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Royal Caribbean And Haiti…A Problem?


This is a blog about Royal Caribbean, Haiti and reading between the lines. A lot of people are doing that these days following what appeared to be a fairly innocent incident this month: ships skipping Labadee because of a group of protesters on the water offshore.

Little more than that was said…at first. What has been said since may turn into a much bigger snowball by the time it gets to the bottom of the hill, as the analogy goes.

According to people on ships that turned around, Royal Caribbean officials said the protests Haiti-1had to do with upcoming (and postponed) elections in Haiti. After passengers dug deeper, they found the protesters were holding up signs because Royal Caribbean was not living up to its promise to build schools, hospitals and self-esteem in one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

As a result, more people than ever are re-examining the cruise line’s “private resort” known as Labadee. As a result, critics like maritime lawyer Jim Walker are ripping Royal Caribbean in commentaries — logically presented — for making excessive profits at the expense of Haitian people who thought they were going to benefit from the development of Labadee.

As a result, now people are questioning why Royal Caribbean ships have returned to Labadee, as they did this week. More and more the answer appears to be money. Period. Going to another port deprives the cruise line of an enormous revenue stream. The “private resort” is waterfront property the cruise line bought for a song and it’s Labadee-ziplinesurrounded by barbed-wire fencing to protect passengers who spend millions zip-lining and lounging in cabanas or renting equipment to use on the water, and to keep out poor Haitians who want to sell their crafts and try to escape their poverty.

“Royal Caribbean pays no actual rent of any kind…but its passengers pay a $10 to $12 head tax,” writes Walker, who is a well-known thorn in the side of cruise lines but who has probably touched a raw nerve this time.

If the head tax goes to the government as “rent” then fees for the “world’s longest zipline” and most of passengers spend in Labadee is likely pure profit for Royal Caribbean. A conservative estimate is that’s about 10,000 visitors every week.

We’ve only been to Labadee once. One of us was sick. We never ventured far enough from Allure of the Seas even to see the fence around Labadee. We never met any of the locals, as we usually do. All we really know about it is what we’ve learned from Royal Caribbean, including how it’s dedicated to helping poor Haiti.

That’s called PR…for public relations. The return of its ships to Labadee solved one problem, but now Royal Caribbean appears to have another.

A PR problem, and clearly it’s growing.

In the news…

• A $450 million multi-year product innovation and ship renovation for Princess
• Two new ships to push Royal Caribbean capacity to four million passengers a year
• Five Norwegian ships — the most ever — going to Europe for summer 2017

Today at portsandbows.comThe new Princess restaurant SHARE

Emerald Princess
14 nights
April 2, 2016
Fort Lauderdale, Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, Bilbao, Paris, Southampton
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $57

Royal Caribbean’s Zumba Cruise

Until our daughter-in-law Frances announced she was going to become an accredited Zumba instructor, this was a word that may never have crossed our lips. Zumba, not Zumbainstructor. We may have thought it was the name of a Greek restaurant or the latest battle cry used by kids as they loaded the newest war game on their Xboxes.

Now we know better.

Zumba is everywhere, even on cruise ships. Next year, Royal Caribbean will have its Zumba Cruise on Independence of the Seas. It’s five days of zumba-ing at sea, disembarking in Falmouth, Jamaica, and on “Zumba Island” — formerly known as the cruise line’s private port in Labadee, Haiti.

There will be 300 Zumba-theme classes in five days. There will be 130 celebrity instructors to teach passengers how to squat, mambo, hip-hop, lunge and salsa with the best of them. Independence of the SeasOne of the instructors will be “Beto” Perez, the Colombian creator of Zumba and one of The Three Albertos who founded the craze about 20 years ago (the others are Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion).

If you think those numbers are high, then you should also know there are 15 million people who take Zumba classes in 185 countries at 140,000 gymnasiums, fitness centers or wherever else groups can gather to be guided through the exercise(s).

The ship leaves Fort Lauderdale on January 30, and this is likely just the beginning.

What does “Zumba” mean? Whatever you want it to mean…except a Greek restaurant or a war cry on Xbox.

In the news…

• Million people in Liverpool for Cunard's three Queens on Monday
• Celebrity Eclipse first Solstice Class ship with 'World Class Bar'
• Disney to return to New York for five cruises in October 2016

Today at portsandbows.com: Christening the Viking Star

Carnival Elation
5 nights
August 22, 2015
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Merida
Inside: $309
Cost per day: $61

Friday file: Cruise Port Entertainers

In many ports, especially in the Caribbean, locals provide entertainment for passengers as they disembark. There’s always a bucket nearby for anybody who wants to make a donation to these buskers by the sea but there is, of course, no obligation — and the reality is they provide a musical preview of their country’s customs. Here are some we’ve encountered and enjoyed…

Dom.RepLa Romana: Decked out in traditional Dominican Republic colors, this quartet was just as bright in talent.

