Beggars denied at Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private paradise in Haiti

Labadee Island beggar

Do not feed the humans: Royal Caribbean’s staff asked us to ignore this beggar

Cruise ship corporations are capable of treating others with dignity and kindness, as I wrote about in yesterday’s post about Oasis of the Seas‘ discovery of a raft of Cuban refugees, and they are famous for providing economic opportunities for workers from disadvantaged nations. But just as often, they seem to be caught up in murkier accusations of unleashing environmental mayhem, obscuring independent investigation, and exploiting poorer economies in order to staff their megaships at a cheap price.

Those horror tales have been well documented, and the lines often counter the accusations with reminders that they adhere to the laws as currently written. An excellent place to find sourced documentation of watchdog stories in the cruise industry is, a site that happened to notice my Cuban refugee tweets two days ago.

Royal Caribbean came to Labadee, a somewhat isolated coastal town on the north coast of Haiti, in 1985. On a lease, it converted a peninsula of jungled farmland into a beach paradise sealed by a fence from the rest of this desperately impoverished nation. The cruise line affixed an SM service mark to the name of the village to protect its investment. It’s now in the first years of a renewed, 99-year lease on the property.

Other cruise lines, including Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival in the Bahamas, also maintain contracted areas in the Caribbean. By scheduling a day at one of these areas instead of a public port, cruise lines can control the beach experience while keeping most of the passengers’ expenditures for themselves. Going to ports with poor free foot exploration options (for example, Falmouth, Jamaica, the next stop after Haiti for Oasis of the Seas) is a clever new method cruise lines are using to keep tourists either on board or on shore excursions, both of which keep profits in the family.

In the notoriously corrupt nation of Haiti, 80% of people live below the poverty line, and two-thirds of the population has no job. Port-au-Prince, recently obliterated by an earthquake that killed tens of thousands, may be 85 miles away as the crow flies, but the twisting and poorly maintained mountain roads place it more like 140 miles distant. Not that Royal Caribbean’s tourists have the option of seeing it, or even the smaller city of Cap-Haitien, which is just six miles from Labadee. Armed guards patrol the cruise line’s idyll just out of sight of the pampered cruisers.

Gesturing beggar at Labadee

Translation: “Come feed me over there, where you can lob food over the double fence.”

Nomadic Matt and I, who were transfixed by the barbed wire fence from the moment we saw it, were sampling the abundance of the Columbus Cove buffet when we noticed a young man in the woods. The youth was carrying an empty white dinner plate, and he mimed eating from it before gesturing purposefully to his right. He’s hungry, he was telling anyone who happened to notice him, and would like someone to toss him some food from around the back of the nearby toilet block.

So, as a few other young men join him on the other side of the barbed wire, Matt and I get a bunch of bananas and apples from the buffet. Because the beggar wants us to toss the food in a place were it won’t be as obvious, we can’t shake the feeling that we’re doing something sneaky. But they’re only bananas! We have no money, and the double fence is keeping us well apart.

As we head around back of the building, a sentry in a cheerful yellow tee-shirt halts us and, in broken English, asks us not to “make trouble” by feeding those people.  He’s very nice, it seems like the word he says most is “please,” but his point is solid and pleading. He obviously lives on the island and gets his paycheck from the cruise line. And he would like us to avoid this whole thing.

“Does that mean those men don’t eat?” I asked.

“There is Haitian restaurant for those people,” he says.

The image of a Haitian restaurant full of beggars, reading menus and smoothing napkins on their laps, feels ridiculous. But Matt and I agree, reluctantly. We have to trust this man even though it’s in his personal interest to back the corporation. He knows more than we do.

It reminds me of what they tell you at Yosemite: Don’t feed the bears or they may become aggressive. At Labadee SM, you may not give a man a banana.

There’s a string of artisan stalls, and we’re only allowed to spend money on local items there. Here, the vendors, each of them selected for admittance based on criteria we don’t know, chatter and engage tourists the way they might outside these chain link walls. I buy some rusty old Haiti license plates from an old man with an apparent eye ailment. Matt gives away the bananas meant for the banished beggars; either out of hunger of furtiveness, one of the vendors has stuffed it into his mouth before we’re more than 20 feet away.
Labadee fence

The double fence, with barbed wire, that keeps Royal Caribbean tourists in (and spending) and poor Haitians out (and begging)

There is no question that Royal Caribbean cannot help all of Haiti, a nation that the rest of the world has written off as a basket case.  There is no question that it has helped Haitians in that area, and the future may prove the cruise line’s presence here helped lift a much of the locality out of illiteracy and poverty.

There is also no question that Royal Caribbean is, at least in the general sense, sensitive to widespread Haitian need even as it basks in the benefit of sweetheart economic development deals. It used its liners to ferry food and supplies to the country after the 2010 earthquake, and everyone from the United Nations (which still keeps order all over the country) on down to the local Haitian government agrees that the $10-per-head port tax helps. And employing some 230 local workers supplies something that could not be easily replaced by an industry that is as stable, as humane, or as scrupulously observed, relatively speaking, as a publicly traded cruise line.

