I open my April 2018 Bon Appetite Magazine to a section called H-Town Strong. It features the rebuilding of the eclectic Houston restaurant scene post Hurricane Harvey. I log on to American Airlines and a see Hurricane Irma and Maria travel alert for St.Maarten posted April 11, 2018. Travelers with tickets booked through the end of August 2018, almost a year later, are still able to postpone their flights without penalty. Then, I receive a text from my friend who just returned from Miami. Sadly, she reports, some destinations are still in a state of flux post Hurricane Irma.
The catastrophic Atlantic Hurricane Season of 2017 was one for the record books. In total, it produced 10 Hurricanes, 3 of which made landfall in the US (Harvey, Irma and Maria) at an unprecedented category 4.
My family traveled to three of the areas impacted by the hurricanes in June of 2017: Houston, Miami and San Juan (Puerto Rico).
Almost a year later, how are those three areas doing post the 2017 Hurricane devastation?
And, for all you travelers out there looking to book summer vacations, are they ready yet to receive visitors?
Hurricane Harvey swooped down on the Houston area of Texas with an unprecedented 52 inches of rainfall. This is the greatest amount of rain to ever hit the continental US. Seventy people lost their lives, over 175,000 homes were flooded and 600,000 vehicles reported water damage.
My family has been to Houston twice since Hurricane Harvey hit. We can say for a fact that both the Houston Marriott North and the Element Houston Vintage Park were up and running without issue by November of 2017. Restaurants throughout the Houston area were slowly rebuilding. Plus, FEMA is ending the hotel stipend this month for those displaced, so hotel vacancy should return to normal levels come May 2018.
Ultimately, it is the impact on the people that you can see the most. People are slowly finding new places to make their homes and send their children to school, but there is a weight on the city during this rebuilding period. And, being a native Houstonian, the change is both heartbreaking but also awe-inspiring. Neighbor helping neighbor brought the nation’s 4th largest city together in a way that transcended the distance that had always separated its people. It has made for a Houston that is indeed stronger.
MIAMI, Still an All Night Party?
Hurricane Irma struck the US within two weeks of Hurricane Harvey. This marks the first time the country had suffered two hurricanes of such intensity in such close proximity. Irma was the first major Hurricane to make landfall in Florida for over 10 years. It knocked out power to 16 millions homes and caused upwards of $65 billion (US) in damage across the Southeastern US and Caribbean. It has gone on record as the second strongest storm with 185 mph winds and set the world record for one of the longest lasting cyclones in the Atlantic.
Miami is still slowly rebuilding post Hurricane Irma.
I am sad to report that our favorite family hotel in South Beach, the Ritz Carlton South Beach, is closed through 2019. They laid off 300 employees in January of 2018, and now the process of a lengthy rebuild begins.
The 1940s art deco hotel, the Raleigh Miami Beach, is also still shuttered due to hurricane damage. But, with Tommy Hilfiger leading the charge on remodeling, we imagine the concept will be great once it is finally completed.
The good news?
One of our favorites for those of you wanting a kitchen plus a quieter more family-friendly section of the beach, the Residence Inn Surfside, is up and running just fine.
Also, a few kid favorites in Miami remain closed. Jungle Island is working hard to reopen this Memorial Day weekend and the Seaquarium sustained some structural damage in a few areas that are being repaired through the Summer of 2018.
San Juan, Still the Island of Enchantment?
Hurricane Maria is on record as the worst natural disaster to hit the island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was already struggling with failing infrastructure in electricity and water before the storm hit. All 3.4 million people on the island were victims to a failed power grid island wide once the hurricane made landfall. One month after the hurricane, 88% of the island was still without power and 29% lacked tap water. There was a fuel shortage and a disputed death toll due to the leptospirosis suspected from the lack of access to clean water.
Puerto Rico, as a whole, is slow moving in making a comeback post Hurricane Maria.
One of our favorite stewards on American Airlines sadly told me last month that El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the National Forest System, is in horrible shape. But, snorkeling tours are inching their way back up and some hotels are open right now as well around San Juan.
We were particularly excited to see that two of our favorite family lodging sites in San Juan are currently operational: the Intercontinental San Juan Resort and the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino.
Look to David Slotnik for a list of 5 hotels currently open for business in April 2018 of Insider Picks. For itinerary ideas check out Christina Saull and her blog www.myviewfromthemiddleseat.com or Islands of Puerto Rico to give you ideas about which tourist attractions can be booked right now.
For more detailed openings and closures throughout the Caribbean as of March 29, 2018, look to Travel Weekly. They state that almost 50% of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association hotels affected by the hurricanes of 2017 throughout the entire Caribbean area have reopened. They give a great rundown island by island.
Conclusion: Houston, Miami or San Juan are open for business!
I hope that as many of you are sitting down to plan travel for the remainder of 2018, you feel comfortable with the status of each of these three destinations to consider heading there. Each location has a vibrant soul that has only grown more unique and united from this past hurricane season’s events. Let’s make an effort to spend tourism dollars to help rebuild their communities. Let's prove to them that their hardships and resilience are not forgotten.
But...remember: Hurricane Season does run from June to November every year. Just plan accordingly!