I have written before about cruising and until our recent trip to Mexico, preferred vacations on ships rather than resorts. I would say that for a vacation in the Caribbean, a cruise is still my preference.
This year, we took 3 Caribbean cruises, visiting islands of the lesser and south Antilles (St-Thomas, St-Marten, Barbados, St-Lucia, Grenada, Antigua, Guadeloupe, St-Kitts, Bahamas, and the western Caribbean coast)
We don’t take excursions anymore when we cruise in the Caribbean. Most of these tiny countries cater to tourists and it is difficult to experience true island life, unless you actually take up lodging for a month or so.
But it is clear that these port towns rely on the cruise ships for their local economy. Depending on the number of ships in port, these towns can see anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 visitors come ashore everyday. Restaurants, bars, markets and tour operators exist for the travellers coming off the ships and scramble to promote their offerings to those cruisers who chose to just get off the boat and walk around.
What struck me this year was how much the devastation from the two hurricanes that ripped through much of the Caribbean and some parts of Florida in 2017 were still clearly evident, especially on some of the smaller islands like Guadeloupe, Barbados, and St-Lucia. As we pulled into port, we could see that after two years, there was still a lot of evidence of the passage of Irma and Maria, including boats grounded 100 ft from shore, many houses and buildings still in repair or abandoned, and entire areas stripped bare of trees but showing signs of regrowth, with thin or small palm trees proudly taking their place again.
I know that these islands don’t have many industries that can support them economically. Tourism is their biggest – and sometimes only- industry and when these Category 5 hurricanes rip through them and destroy their infrastructure, it can take years for them to restore themselves.
Hurricane Irma set multiple records for intensity – including intensity at landfall, and time spent at such an intensity. I learned that when it reached Category 5 intensity, its winds were blowing at a speed of 180 mph (285 km/h) and it became the easternmost Atlantic hurricane of this strength on record. That is huge!
I remember my first experience with high winds coming off the sea. I was in Halifax in 2013, when I moved there to work as a Regional Manager. I laid in my bed, clinging my blanket to my chin, wide eyed and listening to the wind battering the condo I lived in, certain that the windows would be bursting open at any second and I would have to run for my life. And these were winds of 110kms. I can’t imagine what those islanders had to go through.
Only four other Atlantic hurricanes have been recorded with maximum sustained wind speeds higher than Irma, and all of them had peak winds of 185km.
- Hurricane Allen of 1980 at 190 mph
- Hurricane Gilbert of 1988
- Hurricane Wilma of 2005
- Hurricane Dorian of 2019
I recall when watching the newscasts about Irma and Maria, thinking about the economic impact this would have on such a small country, knowing the income opportunities that cruise ships generally brought to these places. A survey-based analysis of the impacts of passenger, crew and cruise line spending in these destinations, commissioned by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association noted that just for St-Maarten and the US Virgin Islands alone, they had received two million fewer passenger visits as a result of hurricanes Irma and Maria. If you replicate that to other countries, you can appreciate the impact these hurricanes have on these struggling economies, who rely so much on cruise tourism.
It is estimated that cruise passengers spend on average between 100$-130$ in port. These expenditures translate into jobs and wages for the islanders and a hurricane can affect income by as much as 40%. I can appreciate the challenge one of these countries face, dealing with huge infrastructure repairs and costs in order to restore its piers and tourism facility as quickly as possible, while trying to tend to the need of its own population.
I feel conflicted standing on the top deck, looking down at the port town below, watching taxis and tour buses hustling to get to the passengers coming from the pier. Sometimes, I feel guilty about the inequity between my life and theirs, having been blessed with access to resources that provide well for my needs, and my leisure. But who’s to say that they dont look at me and feel guilty that they have access to a pace of life that allows them to appreciate life’s simplicity, living in a warm climate, with beautiful tropical flowers and the smell of the warm Caribbean Sea?
Other times, I feel better knowing that the ship I have paid passage to be on, is providing an economic injection to the island’s residents that they rely on to feed their families and grow their business.
I found the information in the Florida-Caribbean Cruise report fascinating. For those of you like me, who like to read these kind of reports, you can read more by accessing this link.