But there is also no question that these beggars exist, and that Royal Caribbean did not want us to interact with them in any way. When Matt asked a Haitian employee if cruise passengers could visit Labadee village, which is just a quick local ferry ride away, the local became visibly uncomfortable and began to sidle away from the conversation. Outsiders are not to be exposed to the “real” Haiti, no matter how seasoned they are.

Just a moment before, the same man had gone out of his way to declare the cruise line has made self-improvement, income, education, and literacy a reality for this part of the coast. Without them, he said, things would be much different. We are not, however, permitted to check out the town on our own as long as we arrive aboard the cruise line’s vessels.

Most cruise passengers didn’t have the presence of mind to notice any of this. A fair number seemed in a stupor about their current location in the universe. (“I hear Haiti is supposed to be a really poor country,” offered one rum-tipsy passenger as she rearranged her lounge chair.) A few others probably noticed but decided there was nothing they could do. The very few who notice and try to help are told not to. Tropical islands are not tropical paradises, no matter what off-the-shelf consumerist fantasy you want to believe when you grip that cold mai tai.

These are the people who could benefit most from an exchange of bananas.

Haitian beggar outside Royal Caribbean's private resort area

Searching for the next opportunity at Labadee

If you are not permitted to demonstrate charity or adventurous curiosity in Haiti, you’d hope that magnanimity is easier on board. Unfortunately, that comes with hurdles as well. At the end of the week’s cruise, Royal Caribbean gives customers the option of pre-buying gratuities for their servers. Our assistant waiter, a man from Istanbul, works four meal services, two jobs, and something like 15 hours daily, but the cruise line’s tip package would grant him $2.15 from me a day. Our main waiter, a young man from Mumbai, would get $3.75 a day.

My servers would never broach the topic of tipping, but anyone who has been to India knows the value of it. I went to Guest Services to inform the cruise line that I want to charge their gratuities to my account, but that I want to give more than these paltry tips. But no. I was told that Royal Caribbean did not give me the option of giving more. I was to accept these miserably low amounts. The only other option, besides not tipping at all (which, revoltingly, many guests choose) would be to scrounge up enough cash of my own—despite the fact the ship’s payment system is cashless and one of the ship’s ATMs has been broken the entire time.

“It’s not good that Royal Caribbean makes it so hard to tip these men more,” I told my Guest Services representative, a Spaniard. “These men work 16 hours a day, and they’re away from home for months at a time.”

She gave me a defeated smile. “Unfortunately, not everyone thinks the way you do,” she said. Which is probably why she said “Hold on a minute,” disappeared in back, and returned to tell me she bent rules to help me draw cash without a service fee so that I could properly tip these people.

So you see: As with everything, the story is murky. The cruise line does good things, and yet it cannot do enough, and it has no room for your own outreach efforts. The system is inflexible, as massive systems must be to operate predictably.

Which is why when you take a Royal Caribbean cruise, you should bring lots of extra cash, but don’t bother with bananas.

60 Responses to “Beggars denied at Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private paradise in Haiti”

  1. Emily in Chile

    To me one of the highlights of traveling is getting an idea of life in other places (realizing, of course, that 5 days somewhere can’t fully show me what life is really like anywhere) and hopefully better appreciating what I have and becoming more generous as a result. It would have been hard to continue to enjoy my unlimited buffet while looking at the fence keeping me from anything but a controlled adult theme park environment.

  2. Deidre Woollard

    Good post, I think that people on a cruise often want to be wrapped in a fantasy where real doesn’t impinge. There’s a dissociative nature to cruising, you visit places but aren’t really there…

  3. Robbie Rakestraw

    I was on the same cruise with you. We saw the men behind the fence and I noticed that the native workers on the cruise side were watching me closely as I looked past the wall. I was very aware of the fact that we were not seeing the “real” Haiti.

    We tipped our waiter and room attendant extra by putting cash in the envelopes.

    I have better pictures of the Cubans also if you are interested.

    • Jason Cochran

      Robbie, thanks for leaving a comment. I’m glad to see you had the same experiences that I had, and that you can affirm that you also had to circumvent Royal Caribbean’s miserly gratuity allowance by using cash. I’ll send you a message off-board and maybe I can put some of your images into my post about the raft of Cuban refugees.

  4. Ana Figueroa

    Really enjoyed your post, it touches on some
    important themes underlying the cruise industry
    that are too rarely discussed. I will always remember a press trip a decade ago, where we
    kayaked around Labadee as local children
    jumped into the water and swam to us offering
    shells and pleading for money. It was heartbreaking because of course we had no cash
    on us, having left valuables on shore. I always
    since then take extra cash on any cruise. You’d be shocked to hear some of my stories ! Good job on this Jason.