AricaArica, Chile: In an outdoor mall close to the ship, this talented duo was singing…'The Piano Man' with no piano!

AcapulcoAcapulco: Mariachis are always an attraction in Mexico, even when their “fifth” member gets into the act. 

CartagenaCartagena: Colorful Colombian dancers on the deck of what was once a Spanish galleon and now tours the harbor.

FalmouthFalmouth: If ever an entertainer looked the part of the needy busker, it was this Jamaican at Dunn’s River Falls.

Labadee: The only thing wrong with this high-energy act beside Allure of the Seas was the intrusion of a passenger.

Today at portsandbows.com: Norwegian back to South America

Carnival Miracle
6 nights
November 1, 2015
Los Angeles (return): Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $469
Cost per day: $78

Friday File: Searching For Margaritaville

One of us is obsessed with the tequila-based drinks called margaritas…not drinking them, finding where they are. Like, in Margaritaville, homeland of Jimmy Buffett. As a concession to her, and at the risk of alienating you, below are some of the fruits of her labor (and you can be sure there are more to come!)…

Cayman IslandsMost Margaritavilles are in the south, because their creator wears shorts and no socks. This palatial one in the Cayman Islands may be the biggest she has found…so far.

Falmouth JamaicaYou have to look long and hard to find the Margaritaville connection with this work of art at the cruise port of Falmouth, Jamaica…unless you have a built-in Margaritaville magnet.

Grand TurkAt Grand Turk, Parrotheads ‘get’ the obvious connection on the signage above the front door, and if you don’t know what Parrotheads are chances are you haven’t read this far.

LabadeeThe obsessed photographer will even seek out people wearing Margaritaville shirts, like on the beach at Labadee. Little did this musician know he was a photo-op subject. 

New OrleansNew Orleans may be as close as Jimmy Buffett gets to landlubbing (except for concerts) and his fans will tell you he’s a perfect match for the French Quarter.

CozumelFinding Margaritaville in Mexico is easy, at least in Cozumel…after seeing this, the photo subject looked over at the bench and asked: “Where’s Jimmy?”

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Celebrity Constellation
13 nights
April 9, 2015
Fort Lauderdale, Funchal, Gibralter, Alicante, Rome
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $46

The Haitis of Mitch Albom & Royal Caribbean

LABADEE, Haiti — One of our heroes is a man named Mitch Albom, a Detroit sportswriter-columnist-novelist-screenwriter of immense talent who for the last four years has taken a personal interest in this Caribbean island devastated by an earthquake that killed 150,000 people and left three million homeless.

Albom has made it his cause to help rebuild parts of Port-au-Prince, specifically orphanages, and he has done it not just with his heart and his fund-raising, but with his hands.

This Royal Caribbean enclave called Labadee is probably as far from "the real Haiti" as Labadee-welcomeyou can get, in every way imaginable. It is the playground of the cruise line's passengers, some of whom spend $100 for less than a minute of zip-lining on Haitian Labadee-ziplineshores on what is reportedly the longest zip-line over water in the world — a 14-second training run on land prepares you for 44 seconds over beach waters — and all of whom can disembark from Allure of the Seas (among other company ships that stop here) and sit in comfortable beach chairs watching the zip-liners go by.Labadee-beach

Passengers in Labadee can be Royal-ly entertained on spotless shores without being harassed by local vendors at every step, and most of the amenities from the ship (bars, restaurants, spas and shops) go with them.

Yet Labadee, like Albom, helps deprived Haitians. Many from this poor country — like Labadee-musiciansthese musicians on the beaches and the dancers on the dock — work at Labadee. The cruise line made an enormous financial donation to the nation after the quake. Cruise Labadee-dancerspassengers regularly spend money on the shores that helps raise the standard of poverty.

It's not digging holes to install plumbing like Mitch Albom does, his fingers lifting a shovel instead of punching out prose, but not everybody can do what this talented, thoughtful man can do…in more ways than one. In most cases, this is the only Haiti these cruisers will ever see.

And because they do, Labadee still makes a contribution Haitians wouldn't have if it didn't exist.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Royal Caribbean and Asia

Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas
14 nights
August 31, 2014
LondonParisPortlandCork, ReykjavikBoston
Inside: $937
Cost per day: $66

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