By November, Richard Fain of Royal Caribbean claimed that the company's Caribbean cruise bookings were back to pre-hurricane levels. Caribbean islands are hard at work to get back to business, as their future depends on it. Visitors flying into devastated St Martin to join Crystal Esprit report back with tales of an unprecedented warmth of welcome, and lots of confidence in the future. Most closed hotels flag they will reopen either now, or over the next few months. Of course, many of the islands in this huge region sustained no damage whatsoever.
The exciting 'new' Caribbean destination is Cuba. Travel to Cuba by Americans has been restricted for over half a century, and it's technically illegal for US citizens to make transactions (spend money or receive gifts) in Cuba under most circumstances. The latest rules state that Americans must travel to Cuba in organised tour groups, or independently under the 'Support For The Cuban People' category, and avoid staying at hotels banned by the US State Department and spending money at military-owned businesses.
After a bumpy start getting permissions in place, there is now an influx of cruise lines into Cuba, and sailings are generating a huge amount of interest, so we encourage you to book early. Furthermore as the tourism infrastructure, particularly post-hurricane on the north coast, is rather poor, visiting by ship could be the best way to see more in a relatively short space of time.
European companies have included Cuba in their itineraries for many years, so you might prefer to choose a company with a history of operating in the region, such as Star Clippers or Noble Caledonia. When Silversea visited the island for the second time in October 2017, the cruise was not promoted to the American market at all, and the majority of passengers on board were European and Australian.
You can visit inexpensively with companies such as Celestyal out of Jamaica or Havana, MSC Opera cruising between Havana and Cozumel, or the little vessels of Variety Cruises. New visitors include Oceania, Regent and NCL, all part of the NCL Holdings group whose Cuban Chairman, Frank del Rio, is all too delighted to bring visitors to the beloved land of his birth.
Scenic's new ocean vessel Scenic Eclipse is scheduled to visit as part of her inaugural season in 2018, whilst SeaDream will visit for the first time in early 2019 - their sell-out programme has been so successful they are already planning to return at the end of the year, so make sure you register your interest.
SeaDream's programme is a series of 7-day itineraries navigating the west part of the island from Havana to Cienfuegos and vice versa. For Caribbean lovers, this brings something new and different, with a host of fascinating ports and an introduction to the culture, history and beauty of this island nation. Calls include Spanish founded Cape Cruz; Cayo Largo del Sur, the largest of 300 islands in the Canarreos Archipelago; the island beaches of Playo Sirena, Playo Paraíso and Isla de la Juventud, perfect exploration spots for divers and snorkelers; Cienfuegos and its beautiful historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and of course the bustling and colourful capital, Havana.