TRAVEL Af­ter Irma, life is re­turn­ing slowly

Trav­el­ers face chal­lenges large and small in storm’s wake

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Nancy Tre­jos | Con­tribut­ing: Ben Mutz­abaugh, Gene Sloan, Me­lanie Reffes.

“This is un­prece­dented to have so many Caribbean is­lands dev­as­tated all at once.”

Mike Driscoll, edi­tor of Cruise Week

Hur­ri­cane Irma roared across hotspots through­out Florida and the Caribbean. But her im­pact on ma­jor tourist des­ti­na­tions was un­even. Some is­lands such as St. Martin/St. Maarten — the half French, half Dutch des­ti­na­tion — and the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands were dev­as­tated. Mean­while, Ja­maica and Bar­ba­dos were vir­tu­ally un­scathed. The Caribbean and Florida are some of the most pop­u­lar va­ca­tion spots for U.S. cit­i­zens this time of year. What should tourists know be­fore mak­ing their va­ca­tion plans this fall? We take a look at what tourists should ex­pect from ho­tels, air­lines, air­ports and cruises af­fected by the hur­ri­cane.

Many ho­tels and at­trac­tions in the Caribbean and the Florida were suf­fer­ing from the dam­age in­curred by Irma. But the im­pact var­ied from is­land to is­land and town to town.

The Florida Keys were the hard­est hit part of the state. Res­i­dents were be­ing al­lowed back in the Up­per Keys as of Tues­day but many ar­eas were still with­out power, water or cell­phone ser­vice. U.S. 1, the ma­jor thor­ough­fare that runs through the Keys, was still be­ing cleared of de­bris. Gas was still in short sup­ply. But many ho­tels in Key West had min­i­mal dam­age.

Or­lando’s theme parks are open for busi­ness. That in­cludes Dis­ney World, SeaWorld, and Univer­sal Stu­dios. The Sal­vador Dali Mu­seum in St. Peters­burg also has re-opened.

Leroy Bridges, me­dia and in­ter­ac­tive di­rec­tor for Visit St. Pete/Clear­wa­ter says de­spite power out­ages and non-func­tion­ing traf­fic sig­nals, life was start­ing to get back to nor­mal. “Peo­ple are al­ready on the beach,” he says.

As for the Caribbean, An­tigua was im­pacted min­i­mally by Irma with elec­tric­ity quickly be­ing re­stored to the cap­i­tal, St. John’s, and most parts of the is­land. An­guilla, the Ba­hamas and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic were also far­ing well, ac­cord­ing to the Caribbean Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Bar­buda, mean­while, was more se­verely af­fected as the hur­ri­cane passed di­rectly over the tiny is­land of 1,800 res­i­dents, re­sult­ing in one fa­tal­ity. Prime Min­is­ter Gas­ton Browne says 90% of homes were de­stroyed as well as many ho­tels.

The Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands also sus­tained heavy dam­age, with power and cell­phone out­ages. Many homes were left with­out roofs. The United King­dom has sent sup­port to the is­lands.

The U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands -- St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas-also ex­pe­ri­enced power out­ages and dam­age to sev­eral ho­tels, with St. John bear­ing the brunt of the storm.

St. Martin/St. Maarten sus­tained se­vere dam­age. Many tourists have been evac­u­ated. Both the French and Dutch gov­ern­ments have sent aid.

Cuba also was af­fected as the hur­ri­cane passed over the north­ern part of the is­land. Ha­vana has ex­pe­ri­enced ma­jor flood­ing and power was knocked out. At least ten peo­ple have died, ac­cord­ing to re­ports on state tele­vi­sion.

The hur­ri­cane brushed past Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Tourism Com­pany is re­port­ing that the is­land is ready to wel­come vis­i­tors. There were power out­ages but many ho­tels as well as hos­pi­tals have gen­er­a­tors. Flights to and from Luis Muñoz Marin In­ter­na­tional Air­port have re­sumed, and the is­land’s port is oper­a­tional.


The cruise in­dus­try dodged a bul­let Sun­day when Hur­ri­cane Irma came ashore along the west coast of Florida. A tra­jec­tory just 100 miles to the east could have put the storm in line to dev­as­tate the world’s three big­gest cruise hubs — PortMi­ami, Fort Laud­erdale’s Port Ever­glades and Port Canaveral.

But even as nor­mal op­er­a­tions out of the three ports are quickly re­sum­ing, the world’s ma­jor cruise lines are fac­ing months of dis­rup­tions to itin­er­ar­ies that in­clude stops at Eastern Caribbean is­lands that Irma hit hard.

Al­ready, Nor­we­gian Cruise Line has an­nounced it is re­plac­ing all Eastern Caribbean sail­ings with West­ern Caribbean sail­ings through at least Novem­ber. Royal Caribbean also has said its ships won’t be able to visit St. Thomas as well as St. Martin and Key West, Fla., for some time.

“We will be work­ing on (find­ing) al­ter­na­tive ports for fu­ture sail­ings un­til th­ese is­lands have fully re­cov­ered,” Royal Caribbean said Mon­day in a travel alert for cus­tomers posted on its web­site.

St. Thomas and St. Martin are two of the Caribbean des­ti­na­tions most vis­ited by cruise ships and in­te­gral to dozens of cruise itin­er­ar­ies. Each draws more than 1.6 mil­lion cruis­ers per year. In ad­di­tion to St. Thomas, St. Martin, Tor­tola and Key West cruise ship des­ti­na­tions sig­nif­i­cantly af­fected by Irma in­clude St. John, Bar­buda, St. Barts and Cuba. The lat­ter only re­cently had opened to U.S.based cruise ships.

“This is un­prece­dented to have so many Caribbean is­lands dev­as­tated all at once,” Mike Driscoll, edi­tor of Cruise Week, says.

He said that while it’s early days in the re­cov­ery ef­fort on hard-hit Caribbean is­lands, it’s al­ready look­ing like a mas­sive amount of work will be needed to help sev­eral of them re­cover to the point where cruise ships can re­turn.

“The up­shot is that some Eastern Caribbean sail­ings will di­vert to (Eastern Caribbean) is­lands less af­fected and to west­ern ports,” Cur­tis said.

As of Wed­nes­day, there also had been no re­ports of dam­age to the cruise line pri­vate is­lands that are a sig­nif­i­cant part of many itin­er­ar­ies, most of which are lo­cated in The Ba­hamas.


Those hop­ing to travel by air to des­ti­na­tions hit by Irma face a mixed bag.

In Florida, most air­ports have been able to re­sume air­line ser­vice. Sched­ules re­sumed on a lim­ited ba­sis, but air­port and air­line of­fi­cials hoped to be near­ing a nor­mal sched­ule by early next week.

One ex­cep­tion in Florida was the Key West air­port, where only emer­gency re­lief flights were op­er­at­ing as of mid­week. Air­lines hoped to re­sume reg­u­lar pas­sen­ger flights over the week­end, hope­fully ramp­ing up to a nor­mal sched­ule there by next week.

Caribbean des­ti­na­tions hit by Irma face a murkier out­look. Air­ports on sev­eral of the re­gion’s hard-hit is­lands sus­tained sig­nif­i­cant dam­age, with some still strug­gling to re­sume reg­u­lar air­line ser­vice.

Among those was St. Martin’s Princess Juliana Air­port, the main air­port for the is­land. The air­port had be­come a tourist at­trac­tion in its own right in re­cent years, pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors who come to the beach that sits just feet from the end of the run­way to snap photos.

The air­port sus­tained heavy dam­age dur­ing the storm, but opened this week for emer­gency re­lief flights. It was un­clear when reg­u­lar air­line flights might re­sume, though some car­ri­ers had hoped a lim­ited restart could come this week­end.

In the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, the St. Croix air­port was open and some com­mer­cial air­line flights were op­er­at­ing. But com­mer­cial flights re­mained grounded mid­week at the main air­port on St Thomas. Com­mer­cial flights were ten­ta­tively set to re­sume by the week­end, but – even if that hap­pens – fliers should ex­pect lim­ited sched­ules.

In the Ba­hamas, the restart of air ser­vice was un­even, though most main tourist air­ports ex­pected some air­line flights by the week­end.

In Cuba, ser­vice to the city of Santa Clara was un­likely to re­sume be­fore next week.

Else­where, at least par­tial pas­sen­ger ser­vice has re­sumed at most other Caribbean air­ports served by U.S. air­lines.


This photo pro­vided by Caribbean Buzz shows the de­struc­tion left in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Irma on Fri­day, Sept. 8 in the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands.


Trav­el­ers file past a cruise ship docked at St. Maarten af­ter the pas­sage of Hur­ri­cane Irma.


Princess Juliana In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Phillips­burg, St. Martin, sus­tained dam­age from Hur­ri­cane Irma.

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