It's no exaggeration to say the Caribbean is getting walloped this hurricane season, both by the number of storms and their strength: When Maria roared into Dominica on Monday, she brought winds that neared 260 kilometres an hour, tearing off rooftops and wreaking havoc described by Roosevelt Skerrit, Dominica's Prime Minister, as "mind boggling."
Less than two weeks earlier, Irma slammed Saint Martin with 270 km/h winds, crumbling buildings and clogging roadways with debris.
But these storms bring unequal wrath: Though some islands have been devastated, others remain unscathed, and even within affected destinations the impact from town to town can vary. With hotels and some airports affected, the hurricanes are also causing uncertainty for travellers, both in the near and mid-term.
"It's been an active season, to say the least," Hugh Riley, secretary-general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, said in a phone interview. "And it's not over – there are still realistically several weeks of the normal hurricane season. Even as we rebuild and restore, we have to continue to prepare for what may come."
Riley noted that in the immediate aftermath of a monster storm, even needs assessments can be challenging, but that there are efforts to bring in generators and building supplies so that repairs can get under way even before power is restored.
In the meantime, here's how the 2017 hurricane season might affect your Caribbean travel plans. (Note: All information was current at the time of publication.)
One of the biggest factors affecting Caribbean travel for the foreseeable future is the closing of St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport. The airport is currently acting as an emergency and evacuation hub but will require extensive repairs; the effect will be a rippling one, as St. Maarten (a Dutch country on the island of Saint Martin) is a popular hub for international travellers connecting to smaller islands. Sunwing announced this week that it is suspending flights to and from the island until April, while Air Canada, which typically does not commence seasonal flights to St. Maarten until December, has cancelled service indefinitely pending more information on recovery times. WestJet Airlines is currently scheduled to resume service on Oct. 31.
Air Canada has also suspended service to the Turks and Caicos Islands until further notice, while WestJet has cancelled flights to Cayo Coco and Santa Clara, Cuba, through Oct. 31. Both airlines are waiving change fees for passengers on flight paths affected by the storms.
- Dominica: After getting slammed on Monday, the island’s Prime Minister described on Facebook the “widespread devastation” on this French island that neighbours Guadeloupe and Martinique (both were comparatively undamaged, though Guadeloupe experienced some flooding). “So far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn-away roofs in the city and the countryside,” Skerrit wrote.
- St. Maarten/St-Martin: Although the economy on this two-nation island is almost entirely dependent on tourism, with an estimated $1.43-billion (U.S.) in damage caused by Hurricane Irma and large swaths of the island almost uninhabitable, it will be some time before business resumes. Although commercial flights are expected to restart within weeks, most Canadian airlines are holding off longer. Meanwhile, many hotels and resorts are reporting extensive damage that could prevent reopenings for months; at least two resorts, the Sonesta and Grand Case Beach Club, have suspended reservations until the end of the year, while many other properties have not yet posted reopening dates.
- Turks and Caicos: Although Irma hit Turks and Caicos as a Category 5 storm, most hotels experienced cosmetic but no structural damage – most resorts in Providenciales are open or expected to reopen by mid-October, and Gansevoort Turks and Caicos is set to reopen Oct. 5. (COMO Parrot Cay, Beaches Turks & Caicos and Beach Enclave are among those that aren’t scheduled to reopen until at least November).
- Cuba: Although Havana and other Cuban cities experienced major flooding, the brunt of Irma hit the northern part of the island, Los Cayos most of all. In Havana, hotels such as the Kempinski and Melia properties are fully operational, while some properties in Varadero experienced damage and downed trees but are still open.
- The Bahamas: In a news release dated Sept. 13, the Bahamas reported that it’s “back to business.” Airports on Nassau and Grand Bahama Island have reopened while the majority of hotels and resorts throughout the Bahamas have either reopened following Irma or are scheduled to reopen seasonally as planned.
- British and U.S. Virgin Islands: Many of the British and U.S. territorial islands on the Virgin Islands archipelago took a beating during Irma: Many cruise lines are currently forgoing stops in St. Thomas, while many hotels on the island, including the Ritz-Carlton, Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, and Sugar Bay Resort and Spa, are closed until further notice. On St. John, the Westin St. John Resort Villas and Caneel Bay are also closed for the foreseeable future.
In the British Virgin Islands, Long Bay Beach Resort and Villas and Scrub Island Resort, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, report closures until further notice, while a number of other hotels that were closed seasonally during the storm either expect to open as planned or await status updates.
St. Croix, meanwhile, was largely spared: Its airport is fully operational and most hotels remain open for business.
While cruise ships continue to embark from Miami, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral – the world's three busiest cruise ports – many major cruise lines are rerouting their ships to circumvent islands that have been heavily damaged. Carnival and Royal Caribbean are among the lines swapping out the hard-hit St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, while Norwegian Cruise Lines is replacing its eastern Caribbean itineraries with western ones for the next two months. Most cruise lines are also cancelling regular stops in St. Maarten and making other itinerary modifications as required.