PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — I came home from a hurricane battered night at the radio station in St. Thomas to find my house blown apart and the pieces scattered around Frenchtown. That was in September of 1960 when Hurricane Donna killed 7 people in the Virgin islands and over 100 in nearby Puerto Rico. The pain and desperation of those shattered by this month’s Hurricane Irma is felt by most who live or have lived in a storm prone “Paradise.” No homes – no jobs. Those jobs were fueled by winter getaway seekers. Travelers are now hearing from cruise lines, hotels and travel agencies about altered plans combined with pleas for patience as island charter boat and hospitality companies from the St. Maarten to Puerto Rico assess the ability to welcome guests this winter. Cruise lines are already shifting Autumn destinations to more southerly islands. Here’s a look at some tropical destinations that have been unaffected and a pair of year round resorts with more moderate temperatures but dynamic attractions.
The southern Caribbean escaped the palm bending wind and storm surges of Irma. Among the more popular are:
ARUBA: a Dutch Island off the coast of Venezuela with spectacular beaches, a range of hotels and resorts, European and American dining options, and water sports. American Airlines flies 1 winter non-stop daily from Philadelphia, direct to the island. One-stop daily flights from here are numerous.
MARTINIQUE: Take a piece of France and plant it in a Caribbean setting and you have Martinique. Pristine, palm ringed beaches and high mountain landscapes were untouched by Hurricane Irma. Lodging ranges from the modern to Caribbean colonial, Dining meanders from West Indian flavors to fine French and North African cooking on eye-fill outdoor verandas. American Airlines has a one-stop flight from Philly that puts you on Martinique in just over 8 hours. Air Canada flies there from here, but with stops at Toronto and Montreal.
YUCATAN PENINSULA, MEXICO
The Yucatan Peninsula resorts clustered around Cancun are popular among the young party crowd for high energy clubs, beaches and all-inclusive hotels. But the area is also home to a fleet of private and charter sport fishing boats. If Marlin’s your game, this is the place. Soup-to-Nuts package trips are offered by most travel agencies. American Airlines has one daily 4-hour non-stop flight from Philadelphia. There are numerous other one-stop flights from here that take between 6 and 8 hours.
MODERATE WEATHER DESTINATIONS
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, TEXAS
Hurricane Harvey barely brushed this long gulf coast barrier island close to the Mexican border and on a Florida latitude. Daytime temperatures in winter hover in the low to mid-seventies. I have seen them dip into light jacket territory. But activity here is non-stop. The beach front is alive with moderate to high ticket hotels. The dining meanders between seafood, authentic Mexican, Tex-Mex and Texas BBQ. One waterfront eatery lets you fish off it’s back deck and then they’ll cook up your catch. Happy Hour starts at noon and migrates from bar to bar. There’s sport fishing, horseback riding on the beach, an aquarium and wildlife preserve. If you rent a car, it’s a short drive to Brownsville and a stroll across a Rio Grande bridge into Matamoras, Mexico. American and United Airlines, each have one-stop flights from Philadelphia to Brownsville, Texas that takes from 6 to 7 hours.
I enjoy winter in Bermuda. I lived and worked there for 5 years. That’s five years in homes that did not have or need heating systems. Winter daytime temperatures range in the low 70’s. Nights in the 60’s. It’s perfect weather for golf on spectacular ocean-side courses. Sailing and sightseeing charters are operating and tennis is popular at resort hotels. Visitors cannot rent cars, but motorized bikes are available. The biggest wintertime advantage in Bermuda is the absence of cruise ships that drop between 5 and 10,000 people on the island on any given day in Spring, Summer and Fall. Prices are reduced and local transportation improves dramatically. Bermuda is known for its restaurants, nightlife and a locally stocked aquarium. Dining caters to American and Canadian tastes with a focus on seafood and European specialties. The downside? While the nearby Gulf Stream keeps the island and waters on the sub-tropical side, few people swim until late April. But lazing on the beach is definitely a non-active activity.
And, a reminder: Hurricane season is still far from over.