Cruises are still calling into port in Haiti. Here’s why

Some 130 miles north of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, which has been gripped by a wave of gang attacks, a private cruise port is receiving guests at a resort with its own security and controlled access.

Royal Caribbean ships are still calling into Labadee — the cruise company’s day-use property located on a peninsula more than six hours drive from Port-au-Prince. The company is monitoring the situation throughout the area, according to a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean.

A US Department of State’s Level 4 travel advisory (“do not travel,” the highest warning level) for the Caribbean nation of Haiti was most recently updated on July 27, 2023, citing “kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and poor health care infrastructure,” among the reasons the US State Department has advised against travel to Haiti for some time. Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, which has a Level 2, “exercise increased caution” advisory. (Other countries with Level 4 travel advisories include Russia, Syria and Burkina Faso).

In recent days, Haiti has made global headlines for gang violence and, on March 3, a mass prison break in Port-au-Prince led the government to declare a state of emergency after thousands of inmates escaped.  The US Embassy has advised US citizens to depart Haiti as soon as possible.

On the northern coast of the country, 128 miles from Port-au-Prince lies the port of Labadee, a destination accessible only to Royal Caribbean employees and guests. The port is exclusive to Royal Caribbean Group ships, and guests arrive by ship and are required to stay within the resort for the duration of their time on shore.

Which ships are calling on Labadee?

Royal Caribbean has not canceled any calls or sailings visiting Labadee at this time, according to the company’s spokesperson, adding that only guests and employees are permitted on site and the area has private security to limit access.

“The safety of our guests and crew is our top priority. Our global security teams are closely monitoring the situation in the area. At all times, we remind guests to remain aware of their surroundings while ashore and follow all State Department guidelines. Should any changes be required, guests will be notified directly,” said a Royal Caribbean spokesperson in a statement sent to media outlets, including CNN.

Labadee, Royal Caribbean's day-use resort pictured here in a file photo, is located on a peninsula in northern Haiti. - Don Mennig/Alamy Stock Photo/FILE
Labadee, Royal Caribbean's day-use resort pictured here in a file photo, is located on a peninsula in northern Haiti. - Don Mennig/Alamy Stock Photo/FILE

According to the spokesperson, ships scheduled to call into Labadee during the upcoming weeks include Independence of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas and Odyssey of the Seas. Oasis is next visiting during a seven-night Caribbean & Perfect Day itinerary that departs from Miami on March 10, 2024. (Perfect Day at CocoCay is a private Royal Caribbean resort in the Bahamas).

There are no current plans for Icon of the Seas, currently the world’s largest cruise ship, to call into port in Labadee in 2024, the spokesperson said.

No shore excursions in Labadee — all of which are held within the private resort area — have been cancelled.

Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by Royal Caribbean Group, also lists Labadee as a stop aboard several of its ships – including Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Apex and Celebrity Ascent – for December 2024 itineraries sailing from Florida ports, according to its website.

Should cruise passengers be concerned?

Cruise ships are still calling on Labadee, confirmed Cruise Critic’s Editor-in-Chief, Colleen McDaniel, calling it, “Royal Caribbean’s insulated private destination, located on the northern coast of Haiti.”

“As a cruise line private destination, Labadee is only accessible to cruise ship guests, and the experience is completely owned and run by the cruise line, using the destination to serve as an extension of the onboard experience,” McDaniel told CNN.

She noted that the cruise lines closely monitor situations in all ports. “That said, for any concerned travelers – whether traveling by land, air or sea – it’s always recommended to familiarize yourself with any travel alerts from your home country,” McDaniel said. She added that guests always have the option to stay onboard the ship if they have concerns about any port of call.

Columbus Cove Beach in Labadee in 2018 - Ron Buskirk/UCG/Getty Images/FILE
Columbus Cove Beach in Labadee in 2018 - Ron Buskirk/UCG/Getty Images/FILE

A recent post from Monday, March 4, 2024, on a Cruise Critic forum with the subject line Labadee?, from a user asking whether readers thought the news of the jailbreak would lead Royal Caribbean to skip the port has gotten more than 7,000 views since Monday, according to Cruise Critic.

Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert known as The Cruise Guy, said he has visited Labadee many times while cruising with Royal Caribbean over the years (although not within the last year) and describes the beach location as “completely fenced in with private security.”

“There are still ships visiting Labadee without issues. RCG’s private beach area is quite a drive, 6-8 hours north of Port Au Prince,” Chiron said, adding that concerns were raised after Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010. “RCG ships were first on the scene with relief supplies,” he said.

In 2016, local protests caused at least one cruise to skip docking in Labadee.

Dominique Moussignac, 38, a former journalist who lives in Hinche in Central Haiti, says there are no political tensions there like those in Port-au-Prince, and “Labadee, in the North, is also 100% out of danger.”

What’s it like?

Royal Caribbean started leasing the Labadee port in the mid 1980s, investing tens of millions of dollars over the years to transform it into a private resort.

Experienced as a day visit while the ship is in port, Labadee is similar to other cruise line private destination offerings elsewhere in the Caribbean. Disney’s Castaway Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay and Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay — all located in the Bahamas — are exclusive to the cruise lines.

Royal Caribbean Group’s Labadee has five different stretches of beachfront on a peninsula. In Labadee, guests disembark the ship into an environment controlled by the cruise line where they can “kick back in a private bungalow at Nellie’s Beach with attendant service to keep the refreshments flowing,” according to the website.

Royal Caribbean’s website touts “beachside bliss” and “endless adventure” as well as “pristine sands, coral reefs and jungle-covered hilltops nestling lagoon-like bays.”

Moussignac said he tried visiting Labadee in 2022 to “learn how it works,” and said it’s a shame that locals can’t access the private beaches.

“The locals just watch the cruises, nothing more, and look for other less attractive areas to indulge themselves.”

During his visit in December 2022, Moussignac went swimming “but on a beach a little far from the paradise sites reserved for Royal Caribbean guests,” he said.

While it’s an idyllic spot that earns rave reviews from some guests, its fenced location in struggling Haiti has generated online comments about a “weird vibe” at the insulated resort.

What recent guests have to say about Labadee

Some recent guests report great experiences in Labadee.

Sailing on a six-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale aboard Odyssey of the Seas, Erica McNamara, 32, from Tampa, Florida, made a February 28, 2024 port of call in Labadee her “favorite stop of the entire trip” on an itinerary that also visited Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas, and a port in the Dominican Republic.

“My cousins went snorkeling, my parents did a catamaran trip and my three-and-a-half year old thought the tram was the coolest thing ever,” said McNamara, who was traveling with 12 family members, including her husband and their two young sons, and spent the day enjoying a beach called Nellie’s Cove.

Erica McNamara and her family visited Labadee in late February. - Erica McNamara
Erica McNamara and her family visited Labadee in late February. - Erica McNamara

McNamara said her mother was the only one in the family who expressed concern about calling into port in Haiti.

“When I told her I was getting off the ship by myself that morning she said I was crazy and shouldn’t do that,” McNamara said. “I told her it was owned by Royal Caribbean and was a private area.”

Another recent cruiser, Alexandra Graham, 45, also from Tampa, visited Labadee on Sunday, March 3, 2024, the same day as the prison escape, aboard Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas, and said she felt safe visiting.

“We didn’t specifically notice any heightened security until we got onto the bus, which took us to a higher point on the mountain, which was the highest point … for us to get onto the zip line,” she said. “When we were on the bus on the way to that point, we passed through a security checkpoint gate and at the gate there were armed guards, and again they were taking things very seriously.”

Labadee was “very well run and had lots of things to do,” Graham said.

Graham said it wasn’t until she returned to the ship that evening that she heard about the jailbreak. “Frankly, we felt very safe,” she said.

For McNamara, an avid traveler before having children who has been on many cruises, her family’s first international trip together felt like a good way for her to ease back into international travel as a mother to young children.

“I joke the stops were so fabricated it wasn’t a big trip,” she said. “We had a phenomenal day in Labadee.”

Florida-based travel writer Terry Ward lives in Tampa and has traveled to Leogane and Port-au-Prince in Haiti but never to Labadee.

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