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Bahamas Hurricane Recovery Update: Why You Should Visit in 2020

SmarterTravel

In September 2019, a category 5 hurricane stalled over the northern islands of the Bahamas, ravaging Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos with powerful winds and rain. Hurricane Dorian is the most powerful known storm to have struck the Bahamas, leaving an official death toll of 70 (with hundreds still missing) and causing $3.4 billion worth of damage.

Four months later, travelers may be wondering how the islands are recovering and whether a visit to the Bahamas in 2020 is a good idea. The following Bahamas update explains which islands were and weren’t affected by the hurricane and which ones are welcoming visitors. (Spoiler alert—the answer to that final question is: most of them.)

Freeport and Grand Bahama Island

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Grand Bahama Island was one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Dorian, but the bulk of the damage was done to the eastern and northern parts of the island. Freeport, the island’s main city and cruise port, is located in the southwestern part of the island and was spared the worst of the damage. “[Freeport] was impacted because the basic infrastructure on the island got hit—fresh water, electricity, etc.,” says Oneil Khosa, CEO of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, which runs two-night cruises to the region as well as cruise/stay packages. “That all has been restored. … I feel confident in saying that our cruise product and the passenger experience [are] back to 100 percent.”

While cruise lines paused their Grand Bahama Island calls in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, they have all resumed service to Freeport. According to the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, 84 percent of the hotels and restaurants on Grand Bahama Island have reopened, as well as 75 percent of the tours and 55 percent of the attractions and watersports. Both cruise passengers and land visitors have plenty of excursions to choose from, including snorkeling, Jet Skiing, sailing trips, and beach visits.

Both Silver Airways and Bahamasair resumed flights between Fort Lauderdale and Freeport in December 2019.

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Abaco Islands

The situation in the hard-hit Abaco Islands is a bleaker story. “Abaco was hit very hard and faced the brunt of the hurricane as it came from the east,” says Khosa.

NBC News reported in late December that “the devastation looks much as it did when the storm swept through in September” and that locals have struggled with a slow cleanup and rebuilding process.

“Local businesses have reopened, a handful of hotels are receiving guests, and, as of December 19, 2019, Silver Airways has resumed flights between Fort Lauderdale and Marsh Harbour,” says a source from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. “Silver Airways plans to resume service to Treasure Cay in the Abacos in the New Year. A handful of properties are open including The Sandpiper Inn, Abaco Club, The Abaco Inn, [and] Delphi Club.”

Air Unlimited resumed service to the Abacos in January 2020.

In lieu of tourist information about the Abaco Islands, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism’s website takes visitors directly to a page about hurricane relief efforts.

Nassau and Paradise Island

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Nassau and Paradise Island were largely unscathed by Hurricane Dorian, beyond some heavy rainfall. (In fact, thousands of evacuees from the affected islands headed to Nassau after the storm.) Cruise lines continue to visit Nassau’s popular port, and all resorts, restaurants, and tour operators are operating as normal.

Nassau is the Bahamas’ capital and the heart of its tourist industry. If your idea of a great vacation includes museums, casinos, shopping, nightlife, and plenty of other activities, this is the place to go. Just across the harbor from Nassau, on Paradise Island, is the Bahamas’ most famous resort: the massive complex, complete with a waterpark, an oceanfront golf course, 11 pools, and five miles of beach.

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Other Bahamas Islands

Hundreds of islands make up the Bahamas, and the vast majority of them are open for business, with no hurricane damage.

A few of the best places to visit include the Exumas, known for exquisite white sand beaches and the chance to swim with friendly pigs; Cat Island, where you can enjoy some of the country’s best scuba diving; and Eleuthera, home to pineapple plantations, colonial architecture, and pink sand beaches.

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How You Can Help the Bahamas

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If you want to help the Bahamas in its continuing recovery from Hurricane Dorian, one of the best ways is to come for a visit. “Any travel to the islands not affected by Hurricane Dorian will support recovery efforts as tourism is the country’s leading industry, accounting for 60 percent of the Bahamas’ GDP and employing about half of the Bahamian people,” says a source from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

Khosa offers a similar perspective: “Every bottle of water you buy or taxi fare or local restaurant meal or Jet Ski rental is helping because this is all being managed and run by the locals, and by spending your tourism dollars there, you are impacting the local residents and their economy, which is far more effective than any aid there.”

Beyond your tourist dollars, you can also volunteer in the Bahamas. If you book a trip with Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, you can contact the cruise line and express your desire to help, and the line will put you in contact with an NGO supporting the recovery effort to arrange an appropriate volunteer excursion. You can also volunteer through Bahamas Relief Cruise.

Of course, donations are also welcome. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism has a lengthy list of places to donate money or supplies.

“It’s important that the word is kept alive,” says Khosa. “There are larger issues that the world is seeing, but people still need help in [the Bahamas]. What’s more important is continuous small help, not just making a big deal in the beginning and then moving on.”

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