The first reports are trickling in from Cruise Critic readers back from Labadee, Haiti, Royal Caribbean's private resort situated less than 100 miles from Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital devastated by an earthquake early last week. Meanwhile, The New York Times and others are reporting that the strongest aftershock since the original January 12 quake struck earlier this morning, rocking buildings and terrifying thousands of Port-au-Prince's now homeless survivors. According to The Times, the aftershock has caused little evident additional damage.
As we previously reported, the return of Royal Caribbean cruise ships to Haiti -- starting with Independence of the Seas last Friday and continuing with Navigator of the Seas on Monday and Liberty of the Seas yesterday -- has sparked a heated debate about whether spending a day vacationing on the beach was appropriate given the nearby tragedy. For Royal Caribbean's part, the line has promised $1 million in humanitarian aid, and each of the company's ships that visits Labadee has brought -- and will continue to bring -- pallets of supplies. (Click here to watch a video of 80 pallets of supplies being loaded aboard Navigator of the Seas in Miami.)
K Rae, who visited Labadee on January 15 aboard Independence of the Seas, writes via e-mail, "There were many mixed feelings ... we were aware that we were nearly 100 miles from the earthquake zone. We knew the ship was delivering supplies and we understood we were welcomed from the Haitians as they still wanted to generate economic activity in their area. In my opinion, the visitors seemed to be on their best behavior and were very generously buying crafts from the markets. Personally, we purchased items without bargaining and items that we might not usually buy. It felt good to spend extra money that day. I noticed some of the Haitian staff eating from the BBQ that day and it appears to me that RCI appreciates and cares for these people. It was raining as we left Labadee. It was very picturesque and sort of mystical as we sailed away. I will never forget this picture and my heart goes out to the Haitians."
Royal Caribbean performer Matt Yee was onboard Liberty of the Seas, which called in Labadee yesterday. "This is surreal," Yee posted on his Facebook page. "I wake up this afternoon on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas ... I open the balcony window, walk out and see a beautiful Caribbean Sea off the shores of Haiti.
"I put on sunscreen and walk to the island. I meet some friends and we get on some jet skis and go zooming into the Ocean. What a way to wake up!
"When I return, I see pallets of supplies the ship I'm sailing on has been carrying from Miami being unloaded and put onto trucks, bound for Port-au-Prince. I'm told this will save lives.
"Not only that but I'm told every Haitian who works on Labadee has been affected in some way, relatives missing or gone. Their continued employment helps. The donations of all sales from today's visit helps. The port taxes that goes to the Haitian government helps. So does the $1 million that Royal Caribbean donated to the relief effort, and the over $40,000 and counting Atlantis [the organization that chartered the ship] has helped raised.
"Surreal. But I'm also glad we're working to make some kind of a difference."
On Cruise Critic's Facebook page, Lillian Fiedel posted about her ambivalence in visiting Labadee. "We were the first ship to visit Labadee after the earthquake and a lot of us felt uncomfortable about the decision of RCCL to stop there, but I guess they felt it was an opportunity to actually bring in supplies and food to the area?!"
Royal Caribbean and sister line Celebrity Cruises have additional calls to Labadee lined up, with Celebirty Solstice visiting on Friday and Jewel of the Seas scheduled for Sunday.
Have you visited Labadee since the quake? Please share your story with us -- e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor
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Members Speak Out: Should Cruise Ships Have Returned to Haiti?
Haiti Relief: Cruise Industry Response Update
How You Can Help Haiti
First Cruise Ship Arrives in Labadee After Haiti Quake
Cruise Industry Plans Haiti Relief Effort
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First Reports In from Cruise Passengers Back from Haiti
January 20, 2010