In a few weeks, I’ll be boarding Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas with my family and heading to the Bahamas for a cruise. My thoughts, of course, turned to the thousands of island residents who just lost their homes, their workplaces, their schools, and entire communities in Hurricane Dorian.
As a Category 5, Dorian hit the northern part of the archipelago on September 1, 2019, and hovered there for 36 hours, pummeling the area with 185-mph winds. As the most powerful hurricane ever recorded to hit the Bahamas, Dorian left devastating destruction in its wake, killing at least 50 people and displacing more than 70,000 residents who lost their homes on Grand Bahama and the Abaco islands.
I wondered if Royal Caribbean, a cruise line that has relied on its regular jaunts to the Bahamas for more than 50 years, would be doing anything to help. After all, its ships have dropped off millions of tourists over the years embarking on island excursions. Plus, the Bahamas is home to more than 500 of Royal Caribbean’s colleagues who work at its private island (Perfect Day at CocoCay) and the Grand Bahama Shipyard. Turns out, the cruise line is stepping up in a big way—and keeping its dollars local.
Royal Caribbean is committing $1 million to Dorian disaster relief by collaborating with the Bahamian government, the non-profit Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), and a network of Bahamian charities and local organizations, including the Bahamas Feeding Network. And they’re matching every dollar up to $500,000.
“We’ve been partners with the Bahamas for 50 years. These are our friends, our neighbors,” said Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “Our people are ready, willing, and I’m happy to say, able to do so.”
Since this unprecedented natural disaster struck nearly two weeks ago, Royal Caribbean quickly activated its disaster relief operation and mobilized its fleet of ships, delivering supplies and meals to the Grand Bahama Island community. They’ve enlisted their trained employee volunteers (called the GO Team) to assist with relief efforts.
More than 100 Empress of the Seas crewmembers launched the initial efforts, working through the night to prepare sandwiches, proteins with rice and fruits and snacks. After Hurricane Dorian moved north, crewmembers delivered 10,000 meals the next day to the Bahamas, forming human chains to load and unload boxes. Since then, several more ships repeated the process.
“Over the last few days, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises ships and crewmembers have made and distributed thousands of meals for the Grand Bahama community, nearly 20,000 a day,” said Melissa Charbonneau, Director, Corporate Reputation of the cruise line. “Royal Caribbean engineers, supply chain experts, and chefs are assessing a longer-term, land-based solution to provide meals in the aftermath of the storm.”
While sorting out the details took an enormous team effort and many behind-the-scenes planning sessions, stepping up with immediate support seemed like a natural fit for Royal Caribbean. Their rallying cry? This is what we do.
“It’s a very logistically challenging operation,” explained Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. “The great news is, that’s what we do. We’ve been doing it for many decades. It’s arranging, managing, moving these huge ships with supply chains, fuel, food, and people.”
Cornelius Gallagher echoed this point. As the Vice President, Food & Beverage Operations, Celebrity Cruises, Gallagher said, “When we got the call to help those affected in the Bahamas, we sprang into action. This is what we do.” And they did it on a tight 24-hour turnaround.
In addition to providing meals, the company deployed container ships to Freeport with much-needed supplies. One problem? The behemoth cruise ships couldn’t get close to the ravaged port.
“It’s particularly challenging because of the devastation, so the ships cannot really get into Freeport,” explained Patrik Dahlgren, Senior Vice President, Global Marine Operations, Celebrity Cruises. “But we stop outside, we utilize every boat, every tugboat we have, to get as many meals as we can shoreside.”
Besides delivering food and supplies, Royal Caribbean delivered people by repurposing its cruise ships as ferries. The cruise line worked with Bahamian officials to transport evacuees from Freeport to Nassau onboard Empress of the Seas.
To date, five ships have delivered 110,000 meals, 152,748 bottles of water, thousands of medical supplies, 400 generators, 248 tarps, 25,000 square feet of plywood, 500 handheld flashlights, 114,400 diapers, 150 cases of baby formula, 800 rolls of toilet paper, 53,000 boxes of cereal, and 7,500 pounds of pet food. And the #BahamaStrong efforts continue this week.
Brian Abel, Senior Vice President, Hotel Operations, Celebrity Cruises, summed up the tremendous efforts—and the heart behind it all. “One of our mottos at Celebrity is to do the right thing and pay it forward. And with everything that happened with the hurricane in the Bahamas, it’s really one team, one goal, one heart,” he said. “Anything that the people of the Bahamas are needing, we can provide to them as well and as fast as anyone in the world right now.”
In addition to needing immediate disaster relief, the affected Bahama community will require long-term assistance as it tries to rebuild. To donate to the Royal Caribbean effort, visit the Hurricane Dorian Recovery Campaign. In addition, these organizations are collecting items for immediate need as well as donations for rebuilding efforts.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned freelance writer. Her work has been published in The New York Times, USA Today Go Escape Florida & Caribbean, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, and dozens more. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.