Representatives from Disney and Norwegian cruise lines said the territory has made “remarkable” progress in its recovery from Hurricane Irma, and that they are still on track to return to the Virgin Islands this year.
They spoke Monday afternoon at The Moorings alongside Deputy Premier Dr. Kedrick Pickering, Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool and other members of the House of Assembly at an industry consultation meeting with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association Operations Committee.
“You’re moving in the right direction,” said Russell Daya, director of global port operations and developments and itinerary planning for Disney. “Your folks are out there working hard to get you back on track.”
However, he said he still needed “some updates” before making a decision.
“There’s still a little ways to go,” he explained, adding, “With the collaboration and effort over the next few weeks, we’ll be able to accurately measure and time when we might make a return.”
He said it takes about four to six weeks to change an itinerary. The next Disney Fantasy stop in Tortola is scheduled for July 17, according to crew-center.com, a website that publishes cruise ship schedules.
Since Irma, Disney has rerouted all of its ships away from Tortola, with Philipsburg, St. Maarten replacing that port from the end of December through next month, according to a Disney Cruise Line blog.
Christine Manjencic, vice president of destination services for Norwegian, said, “We’ve pulled out till October, which I think is still fair. We are constantly coming down here, constantly seeing the product that is being made. We need approximately three months to do the marketing and change everybody over.”
Michelle Moraga, port adventure manager for Disney, said that guests are still interested in coming to the VI.
“We have still been taking booked tours for all of our contracted tours for Tortola right now, for those future sailings,” she said. “They are wanting to still come visit here; they are still intrigued by it. But they also have questions.”
‘Slow to prepare’
Two weeks ago, Mr. Vanterpool reported in a House of Assembly session that the VI has been “slow to prepare” when compared to other hurricane-hit destinations.
But Mr. Daya explained that there’s a reason for that.
“You have to look at the resources St. Maarten and St. Thomas had,” said Mr. Daya, noting that St. Thomas had a lot of help from the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency. “You weren’t so lucky here.”
However, he added that he was “very impressed” at the debris removal, the return of vegetation, the restoration of power cables, the paving of the roads on Tortola’s north side, and the tidying up of the damaged buildings in Cane Garden Bay.
“The debris is gone,” he said. “They look okay.”
However, he added that this step alone will not bring back cruise guests.
“We look at the total guest experience,” he explained.
For Disney, Ms. Moraga said that comes down to safety.
“A 5-year-old can easily just walk away, and that’s one thing we have to keep in mind when looking at locations,” she said. “We need to think of those little things: How can I protect someone who’s not from here?”
She added that fixes can be as simple as putting up fences or making sure nails aren’t sticking out of buildings.
The representatives all reiterated that they want to partner with the territory in helping it get back in shape, and said they are open to ideas.
“God’s given us a breather to make sure what we’re putting in place is best for you,” said Michele Paige, president of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, who recommended that the territory use the opportunity to come up with new and more exciting activities for guests. “Help us help you.”
Mr. Daya added, “We’re not asking for everything to be perfect. We’re here as your partners.”