Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean’s Tropical Paradise

Royal Caribbean has created Labadee as a tropical paradise bearing its name.

On the north coast of Haiti lies a narrow spit of land that juts out to sea from the surrounding hills forming a nice little cove. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has carefully walled it off from the rest of the country to create a “secluded tropical paradise” for the enjoyment of passengers who otherwise would probably never visit

Since 1986 Labadee has been the largest contributor of tourist dollars to Haiti.

Haiti at all. They call it Labadee.

The original place name is Labadie, but RCCL changed it to Labadee and made the tweaked name a “Service Mark” of the cruise line and, some nondescript ruins aside, everything in it is as artificial as the new name. The closest visitors get to the real Haiti is the Artisan’s Village, where an engaging group of locals sell handicrafts and trinkets to the thousands of punters who pour off the moored cruise ship.

There are some who find the whole idea of Labadee distasteful, feeling it smacks of exploitation, given Haiti’s extreme poverty and the well-documented troubles of recent years. Many Haitians beg to differ, pointing out that Labadee brings in much needed foreign exchange (RCCL pays Haiti $6 per tourist who arrives there) and provides employment for hundreds of Haitians. Since its inception in 1986, Labadee has been the largest contributor of tourist dollars to the small nation. In short, it’s a classic win-win situation.

After a recent visit, I fall into the latter category. While I missed the opportunity to see the “real” Haiti, I found Labadee to be extremely successful on its own terms, which is to serve as RCCL’s own “private island,” much as Castaway Cay does for Disney.

Labadee has been designed to provide a wide assortment of activities for visitors who will spend at most eight hours ashore. Thanks to a recently constructed pier, RCCL’s massive ships can now dock and passengers can stroll to the fun, rather than having to be tendered in as was the case a few years ago.

The long, narrow shape of the enclave provides plenty of beach area. The northern

The long, narrow shape of the enclave provides plenty of beach area.

beach is reserved for sunbathing and lounging and swimming there is discouraged; the southern beach, protected by the cove, is the designated swimming area. Several bars and outdoor restaurants provide the simple BBQ cookout fare that just seems natural at the beach.

As you might expect, there are a number of water-borne activities on offer for an additional charge, including kayaking, a jet ski tour, parasailing, and a high-speed coastal tour and swim aboard a peppy little vessel that holds eight. Closer to shore is the Arawak Aqua Park, featuring a variety of climb-up-bounce-around-jump-off floating rubber toys.

The northern beach is reserved for sunbathing and lounging.

The highlight of Labadee though is the Dragon’s Breath Flight Line, a zip line ride that takes off from the enclave’s highest point and speeds across open water to a landing near the Dragon’s Breath Pub, where a tot of rum awaits to calm your nerves. A smaller, shorter zip line is also available for the less adventuresome.

However, the favorite activity seems to be doing nothing much. It’s a great place to take a book and sit in the shade with a cool beer. Attendants will set up a nicely shaded area just for you; a five-dollar tip is appreciated. When you tire of just sitting, you can take

You can walk through shady paths that wind through the woods to hidden lookout points.

a walk through the nicely designed paths that wind through the woods to hidden lookout points. There’s even a spa.

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