Vacation in Haiti? Royal Caribbean's about to return


Port-au-Prince's airport terminal is shattered, electricity is off, and all services decimated, but there's still one way to get into Haiti: by sea. Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas is scheduled to call on the north coast three times next week, the first such visit since the quake. The port is undamaged, and the line would have returned on Friday, except it's waiting for the green light from the local government to resume its regular stops. (Update: USA Today reports the Independence of the Seas will visit Haiti as planned on Friday, and it's bringing relief supplies to be distributed by Food for the Poor.)

One of the most clever recent tactics of the cruise lines has been the creation of "private" islands and beaches scattered throughout the Caribbean. Disney Cruise Line's is in the Bahamas. Royal Caribbean, and its sister line Celebrity, have one in Haiti. It's not near the tattered capital, but on the north coast, far from the turmoil, protected by fences and cordoned off from the rest of the country by a curtain of mountains.

Ships dock on the scenic peninsula -- which Royal Caribbean has registered under the name Labadee -- in the morning at around 8 a.m., spend the day at the beach, and leave before dinner. Passengers, who are not given the papers that allow them to leave the grounds of the resort, have no contact with the surrounding country except within the tightly controlled zone around the ship. There, they make memories zip lining, para-sailing, and enjoying a newly-built aqua park.

This hermetically sealed, fantasy version of the Caribbean is secreted in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. This dichotomy has long irked some travelers as inauthentic and decadent, and the criticisms intensified by the on-board descriptions of the port, which often omitted its location in Haiti (the web-based itineraries are clear about it). But this week, this arrangement marks the only happy arrival of foreigners outside of aid workers and emergency services. Haiti needs it.