  5. Royal Caribbean Blog (@theRCLblog)

    I don’t think anyone feels for the plight of Haitains who are desperate for food and a better life. But at the end of the day, this is Haiti’s fault. Royal Caribbean sends the people in the area food and supplies in the form of charity, plus the fact they provide jobs to the people, who often run the excursions available such as parasailing.

    • Jason Cochran

      I completely agree that Haitian poverty is not Royal Caribbean’s fault but the fault of government corruption (not just by Haiti but also by that of the United States — see In fact, there is undeniable evidence that the cruise line’s involvement has done very positive things for that particular community. My objection, besides the sobering philosophical juxtaposition of loafing vacationers and struggling locals, is that the cruise line actively denies customers the ability to interact with the “real” Haiti even if they want to. There is certainly some sound security reasoning behind that segregation, and there are surely some economic factors, too. But in light of such pronounced wealth disparity, and considering the cruise line has taken some flak in the press for operating a luxury beach enclave in such a poor nation, it’s worth pointing out not only that this goes on but also that such interactions are forbidden.

  6. Ronn Lucas

    Ronn Lucas here (your ship’s ventriloquist!) I was at dinner at the Oasis Asian eatery, Izumi’s, when the ship glided to a stop. The captain thought a life raft was in the water but soon clarified that it was the refugees. Eventually, it was announced over the P.A. that the Cuban’s had accepted our offer of food and water but opted to sail away from us. (Thank God the ocean was flat, peaceful and calm that day.) When they crossed our bow and came into my view it hit me, hard, that I’m sitting down in a lux environment eating sushi and they’re paddling right in front of me trying to escape to a better life. Surreal – but powerfully sad. RCCL is overall a good and caring company. I firmly believe that RCCL did everything possible to bring these people aboard. But a Miami native we were sitting next to, said that our govt. in Fla. would just process them and send them back. The Cuban refugees knew that too. So they paddled away from us. I was left feeling helpless to act. I care, and I want to know what happened to them…

  7. ScottTaylorRealtor

    I suppose it’s great that RC goes to this island, though I always felt really guilty going there, especially on the last cruise as I was staring down at Labadee from the 17th floor on my Crown Loft Suite balcony looking down on Haiti. Like you, I wanted to do more than buy some local merchandise from the vendors. Don’t forget that you can always donate money to aid Haiti after your cruise. I donate to

  8. a2buckeye99 (@a2buckeye99)

    my family and i also went around the gratuity “recommendations” and slipped cash in our gratuity envelopes – our waiter went above and beyond to accommodate our large group of 14 and catered to the kids in our group (as well as the adults) and deserved more than a measly $4/day

  9. Marxist Chavizta

    Only a socialist workers revolution can really save hunger and extreme poverty in the nation of Haiti, as well as many other countries of this world. Hunger and poverty cannot be cured with foundations, with charities. Hunger and extreme poverty can only be cured with a class revolution. With the oppressed class of Haiti overthrowing their oppressor cleptocrats. But according to my reading of marxist philosophy. Capitalism will be overthrown first in the developed richest 20 nations of this world (The Big 20) and then spread to poorer nations.

  10. diogenepetion

    At last, the name of “Hispagnola” is longer used. CR never informed its passengers that “Labadee” was part of Haiti. They went to revive a word that was dead over 200 years ago. CR always says: we reach Labadee of “Hispagnola”. That means: we can make money of Haiti, but we cannot call its name. Christopher Columbus, after discovered the island (Haiti + Dominican Republic), called it “Hispagnola” which means “Little Spain”. Spain ceded the west part of the island (Haiti) to France and kept the east side (Dominican Republic) after it was defeated by the french army. The name of the colony became “Saint Domingue”. On Sunday January 1st, 1804 after humiliating the french army not far from Labadee, at “Vertières” , the black slaves proclaim their Independance. The first in the world, the second in the new world (America). Haiti has regained its old name. Because there is so much to see or visit tourists are kept away from that Haiti of great misery and great history. “Citadelle La Ferrière” built around 1810 by king Henry Christophe, a former slave who fought in Savannah for the United States Independance, stood still and is about 20 miles from Labadee.

  11. Terri

    I’m so disappointed to think that cruise ship passengers are not allowed out of the fenced area into Haiti??? I always try to do some kind of humanitarian efforts on a trip and planned to collect clothing, school supplies etc and bring them into Haiti. In addition I had hoped to visit the Citadel. This will not be allowed?!?!?!

  12. Robsterling

    Great post. I just got back from that cruise and wanted to relieve my post-cruise guilt by doing something for the people of Haiti.
    @ScottTaylorRealtor – thanks for the link.

  13. toni

    My family did a 7-day cruise to Western Caribbean last Summer, which left me quite saddened. We did get off in Falmouth, Jamaica and looked things over ourselves. The cruise and the surrounding locals are indeed worlds apart. It was tough for me for the remainder of our trip to continue to truly enjoy the cruise and the endless buffet, knowing that just outside the vessel are many impoverished folks dying to be thrown my left-overs. The imageries left me numb for days. I am not sure how soon I would be psychologically able to cruise again. I encourage every tourist to do whatever you can to help folks you meet/run into, no matter how small. In hope that someday, the liners would fall on some better creative ways of allowing passengers more freedom to help as they see fit.

