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Cruise Ship Passengers Giving St. Thomas, San Juan and Sint Maarten Higher Ratings … After The Storms

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CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Passenger ratings for St. Thomas, Sint Maarten and San Juan are consistently higher now than before the hurricanes, a senior Carnival Cruise Line executive said Thursday.

“There’s a hangover on the eastern Caribbean.” [Some consumers still have the view that] “It’s devastated. Why would I want to go there?”‘ said Carnival’s Terry Thornton, SVP port operations, guest care and international. “Much more powerful than what we say is what our guest ratings tell.”

“Those ratings have been consistently higher—not one-offs, Thornton added. “It’s an important message to get out. I’m sure other lines are experiencing the same thing.”

Thornton spoke as Carnival Fascination prepares to resume service from San Juan on Sunday following an extensive multimillion-dollar dry dock. The ship has been providing housing for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hurricane relief workers in St. Croix.

Carnival began visiting San Juan on transit calls Nov. 30, with Sint Maarten and St. Thomas returning to the line’s schedules in January.

With 20 of the 25 Fun Ships operating in the region on a year-round or seasonal basis, the Caribbean is a critical part of Carnival’s operations and remains very popular with customers.

Carnival Fascination’s southern Caribbean cruises visit five ports in a week: St. Lucia, Barbados (where about 10% of passengers embark and sail round-trip Bridgetown), St. Kitts, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.

Thornton noted there can be a big difference between the recovery of land-based tourism and cruise travel. ‘Cruise travel can come back sooner if just the basics are available,’ he said. Those include having most shore excursions operational; key areas cleaned up, looking good, and safe and secure; and adequate road infrastructure to reach attractions.

‘Beyond that, we don’t need much else,’ Thornton said. ‘These destinations did a great job focusing on [the priorities]. They jumped on it and they took care of it.’

Concerning excursions, everything Carnival offered pre-hurricane is available in San Juan, except for El Yunque rain forest. All but a few water-based tours are available in St. Thomas, and those are expected to be running again soon. And St. Maarten has fewer tours, however a major new attraction, Rockland Estate, featuring the world’s steepest zip line and a chairlift adventure, came online post-storm.

“Lack of shore excursions is not an issue in Sint Maarten,” Thornton said. “To see the ratings as high as they are means that those who take excursions and those who go on their own are happy.”

Travelers shouldn’t think that because Norwegian Cruise Line replaced the Miami-based Norwegian Getaway’s eastern Caribbean itinerary with a western route from mid-April through September that the whole eastern area is unready for ships.

The issue for Norwegian is Tortola, where the British Virgin Islands have done a “really good job” with the cruise pier and adjacent Tortola Pier Park, however there are challenges with transportation and getting materials, according to Thornton.

Other eastern Caribbean ports on Carnival’s charts include Grand Turk and Amber Cove (Dominican Republic), which didn’t suffer the same level of disruption after the storms. ‘They’re running at full tilt,’ Thornton said, adding Carnival is the only brand that can offer a four-port, weeklong itinerary with Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Thomas and Amber Cove—which he called ‘a powerful combination in the eastern Caribbean.’

As for Dominica, one of the worst impacted islands, Carnival is scheduled to resume calls as early as May but may shift some stops in May and June to late September. Thornton stressed no calls will be dropped but the delay gives more time needed for recovery.

Some ships from other lines have visited, and the feedback indicated passengers were glad to support the destination but more time will help, particularly to restore transport.

“I have a soft place in my heart for Dominica,” Thornton said. “It has so much to offer. It’s not a marquee port but people who go there love it.”

Meanwhile, the destinations on Carnival Fascination’s itinerary are keen to welcome back this year-round ship.

During its Feb. 4-17 docking at Grand Bahama Shipyard, Carnival Fascination is gaining new food and beverage outlets including poolside venues Guy’s Burger Joint, developed with Food Network star Guy Fieri; BlueIguana Cantina for burritos and the RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar.

Other new venues are the cocktail pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar and Bonsai Sushi Express for sushi, sashimi and rolls. A Cherry on Top sweets shop will be installed, too.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 50 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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