When the Category 4 Hurricane Harvey hit eastern Texas on August 25, it poured more than 40 inches of rain over the region in the span of four days. The result was unprecedented flooding and (as of September 15) 82 people dead. Days later, all eyes were on the Caribbean as Hurricane Irma, the Atlantic’s largest storm ever recorded, gained strength on a mostly unpredictable path while a rapidly growing Hurricane Jose swirled about a week behind. Airports closed, flights were canceled, and cruise ports were decimated, causing many travelers and residents to become displaced, unable to evacuate before the storm’s arrival or even after. In the wake of these storms, whole islands were destroyed and lives were lost. There were catastrophic flooding, power grid blackouts, and completely decimated infrastructure. The effects of both Irma and Harvey can even be seen from space.
Now, as much-needed volunteers and emergency services kick start relief and rebuilding in the southeast U.S., Texas, and Caribbean, big players in the travel industry continue to give aid, shelter, and support to destinations affected by Harvey and Irma. From repurposing commercial cruise ships to activating emergency tools, here’s how several cruise lines, Disney, and the home-sharing giant AirBnb have helped and continue help those affected by these recent disasters.
Royal Caribbean was one of the first to spring into action when it turned Enchantment of the Seas toward the storm in an effort to help evacuate stranded employees. The cruise ship offered its vacant rooms to employees and distributed water to employees in South Florida where supplies were running row. Since then, it has canceled two sailings in order to help mobilize relief efforts to the affected Caribbean islands in need. According to their website, Adventure of the Seas made a humanitarian stop last Sunday at St. Maarten to bring clothes, water, and evacuation assistance, while Majesty of the Seas is helping with relief efforts for St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and stopped in St. Maarten to drop off supplies and pick up evacuees to bring to safer spaces.
As of September 13, Royal Caribbean was also holding its Empress of the Seas ship for aid efforts in Key West, where need is still being assessed. MSC Cruises also shortened itineraries during the hurricane, sending its ships back toward the storm in order to rescue stranded tourists and employees on targeted islands, offering their unoccupied staterooms to displaced employees.
In addition to repurposing its ships for relief efforts, Royal Caribbean is also putting its money where its ships are by matching Hurricane Irma aid donations up to one million dollars. Additionally, the cruise line has also offered full refunds plus discounts of future cruises to guests with canceled itineraries. During the uncertainty of the storm, Royal Caribbean also offered discounts, onboard credits, and partial refunds for any sailings with significant alterations.
Carnival Cruise Line
In response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey, Carnival Cruise Lines and Carnival Corporation, which owns Carnival, Holland America, and Princess, pledged a minimum of two millions dollars in aid to help rebuild and relieve affected areas in Texas.
Days after Irma wreaked havoc on the Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line’s brand ambassador announced via Facebook that the cruise line would be sending the Carnival Fascination to deliver aid and supplies to St. Kitts and Grand Turk. Carnival also mentioned it was working with local governments to see how the cruise line can help in the long term, and that it would be loading and delivering supplies via existing itineraries. Like, Royal Caribbean, Carnival was on standby ready to help aid the Florida Keys once the damage and need had been assessed.
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line and MSC Cruises
To help aid in the mass evacuations taking place in Florida ahead of Irma, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line cobbled together a one-time-only, deeply discounted cruise to nowhere that departed from Palm Beach and gave an evacuation plan to those who couldn't or didn't want to evacuate on land. Like Norwegian's Norwegian Sky, MSC Cruises also shortened the itinerary for their MSC Divina ship leaving it to dock in Miami on September 7. The same offer of a cruise to nowhere was offered to existing passengers who wanted to wait out the storm in Cozumel before returning on September 13.
Norwegian Cruise Line
After canceling the September 8 and September 11 sailings of the Norwegian Sky because of Irma, Norwegian Cruise Line anchored the ship in the waters off Cancun. In an effort organized with the U.S. government, the ship was then loaded with supplies and deployed on a humanitarian mission, arriving in St. Thomas on September 11 to retrieve around 2,000 stranded U.S. citizens and bring them to Miami. Ahead of Irma, the Norwegian Escape shortened its cruise itinerary, docking in Miami on September 7. It then gave the passengers the option to disembark or remain on board to ride out the storm. The ship left at capacity, carrying over 4,000 passengers out to safer waters before returning to Miami six days later. Once Irma reached northern Florida, Norwegian Cruise Line began deploying ships to aid islands affected days earlier in the Caribbean.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line has also lent a helping hand by repurposing ships with cancelled itineraries and donating money to relief efforts for both Harvey and Irma. After Harvey, Disney pledged to donate one million dollars to the American Red Cross and hosted a "Day of Giving" on August 31st across several media platforms, namely its Disney ABC Television Group, to raise awareness and money for victims of Harvey. It's not surprising that the aftermath of Irma literally hit home for the Florida-based theme park and media company. On September 12, the Walt Disney Company announced that it would be donating $2.5 million dollars across several relief charities, including the American Red Cross and Save the Children, to help those in Florida, the Caribbean, and other areas that were affected by Irma.
Another player that's stepping up as a big helper with housing is AirBnb. In times of crisis, AirBnb can activate an emergency tool that allows people in affected areas to open the extra spaces in their homes for free to different categories of guests, including those displaced people in the community and relief workers who have been deployed to help. Once a disaster strikes, AirBnb contacts hosts in or adjacent to the affected areas to ask if they have any space they are able to donate to their neighbors. If a host decides they would like to participate, they are able to set their nightly rate to $0 and choose how long they would like to open their homes for. AirBnb provides technical support and waives all booking fees for homes participating in the Disaster Response program.
Currently, over 100 folks in the Florida Panhandle, Northern Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and the greater Orlando area have opened their homes in the wake of Hurricane Irma, and over 800 hosts in Texas and Louisiana have done the same in response to Hurricane Harvey. Airbnb has also activated their disaster tool for hosts on the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Puerto Rico, and St. Maarten.
How can you help?
If you are planning to donate time or resources to help with relief and rebuilding efforts for either hurricane Harvey or Irma (or both), authorities have asked that you do so through organized channels, like the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. This way they can deploy people, supplies, and money to the areas in specific need and within the abilities of the affected areas as some volunteers have been turned away due to the lack of infrastructure and/or inability to manage high numbers of volunteers.