  14. Haitian


  15. William

    Hello Everyone

    I am from Haiti and I will be the first to say that Haiti does not need anyone’s pity. I have been reading posts about Haiti for over two decades and the perception about Haiti hasn’t changed at all. Haiti is not for everyone but where is? What country is immune from poverty? In the case of Haiti, poverty has been the only focused but there’s a reason behind. Could it be that poverty has become a commodity that many sought after? Who really benefits from it and why? It doesn’t matter how we look it, the conclusion will always be the same, Poverty is sadly a lucrative business for those who invested in it.
    Traveling is a very subjective matter in my opinion, there’s no real instrument that exists today to determine what’s makes a destination worth visiting. Regardless of the what the expert say about any place, each individual will see and experience it differently. Since this is case, Haiti is the best place in the world for those that would cherish it, those that appreciate what it has to offer. One of the downside of traveling to Haiti in the past was the lack of qualified Tour ambassadors to welcome and guide the visitors to places that they will appreciate. If you are a corporate journalists or missionary, your interest is to report on poverty or helping the poor, that’s exactly what you are going to do. On the other hand, if you an intellectual traveler, your interest is to learn and explore a new culture, that is exactly what you are going to find and plenty of it. The only question is, are you an intellectual traveler or an ignorant by-stander, a missionary worker or corporate journalist? Whatever you chose to be, I encourage you all to visit this and and support something that would make the situation better not the other way around. Thank you for sharing your opinions. Thank you Mr Jason Cochran

  16. Naira

    Hi everyone, I’m from Italy and I have been two times in Labadee. First time in 2002, last time october 2013. I found Royal Caribbean’s private resort in Haiti deeply changed after 11 years. But one thing did not change at all: people secretly asking for FOOD!
    So… Sorry but it’s not a question of pity, or wanting to be intelectual traveler, or missionary or whatever!
    There are people ASKING FOR FOOD, and that’s a FACT not an opinion, and no one can deny it.
    There are people asking for food while Royal’s cruiseship stuffed of all good things, discharging pharaonic all-you-can-eat buffet all around beach facilities almost every day. And I bet there are tons of leftover food every time…. But not a piece of meat or a banana for starving people. And please no one should try to tell me that RCCL helps and feeds them…if it were so I would’nt find people asking for food.
    An advice for RCCL: you can do more for that people and, if you’re wise, don’t even think to try to hide them beyond the fences. Remember that, through history, fences have always been meant to be broken.
    The most famous RCCL advertising is ” the sea is calling, answer it royally!”
    Now that’s my advertising for RCCL: ” haitian hungry people are calling, answer them royally”…because currently you’ re not acting royally…

  17. Anthony V

    Good post , interesting. I been to labadee several times and enjoyed the place for relaxing. I did give food to the people on the other side of the fence. The poverty has nothing to do with the cruise line and if you feel that way don’t go , simple as that . If you don’t know that labadee is Haiti then your an idiot.if you want to venture out into other parts of Haiti then book a flight and stay a a cruiser I know 100% they are looking for us pas angers to spend money on board or on there private island and places like labadee . At the same time I am sure some of this money finds it’s way into the peoples hands outside of labadee .

  18. CableFlame

    Thank you for this. I’ve had enough trouble with the idea of even going on a cruise (a specific one) when I know other people don’t have enough here at home(and, granted, I’ve been that person, but will manage to scrimp and save for this), but when I found out Labadee was on the itinerary, I had to find out more. When I found out it’s one of these private paradise areas and we can’t go to the real Haiti… we party while people are suffering and dying… it made me sick. I knew there had to be SOME way I could help, because I can’t, in good conscience, have fun at the expense of the long suffering Haitian people.

    Do you have any other tips on helping while at Labadee or on helping Haiti in general? I know there’s a lot of corruption when it comes to charities and I want to make sure any money or goods I give really does help people out.

  19. Martin Solomon

    Thank you for post. I have had thousands of Haitian clients living in FL, NY and other states. I had assumed I could (carefully by relying on a US client from the nearby Cap-Haitien) rent a taxi (really a tap-tap AKA jitney) and visit Citadel. You indicate that even a trip to the close town of Labadee is prohibited. So if I choose RCCL , it will not be for this port-of-call.

    I am not criticizing RCCL. People who know Haiti recognize severe health, crime and safety risks. So RCCL has some good reasons to limit travel.

    As another poster said, to see the real Haiti, fly and spend time with knowledgeable Haitians.

    Even the ban of begging makes some sense. If a few people are allowed, it may build to the point where it would damage the “ambience” for the cruisers. RCCL can not allow this. Compare this to the free-for-all that used to face arrivals at the airport in Port-au-Prince. I understand it was terrible, with many people grabbing bags and screaming for travelers to use their transport. Now I hear the airport has imposed order, and the traveler has a smoother arrival.

