[Editor's Note: For some updated information on Oasis of the Seas returning to Haiti, check my new post.]
Some passengers on Royal Caribbean cruise ships are saying they not happy about or comfortable with RCCL’s decision to continue docking at Labadee, Haiti, despite the devastation of the recent earthquake.
“I just can’t see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while 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 writes on the Cruise Critic internet forum.
Another said, “It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch at Labadee before the quake, knowing how many Haitians were starving. I can’t imagine having to choke down a burger there now.”
On the TripAdvisor website for Labadee, yet another Haiti visitor commented, “Cruise passengers must not realize that 80 percent of Haitians live in poverty. For most, clean water, food, clothing and medical care are not easy to obtain. Many children in Haiti have hair that is orange at the ends from lack of nutrients. Children die every day from starvation. There is no trash removal, sewage and garbage litters the streets. While Haiti appears to be paradise from this isolated beach, but is an island of tragedy.”
A USA Today reader noted, “My family is scheduled to cruise on the Explorer of the Seas next month. I am hoping that Haiti decides that the port in Labadee would be better utilized as a commercial port than as a cruise ship port, and suspends all of RCCL’s stops temporarily. How can passengers possibly think of leisurely sunning themselves on a beach just miles away from such a horrible disaster? Does Adam Goldstein wear blinders? I think RCCL should stop at Labadee, donate food & water, but the passengers should boycott any activities on the Island and stay on the ship.”
Another reader questioned RCCL’s rationale that its ships bring an economic benefit to the country, noting RCCL pays the Haitian government just $6 a passenger in port charges (unchanged since at least 1997), while it pays $65 per passenger at ports such as Bermuda.
The Guardian newspaper in England questioned whether it was appropriate for Royal Caribbean to continue to try and deliver “a vacation experience, so close to the epicenter” of a disaster. The Barbados Free Press published a scalding article, condemning Royal Caribbean.
The criticism has prompted this response from RCCL’s president, Adam Goldstein: “How our guests can justify having a good time in Labadee when there is such misery less than 100 miles away? My view is this — it isn’t better to replace a visit to Labadee (or for that matter, to stay on the ship while it’s docked in Labadee) with a visit to another destination for a vacation. Why? Because being on the island and generating economic activity for the straw market vendors, the hair-braiders and our 230 employees helps with relief while being somewhere else does not help. These 500 people are going to need to support a much larger network of family and friends, including many who are in (or are missing in) the earthquake zone. Also, the north is going to bear a good part of the burden of the agony of the south, and the more economic support there is to the north, the better able the north will be to bear this burden. People enjoying themselves is what we do. People enjoying themselves in Labadee helps with relief. We support our guests who choose to help in this way which is consistent with our nearly 30 year history in Haiti.”
The Labadee compound is encircled by a wall, and Royal Caribbean has assured its guests that they will be safe while there and that the facility is adequately guarded, despite news reports that desperate natives have fanned out into the forests in search of food, water, medicine and other supplies.
Royal Caribbean says its ships are bringing such supplies to Labadee, but sending them to another location for distribution by Food for the Poor.
January 19, 2010