By Mike Coleman
Cozumel, Mexico Cruise ship passengers have returned here with a vengeance just weeks after Hurricane Wilma devastated this tiny, sun-drenched locale.
Instead of docking at the island’s three cruise ship terminals Muelle Punta Langosta, Muelle International and Muelle International Puerta Maya line’s have been anchoring offshore.
Damage to the terminals is so severe officials expect it will take months before repairs are completed but as is the case in so many other Western and Eastern Caribbean ports of call, guests have been departing their respective ships via tender to go ashore.
not the Cozumel you may be used to, Wilma lingered here for two days and wreaked havoc, but the friendly, smiling locals, business owners and tourism officials are pleased with the recovery progress to date and are welcoming thousands of cruise ship passengers and other visitors with open arms.
“Cruise ships have been arriving daily, airlines have resumed limited service and the majority of Cozumel tours, attractions, dive shops, restaurants and stores have been restored and are available for travelers to enjoy,” said Raul Marrufo, director of the Cozumel Tourism Promotion Board.
Electricity and water has been restored to 100 percent of the island and cosmetic improvements continue on a daily basis, according to Marrufo, including the replacement of mature palm trees that adorn Blvd. Adolfo Mateos, the main tourist thoroughfare.
Virtually all of the island’s roads are open. East coast beaches are in excellent condition some are actually wider as a result of the storm and the island’s certified dive shops are open and operating. Snorkeling tours have also resumed. The Cozumel Country Club re-opened this week although limited food and beverage service is available until restaurant and golf shop repairs are completed in early January.
Most of the island’s popular excursions are up and running again, including horseback riding tours, jeep excursions, all-terrain vehicle tours and fishing. The Mayan ruins at San Gervasio have re-opened while the Atlantis submarine attraction is scheduled to re-open next week.
Officials estimate that 90 percent of the shops and restaurants on Cozumel have re-opened although the complex across from one of the main cruise ship terminals the Plaza Punta Langosta which houses Senor Frog’s and Carlos’ N Charlie’s was devastated by the storm. Workers were replacing windows, damaged interiors and facades but it may be a number of weeks still before repairs to arguably the most popular tourist strip are completed.
According to officials from the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, the shifting of sand in Wilma’s wake has revealed new sites for exploration, including newly-revealed caves at Palancar.
“The reef system has had some time to rest during the last several weeks, but as all dive and snorkeling enthusiasts understand, the habitat will be in a constant state of natural recovery over time,” said Robert Cudney, the park’s director.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the entire dive community. Because they have so vigilantly protected this beautiful natural resource over the past years the reefs were strong and, as such, are expected to recover beautifully.”
While officials are pleased with the speed of the recovery efforts in most sectors, repairs both to the cruise ship terminals and various structures will be on-going. A case in point is the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel, devastated by Wilma. It won’t open its doors until March 15, 2006, following extensive renovations.
“Our goal is to come back stronger than ever,” said Carlos Berdegue, CEO of El Cid Resorts.