    I do not mean to seem insensitive to the needs of poor Haitians. I am not. I have donated to build a church in Latortue, and have wired food and money to Haiti via CAM, as well as making donations to Haitian families in the U.S. But allowing begging does not seem appropriate in this context.

  20. my name is Berlange

    You know why all those comments because of all those stupid government we always have’d selfishness. I think one day we will own Labadee back peace me born lagonave in the middle of sea Caribbean has alway be Haitian….?

  21. Fermi

    “Two years ago, I took a cruise that spent one day at Labadee. For me, IT WAS TERRIBLE. Of course the tourists have a great time and enjoy the sea, the cruise food, and the controlled sellers.

    Well, my family and I, looked up further away from this comfort zone (behind all of the tourists eating and/or throwing a lot of non-finished food away) and saw behind a fence, haitian people jumping and waving their arms. At first I thought they were waving at us as a way of saying hello with excitement, but then I thought about the fence and I looked at their hands and they had empty plates on them and almost no clothes on. They were kind of hiding, and we saw they were asking for food.

    We didn´t know what to do, of course none of the cruise people would do anything, I don´t even think anyone else noticed them. We decided to help them on anyway we could so we took a lot of apples, bananas, and oranges and put them inside our backpacks.
    Some of the members of my own family (aunts, cousins) didn´t agree with us, they just wanted to tell the police. (that would totally have worked to scare them away and help in no way at all).
    While my mother, sister and I distracted the police and guards by asking them for information, my dad and brother went all the way up to the fence with the food. They began throwing the food above the fence to the Haitian (that was the only way to achieve it). They saw women, children, men, begging for more food. A woman took my brother´s arm (trough the fence) and told him with tears on her eyes “Thank you little boy!! Thank you!!”
    I believe we made our little action and contributed a little bit ant they were SO grateful.

    I´m against What Labadee has become. I´m against taking away Haitian territory and forcing people move away from their own land.

    I believe our part of the world having the privilege to live in wealth has a great responsibility to those who suffer hunger and whose future is uncertain…?”

  22. Monica Robert

    Hi..i am an american…i have visited Haiti in December…never would i “cruise”i fly into port au prince then go to the hatien airport to cap haitien…i love the people..the food..the country…all beautiful..i rode a horse up to the Citidel…magnificent…meet alot of people..i am going back in a few days for two haitian..he is kind and so sweet..they are a very rich people…in heart and soul…something that money cannot buy…i am white..a RN ..i have never been excepted or loved as much as when i am there…Do not think i am ugly…i am far from that…but i am intelligent too…i am happy..i do as i please..i enjoy the finer things in life..and Haiti…is one of them…in 5 days i return…cant wait…

  23. Mike Creedon

    Many of these comments are being offered by folks that are seemingly above- average in intelligence and education level. Which leads me to think of this proverb: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day – teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime. The gift of education keeps on giving long after the memory of a handout meal is gone.

  24. Levi Izrael

    Hi everyone, WOW(LOL)!! Nuff respects to all the open minded people who don’t believe everything they hear about My wonderful country Haiti.. I’d like to thank and welcome all tourist who wish to visit the island don’t be scared we are people too(even though some people no matter where you travel try to take advantage of others) too start off my name is Levi and I’ve been living in Haiti for a little under 3yrs, I came back home after being in the United states for 32yrs to help my father who travelled back and forth to salvage his A.C Business that he had in the states(Ft.Lauderdale) to be honest I love it here it just that its been very hard for me to work and live like I use too in the united states(eastcoast) I’ve suffered from TB and the Doctors say that I’ve contracted HIV(WOW!!) But in spite of it all I managed to reach out to my distant family who I never know while living in America, some times too be honest treat me like a stranger but most of them are very kind.. After discovering that my father really doesn’t wish to be or around me cause of my “FREE WORLD AMERICAN So Called “RASTA AFRICAN VIEWS” my life has been hell, I came here at 285LBS and now I’m at 141LBS due to always being sick, I. Tried to find work that can help me fight and beat my illness. Need less to say I suffer! I try to look for work as a translator to help ENGLISH speaking tourist feel comfortable while visiting the beautiful island but!! Yeah there’s a but!! Nothing it seems the locals don’t really want to help me due to them thinking cause I came from America I have Money(FUNNY HUH LOL) so if anyone reads this, come to Haiti I’ll be happy to show you around Privately and help you learn the system here… My Number is:001509-738-5961 and I’m on FACEBOOK:LEVIIZRAEL or E-mail me LET’S NETWORK(There’s$$$out here).. I Love you all, RESPECT YOURSELF AND OTHERS and GOD will always look out for you”Know matter where you travel”

  25. Lizzy

    Hi Jason,
    As unfortunate as it may seem, the cruise line is doing the right thing to keep beggars out and not allow travel from the cruise ship into an area other than the Labadee Beach area. I learned the hard way over many trips to Haiti, not to the beaches of Labadee, that “giving” food away, or a dollar bill is, in general, a mistake. The beggar that is coming to the cruise beach needs to know there isn’t a meal here, and get busy with merchandising a sellable good or skill to his community to make a living and feed himself. I encourage you to fly into Port-au-Prince and visit Haiti. It is an interesting place. You may develop a love with the people and land, as many Americans have for Haiti.

