The Caribbean is a region familiar with hurricane season's stormy weather. But the devastating Category-5 hurricanes of September 2017 dealt an unprecedented blow to a number of islands and in turn, to the cruise industry. The close proximity of Hurricanes Irma and Maria -- both hit within two weeks -- and their far-reaching impact have created a unique story of recovery as destinations worked to rebuild and reopen to visitors.
Nearly a year after Irma and Maria, Cruise Critic touched down in a few of the major cruise ports affected by the storms -- St. Maarten/Martin, St. Thomas and San Juan (Puerto Rico) -- to report on hurricane recovery efforts and plans for the future. We found that despite an impressively difficult road, the Caribbean remains open and more ready to welcome cruisers than ever before.
With just a few months left in the year, "Hurricane Irma" became the most searched term on Google for 2017. Unfortunately, many were searching for information on the widespread devastation the storm inflicted across the Caribbean, and St. Maarten/Martin was one of the hardest hit. A confluence of high winds and storm surges laid waste to homes and businesses on both the Dutch and French sides of the island.
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However, a "new" island awaits cruisers returning to St. Maarten/Martin or visiting for the first time, and it's filled with renovated resorts in Philipsburg, swanky new beach clubs at Orient Bay and a lot of excitement about the future.
From one of St. Thomas' well-known scenic lookouts, you'll still see the blue tarps that indicate roofs in need of repair. But you'll also notice the vibrancy with which nature is coming back to the island; trees are showing growth, sand has been replenished to Magens Bay beach and you'll see cruise ships are docked in port.
The U.S. Virgin Islands suffered a one-two punch with Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but St. Thomas is one Caribbean cruise port that has not only reopened but improved. New attractions, like a stellar shipwreck museum, await returning cruisers, along with familiar favorites like Gladys' Cafe.
Known for day trips rather than its cruise port, St. John holds a special place for many visitors to the Caribbean, and is a highlight on the itinerary of repeat cruisers to St. Thomas.
After hurricane conditions destroyed a significant portion of Virgin Islands National Park, we revisit St. John and address what cruisers can expect to find on the island after the storms. Hint: It's is still astonishingly gorgeous, and there is plenty of shopping, sand and local beer to overflow an afternoon.
The headlines proceed Puerto Rico; lengthy power outages and an uphill hurricane recovery process have challenged this U.S. territory for the past year. Surprisingly, San Juan's cruise business came back shortly after the storms, and the city is welcoming cruisers and vacationers back with its same warm spirit.
Our report covers what to expect in San Juan whether you're spending a day in port or a few
nights on either end of your cruise.
The work that St. Maarten/Martin, the USVI and Puerto Rico (in addition to many others) have done over the past year to rebuild their own lives while welcoming thousands of cruise passengers is applaudable. Still, sustainable plans for the future of tourism, including the cruise industry, is all-important.
What can cruisers expect from these popular Caribbean cruise ports in the years to come?