Plan­ning travel to Keys, Caribbean af­ter Irma,

Trav­el­ers face chal­lenges large and small in the storm’s wake

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

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 un­touched.

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 va­ca­tion plans this fall? We take a look at what tourists should ex­pect from ho­tels, air­lines, air­ports and cruises af­fected by the hur­ri­cane.

DES­TI­NA­TIONS

Many ho­tels and at­trac­tions in the Caribbean and Florida suf­fer from dam­age caused by Irma. But the im­pact varies 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 by mid­week, but many ar­eas are still with­out power or wa­ter. U.S. 1, the ma­jor thor­ough­fare that runs through the Keys, is still be­ing cleared of de­bris. Gas is still in short sup­ply. But many ho­tels in Key West had min­i­mal dam­age, and many bars and restau­rants are serv­ing meals and drinks.

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 re­opened.

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

As for the Caribbean, An­tigua was min­i­mally af­fected by Irma, with elec­tric­ity quickly re­stored to the cap­i­tal, St. John’s, and most parts of the is­land. An­guilla and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic also are 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 Ba­hamas was largely spared but there is un­even dam­age. Parts of the south­ern is­lands have de­struc­tion rang­ing from cos­metic to se­vere.

The Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands also sus­tained heavy dam­age, with power and cell­phone out­ages. Many homes have been 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 10 peo­ple have died, ac­cord­ing to re­ports on state tele­vi­sion.

The hur­ri­cane brushed past Puerto Rico. Most ho­tels, as well as es­sen­tial ser­vices such as hos­pi­tals and su­per­mar­kets, have elec­tric­ity and are op­er­a­tional.

CRUISES

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 dev­as­tated 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.

Nor­we­gian Cruise Line has an- nounced it is re­plac­ing all East­ern Caribbean sail­ings with Western Caribbean sail­ings through at least Novem­ber. Royal Caribbean also says its ships won’t be able to visit St. Thomas, St. Martin and Key West for some time.

“We will be work­ing on (find­ing) al­ter­na­tive ports for fu­ture sail­ings un­til th­ese is­lands have fully re­cov­ered,” Royal Caribbean said Mon­day 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 a year. In ad­di­tion to St. Thomas, St. Martin, Tor­tola and Key West, the 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 cruises.

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

He says that while it’s early 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 says.

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

AIR­LINES

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

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

One ex­cep­tion in Florida is the Key West air­port, where only emer­gency re­lief flights were op­er­at­ing at mid­week. Air­lines hope to re­sume reg­u­lar pas­sen­ger flights over the week­end, and are up­beat about ramp­ing up to a nor­mal sched­ule 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 is St. Martin’s Princess Ju­liana Air­port, the main air­port for the is­land. The air­port has be­come a tourist at­trac­tion in its own right in re­cent years, pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors who come to snap pho­tos on the beach that sits just feet from the end of the run­way.

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

In the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, the St. Croix air­port is open, and some com­mer­cial air­line flights are op­er­at­ing. But com­mer­cial flights re­mained grounded mid­week at the main air­port on St Thomas. They are 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 is un­even, though most main tourist air­ports ex­pect some flights by the week­end.

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

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

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

Mike Driscoll, edi­tor of Cruise Week

WA­TER SUR­ROUNDS GIL­BERT’S RE­SORT IN KEY LARGO, FLA., BY WILFREDO LEE, AP

CARIBBEAN BUZZ VIA AP

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

GERBEN VAN ES, AP

Trav­el­ers file to­ward a cruise ship docked at St. Maarten af­ter the pas­sage of the storm.

CAR­LOS GIUSTI, AP

Princess Ju­liana In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Philips­burg, St. Martin, sus­tained dam­age.

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