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Hurricane Irma's Wake

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Hurricane Irma left a trail of death and devastation across the Caribbean last week before slamming into Florida and spreading across the southeastern U.S. At this writing, there have been at least 38 confirmed deaths in the Caribbean and 23 in the U.S. Our hearts and prayers go out to all who have been impacted by this storm, the largest ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Caribbean is the world's most popular region for cruises and Florida is home to the three busiest cruise ports in the world (Port of Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades), so Hurricane Irma's impact on the cruise industry has been as enormous as the storm itself. In this cruise newsletter, I'll explain what we know so far.

First, Hurricane Irma caused widespread destruction to a string of Caribbean islands, including numerous cruise destinations.

The hugely popular port of St. Thomas, USVI, was devastated. Power is still out, food is running low and the airport was destroyed. Nearby St. John was hit equally hard but somehow St. Croix was spared significant damage.

The British Virgin Islands suffered massive damage. I've seen unofficial reports that up to 90% of houses, businesses and boats were destroyed.

Up to 70% of the homes in the Dutch territory of St. Maarten have been severely damaged or destroyed and there is also severe damage on the French side of the island, St. Martin.

Also hard hit was the tiny island of Barbuda, where Irma first made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 185 mph. An estimated 95% of the island's structures were damaged and the island's prime minister described the scene as "total carnage".

Scheduled port calls to these destinations have already been canceled on numerous sailings and this will likely roll out to other ships and dates. Some cruise ships will continue to call solely to deliver food and supplies.

All of these islands depend heavily on tourism, and the sooner they can reopen their shops, restaurants and resorts, the faster they will recover. Right now, they are in desperate need of food, water, medicine and clothing. Complete recovery is likely to take years.

In addition, numerous islands sustained significant damage but their tourist infrastructure emerged intact and they are--or will soon be--open for business. Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Nevis, St. Barts, Anguilla, Antigua, Haiti, St. Kitts, the Turks and Caicos and Cuba fall in this category.

Fortunately, Irma missed some islands completely. Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curacao, Grand Cayman, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and The Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago are among those that were not impacted at all. Cruise ports in Mexico and Central America were also not affected.

After ravaging the Caribbean, Irma hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 mph, leaving behind extensive damage in the 113-mile-long chain of islands. FEMA has reported that about 90% of houses in the Florida Keys were damaged and 25% were destroyed. Port calls at Key West have been canceled.

Irma made its second U.S. landfall at Marco Island, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico along Florida's southwest coast.

Irma continued north along Florida's west coast, bringing high winds, heavy rain and storm surge to both coasts of Florida as well as Georgia and South Carolina. Nearly 15 million homes and businesses in the southeastern U.S. lost power and 6 million are still in the dark.

Throughout Hurricane Irma's short but lethal life, cruise lines kept their ships well away from the storm to ensure the safety of passengers and crew and to provide as enjoyable a cruise experience as possible.

As Irma bore down on Florida, the headquarters of the world's largest cruise lines--Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line--and many smaller ones, were closed and employees evacuated.

Royal Caribbean opened the Enchantment of the Seas to 2,700 Florida-based employees and families in need of shelter; the ship sailed out to calm, safe seas to wait out the storm.

Florida's ports were closed. Some cruises were extended, at no additional charge to passengers, while others were canceled, delayed or had their itineraries altered. Here's a partial list of these changes.

The following sailings were canceled:
9/7 Carnival Liberty
9/8 Carnival Victory
9/9 Carnival Ecstasy
9/9 Carnival Splendor
9/10 Carnival Liberty
9/11 Carnival Paradise
9/11 Carnival Victory
9/8 RCI Enchantment of the Seas
9/8 RCI Majesty of the Seas
9/9 RCI Empress of the Seas
9/11 RCI Enchantment of the Seas
9/13 RCI Empress of the Seas
9/13 RCI Majesty of the Seas
9/8 Norwegian Sky
9/9 Norwegian Escape
9/11 Norwegian Sky
9/8 Disney Dream
9/9 Disney Fantasy
9/11 Disney Dream
9/9 MSC Divina

The following sailings were delayed and modified:
9/9 Carnival Conquest -- changed to depart 9/12
9/9 Carnival Glory -- changed to depart 9/13
9/9 Carnival Magic -- changed to depart 9/13
9/9 Carnival Vista -- changed to depart 9/13
9/11 Carnival Sensation -- changed to depart 9/13
9/9 RCI Harmony of the Seas -- changed to depart 9/12
9/10 RCI Allure of the Seas -- changed to depart 9/13
9/10 RCI Oasis of the Seas -- changed to depart 9/13

The following sailings in progress were extended until passengers could safely disembark:
9/2 Carnival Conquest
9/2 Carnival Magic
9/2 Carnival Splendor
9/2 Carnival Glory
9/2 Carnival Vista
9/4 Carnival Victory
9/4 Carnival Sensation
9/2 RCI Harmony of the Seas
9/3 RCI Oasis of the Seas
9/3 RCI Allure of the Seas

The following sailings were cut short:
9/4 Carnival Victory
9/3 Carnival Magic
9/2 Disney Fantasy
9/4 Disney Dream
9/2 Norwegian Escape
9/4 Norwegian Sky

As soon as damage reports came trickling in, several cruise lines deployed ships to battered Caribbean islands, to deliver relief supplies and assist in evacuation efforts.

Royal Caribbean International sent the Adventure of the Seas and the Majesty of the Seas to St. Maarten and St. Thomas to deliver supplies and to transport evacuees to safety. The Empress of the Seas stands ready to assist in relief efforts in Key West once the impact of the storm is known.

Norwegian Cruise Line dispatched the Norwegian Sky to St. Thomas to bring supplies and assist in humanitarian efforts. The current plan is to use the vessel to evacuate 2,000 people to Miami.

Carnival Cruise Line is working with officials in Caribbean islands to coordinate the delivery of supplies as part of scheduled port calls on both an immediate and long-term basis.

Vacations To Go is the world's largest seller of cruises, including Caribbean cruises. If you're holding a Caribbean cruise reservation (booked through Vacations To Go) to any of the affected islands, your VTG cruise counselor can provide the current status of your itinerary and answer any other questions you may have. Please call us at 1-800-338-4962 if we can be of service.

Again, our hearts and prayers go out to all who have suffered due to Hurricane Irma.

Sincerely,

Alan Fox
Chairman & CEO
Vacations To Go

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