  26. Julia

    I will be taking a Royal Caribbean cruise which stops in Labadee this spring. I asked the cruise line if there was any way I could access a nearby village (so that my kids and I could visit an orphanage). They said no. I don’t make it out to that part of the world often. I live in California. I wish there was some way we could do something to help while there.

  27. Michael R.

    I have been to Labadee probably 10 times or so. The best way to help the people of Haiti is to buy from them at the markets, not to throw them food over the fence. This will not end well for the person on the other side of the fence and it becomes a safety issue for them and others involved. I have purchased art at Labadee and while my co-passengers think it’s cool to spend $15 and get wonderful detailed carvings and paintings, I find it criminal. There’s such a thing as a good buy and then there’s taking advantage of someone’s situation. So go buy some art, pay a fair price for it and enjoy the HUGE smiles in return. That’s how you help people, don’t dehumanize them with bananas. As for tipping on board, just bring cash with you and again enjoy the smiles. And finally be aware that while you’re vacation on this beautiful boat, most people around you are working their back ends off and sending their money home. Feel blessed that you’re a passenger and don’t be a jerk to crew.

  28. Ever

    It was nice to read your post ant the comments. I am going to Haiti, not in a cruise to Labadee but to an art-education projetc in Petit Goave. Certainly I will have a different experience than some relatives of mine who are going in a cruise by Royal Caribbean with a stop a Labadee. We are from Brazil, there are many “Labadees” like places around here … Sad.

  29. Gerald Thomas

    Dear All

    I have read with interest a number of the postings on the subject of Labadee. I have been there once and I also know a Norwegian Captain from one of the RCCL vessels.
    When I was there in 2005, My wife and an aquaintance from France wanted to give food to the local people playing in the steel band. They went to inquire from RCCL staff whether this was allowed and was informed that all food presented at Labadee comes off the visiting ship and RCCL policy does not allow food to be taken back onboard so anything left over (huge amounts of food every day) is distributed ashore. The Captain I know has confirmed this.

  30. frankel

    Hallo every I’m from haiti now in the USA feed some one is wrong
    Example in my yard it’s an outside cat one day decided to have him some food ,do you dknow that cat depend on me tnow to feed him every day ,but how did he survive before? Fine.not all but of the there are have a better life than you think,but by you keep saying the word poor damage Haitian people a lot that word not helping us at there are many ways to help without hand them some food or call my beautiful place poor we are not that poor that I heard this word poor it’s to make us inferior it’s bad to say anyhow you looking at it please please please help without critic or don’t help at all thanks

  31. frankel

    Let’s all of us starting by saying some positive for haiti I went home last year I have never seen so many food in my entire time leaving in the US at the Haitian market place at night there is a nice brease from the Caribbean sea while you drinking or laying down to relax you travel to a place call camel they have a nice water beach for you or family ilove haiti my birth place don’t like no one turn it down with negative words

  32. RAWMLi


  33. TJ

    I find it comical how some think it’s unfortunate that cruise passengers cannot interact with the Haitians. If you’re so concerned about that there are dozens of relief organizations that would love to have you help them out in person there, among the people. They are ready and prepared for you to volunteer. Having clueless, credit card and money laden passengers wading into a huge population of desperate people would be a really bad idea. Also, those commenting that they were able to circumvent RCCL’s tipping policies and give their waiters and cabin steward more money on their own is really pathetic. RCCL instituted the prepay option because a disturbing number of passengers would leave them nothing! Zip! $0! Envelopes have always been provided and the cruise line encourages additional tipping for exceptional service. So, I say go the island, enjoy yourself and take a stroll over to the local market place and spend generously, even if you don’t need everything you buy. It’s not necessary to throw bananas over a wall like you’re feeding animals. Then after you get home, login to the Red Cross website and donate to the Haitian relief fund. Enough said.

  34. Ron Becker

    I agree with the need to further help Hatians. The cruise industry should do more. But rather get bogged down in what others should or should not do recognize that there are solid, proven organizations out there who are already doing massive amounts of relief aiD. I submit the following to those who really care about helping these people:

    World Vision (
    Samaritans Purse (
    Forward Edge International (

    We all can help if we will.

  35. PD

    Very interesting post and comments. I live in South Florida and have several Haitian friends. They are really nice people and very hard working. They are very smart and appreciate the opportunities they have in our country. I’m really glad to have them as friends. I hope, as we all do, that over time maybe the U.S., or some international body, can use its influences to help root out the corruption in Haiti and cause real change in the country. They deserve our support in a real meaningful way…not just our pity and our dollars.

