Travel Weeklys Caribbean E-letter: March 30, 2006

KUDOS TO JAMAICA for its handling of the situation involving the early-morning fire aboard Princess Star Princess on March 23 as the ship was en route from Grand Cayman to Jamaica. Jamaicas crisis management plan, used most recently during the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, was immediately activated when officials first got word of the fire. Our crisis plan involved quickly galvanizing the support of dozens of agencies on the national and local levels, said David Shields, deputy marketing director of the Jamaica Tourist Board in Kingston. The agencies included the Office of Defense, the Ministry of National Security, the Port Authority, the fire services, the Jamaican Defense Forces, the ministries of health and tourism, the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association and the Tour Product Development Co.

REPRESENTATIVES of these agencies, along with helicopters, ambulances and a full medical services team, were on hand at the pier in Montego Bay when the ship docked. Several of the injured passengers were airlifted to the hospital by helicopter. More than 500 passengers had to evacuate the ship because of the damage to 100 cabins. Our hotels were close to 100% occupancy, but JHTA and the JTB were able to accommodate all the passengers in hotels. We used properties from Negril to Ocho Rios in addition to Montego Bay, Shields said. Meanwhile, he and his staff in Kingston notified embassies and consulates in Canada and the U.S. that many passengers had lost their passports in the fire and needed emergency replacements. All the passengers were flown to Fort Lauderdale two days later; the ship was towed to Freeport, Bahamas, and from there it will travel to a shipyard in Germany for repair. Its remaining western Caribbean cruises have been canceled and the ship expects to begin its European cruising program May 15.

AIRLINES in the eastern Caribbean might soon increase their services to the U.S., thanks to a Federal Aviation Administration decision that has removed decade-long restrictions on their service to the country. The FAA elevated the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority to Category 1 status from Category 2 status, which means the FAA determined the ECCAA meets international standards for safety oversight. When the FAA places a country in Category 2 status, which the ECCAA has been in since 1996, airlines in that country cannot increase their service to the U.S. or begin new service unless they lease the aircraft and crews from a U.S. airline or an airline in a Category 1 country. The nine-member OECS countries include Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands are association members). The FAA Category 1 status means that regional airlines such as LIAT can increase access to U.S. destinations, and Antigua-based Caribbean Star can begin service to the U.S. William Skip Barnette, president of Caribbean Star and its sister airline Caribbean Sun, said the regions new Category 1 status will accelerate expansion plans already in development.

PENCIL IT IN

" Sixth Annual Taste of St. Croix, April 13, Hotel Caravelle, Christiansted. A three-night package, beginning April 11, starts at $759, double, and includes tickets to the event, daily breakfast, accommodations and taxes. To book, visit www.hotelcaravelle.com; for event details, visit www.tasteofstcroix.com.

" 24th Annual Angostura Tobago Sail Week, May 14 to 19, Crown Point Beach Hotel, Store Bay. For details, visit www.sailweek.com.

" 22nd Annual Texas Society of the Virgin Islands Chili Cook-Off, Aug. 20, Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, St. Thomas. More than 30 booths will compete for the grand prize, which is a chance to compete in the final event in Texas. Bolongo offers a fifth night free when four are booked, with two of the nights being Aug. 19 and 20. To book, call (800) 291-6428.

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