Return of Cruise Ships Buoys Tourism in Turks and Caicos

Carnival Vista docked in Grand TurkCarnival Vista docked in Grand Turk

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The return of cruise ships to the Caribbean destination Turks and Caicos has jump-started the tiny nation’s tourism recovery, with March numbers almost as high as the same record-setting month in pre-pandemic 2019.

For the first quarter, 173,151 visitors arrived by cruise ship, ahead of the 138,762 who arrived by air.

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Carnival Vista docked in Grand Turk

“The tourism industry is poised for a full recovery,” declared Mary Lightbourne, Acting Director of Tourism for the Turks and Caicos Tourist Board. “We are indeed buoyed by these figures, in particular the month of March, which is critical to our sector.”

Turks and Caicos reopened its cruise sector in December 2021, with a total of 25,573 arrivals that month – about a fifth of December 2019 numbers. Over the next three months, cruise arrivals soared to 62 percent of those who arrived in the first quarter of 2019.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its risk advisory for cruise ship travel in March 2022, so Turks and Caicos officials are hoping the growth will continue.

“These arrival figures are indicative that the Turks and Caicos continue to be a sought-after destination. We are indeed on pace to increase our arrivals in the coming weeks and months, welcoming all our guests to our ‘Beautiful by Nature’ isles,” added Lightbourne.

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Cruising helped put Turks and Caicos on the map back in 2006, when Carnival Corporation opened the Grand Turk Cruise Center, a $50 million project on 13 acres of land on the southern end of Grand Turk. The port can welcome up to three ships at a time.

The facility serves as the launch point for shore excursions, and offers onsite gift and jewelry shops, restaurants, and a spa, as well as the largest Margaritaville in the Caribbean with a massive pool and swim-up bar. Adding to its appeal, the port is set on SunRay Beach, one of the best cruise port beaches in the region.

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Margaritaville in Grand Turk

The opening of the cruise port in 2006 had an immediate and exponential impact. Three months later, Carnival’s then vice president for strategic planning Giora Israel was quoted saying: “In the last 90 days, there have been more visitors to this island than in the last 100 years.”

Grand Turk was the site of an unfortunate incident last week when the smokestack of Carnival Freedom caught fire while docked there. The blaze caught the headlines, but thankfully no guests and crew were injured, and ship, hotel, guest services, and safety equipment remained fully functioning.

Carnival Freedom Fire
(Photo used with permission by Joel Perez)

The Freedom was on the final stop of a five-night cruise with 2,504 guests and 972 crew members aboard. Guests stayed an additional two nights on the ship in Grand Turk, before Carnival Conquest arrived from Florida to return them to Port Canaveral on Monday morning.

The ship is now heading to Grand Bahama to have a new funnel fitted, as the intense heat of the fire melted the starboard side of the distinctive Carnival smokestack.

The Freedom and its white knight the Conquest had their schedules altered due to the incident. Meanwhile, The May 28 departure of Carnival Freedom from Port Canaveral was canceled, while Carnival Conquest‘s scheduled May 27 sailing was also canceled and its May 30 voyage now a day shorter and departing May 31.

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