  36. Tatiana

    I agree with help to Haiti. Rccl going to Haiti create jobs for local people . It is a beautiful island and people visit there every year . I went to Labadee for a first time in 1993 and the only employees working were the crumembers . As rccl growing over the years it’s also help lots of local families. As you mentioned earlier your dinning room waiter got $3.75 per day , but you forget to multiple that amount by number of passages on his station . As well no living expenses and income tax .

  37. Teri

    Your heart is in the right place with wanting to give the beggars food, but you’re not responding to the situation properly and safely. Did you notice that the barbed wire has been removed on part of that fence, pulled out toward the beggar? If enough people feed these beggars than more will come. As with all humans in the end chaos would take over and the hungry would storm the peninsula. Hunger is a huge motivator, people could be killed. (It was probably a bad idea for the cruise line to set up a ‘paradise’ in this area where so many are wanting.)

    With tipping people extra, it’s best to go back to the old way of tipping. Put together an envelope with money in it and give it to the people you want to before you leave the ship. I will point out, though, that at $2.15 a day and serving maybe 50 people your server is indeed making more than $100 per day in tips. On a 10 day cruise that’s $1,000. There aren’t many restaurant waiters that make those kinds of tips.

  38. Tim

    Wonderful acount, of the sad truth.
    But I will always love visiting La,badie(Cap Hatian).
    And I will get that young man some fruit on my next trip there. It will be fun to try. I mean, just how many “Labadoozies”. Can you drink.

  39. Amanda

    I really enjoyed the sincerity of your article. My husband, a Haitian native has always told me stories of the beautiful Labidee and could not wait to bring our family. Imagine his surprise when visiting family in Cap’ and realizing that Haitians were no longer allowed. We would love the opportunity to help you experience the real Haiti. Haiti outside of the gates and barbed wire fences and inside the lives of true Haitians.

  40. Marie

    I just learned that Norwegian Cruise line discontinued going to Haiti years ago for that same reason:Haiti is too poor. Travelers do not want to Be burdened by looking at poor people when on vacation

  41. diane

    Jason, thank you for telling your story. I am a seasoned traveler and actually got to go into town back in 1995. My fiancé, now husband, and I went to Labadee with Royal Caribbean. Being young and curious I wanted to see the real Haiti so I made my way into town. Back then you could go. I walked about 5ms and came upon a village. There was a white man there with the locals. He asked why I was there and I told him I want to see the real Haiti. The locals were shoving things into my hands begging me to buy them. He said for me to go back. I was at the same time happy and upset to see it. When I did go back I couldn’t even eat the food at the bbq as the Haitians were staring at us through a fence. I felt absolutely horrible. There was also a man with a emaciated dog. One of the cruise ship passengers told him that he needs to feed him. I thought, are you insane? He’ll probably be dinner tonight. This just goes to show the disparity between the societies. I also experienced this in East Germany right before the wall came down. Even though I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, I will never forget what I saw. People begging to buy rotted meat I an outdoor market. I am so glad I saw this though. It has made me more humble and thankful for what I have. I don’t know the answer, I made sure I purchased as many items as I would actually use and tipped as well. My thought going into my next cruise is that I do plan on tipping our server/room steward more than the mandatory tip. It is my vacation, yes but I am an empathetic person and have also been poor in parts of my life so I know I will feel better sharing however many dollars I can.

  42. Jen

    I have to echo some previous comments. Royal Caribbean doesn’t really have many choices. They could discontinue going to Labadee, but that would affect the vendors and employees working there. But by staying some people question if they are doing much good for Haitians.

    Haitians are not zoo animals. Tourists should not be allowed to go “see the real Haiti”. These are real people in miserable circumstances and unless you’re there volunteering, building homes and feeding people, there is no reason to go outside of Labadee. Even if YOU are “seasoned” enough to go to the real Haiti, most people are far too spoiled and would exploit these people.

    And feeding people will only do one thing – bring more to the fences. It’s sad, but true.

    What they could do is maybe ask people to donate to Haiti. Maybe when you board the cruise, you could offer money or canned goods. But the problem is the country is corrupt and even if you did donate it may not go to the right people. Pretty much it’s just a no win situation.

    • Jason Cochran (@JasCochran)

      Many of us travel to meet local people and understand other cultures. That does not mean travelers look upon the people they meet as “zoo animals.” Meeting other people when you are in their home country is not exploitative.

