurants for the most part are completely open.
Of the four ports, the island of St. Maarten/Ste. Martin is the one that sustained the most damage and is still working on recovery of the island’s infrastructure, buildings and tourist offerings. One of my favorite tours, the America’s Cup sailing race has had to be relocated to Cozumel for the season. Other tours were working. We took a wonderful tour of the western side of the island on a catamaran. It was missing its mast, but the boat could still navigate under engine power and we were able to visit Maho Beach and view the planes coming in for a landing. And we motored past Maho village and beach to the French side.
In Phillipsburg, we were able to find many restaurants and shops that were open. Based on our estimate, about 50% of the buildings were occupied and running. Some of those had damaged roofs but were still able to run as businesses. We had a wonderful lunch at the Holland House Hotel, right on the beach. We could see that many rooms were still under renovation, but both the Horizon and Holland House were accepting reservations. Most of the larger resorts were closed still and undergoing major renovations.
The people of the Caribbean are resilient. This is not their first hurricane season!. It will not be their last. But they have a strong spirit and will rebuild when needed so that they can continue to operate in their island paradise. We were thanked time and time again for coming back so soon after the hurricanes. They desperately need the money as tourism is the number one source of foreign funds for these countries. So, as cruisers, do come back, and spend some money! For the landlubbers who wish to stay at resorts, check with your travel agent for the condition of your hotel you wish to stay at.