Video: Controversy as cruise line returns to Haiti

By U.K. Editor
updated 1/20/2010 11:38:44 AM ET 2010-01-20T16:38:44

As humanitarian aid arrives and rescue workers continue their efforts to rebuild Haiti following the devastating earthquake last week, there's been much talk about Royal Caribbean's decision to resume calls on Labadee — the cruise line's private “island” destination about 100 miles from capital city Port-au-Prince (it was not damaged in the quake).

Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas was the first to return, on Friday. And, despite rumors on Cruise Critic's message boards that Royal Caribbean might reverse its decision, swapping Labadee for sea days, a cruise line spokeswoman tells us there are no plans to cancel calls. Both Navigator (which arrived today) and Liberty of the Seas (which calls on the port Friday) have been loaded with 80 pallets worth of supplies. On Friday, Celebrity Solstice will make its regularly scheduled stop — also bringing passengers and aid.

The majority of Cruise Critic readers support Royal Caribbean's decision, according to a homepage poll that ran on both and A resounding 67 percent of readers supported Royal Caribbean decision, saying that it was a good idea to continue calling in the region as the ships and passengers were bringing much needed aid and money.

There are some cruise travelers who disagree with the quick return, however, as conversations on controversial subject continue on Cruise Critic's message boards. “I have donated my money, but I would not feel comfortable going there for a vacation at this time,” posts Cruise Critic member jerseygirl79. “Not only would I not feel safe, but I wouldn't feel comfortable enjoying a vacation so close to utter devastation and loss of life.”

Ac110, meanwhile, disagrees: “Don't you see that depriving these people of employment is the last thing we should be doing right now?! Go, enjoy, and tip generously.”

Member Mechcc offers even more advice to those arriving in the port who want to help: “First off, everyone gets off the ship and heads to the market and buys a trinket at an outrageous price. And add a few dollars to the price. Then tip someone on the beach for carrying their bag. It has been reported that food that is not eaten by the passengers is taken home by the Haitians working at Labadee. So passengers — don't eat while on Labadee. Have a big breakfast, head back to the ship for a slice of pizza for lunch, and enjoy your dinner onboard.

“Leave the food that is prepared at Labadee for your enjoyment to be taken by the Haitians. Some of it will find its way to the shelters. You can do without it. Also, leave a few unopened bottles of water with the Haitians. And if you are on a cruise that RCI is donating profits from that stop to charity, well buy an excursion. You don't have to go on it, just buy it. Or donate that money to one of the charities that are helping out.

“Honestly, you can get off the ship, contribute, and have a subdued day. I also would probably leave several pair of brand new pairs of flip-flops on the beach. Not to mention a few new T-shirts and whatever. New and unused.”

Beyond Royal Caribbean, cruise line relief efforts vary. A passenger who was onboard Carnival Miracle in the Caribbean when the quake hit told Cruise Critic via e-mail that passengers were not told about the tragedy until the next day. “We wished Carnival would do something ... food, water,” she writes. “Granted passengers were on ‘vacation,’ but that didn't mean they stopped caring about humanity. Another reason to look to Royal Caribbean or Celebrity for our next cruise.”

Carnival Corporation on Monday announced that its cruise brands — including, among others, Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises and Holland America Line — will donate $5 million toward Haiti relief via multiple international organizations.

What do those closer to the disaster think? Cruise Critic Editor-in-Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown shares this firsthand story after engaging in conversation with a Haitian taxi driver in Miami while traveling there this weekend. “He's from Labadee of all places, which is a good distance from Port-au-Prince. I asked him: how do Haitians feel about a cruise ship coming back so soon. He said that Labadee was not affected and that it's still crucial for people there to keep working, to have some sense of normalcy — and that the country needs any supplies it can get (which Royal Caribbean was bringing in).

“I said, ‘So it's not disrespectful, then?’ He looked incredulous, and said, ‘absolutely not.’ ”

Royal Caribbean has committed to providing $1 million in humanitarian relief to Haiti, a portion of which will augment the company's Crew Relief Fund, which can be drawn on by any of the company's more than 200 Haitian crewmembers. Passengers onboard can make a donation to Food for the Poor's Haiti Relief Fund, via a charge to their onboard account; others can visit the organization's Web site to make a donation.

For more information on how to help Haiti, check out our list of worthy charities.


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