By Tom Fox, currently aboard the Freedom of the Seas

Dozens of chanting protesters, banging pots and cymbals, and packed onto a half dozen small vessels, greeted Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas cruise ship as it docked this morning in Labadee, Haiti.

Labadee is a 260-acre peninsula – dubbed a “vacationer’s paradise” by the cruise line — along Haiti’s lush, mountainous and secluded north coast. A small beachfront resort with palm covered cabanas, the area is separated from the rest of the island, cut off by a 12-foot high fence and guarded by security forces.

Royal Caribbean, according to various cruise websites, has leased the land until 2050.

At first it appeared the vessels were approaching the docked ship as part of a rehearsed welcoming ceremony. However, when two coast guard ships arrived and began circling the vessels and encouraging them to leave the waters, it became clear this was a protest – though the specifics of the protesters complaints were not completely spelled out.

One sign, held by one of the protesters, read “USA Away!”

The Freedom of the Seas cruise ship states it carries 3600 passengers. Many were waiting near the gangplanks waiting to disembark shortly after breakfast. With the protests going on many on the ship watched from their balconies taking pictures and waiting for further instructions

After some thirty minutes’ delay the ship, a voice over the ship’s loudspeaker system announce there would be a short delay before passengers could leave the ship. The vessels continued to play cat and mouse with the coast guard vessels, slightly larger than the protesters’ boats, but all dwarfed by the docked cruise ship.

After more than two hours a voice once again came across the loudspeaker system explaining to passengers that local Haitian elections will take place in another week and that the protests they were watching were a local matter.

It seemed a number of passengers and crew members weren’t buying this explanation. 

Finally, the voice stated that the cruise ship would not be disembarking today “for the safety of our passengers, which we hold to be of the utmost importance.”

One veteran crewmember told me said she had been sailing into Labadee for 13 years and this was the first time she had seen such a protest.

Nestled on the northern coast of Haiti, Labadee, according to Royal Caribbean’s website, “is the ultimate private destination for cruise vacationers – and we’re the only cruise line that sails there.”

According to several cruise websites, passengers are not allowed to leave Labadee to venture out to see the rest of the island. Haiti is the poorest of the nations in the Western hemisphere and suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010, although it apparently did not affect the northern part of the island where Labadee is located.

Cruise travel websites state that only a small group of Haitian merchants are given rights to sell their merchandise and establish their businesses at the Labadee resort. Most workers are employed by Royal Caribbean and come from outside nations.

Royal Caribbean proudly advertises its private Haitian resort. One advertisement reads: “Looking to unleash adrenaline? Strap on a helmet and harness, and soar down 500 feet on the Dragon’s Breath Flight Line, the world’s longest zip line over water. Curious to explore Haiti’s unique culture and incredible landscapes? Explore Haitian life, its coastline, flora and fauna on one of our exciting shore excursions and tours. Ready to kick back, relax and sip a Labadoozie? Get the VIP treatment while unwinding beachside in our private cabanas. Take it all in on one of our eastern or western Caribbean cruises to Labadee.”

Visitors don’t spend the night at Labadee. For years blogs and message boards have been critical of the idea of tourists frolicking in the sun at Labadee when so much hunger and poverty rest only miles away.

"Royal Caribbean is performing a sickening act to me by taking tourists to Haiti," wrote one poster on CNN’s Connect the World blog. "Having a beach party while people are dead, dying and suffering minutes away hardly makes me want to cruise that particular line," wrote another.

Freedom of the Seas
was back at sea by mid-morning with Captain Ron Holmes on one of the ship’s channels reassuring passengers that the protests were solely a local matter and that there would be plenty of activities on board the ship, all intended to make up for the lost fun they had suffered from being kept at sea by the protesters.

Video Credit: Tom Fox

 

  • Gene

    This situation has been overdue to happen. Further, it will likely continue in the future. RCCI has used Haiti to its own advantage and Haitians have finally had enough!

  • tinikini

    WOW!!! I guess there is strength in small numbers. It is good to see them take a stand. A half of dozen boats keep a big azz cruise ship out of port. Too funny, but sad as well. I have been to Haiti, everyone should go at least once in their lifetime to experience it. It will make you thankful for what you have, no matter how great or small.

  • Bob Kay

    So I guess all that money RCCI pays that Country and all that money passengers spend there, don’t help the economy at least a little bit? Yes I have been there. As usual the Euro-Americans are evil, no matter what they do. Heck if we didn’t go there and build up that place, that would be wrong too. Not even to mention the USA has rebuilt the entire Country at least 3 times.

  • Hoosier

    We (the US) are reaping what we sowed by years of propping up and supporting Papa & Baby Doc. They raped, pillaged and murdered that poor country and it’s people, and we stood by and let it happen.

