Word is still filtering in regarding damage from Hurricane Wilma, which struck the western Caribbean and South Florida this week. At its peak, the storm reached Category 5 strength and was the most powerful Atlantic Hurricane ever recorded.
On Friday, October 21st, the storm struck the Mexican states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo -- the so-called Mayan Riviera -- with Category 4 force. The island of Cozumel, one of the busiest cruise ports in the Caribbean, was battered for more than 36 hours, suffering massive damage. Though unconfirmed at this writing, it appears that the Puerto Maya cruise pier, about three miles south of tourist hub San Miguel, was completely destroyed. The busy International Pier, a bit closer to town, also suffered enormous damage, with reports indicating at least partial collapse. San Miguel's centrally located Punta Langosta cruise pier appears to have fared best of the three, though the extent of damage is still unknown.
Most of the tourist shops, bars, and restaurants along the San Miguel waterfront were damaged or destroyed by waves and wind, and both streets and beaches are littered with concrete, glass, and other debris. Damage to hotels and resorts is being estimated at up to $1.5 billion, and several hotel chains have already announced that their area properties will not reopen till 2006. Reports of damage to Cozumel's environment -- including its fabled dive sites -- are patchy. Some hint at catastrophic damage to sites like Chankanaab Nature Park, an archaeological park, botanical garden, and wildlife refuge on the south of the island. Others report that the beaches around the Mayan ruins at Tulum are undamaged.
On the mainland, the port town of Playa del Carmen was also massively affected, with flooding, downed power lines, and debris littering the coast. More than 1,000 homes were damaged, and hotels report flooding and migration of sand and debris into their grounds, pools, and structures.
The port at Costa Maya, approximately 100 miles south of Cozumel on the mainland, was apparently unaffected by the storm. Ditto for the port of Progreso, on the north coast of the Yucatan peninsula at Merida.
Despite the storm's ferocity, only six deaths have been reported along the coast, though up to a million residents may have been injured, displaced, or left homeless or jobless. Approximately 30,000 tourists rode out the storm in shelters and hotels. About twice as many evacuated before the storm hit.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, 13 deaths were reported in Jamaica and Haiti.
Wilma made landfall in south Florida on Monday, hitting Key West with 120-mph winds, flooding its streets with three to five feet of water, and causing tens of millions of dollars in damages. U.S. 1, which connects the keys with the mainland, was littered with debris and partially flooded, forcing its temporarily closure.
On the mainland, the storm battered south Florida for about seven hours Monday, knocking out power to about three million homes and businesses and forcing the temporary closure of air- and seaports, including the Port of Miami, Port Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale), Port Canaveral (Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach), and the Port of Tampa.
The storm forced numerous cruises to alter their scheduled routes.
All Carnival cruises scheduled to depart on October 24 were postponed by one day and reduced in length to compensate. Booked guests received a refund for the cancelled days. Additionally, all cruises scheduled to visit Cozumel and Key West have been routes to other ports -- as they will be for the foreseeable future. NCL's Norwegian Dream, sailing from Houston on October 22, was rerouted away from Cozumel and Playa del Carmen to the ports of Progreso and Veracruz, Mexico.
At Princess Cruises, Coral Princess's return to Fort Lauderdale was delayed by only a few hours on Tuesday, but her scheduled call at Cozumel was a different animal than originally intended, with crew offloading food, water, and other humanitarian relief supplies rather than vacationing passengers. At Royal Caribbean, Enchantment of the Seas' scheduled Tuesday sailing was cancelled outright to allow the vessel to deliver relief supplies to Mexico. She'll resume her normal cruise schedule on October 28.
Head to our Cruise Message Boards to join in the discussions with fellow Frommer's travelers about Wilma's effect on cruising.