No doubt, the past few weeks have been miserable for the cruise industry and for the Caribbean.
Howling winds from hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan certainly caused concern among both Caribbean cruise passengers and cruise line executives. With winds whirling around at up to 160 mph, these three sibling storms wrought havoc on these gentle tropical islands -- especially Grenada and Grand Cayman, which caught the brunt of Ivan, a category 5 hurricane.
Until Ivan rattled residents in the Caribbean, "Charley, the most powerful storm to hit the Caribbean in 10 years, damaged homes in Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent, just days after Hurricane Frances rampaged through and went on to cause massive damage in Florida," notes Johnson JohnRose, a spokesman for the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), an umbrella group for more than 30 island nations.
According to JohnRose, Ivan's fierce winds raged through the hilly streets of St. George's, Grenada's capital city, trashing concrete homes, uprooting trees and utility poles, and knocking out telephone service and electricity. As a result, the island was "cut off from the rest of the world," he adds.
But despite the bashing, the toll in lives and in destruction of property, for the most part with the passing of Ivan, JohnRose says, "Business is now as usual."
Indeed, though threatening and vengeful, the storm had little impact on most of the islands in the region, according to JohnRose. "If you visited most of the [Caribbean] countries, you wouldn't know a storm passed," he says with relief.
Dwight Thompson, a spokesman for the Barbados Tourism Authority, told us by phone, "As we speak, I see from my office window Carnival Destiny pulling into port," on a day when Ivan was still raging across the Caribbean Sea toward Jamaica. "Barbados suffered hardly any major damage," he adds. The southwest and southeast coasts absorbed the high tides of Ivan and suffered some damage from storm surges, he explains. Otherwise, he echoes JohnRose that he sees business as usual.
For the cruise lines, things may return to normal shortly, but the hurricanes have left their mark. Vessels were rerouted; some cruises ended days early and others days late. Port Canaveral suffered damage and silting of the channel, and closed down to ship traffic. Carnival Corp., releasing its quarterly earnings results, cited a loss of three to four cents per share as a result of Hurricane Frances.
According to Carnival's financial disclosure, "The severe weather affecting South and Central Florida and the subsequent port closures forced the company to cancel three Carnival Cruise Lines voyages and shorten the itineraries for six of its brands' cruises - four for Carnival Cruise Lines and one each for Holland America Line and Princess Cruises.
"The company's P&O Cruises Australia unit was forced to cancel a future 10-day voyage as a result of the closure of the Freeport, Bahamas dry-dock facility where one of its ships was undergoing an extensive refurbishment."
The announcement further noted: "Never in our company's history has a hurricane been so disruptive, causing a number of itineraries to be modified and the closing of Florida's four major cruise ports," said Howard Frank, vice chairman and chief operating officer for Carnival Corporation. "The storm struck Florida for a prolonged period over a weekend, when many of our ships were scheduled to embark and disembark guests, significantly magnifying the impact," he added.
Carnival Corp. spokesperson Tim Gallagher told the industry newsletter Cruise Week, "Never has a hurricane shut down four embarkation ports at once." Over the Labor Day weekend, ships diverted from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, and Tampa, and Port Canaveral remains closed due to sustained damages to its harbor entrance.
Before Hurricane Ivan slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast near Mobile, Ala., it sideswiped Jamaica and hit the Cayman Islands, causing heavy damage especially on Grand Cayman, a popular port of call on western Caribbean cruise itineraries. Late last week, the airport on Grand Cayman was open only for relief flights and to evacuate vacationers.
Ivan veered from its predicted course at least twice as it came north. "Of course," Carnival said, "just as the forecast track has a tendency to change from one hour to the next, the potential cruise ship impact is also fluid. Cruise ships move though so we can always adjust itineraries to sail around storms."
Princess Cruises fared better. According to the line's spokeswoman Julie Benson, Princess just altered the itinerary of Caribbean Princess.
"We are not seeing general cancellations as a result of the hurricanes," Benson added. "Clearly, Frances impacted two of our Caribbean Princess cruises, and on the second sailing we had quite a few passengers who could not make the ship. They were given future cruise credits or refunds."
Royal Caribbean International modified the itinerary of Mariner of the Seas because of damage to Port Canaveral and called Frances "the most disruptive [hurricane] in our 33-year history."
"It's been a horrendous week for those dealing with Hurricane Frances," said Jack Williams, president and chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean International. "Since we can't sail from Port Canaveral, we'll sail from Miami. For those [passengers] who can't make it, we'll be happy to give them a full refund."
Holland America Line announced itinerary changes for its only ship in the Caribbean region at this time, the Zuiderdam. All other vessels are operating on normal schedules.
The closing of Port Canaveral, in particular, disrupted sailings for Disney Cruises, which homeports the Disney Magic and Wonder there.
How are cruisers taking all this? According to Rick White, of White Travel in West Hartford, CT, "not one [person] called my office to cancel a Caribbean cruise" -- although White does admit to receiving a few calls from nervous clients. But they were more nervous about missing their vacation than they were about the hurricanes, he quickly adds.
"The cruise lines were pretty generous in their compensation to passengers," White notes, "for something that isn't their fault."
Nancy Kelly, of Kelly Cruises in Oak Brook, IL, echoes White's sentiments, and adds perhaps the single most important lesson to be learned from all this: always purchase travel insurance. Kelly also suggests that, next year, instead of trying to save a few dollars on a Caribbean cruise in late summer, book yours to sail after hurricane season.
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