Irene's Aftermath: Cruise Ships Return to Nassau, but Lines Still Assessing Damage to Private Islands

August 30, 2011
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(12:30 p.m. EDT) -- Blue skies have returned to the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Irene, and Nassau, the major cruise port, is open. But the word on the lines' private islands -- one of the most popular destinations for many cruisers -- is still out.

The lines continue to assess the damage to their various private Bahamian islands, some of which were in the direct path of the hurricane. As such, most lines have cancelled planned calls, opting for additional sea days or replacement ports. Here's what we know so far:

Half Moon Cay, used by Holland America and Carnival, is southeast of Eleuthera, which was pummeled by Irene. Holland America said in a statement that the line "expects [the island] to be operational for cruise ship visits by Sunday, September 4. Damage was limited and can be easily addressed and all horses are well with no injuries. Repairs will be made to some island structures, vegetation will be replanted in various areas, and the main guest beach will be renewed in those areas impacted by erosion."

John Heald, Carnival's blogging cruise director, said on Facebook that the island had "sustained some damage from the storm" and that Carnival Valor would cancel its call Monday, August 29, and call at Nassau instead. Carnival Pride (Thursday, September 1) and Carnival Miracle (Tuesday, August 30) are also cutting their scheduled calls to Half Moon Cay. Miracle will instead spend the day at sea, and Pride will visit Nassau.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay received some damage to its beaches and landscaping, as well as one of the structures that housed the Dive In Center. A statement from the line said there's a team of people on the island working diligently to restore operations.

Norwegian Sky sailed from Miami as scheduled this weekend but spent a day at sea on Saturday, August 27, instead of calling at the island. The ship did, however, visit Nassau as scheduled on Sunday, August 28. Additionally, the line has canceled Norwegian Jewel's call to the island on Tuesday, August 30. The line expect that the island will resume operations with Norwegian Sky's visit on Thursday, September 1, which was pushed back a day.

A statement from Royal Caribbean said: "Regrettably, the island of CocoCay, Bahamas, was impacted by the storm, and we feel our guests' experience ashore would be disrupted." As such, Majesty of the Seas' scheduled call to the private beach on Saturday was canceled, as were Monarch of the Seas' call on Sunday and Freedom of the Seas' planned call Monday. The closure of CocoCay is only temporary. Monarch of the Seas stopped there Tuesday, August 30, during its four-night Bahamas cruise that began Monday from Port Canaveral.

Disney Cruise Line has pushed back a visit by Disney Dream to Castaway Cay, its private island, by one day to give the line extra time to clean. The ship will call on Castaway Cay Wednesday, August 31.

Princess Cruises' private beach, Princess Cay, south of Eleuthera is used by Princess, a Cunard and occasionally a Regent Seven Seas, but no calls are showing as scheduled to the island in the near future. A spokeswoman for the cruise line told Cruise Critic that "Princess Cays did have slight damage but we're confident it will be in full operation for our next call there on September 30.:

Meanwhile, the Bahamas' principal ports at Nassau and Freeport are open for business; according to a statement from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, both New Providence and Grand Bahama islands have reported "limited damage" and hotels, beaches and attractions are receiving guests.

But this doesn't mean everything is immediately back to normal; posting on the storm-chasing Web site, a Bahamas resident said the Nassau Guardian newspaper was reporting that “up to 15% of New Providence residents are still without electricity. Several streets are heavily flooded in New Providence, making post-Irene recovery more difficult.”

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor