Hurricane Irma left a wake of destruction behind in the Caribbean while those in the path — Cuba, cruise ships, the entire state of Florida, and swaths of the Southeast United States — prepared for a hit.
Residents and tourists in Florida continued to flee north on Friday in an exodus that started days earlier; state officials said 5.6 million had been asked to evacuate, according to news reports. With the storm’s estimated point of landfall still unknown, all of Florida remained in the track.
Cruise lines canceled sailings, altered itineraries to visit Cozumel instead of Key West, and sent ships packed with evacuees and employees out to safety at sea. Several popular port destinations including St. Martin and St. Thomas suffered extensive damage that will likely keep cruise traffic away as they recover.
On Friday, some of Florida’s biggest tourist draws — Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld Orlando — announced their theme parks would close for the anticipated impact on Sunday and Monday. SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens, in Tampa, also announced closures on those days.
More than 3,000 flights into and out of Florida had been cancelled for the time when the storm is expected, USA Today reported, and airports in South Florida were suspending operations Friday night.
The toll on islands already hit by the storm was still being calculated. But it is already clear that the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is quickly becoming one of the most active, costliest, and deadliest seasons in more than a decade and travel brands in the Caribbean and United States Southeast and Gulf Coast are bracing for fallout from the storms.
Tourism is the most important industry in many of the impacted islands and areas, and depending on how quickly travelers come back and infrastructure recovers – and especially how cruise lines cancel or adjust itineraries – the fourth quarter of 2017 could be difficult for many travel brands and destinations.