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Returning To Grand Turk Cruise Port After The Hurricanes

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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.

Grand Turk

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.

Grand Turk

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.

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Grand Turk

Interviewing Jack in Grand Turk.

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.

Grand Turk

“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.

Grand Turk

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.

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Cruise Ships Diverted By Tropical Storm

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If there’s one thing cruisers have learned over the past couple years, it’s that Mother Nature gets an almost perverse thrill out of throwing a wrench into the best laid vacation plans. So it should come as no surprise that Tropical Storm Alberto is causing several cruise lines to make itinerary changes in order to avoid unpleasant weather as best they can.

Two Carnival Ships Impacted So Far

As of Saturday morning, the National Weather Service’s Twitter feed reported that Alberto was “moving northward toward the Southeastern Gulf of Mexico.” Meanwhile, Carnival announced that two of their ships would slightly alter their itineraries in order to avoid the storm’s path.

Carnival Fantasy

Carnival Fantasy was one of two of the line’s ships to alter itineraries as a result of Tropical Storm Alberto. Photo, as well as featured photo, courtesy Carnival Cruise Line. 

Although scheduled to visit Cozumel on Saturday, the Carnival Valor instead went to Progreso. From there, it will, as previously planned, spend a Fun Day at Sea on Sunday before returning on Monday to Galveston, Texas. Meanwhile, the Carnival Fantasy made the same change to its own itinerary — swapping Cozumel for Progreso — followed by a sea day on Sunday before returning to Mobile, Alabama on Monday.

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Royal Caribbean Itinerary Changed

Meanwhile, according to the Royal Caribbean Blog, that line’s Majesty of the Seas also skipped its scheduled Cozumel stop in order to avoid the storm, instead spending the night in Havana, Cuba. And in news unrelated to the storm, Royal’s Vision of the Seas apparently experienced a ship-wide blackout for about 15 minutes earlier this week. According to announcements made by the captain, the power loss was caused by “a technical malfunction” which was later resolved, allowing the ship to resume her 12-night Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona.

Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the seas spent the night in Havana, Cuba.

With the storm continuing its approach, and Governor Rick Scott having Saturday morning declared a State of Emergency across Florida in anticipation of its arrival, there is every likelihood that the cruise lines could announce more itinerary changes in the hours and days to come. Cruise Radio will update this story as it learns of any such developments.

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Inside The Party For Carnival Horizon [PHOTOS]

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Given that Queen Latifah is the Godmother of Carnival’s newest ship, you had to know a good time was going to be had by all at the Carnival Horizon’s official naming ceremony. Held in New York City on a picture-perfect afternoon, the event featured plenty of food, lots of drink, singing, dancing and even a pretty substantial charitable donation.

Welcome To Flavortown

Things got under way with a ribbon-cutting ceremony as celebrity chef Guy Fieri welcomed guests to the latest outpost of Flavortown, the Pig & Anchor Smokehouse/Brewhouse. With live music playing, servers dished out hearty helpings of the venue’s signature foods, including trashcan nachos, dragon chili cheese fries and a pecan pie that was, according to the genuine Southern belle at our table, “to die for.”

Guy Fieri and brewmeister Colin Presby, doing the honors.

After that, the traditional naming ceremony kicked off with Brand Ambassador John Heald offering up a tip of the hat to “the one man to blame” for the fact that “I now have X’s in the back of everything I’m wearing,” Fieri.

Next up was the traditional prayer of blessing, followed by Carnival president Christine Duffy welcoming everyone aboard before discussing the very special bond between the cruise line and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Speaking proudly of the $16 million dollars raised by Carnival since the partnership first began in 2010, Duffy then presented the hospital with a check for another $100,000 and directed everyone’s eyes to the 24-foot Dreamscape, which anchors the atrium and now features among it’s displays 33 pieces of art created by St. Jude patients.

Artwork done by St. Jude patients lit up the Dreamscape.

Next up was the ship’s Godmother, Queen Latifah, who also happens to be a major supporter of St. Jude. After thanking the crowd “for looking so good,” Latifah asked everyone to take another look at the artwork-adorned Dreamscape. “My mom was an art teacher,” she said of her recently-deceased parent, “so I appreciate what the kids do. I know what it does for a child’s heart to create like that.”

Of being Godmother to a cruise ship, Latifah admitted it was “one of the coolest things I’ve ever been asked to be a part of in my life!” She was then joined on stage by Captain Luigi De Angelis and, together, they poured an oversized bottle of champagne (“This is the only time the captain will hold a bottle of champagne like this,” quipped Heald) over the ship’s inaugural season bell.

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“Only at Carnival Cruise Line,” quipped Heald of the ceremony, “do we water the plants with Moet.”

With the official business of the day out of the way, it was time for the fun to start in the Liquid Lounge, where Latifah battled Philadelphia Eagles player Jake Elliot in an epic Lip Sync Battle hosted by popular Carnival cruise director Matt Mitcham. But before the main event could begin, the crowd was in for an unexpected treat when Duffy was joined on stage by Carnival Corp’s President and CEO, Arnold Donald, for a lip synched performance of The Black Eyed Peas’ party anthem “I Gotta Feeling.”

Duffy and Donald proved they definitely choose fun.

With Duffy cheering on Elliot, and Donald firmly in the Queen’s corner, the main event began. And while footballer Elliott took the pumped-up crowd back to the days of MTV’s Headbangers Ball by donning a massive wig to perform Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” this was Latifah’s battle to lose. And if you know anything about the singer/actor/businesswoman — who also happens to be a past Lip Sync Battle champion — it’s that she does not come to lose. The moment she and the Playlist Productions performers took to the stage to perform “It’s Raining Men,” it was all over but the cheering. Of the stripping background dancers, Mitcham joked that Latifah’s performance was “like Baywatch and Magic Mike went wild,” while Donald said that the dancers “inspired me to keep my shirt on!”  

Elliott put up a good fight, but he couldn’t dethrone the Queen.

Before being crowned the winner, Latifah admitted there was one thing about her new role which she’d found disappointing. “Shouldn’t Godmother’s have a wand?” she asked… only to promptly be presented one, with which she sprinkled “love dust over the crowd, even my sworn enemy Jake.”

The evening ended with a bang… or, more precisely, a whole lot of bangs.

With the scheduled events of the evening over, invited guests dispersed to enjoy the live entertainment taking place all around the ship, as well as movies in the Imax and Thriller Theaters, a party on the Lido deck, a midnight buffet and an impressive fireworks display that was, appropriately enough, set in part to the tune “New York, New York.” 

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June Special: Kids Sail Free to the Bahamas

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With summer around the corner, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line has a special deal for families traveling with kids. Valid for all June cruises, those 16 and under will sail free if they’re staying in the same stateroom with two paying parents.

With the school year wrapping up and Father’s Day on June 17, it’s the perfect time for a quick escape to the Bahamas. Both of the line’s ships, Grand Classica and Grand Celebration offer a number of activities for guests on their way to the island. There are youth clubs divided by age, swimming pools, multiple dining options, a mini movie theater, mini rock climbing wall, a ball pit, and more.

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There’s also a number of shore excursions that families can take part in once they arrive, including snorkeling, a beach day, cruising the beach in an open-top Jeep, swimming with dolphins, parasailing, kayaking, glass-bottom boat tours, and more.

For more information, visit bahamasparadisecruiseline.com.

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