  43. Anita

    I wasn’t able to read all comments but I do live about 5 minutes away from Labadee. I’m Haitian/American and moved back to haiti about 5 years ago after living my entire life in The states. So I think I can understand both sides of the ‘fence’ a little.
    Like Jen said… It’s sad but true you feed one begger and others will pick up on it and a lot will come and will ruin a positive vacationing experience for many. (Which is usually the reason people come on a cruise.)
    If you would like to see the real Haiti there are many great hotels in Cap haiti (the city where Labadee is actually located.) there is Cormier Beach club which sits right on the beach, is safe, and will allow you to see the real Haiti.
    That being said Royal Carribbean is a vital part of our economy here in cap. If something happens and they cannot come for a week or 2 there is practically a drought for EVERYONE! Rich and poor are affected when the cruise does not dock. Think about it. A local who is cleaning the bathroom receives, let’s say, $20 usd per day. Where does she go spend it? She goes into her neighborhood and buys from her local boutiques, local haitian vendors etc. and there are hundreds of employees making that income per day which greatly stimulates the economy here. $20 is a lot for a Local to make in a day. And that is their reality when they work for the cruise line.
    Also lets say you go on an excursion run by a local ‘Rich man’. This excursion has employees who not only get paid well but also receive $25-$75 tips per day. That’s excellent and it is money that is directly entering our economy.
    If we didn’t have Royal Carribbean here a lot of us would be screwed! Things literally come to a stand still.
    My point is go to Labadee. that in itself helps us here. Tip the locals that are Royal Carribbean employees. That money will enter into our economy directly. I’m sorry but skip the bananas. (He probably didn’t want a banana anyways… Our local bananas are insanely better and we have an abundance of bananas.)
    And if you do want to see the real Haiti and help… Then take a flight, book a hotel and your help will be received gratefully!

  44. Mary Nash

    Haiti is a beautiful country that is undeniable in need of help. If you want to help, you might consider donating to the work doctors and nurses are doing to prevent and treat breast and cervical cancer in women caught up in the storm of poverty. If you really want to help contact Equal Health International at Equal Questions on health issues in Haiti may be sent to Equal Health, 1431 South Ocean Blvd, Pompano Beach, Fl 33062.

  45. Larry R

    Will be taking RCCL cruise in Aug. 2016. Why are people feeling guilty about the conditions in Haiti. Why do you think you can throw some apples or bananas over a fence and cure hunger. I have been on excursions from other cruises and many are just a put on or show for the passengers. If you need to make yourself feel better about the conditions in Haiti get involved in a REAL organization that helps financially. Make your Donation Take your Tax deduction and pat yourself on your back. I live in Florida and there are MANY Haitian Families that need help. There are many Hispanic, Caribbean Island families and there are PLENTY of Homeless and Poor Caucasians that need help too. Go to a mission go to a food bank, soup kitchen plenty of ways you can HELP RIGHT HERE IN AMERICA.


    When I take a cruise, I am on vacation. If you want to help an impoverished nation, DON’T GO ON A CRUISE. Spend YOUR money any way you want. I expect that almost every post to this site will GIVE, GIVE, GIVE all of their extra income and possessions to help end poverty. Anything less and you have personally failed.

    As far as socialism ending poverty, when and where has that ever worked. If you steal the wealth of a business, corporation, individual or country, you will only have short term success. You can only steal wealth once, then the makers will join the takers of society and there will be no wealth to steal.

    If you force RCCL to leave Haiti, then they will take me to other destinations of my choosing. Remember, I choose to book a cruise. I have several other vacation options that compete with cruising. Sure, RCCL makes money from this venture, but there are several hundred local that also benefit immediately, as well as those on the government dole.

  47. Rusty Soul

    Helping the people at the fence will only make it worse. More will come and the killing robbing and HIV will just spread. Fact is that many beggars are just the dregs of the people, and would kill or rape you for anything they can get. Trust the aid of organizations that do help to see that it is fair and doing the job mission right. The corruption is so bad and the help you give will just make them look for more free help, like welfare is in America. They will never learn to do anything else but beg for more and more till you are taking care of them. WELFARE IS NO HELP AT ALL!

  48. Trish

    Read what Jen says on Feb 11, 2016. I have met many well intentioned people and whether they know it or not they treat these people like zoo animals. All well and good to know other cultures but these people are all basicly the same as us. The exception is they are horribly poor. They do not want to be stared at or pitied. Giving them a few dollars will get them though a few days but what after that. You want to make things better , find out what you can do to really make a difference or better yet how we can sponsor them into your country. The cruise lines do give them some jobs. Don’t try and take that away

  49. Nicole

    Me and my family went last year… now there are more guards and etc. the same thing happened that guy was wearing the same shirt with his friends and there were also people who noticed only 5 including my cousin went up to offer food. Since there were more guards this was very hard to do I couldn’t enjoy my time in Haiti because I was too paranoid and kept thinking about them.. I’m glad there were also people in the past that went up to offer food 🙂 and asked about their well being.

  50. nicole

    I forgot to mention this but Haiti has the CLEAREST WATER ever!! I’m born and raised in NY so all the beaches are artifical and dirty… i HOPE the beaches in Haiti don’t get polluted by tourists.

  51. Becky


    Thank you for the post. Just so you know you are not the only human who is not self absorbed. Your post seemed to indicate you are the only one who was disturbed by what was really happening behind the fence. We saw the same hungry people and went a step beyond what you did. We were stopped by the armed military guards who were there to keep the people “out”
    As RC does not care about or help the masses, the best thing you can do is to visit outside of the luxurious cruise ship.