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When Hurricanes Maria and Irma devastated several of the Caribbean ports most loved by cruisers, we worried. Many of us have formed a strong bond with the islands. We have made friends on St. Thomas and marveled at the beauty of Grand Turk. And in the wake of the hurricanes, we — and the cruise lines — did what we could to show our support for those impacted.
In the weeks since, we’ve gotten status updates from the islands and the cruise lines as to how the impacted ports are doing, but you know what they say: Seeing is believing. So when presented with the opportunity to be on Holland America’s Eurodam when it became one of the first cruise ships to return to Grand Turk, I was excited… and also nervous. What would I find? Would passengers actually get off the ship? Would those who did disembark find Grand Turk ready to receive guests and offer them a satisfying experience?
Returning To Grand Turk
The weather was gloomy as the Eurodam arrived, but that didn’t stop people from getting off the ship. Before long, thousands of passengers — from my ship as well as the Carnival Sensation — had disembarked and began making their way across the island. Some headed off on shore excursions while others wandered toward the nearby beach. With a smile and a sigh, I realized that Grand Turk was more than just ready… they were open for business.
That’s not to say that evidence doesn’t remain of the horrific storms which pounded the island. Walking down the beach, you can see — just beyond the rows of newly-planted palm trees — that construction workers are trying to replace roofs that were blown off buildings and repair fences that were knocked down.
The Grand Turk Cruise Center looks untouched with the exception of freshly-planted vegetation. Venture too far beyond the cruise pier, and you can tell that a storm paid the island a visit. But you also see, everywhere you look, proof that the residents of Grand Turk have united and picked up the pieces.
“Cruise tourism has been down since the storms,” one local shop owner told me. “It’s like the cruise passengers think we were wiped off the map. But we are here, and we are very much open.” This was not, after all, the first time the island has been through a bad storm. She reminded me that they’d been hit hard by Hurricane Ike back in 2008, and they’d rebounded from that, just as they would from this.
I eventually made my way to Jack’s Shack, a beachside bar that’s a short 10-minute walk from the cruise terminal and popular with tourists from around the world. Construction workers were on hand, rebuilding what looked to be a dive shop. Jack himself had run out to buy supplies for the project, which wasn’t about to keep the bar from being open for business.
A sense of tranquility came over me as I approached the bar and was greeted by Topher — the island’s unofficial mascot and the world’s most photographed dog. (And yes, of course I had to snap a selfie with the beloved pooch!) Settling in with a tropical concoction, I chatted with some of the islanders to get a first-hand perspective on how the recovery was going.
“When the first few ships came back,” admitted a local cook, “we didn’t have power and were doing everything with generators. But now, the power is restored to 90 percent of the island.” As if to prove just how good-to-go things are, I was served some of the best jerk chicken I’ve ever had in my life. And I’ve eaten my share of jerk chicken over the years… and probably your share, too.
Next Stop: Margaritaville
One of the things I love about returning to places I’ve visited in the past is having traditions. Where Grand Turk is concerned, that includes a visit to Margaritaville on the way back to the ship. The Pina coladas were flowing and the music was pumping. And that was true for each of the venues I passed while walking down the beach as I headed back to the Eurodam. Shops were open, people were having fun, and the island vibe was in full effect.
The islands had been through hell and back… with an emphasis on back.