We awoke to find the verdant mountains of Haiti rising above us as we slid into the harbor at Labadee (aerial photo- Google). Haiti has been extensively deforested by natives needing fuel for cooking (no one here needs to heat their home), but Labadee was covered with palm trees, bushes, and shrubs providing attractive plantings as well as plenty of shade for those who want it. There are several small beaches on the Caribbean side of the peninsula and a short walk takes people to the Atlantic side where there is much more space as well as some surf for those wishing it. The central part of the island has rest room facilities and a large, open air cafeteria where a sumptuous luncheon, prepared entirely from food brought from the ship, is served. Each beach has one or more open air bars. Paved walkways lead from place to place, and a free shuttle conducts people to the rather reaches of the area.
The Liberty of the Seas anchors about half a mile offshore and soon a small fleet of tenders, each carrying about 200 passengers begins to conduct the 4200 people on board to shore. This is done with dispatch and efficiency complemented by the different schedules people prefer. I made two round trips to Labadee (assessments from Trip Advisor.com) without ever waiting in line more than fifteen minutes. As passengers board they are encouraged to purchase quart bottles of water ($3.50 charged to your Sea Pass), and it’s a very good idea to buy water sooner rather than later. Other than at meals and in the staterooms, there is no place on the ship where free water is available. (Since staying hydrated is of major importance in the tropics, water sales must be an important profit center for the shipping line, and it approaches the irresponsible for Royal Caribbean not to provide copious amounts of free water at Labadee as well as on St. Martin.) The tender drops passengers at a dock and everyone debarks into the continuing hard sell. Ships photographers are everywhere snapping shots of people with the ship in the background, in front of life rings, on various attractions, and so-on. Later on these pictures appear in a photo gallery on ship where people can purchase various packages to put together showing their experiences. These are high quality pictures and priced somewhat below studio poses, but they also represent another opportunity for commerce.My response to Labadee as a beach is informed by our other beach experiences in the Caribbean. On three occasions we’ve taken Caribbean vacations where we’ve rented apartments or small villas on beaches. We’ve had the freedom to eat when and where we wanted, to travel easily, and to shop widely. Such experience is sufficiently unlike the cruise experience to color my assessment of a place like Labadee. Having said that, numerous activities are offered for ship’s passengers coming ashore. A large area on a beach near the docks is given over to a range of slides, floats, and other constructions suitable for children’s play (SeaTrek Aqua Park - $15.00/hr). There are opportunities to drive a wave runner ($89.00), Parasail ($89.00), ride a speedboat ($42.00), ride a zip line ($80.00) or take a snorkeling adventure ($42.00). Depending on your perspective, these “Explorations” can be seen as expensive luxuries, once in a life-time opportunities, or reasonable vacation expenses. People traveling on a more restricted budget can have a beach chair set up (no tip required) to enjoy the sun, go for a swim and relax. The ship provides a buffet luncheon. About 200 vendors have small shops in a market area where local crafts are sold and tourists encouraged to bargain to their hearts content. We came back early for lunch on the ship and a quiet afternoon, but others we talked to reported a fine time on the best beach they’d ever visited.