|Labadee, Royal Caribbean's private island in Haiti.|
Royal Caribbean's 3,654-passenger Independence of the Seas made its scheduled call in Haiti Friday, as two more Royal Caribbean ships, the 3,114-passenger Navigator of the Seas and 3,654-passenger Liberty of the Seas, will make stops in Haiti on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Celebrity Solstice, Royal Caribbean International's sister line, will call in Haiti January 22. The question is, "Is it too early?"
Independence of the Seas' arrival marks the first cruise ship to make it to Haiti since Tuesday's devastating earthquake. Royal Caribbean will not only be carrying vacationers, but also relief supplies. Royal Caribbean does not make stops in Port-au-Prince, the epicenter of the earthquake; rather, it operates a private beach called Labadee, which is far from the Haitian capital. USA TODAY reports that Labadee's "buildings, pier and attractions at the resort-like area were undamaged in Tuesday's quake."
"There were a lot of discussions about (going ahead with calls), but in the end, Labadee is critical to Haiti's recovery and hundreds of people rely on Labadee for their livelihood," Royal Caribbean associate vice president John Weis writes today on a Royal Caribbean company blog. "We also have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti. "Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most."
Friday's call in Labadee went well, said Royal Caribbean. "Everything was open, as usual. The guests were very happy to hear that 100% of the proceeds from the call at Labadee would be donated to the relief effort."
Royal Caribbean leases Labadee, a peninsula with five pristine beaches, from the government for passengers to to enjoy watersports, barbecues and craft shopping; in exchange, passengers' safety is guaranteed by armed guards at a gate.
Supplies being loaded onto the Royal Caribbean ships include rice, dried beans, water, dried milk and a variety of other canned items. Royal Caribbean's relief effort could also be long-term.
Still, the decision by Royal Caribbean to resume calls to Haiti has left bewildered. While cruisers are enjoying private beaches, parasailing, rum cocktails and lazing around on hammocks, 60 miles away the streets of Port-au-Prince are littered with dead bodies as survivors scavenge for food and water.
"I just can't see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water," one passenger wrote on the Cruise Critic forum.
Some passengers booked on ships scheduled to stop at Labadee told UK's The Guardian that they were afraid that desperate people might breach the resort's 12-foot high fences to get food and drink. Others seemed determined to enjoy their vacation."I'll be there on Tuesday and I plan on enjoying my zip-line excursion as well as the time on the beach," one told The Guardian.
The Times compares the situation to 2004 and the tsunami that devastated southeast Asia. Tour operators and hotel companies faced similar criticism as the cruise lines when photographs were published of vacationers sunbathing and swimming within miles of the ravaged areas.