In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian made history as the 2nd most powerful Atlantic hurricane and the most powerful hurricane to ever hit The Bahamas. To be a good neighbor, Royal Caribbean Cruises was the first on the ground, providing warm meals and life-saving supplies for The Bahamas.
When natural disasters threaten communities around the globe, Royal Caribbean and its employees do what they can to make a difference.
Royal Caribbean has years of experience in providing disaster relief across the world. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, they diverted ships to transport essential supplies and funded the construction of a new school complex near Labadee, built with materials that can sustain hurricane winds and resist earthquake conditions. Similarly, when the Caribbean region was decimated by the 2017 hurricane season—including Hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Harvey—Royal Caribbean evacuated over 5,000 people and provided critical supplies, including 30,000 gallons of water and 450 generators.
For Royal Caribbean, all of these destinations around the world are part of their community, and after 50 years partnered together, The Bahamas is especially near and dear to their hearts. The Bahamas was Royal Caribbean’s first port of call, and today, over 500 Bahamians work at Perfect Day at CocoCay and the Grand Bahama Shipyard.
“These are our friends. These are our neighbors,” said Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises. “It’s devastating, what happened, and the ability to give a little warmth, a little warm food, a little comfort, is a small addition we can make to help our friends there.”
In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, Royal Caribbean partnered with the Bahamian government, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), and a network of local Bahamian charities and organizations, including The Bahamas Feeding Network (BFN). Within 24 hours of the hurricane, they took immediate action, committed $1 million to disaster relief, and mobilized their fleet to provide relief to Bahamians in need.
Royal Caribbean Mobilizes for Disaster Relief
The Royal Caribbean team coordinated the company’s disaster relief operation, quickly planning the best way to move massive amounts of equipment, volunteers, and relief supplies for The Bahamas.
“It’s a very logistically challenging operation… arranging, managing, moving these huge ships with supply chains, and fuel, and food, and people,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. “The great news is that’s what we do, and we’ve been doing it for many, many decades. We can apply all of our expertise, knowledge, and wisdom and a lot of very capable people.”
Royal Caribbean realized that with limited access to food or cooking equipment, The Bahamas would benefit from their expertise in feeding thousands of people every day. The operation began in Miami, as employees procured supplies days in advance, and Chef Andreas Dymke, the Culinary Director at Royal Caribbean International, planned menus that would give survivors the comfort of a warm, cooked meal. While meal planning began, the “Go Team,” a group of employee volunteers trained for emergency response situations, also packed several container ships with crucial supplies like cases of water, generators, and plywood.
“When we got the call to help those affected in The Bahamas, we sprang into action,” Cornelius Gallagher, VP of Food and Beverage Operations at Celebrity Cruises. “Because [we’re] dealing with people’s lives.”
For the residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama, time was of the essence. Empress of the Seas was chosen to be the first ship on the scene and left Port Miami with provisions to create thousands of meals overnight.
Through the wee hours of the morning on September 5, more than 100 crewmembers from Empress of the Seas worked overnight in the ship galleys to prepare for their arrival in Freeport. Laden with volunteers, supplies, and orders to “make it happen,” the crew hurried to cook and pack 10,000 hot meals in a matter of hours, including sandwiches and a protein with rice, fruits, and snacks.
“When we first heard the news, we were really glad we were chosen,” said Melroy Antao, Food and Beverage Director of the Empress of the Seas. “It really rallied the team and made them understand what we were going to achieve.”
When the ship arrived in Freeport, the devastation and debris made it impossible to pull into the city’s harbor. Empress of the Seas stopped outside the port, and the crew began loading the meals and supplies into every available tugboat and tender boat, ferrying them to the shoreside. There, the Royal Caribbean crew was joined by local Bahamian volunteers from organizations like BFN and NEMA, and together, they unloaded and distributed the meals to community centers and churches of all faiths across Grand Bahama.
“From the moment we stepped off the ship, we were greeted with hugs, with ‘thank you’s. I talked to a lot of people who literally broke down in tears,” said Russell Benford, VP of Government Relations at Royal Caribbean Cruises. “So, to be able to come in and provide relief was an intense and quite amazing experience.”
By the end of their first day in Freeport, Royal Caribbean supplied 47,000 bottles of water, 25,000 square feet of plywood, and 180 generators, in addition to the 10,000 meals Empress of the Seas distributed. And Empress was only the first. Over the coming days, other cruise ships would repeat the process, diverting from their planned routes to deliver supplies and 20,000 daily meals to the Grand Bahama community.
