The first port for our Royal Caribbean cruise of the western Caribbean was Labadee, Hispaniola which is actually a part of Haiti. This specific port is leased out to Royal Caribbean so only their cruiseships come here. Labadee is actually a peninsula with a few beaches. Getting to land from the cruiseship is by tender.
There is a small section for kids with floating fake icebergs to climb and water slides but they charge an admission fee. Flotation mattresses are also available for rent for those who just want to float in the ocean. There are also locals who help with getting beach chairs for you but they expect tips. So things here are a money grabber. The cruiseship did have optional tours for snorkelling, parasailing, waverunner and kayaking tours but we thought that they were overpriced. Most passengers just spent the day relaxing around the beaches.
The area around Labadee was pleasant enough but the beaches and shores themselves were fairly rocky so wearing sandals in the water would be advised. Royal Caribbean had organized a beach BBQ at an outdoor picnic facility which was okay but nothing special. There is a market there consisting of two buildings. One is a store where the souveniers and items have marked prices and the other building is like your typical market where locals try to hustle you for business. The locals inside the market were aggressive but polite. If you don't mind haggling, you could get some pretty good deals but if you dislike this type of pushy atmosphere, then you best avoid the market except for the fixed price store.
One big difference between this port compared to others is that since it is pretty well being used as a private beach, you will not be hassled by locals. The vendors coming around with drinks at the beach locations are actually Royal Caribbean staff so if one wishes to buy a drink, the cruiseship passcard is all that is required. As for concerns about being in Haiti given the poverty and political situation, Labadee was not a problem because the entire site is enclosed by a high steel fence. Other passengers later told us that they wandered off near the perimeter of the site and saw many Haitians along the fence begging for handouts and food. The fencing was mostly concealed in the distance from the main tourist areas.
We found Labadee in general to be a bit of a waste of time for us. The beaches were too rocky and we didn't have access to inexpensive activities since everything was run by Royal Caribbean. If one wanted to just go lie on the beach all day and not much else, then Labadee would be a suitable place. For those who want to experience some culture, do water sports without going through the cruiseship, or shop duty free, Labadee would not be the place to go. We decided to stay on board the ship after the BBQ lunch for the rest of the afternoon. I like Royal Caribbean and would definitely cruise with them again but would not want to go on an itinerary that included Labadee in the future.
Clint Leung is owner of Free Spirit Gallery http://www.FreeSpiritGallery.ca , an online gallery specializing in Inuit Eskimo and Northwest Native American art including carvings, sculpture and prints. Free Spirit Gallery has numerous information resource articles with photos of authentic Inuit and Native Indian art as well as free eCards.