ABOARD THE REGAL PRINCESS – Hibiscus are blooming. Palm trees swaying. Shops selling. Cold drinks waiting. St. Thomas is open for business.
After devastating September hurricanes, the Caribbean island is welcoming cruise ships and visitors. When the Regal Princess docked in St. Thomas, I was happy to see the remarkable recovery efforts and the welcome mat rolled out for cruise ship passengers.
Two other cruise ships were docked there as well and the dock area was festively decorated with holiday lights and trees. Some shops were still closed and the hurricane damage was obvious but St. Thomas relies on cruise ship revenue and shop owners seemed genuinely pleased we were there.
In almost every shop I visited, a clerk thanked me for being there and asked me to tell my friends to please visit.
“It will take a while for us to get back to normal but we need your help and are so glad you are here,” said souvenir shop clerk Anna. “Seeing the big cruise ships coming in lets us know we are going to be okay.”
Cruise ships began returning to St. Thomas on Nov. 10, less than two months after the island was hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria, causing widespread damage. Storms knocked out power, ripped roofs from homes, toppled buildings, tore down trees, smashed cars and leveled businesses.
More than 90 percent of Caribbean ports are fully operational. But some travelers remember the devastating photos and news reports and are not aware that their favorite Caribbean destinations are welcoming visitors, officials said.
“The vast majority of the Caribbean was completely unaffected by the September storms,” Michele Paige, president of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, said in a news release. “The Caribbean has been and continues to be open for business.”
Following a brutal September, the hurricane-battered islands have banded together as “One Caribbean Family” to deliver a simple message: “Come. Please come.”
“Your visit to our islands is more important now than ever,” Allen Chastanat, prime minister of St. Lucia, said a news release. “By coming to the Caribbean you will be contributing to our assistance to our fellow islands who are still recovering.”
Cruise lines offer funds, supplies for hurricane recovery
Princess Cruises and its parent company Carnival Corporation are working to provide extensive relief to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria.
As part of Carnival Corporation’s pledge to provide up to $10 million in hurricane relief, Princess Cruises Community Foundation has also set up a Hurricane Relief initiative on board Princess Cruises’ ships to gather donations from guests and crew members which will be matched by Princess Cruises Community Foundation up to $100,000.
Carnival Corporation is doing outreach and support for islands impacted on behalf of the family of cruise lines. Carnival has been communicating with officials in many of the Caribbean islands and is delivering supplies on both an immediate and sustained, longer-term basis. The deliveries will be worked into ships’ cruise itineraries as part of ongoing operations.
Wealth of St. Thomas shore excursions
During our day in St. Thomas, the Regal Princess offered many shore excursions including snorkeling and diving, visiting one of the world’s best beaches at Magens Bay, enjoying sea creatures at Coral World Marine Park, touring Blackbeard’s Castle, and driving to Mountain Top – a totally rebuilt mecca on top of a mountain which is said to be the birthplace of the famous banana daiquiri.
I chose to walk around the island and talk with people to see how St. Thomas is faring. The place was busy with construction and workers everywhere. Schoolchildren were taking their lunch break and folks seemed to be going about their everyday business.
St. Thomas has always been a favorite cruise ship stop. The weather is close to perfect with year-round temperatures ranging from 73 to 89, depending on sea breezes.
A sign I passed on my way back to the Regal Princess seemed to sum it up well: “Love the Caribbean. Support the Caribbean. Cruise the Caribbean.”
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch