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The Mexican island of Cozumel, the #1 cruise port in the western Caribbean, continues to bounce back from the drubbing it took at the hands of Hurricane Wilma. Last week, after a frantic cleanup, the port officially reopened to cruise ships, welcoming thousands of passengers.

Wilma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, struck the Mexican states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo on October 21, lingering with category 4 force. Cozumel was battered for more than 36 hours, suffering massive damage. Streets and beaches were littered with debris and thousands of homes were damaged, as were most of the shops, bars, and restaurants along the San Miguel waterfront, the island's tourist hub. All three cruise piers were affected: The Puerto Maya pier, about three miles south of San Miguel, was completely destroyed, while the busy International Pier and the centrally located Punta Langosta Pier suffered partial collapse.

On the mainland, the port town of Playa del Carmen was also affected, reporting flooding, downed power lines, and debris littering the coast.

But that was last month. On Monday, November 14, Carnival's 2,758-passenger Carnival Triumph became the first to visit Cozumel since the storm, anchoring offshore and bringing its passengers in by tender, just like the old days. Before their arrival, each passenger received a welcome letter from Cozumel mayor Gustavo Ortega, and once ashore they were greeted by a street festival featuring roving mariachi bands, folk dance, local artisans, and street vendors selling crafts and paintings. Dubbed "Festival del Mar Caribe," the party ran throughout the week, greeting passengers from the eleven ships that followed Triumph: Celebrity's Galaxy and Zenith, Princess's Star Princess and Coral Princess, Carnival's Miracle, NCL's Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Majesty, and Royal Caribbean's Jewel, Legend, Rhapsody, and Enchantment of the Seas.

"We have organized Festival del Mar Caribe to thank the many returning visitors," said Mayor Ortega, "as well as our cruise industry partners, who have been extremely supportive of our recovery effort."

Because of pier damage to the Cozumel piers, ships will use tender services until further notice. The majority of shore excursions offered in Cozumel before the storm will still be available.

Cruise lines are currently evaluating the Cozumel situation, with Carnival (tel. 800-327-9501; www.carnival.com) the first to announce its plans. Five ships whose planned itineraries included the island will call there as scheduled, while others will be routes to other Mexican ports that were not affected by Wilma. These include the port of Calica, a few miles south of Playa del Carmen on the mainland; the port at Costa Maya, about 100 miles south of Playa; Progreso, on the north coast of the Yucatan peninsula at Merida; and Veracruz, about 260 miles east of Mexico City on the Gulf of Mexico.

The returning ships are:

  • Carnival Triumph from Miami: 7-night cruises departing Nov. 12 and 26 and Dec. 10 and 24.
  • Inspiration from Tampa: 4-night cruises departing Nov. 17 and Dec. 1, 15 and 29; 5-night voyages departing Nov. 21 and Dec. 5, 10, 19, and 24.
  • Carnival Conquest from Galveston: 7-night cruises departing Nov. 13, 20, and 27, and Dec. 4, 11, 18, and 25.
  • Carnival Miracle from Tampa: 7-night voyages departing Nov. 13, 20, and 27, and Dec. 4, 11, 18, and 25.
  • Carnival Glory from Port Canaveral, FL: 7-night voyage departing Nov. 19.

The following ships will substitute Calica, Costa Maya, Progreso, or Veracruz for Cozumel:

  • Fascination from Miami: Calica featured on 4-night cruises departing Nov. 14, 21, and 28, and Dec. 5, 12, 19, and 26.
  • Imagination from Miami: Calica featured on 4-night cruises departing Nov. 17 and Dec. 1, 15, and 29.
  • Inspiration from Tampa: Costa Maya featured on 5-night cruises departing Nov. 12 and 26.
  • Elation from Galveston: Calica featured on 4-night cruise departing Nov. 10; Progreso and Veracruz featured on 5-night cruise departing Nov. 14.
  • Carnival Valor from Miami: Costa Maya featured on 7-night cruises departing Nov. 13 and 27 and Dec. 11 and 25.
  • Carnival Victory from Miami: Costa Maya featured on 7-night cruises departing Nov. 20 and Dec. 4 and 18.
  • Carnival Liberty from Fort Lauderdale: Costa Maya featured on 6-night voyages departing Nov. 20 and Dec. 4 and 18, as well as on 8-night voyages departing Nov. 26 and Dec. 24.
  • Carnival Glory from Port Canaveral: Costa Maya featured on 7-night cruises departing Dec. 3, 17, and 31.

For departures beyond January 1, 2006, Carnival is evaluating its options.

According to Mexico Tourism's Rodolfo Elizondo, Cozumel's port reopening is one of the first fruits of a collaboration between the Mexican government and the private sector, designed to restore the island's urban and ecological areas. For further updates on reconstruction, visit www.islacozumel.com.mx.

Discuss Cozumel's recovery, how Wilma affected your vacation plans and more on our Mexico Message Boards today.