As the Caribbean region heads into the holidays, called the Festive Season, there are reasons for cheer in several of the islands in recovery mode from the September hurricanes.
In the British Virgin Islands, the Moorings and Sunsail yacht charter companies reopened their charter base in Road Town, Tortola last week. More than 100 yachts are available for charters this winter, and 130 more boats, representing an investment of $66.5 million, are scheduled to arrive in early 2018.
"The road to recovery has not been easy, but we are thrilled about reopening our base in the BVI and in a timely manner," said Josie Tucci, vice president of sales and marketing.
Tucci echoed a refrain heard on many of the storm-impacted islands.
"The humanitarian response from customers, partners and employees following the hurricanes was overwhelming, and the tenacity of the local communities has been nothing short of inspiring," she said. "This heartfelt combination of commitment and resilience helped us come back so strong."
The Moorings and Sunsail have established the Caribbean Comeback fundraiser, with 100% of all monetary contributions going toward supplies such as generators and gas stoves still needed in the BVI, St. Maarten/St. Martin and Puerto Rico.
A temporary structure will be in place by the end of the year to replace the BVI's damaged West End ferry dock. In Road Town, the roundabout in the center of town is alight with Christmas decorations; the electric bill will be paid for by funds raised by the Rotary Club "because it will lift the spirit of residents and visitors," a spokesman said.
"Our tours and sites might not be the same, our circumstances have changed, but we still have a story to tell and a country to rebuild," Premier Orlando Smith said in a recent statement.
More than 75 restaurants and bars are open, including the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke, Myett's Restaurant in Cane Garden Bay, Mac's Restaurant at Tortola Pier Park, Pirates Bight on Norman Island and Emile's Restaurant in East End.
In Dominica, the islandwide curfew, imposed after Hurricane Maria, has been lifted. "The capital city of Roseau is returning to a state of normalcy, with electricity restored in a number of areas. There is a need to create an environment that encourages economic activity in the Christmas season," according to a statement from the Ministry of Justice, Immigration and National Security.
Street vendors are returning to Roseau, the Roseau Market has reopened and TV and Internet services have been restored in some areas of the island. Several dive sites will reopen in January, and 21 small properties are accepting guest bookings, with seven more reopening on Jan. 1.
The island still has a long way to go, but signs of progress dot the island as does green foliage once again.
In St. Maarten, a contractor was selected last week to start demolition work on the mold-infested interior walls of the Princess Juliana Airport terminal building.
"The intention is to rebuild the interior completely and restore it to the pride of place it had before the hurricanes," Michael Hyman, COO and acting CEO of the airport, told SMX Weekly.
Runway lights are not yet installed to enable nighttime operations, nor is there a timeline on the status of preclearance facilities. But two big air-conditioned tents with bathroom facilities soon will be erected to better accommodate passengers, particularly during the holiday season.
Sand is returning to Maho Beach, the famous beach at the end of the runway where people used to gather to watch planes arrive and depart. The storms blew away the beach as well as the fence.
Some small hotels are open, including Mary Boon's, and a number of villas.
More than $4.4 million in recovery assistance from the Dutch government has been set aside for the training of now-unemployed hospitality workers, according to the Daily Herald newspaper. The courses will start in January to help restore St. Maarten's service industry and will include retraining for different types of work, such as construction, to help rebuild tourism facilities
More than 87% of Anguilla's electrical grid had been restored by mid-December. Elvis' Beach Bar, among many others, is open and is serving local beverages and island food all day long, and the rebuilding of the Sunshine Shack is well on its way to completion.
The grand opening of the Quintessence Hotel, the first to open on Anguilla since Hurricane Irma, is set for Jan. 1. Its restaurant, Julians, opened earlier this month. The nine-suite property overlooking Long Bay offers butler and concierge services, an infinity pool, spa, bars, a yoga pavilion and an impressive collection of Haitian art.
More than half of Wimco Villas' portfolio of 360 private villas on St. Barts has reopened for the season. Jimmy Buffet will perform a free concert on the waterfront in Gustavia on Dec. 27, accompanied by local musician Soley and other musicians from the island.
Puerto Rico officially kicks off its winter season on Dec. 20 with a far more robust cruise season than could have been imagined in the days and weeks following the hurricanes.
Cruise passengers have a choice of more than 60 shore excursions; more than 80,000 homeport passengers have embarked from San Juan in the past two months; and 85,000 passengers are expected to arrive on 70 calls through Jan. 31.
More than 107 attractions are open across the island, including major sites such as Old San Juan, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Cueva Ventana.
Puerto Rico currently is served by more than 70 flights per day on 27 airlines; 75% of hotels are taking reservations, including Doubletree by Hilton San Juan; Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort, which opened on Dec. 15; and Hampton Inn & Suites, which will welcome guests on Jan. 1.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, 57% of customers had their power back by Dec. 14, according to the Water and Power Authority. More than 700 linemen from throughout the U.S. are working on power restoration, with another 100 expected before Christmas.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp acknowledged that many residents and businesses are still in need after the devastation left by the hurricanes.
"This is going to be a long process, but we can demonstrate by the evidence and data that every day is better and we are making progress," he said in a statement.
Spirit Airlines will increase its flights from Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas to four times a week on Feb. 16, according to the Department of Tourism.
"We want our travel partners to know that during our recovery, their clients can still have a very special vacation experience this season, whether they are visiting by cruise or staying at a hotel or villa, and taking advantage of the activities and attractions, restaurants and shops that are operational," said Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner of tourism.
She said plans are underway to rebuild hotel properties, welcome group travel and roll out a variety of voluntourism opportunities.