    The passengers may be a little miffed about missing their beach day, but it’s the poor folks who depend on the dollars these tourists bring in that are going to suffer most.

  • Debbie

    I guess that the people of Haiti would rather not have cruise line money that keeps them from complete and udder economical collapse? Like many of the troubled Caribbean countries, they forget that without their main source of income they will not survive economically. Like it or not, tourism is your main and in some cases only source of income. If you drive away the tourists you drive away the revenue. Harsh facts that they should think long and hard about before they drive the tourists away for good. We are all suffering hard economic times and the tourist dollar is getting scarce. If people don’t feel safe in a country, they just won’t go there, not just right now but possibly ever again even when times are better.

  • Gareth Brown

    Wow. I spent almost 4 years working on Labadee with RCCL and I read the above article and comment and feel I need to put a few points straight. Firstly, RCCL ships calling to Labadee is a huge boost to the local economy. The nearest village for example has boomed since RCCL’s arrival and boasts some of the best infrastructure in the country. The majority of the local staff are good hard working people that value the opportunity to work and grow. Unfortunately there are some that feel the way forward is to protest in a way that is rightfully not acceptable. This small minded approach will only hinder any resolution to issues that may be apparent. Tom Fox, you should be ashamed of yourself for toning this article in the way you have. RCCL have done so much for the people of Haiti, and if you actually speak to the people of Haiti you will find that most will agree. There are very few expats employed to live and work on Labadee, the MAJORITY of employment is sourced locally and the local vendors allowed to sell their goods on site is a huge number. This article is disappointingly sensationalized. Sad for an educated man to write in this biased manner.

  • Sarah

    I am an American that lived in Labadee and worked on one of the excursion boats. Unless you have lived life in countries such as Haiti, you probably should not be chiming in on this situation. Tourists are not the ‘main revenue’ for this country. Haitians struggle regardless of whether or not a cruise ship docks. Haitians are some of the best people that I have ever had the pleasure to be around… Walk outside of the gates of Labadee and many of you would stick your foot in your mouth.

  • Carol

    I suspect that cruise line money does not go to the people of Haiti and that’s what the protest is about. My son is on board that ship right now. Looking forward to seeing the pictures and hearing his story when he gets home.
    Debbie, would you vacation in Haiti, really? Going to Labadee is not going to Haiti. That’s like lying on a beach in Hawaii, thinking that all of America is like that.

  • Mr. Kay:

    The Haitians don’t need a multi-million $$ zip line, jet skis and $250 a day cabanas.

    Mr. Brown:

    “huge boost” . . . “best infrastructure” . . . “huge number” . . .

    Please, your hyperbole distracts from whatever point you are trying to make. The fact of the matter is that the cruise line is sucking the money out of the port back to Miami.

  • Gus

    Not interested in issues of American/Haitian politics, or Baby Doc antics, or RC corporate decisions, what about the poor lady trying to make a sale or two to help her family. Who is protesting for her? So now without RC tourists who will visit Labadde? It is not exactly on the Conde Naste top ten destinations. Poor decisions with significant reprocusions for many days, weeks…. lives!

  • MG.Dj(Mrs.TeDj)

    My husband & I are on the 2nd ship not to dock @ Labadee today because of the protests. Yes, we know Labadee is not Labadie, the real Haitian town, but it would have been the closest my husband gets to “coming home” since the 70’s. His relatives have all one by one escaped and warned his parents, who emigrated to the US 5 decades ago in the face of police threats, not to go back. We had hoped taking this RC cruise would be a safe way we could still visit his birthplace, albeit in a limited way. As with any country’s politics, someone wins and someone loses. This spoiled American tourist wishes we hadn’t lost this experience.

  • Mr. G …

    I have been to Labadee and have spent money with the merchants in the RCCL area. How can RCCL be hurting the area? Any $$ is good for the area. Keeping the cruise ships away is pushing the $$ they bring away too .. not a wise choice in my mind.

  • D Boshart

    On return trip aboard Vision of th Sea, all witnessed a bizarre unexplained rush by some 8 or more speedboats, causing the captain to sound a number of warning alarm blasts by the ship horn. No land was visible, and no explanation given. This occurred on Jan. 28 or 29

  • Philip Boccaccino

    I sailed into laberdeen on the royal Caribean allure.It would be nice to explore the real country not the fake fenced in water world royal Caribbean built just to put money in their pockets.Its true hatti has poverty and people begging for food. No different then anywhere else in the world. Poverty is still poverty any where you sre from being homeless in Beverly hills to begin homeless in hatti.show the world in its true colors not a disney world version.