No question, Hurricane Irma was a heartless beast. Over the past week, the storm clawed its way up a chain of Caribbean islands before knocking down the door into Florida. The natural disaster, now a tropical depression, has left behind a war zone of roofless homes, toppled trees, crumbled hotels and flooded streets. Many destinations will need months to recover, while others have already started to bounce back.
"The affected countries are getting on with the business of rebuilding," said Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. "By the end of this week, many will have a better assessment of their damage."
Riley reminds travelers that the Caribbean encompasses a large swath of tropical real estate and that Irma grazed only a small portion of it. "You don't want people thinking they should stay away from the whole region," he said. "The whole Caribbean has not been closed for business."
The Caribbean and Florida have just started their recovery efforts, and status updates are changing daily. For the most current reports, we reached out to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, CheapCaribbean.com, Intrepid Travel and Lisa Grubba, an environmental writer for Florida Field Notes. Of course, before you book a trip to an Irma-blown destination, contact your hotel to confirm that it is fully intact. In addition, reach out to the local tourism office for the most timely information on transportation, road and beach conditions and operating hours for attractions.
●Anguilla: The airport has resumed service. Good prognosis for several of the major hotels and resorts.
●Antigua: The airport is open and electricity has been restored in the capital of St. John's and most parts of the island. Businesses are operating, including most excursions. No structural damage to hotels; limited flooding. Beach cleanup is in progress.
●The Bahamas: The Nassau/Paradise Island airport is open; Grand Bahama airport is closed. The Port of Nassau is expected to welcome cruise ships midweek. Properties including Atlantis, Warwick Paradise Island and Sandals Emerald Bay on Great Exuma are ready for guests.
●Barbuda: Massive damage to homes (90 percent), hotels and tourism infrastructure. Not ready for visitors.
●British Virgin Islands: Widespread damage on Tortola and Virgin Gorda, which has ordered a 6 a.m.-to-9 p.m. curfew. Not ready for visitors.
●Cuba: Power is returning in many areas of the island. Some flooding in Havana, including the neighborhoods of Vedado and Centro Habana, but water is receding. Destinations such as Vinales, Soroa, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa are operating as normal, though some excursions, such as hikes to waterfalls, may remain closed for a few more days.
●Dominican Republic: Airports are open, as are hotels and businesses.
●Puerto Rico: Port and airport are open. The majority of mainland hotels and resorts are back in service. Cleanup efforts are taking place at parks and beaches.
● St. Barts: Limited communication and a slow return of water and electricity. Port is open, and the 25 Quarter restaurant and bar is serving cocktails. The star-studded Eden Roc is delaying its usual October reopening, due to damage.
●St. Martin: Extensive destruction. Not ready for tourists.
●St. Kitts and Nevis: Doing well.
●Turks and Caicos: The Providenciales airport has resumed flights. Several of the island's top resorts, such as the Sands at Grace Bay and the Shore Club, plan to reopen by the end of the month. Cruise ships are returning to the port on Grand Turk Island. South Caicos Island suffered significant damage.
●U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Croix, which reopened its airport last week, avoided serious damage, but its sister islands weren't so lucky. The U.S. Virgin Islands' tourism office is "requesting the postponement of all scheduled visits to St. Thomas and St. John." CheapCaribbean.com notes that all hotels on St. Thomas and St. John are closed through Sept. 30.
●Most Sunshine State destinations are fully or partially up and running, including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and the Walt Disney World theme parks - with the exception of Water Parks, which will reopen later this week. The Florida Keys, however, are closed. The tourism office requests visitors postpone trips to the islands but expects to open in time for Fantasy Fest in Key West on Oct. 20.