Port St. Maarten welcomed 1,597,101 cruise passengers on 489 calls, a 29% increase from 2017, and compared to the 1.66m in 2016. The port also posted a 30.3% increase from May through July, when cruise visitations to the island are typically a bit slower.
These numbers highlight how quickly the island has bounced back, said May-Ling Chun, director of tourism.
18% increase September-December, compared to 2016
The latter half of 2018 brought a return to pre-Irma cruise arrival numbers. Port St. Maarten welcomed 646,431 passengers from September to December, a 17.87% increase in arrivals from the same time period in 2016, a full year before the Category 5 storm.
Irma, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record, pummeled St. Maarten in September 2017 with 182 mph winds. Cruise ships stayed away in October and November, a period that traditionally would see high visitation.
Major new attraction
When ships began returning in December that year, passengers had a major attraction to visit: Rainforest Adventures' newly opened Rockland Estate, featuring the Flying Dutchman, touted as the world's steepest zip line, and the Soualiga Sky Explorer, a chairlift adventure. Further features soon opened at the park.
'St. Maarten as a tourism product is set to come back even stronger and better than ever,' stated Stuart Johnson, minister of tourism, economic affairs, transport and telecommunication. 'We look forward to continuing to welcome cruise passengers back to our shores with classic St. Maarten warmth and hospitality throughout 2019.'