When Dionne Clarke heard that Royal Caribbean was sending volunteers to The Bahamas, she was one of the first employees to sign up to help her neighbors—and her home. A Freeport native, Dionne returned to her city to find it ravaged by the storm.
“To come out here and see my island, it really broke my heart to see it in such devastation,” said Dionne Clarke, Royal Caribbean volunteer and restaurant attendant.
Dionne was one of many Royal Caribbean volunteers who worked tirelessly in the hot sun, unloading supplies and distributing lunches for hours on end. In the weeks to come, employee volunteers would continue working side-by-side with Bahamian residents, partnering together to operate a temporary relief kitchen. After days of cooking meals on cruise ships and bringing the food to the shore, Royal Caribbean Cruises established a field-operating kitchen in the parking lot of the Grand Lucayan hotel, continuing to cook 20,000 meals a day with the help of volunteers.
“It’s tremendous, actually, to know there’s someone here, distributing food for persons in need,” said Grand Bahama resident Ranique Farrington. “There’s a lot of people who were left homeless, hungry, job-less, so for Royal Caribbean to be distributing food every day is such a great help for the community.”
The field kitchen consisted of two 50-foot containers that operated as mobile kitchen units. Around a hundred volunteers—about evenly split between Royal Caribbean employees and Bahamian residents from organizations like BFN—managed the daily kitchen operations, creating a central hub in Grand Bahama for food distribution and relief.
“I’ve been through multiple hurricanes, and this is something that cannot be explained. To see this level of relief already is just amazing,” said Caline Newton, a representative of the Pan American Development Foundation and HeadKnowles. “I am so grateful and thankful to Royal Caribbean and just the start of what is to come. Because as I say to people, this is not a sprint, this is going to be a marathon.”
While still operating out of the field kitchen, Royal Caribbean began considering that long-term road to recovery, working with Bahamian officials and charity partners to discuss plans for continuing food relief efforts into the future.
Recovery comes far slower than relief, but Royal Caribbean Cruises did its part to ease the burdens Hurricane Dorian cast upon The Bahamas.
In the early days of the emergency, Royal Caribbean assisted with the evacuation of about 1,200 Bahamians, safely conveying them to Nassau. Through weeks of deliveries to the islands, they donated 450 generators, over 260,000 bottles of water, and 53,000 boxes of cereal, as well as medical supplies, toilet paper, and other essential products. Between the ships and the field kitchen, they helped supply, prepare, and cook over 600,000 warm meals. And thanks to the company’s financial commitment and fundraising efforts, they collected $4.6 million to help the islands rebuild.
“We live something called the Royal Way,” said Mark Tamis, Senior VP of Hotel Operations at Royal Caribbean International. “Big parts of the Royal Way are passion and commitment, and that’s what this is all about. It gives me such huge pride to be part of this.”
During those first five weeks, more than 1,000 volunteers rotated in and out of the temporary kitchen, working from morning to night to support the Bahamian survivors. When it finally came time for the field kitchen to close, Royal Caribbean renovated the hotel kitchen at the Grand Lucayan and ensured there was a viable plan to continue food relief and distribution efforts into the future.
“The word ‘relief’ does not sum up or cannot sum up the pleasure it was to have Royal Caribbean sail into Grand Bahamas and say, ‘Grand Bahamas? We got your back,’” said Kirkland Russell, volunteer and Head Chef at the Grand Lucayan. “So, on behalf of all of us here, Royal Caribbean, we say the partnership has just begun.”
The Bahamas Feeding Network still provides for hungry Bahamians, especially as the nation begins the long process of recovery. In partnership with BFN, Royal Caribbean helped establish the new method of providing meals: a distribution network of kitchens across 11 churches, 2 homes for the aged, and the soup kitchen.
In the months after Hurricane Dorian, The Bahamas faces a monumental task—restoring utilities, repairing homes and infrastructure, and slowly returning to everyday life. Many global charities are still on the ground providing necessary aid and clean water. Evacuated families have started returning to the islands to help rebuild their homes, and in the meantime, NEMA has established temporary housing domes for displaced residents.
The rebuilding process is only just beginning, but Royal Caribbean remains committed to supporting their Bahamian neighbors however they can.
“Together we can help rebuild,” said Alice Galindo, Royal Caribbean volunteer and shipboard event coordinator. “One dollar, one house, one community, one island — all it takes is one.”