Cruise-Ship Tourists Visit Haiti

As rescuers frantically try to save the lives of those trapped beneath the rubble in Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince, 3,000 tourists are stepping off a Royal Caribbean cruise ship -- just 90 miles away -- to enjoy the cruise line's private beach resort today.

These tourists are some of the first visitors, other than rescuers, to come to the earthquake-ravaged nation. Their presence is leading some to question Royal Caribbean's decision to visit Haiti.

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Royal Caribbean has had a relationship with Haiti for almost 30 years, including the last 15 at its own private resort, Labadee, located on a peninsula on the island's northern shore. It is far from the disaster zone, but every ship that stops there -- Tuesday's is the third since the earthquake -- is also bringing in relief supplies.

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Labadee is far enough from the earthquake's epicenter to have escaped damage. But for some, that might not be enough to overcome the idea of vacationing in a country devastated by disaster.

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"It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch, before the earthquake, at Labadee knowing how many Haitians were starving," wrote one commenter, Bakincakes, on the cruise blog Cruise Critic. "I can't imagine having to choke down a burger there now knowing how many have died and how many are dying of thirst and who will probably die of their injuries."

But another poster, JSnow789, said they were proud to be heading there Tuesday "and will happily spend what I can to help the locals working."

'Important For Us to Continue'

For its part, Royal Caribbean said it never thought about canceling its cruises.

"Once the Haitian government said it's okay to come back, please come back, we started. We never canceled a single port call," said spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez. "We think it is important for us to continue to go to Haiti, not only to take supplies but to impact the local economy."

While there, tourists can go kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing, and enjoy a zip line or the "Aqua Park" for kids.

"This exclusive destination offers pristine beaches, breathtaking scenery and spectacular water activities," the company says on its Web site. "It's impossible to choose just one thing that's special about Labadee. The sandy beach and coral reefs provide a perfect place to relax and have fun."

Cruise Ships Visit Haiti Despite Earthquake

Martinez said 230 people are employed directly at the resort by Royal Caribbean and there are another 300 vendors that aren't employed by the cruise line but sell souvenirs and services -- such as braiding hair -- directly to Royal Caribbean passengers at a straw market on the site.

The whole resort is protected by armed guards at the main gate, but Martinez such measures are part of the regular security procedures for the site and there has not been an increase in security since the earthquake.

"We've very sensitive to our guests. We understand that some of them might not feel comfortable going to Haiti. They can stay onboard if they choose to," she added. "But it was very important for us to go back as soon as possible."

On Thursday, the night before the first ship, Independence of the Seas, arrived, the cruise director told passengers gathered for a show that they would be stopping in Haiti and that all the proceeds from their stop would be going for relief efforts.

"He got a standing ovation in the theater," Martinez said.

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