One benefit? When buildings are restored, they also can be remodeled and updated. Such is the case with Fort Young Hotel on Victoria Street, long the dominant hostelry in the island’s capital of Roseau.
When I was there just about exactly one year after the hurricane, work was well underway. More than half of the hotel’s 72 rooms had been restored and reopened, as had the waterfront restaurant, small outdoor pool, and poolside bar. (By now, all the storm damage should be completely repaired.)
As its name implies, the hotel was once a military facility: Fort Young. Built in 1770 during British occupation and named for the first British governor, William Young, it later served as the headquarters of the Dominican police force. It was converted to a hotel in 1964, and has been renovated numerous times since then — including after Hurricane David in 1979, just a year after Dominica achieved independence.
The mountainous island nation of about 74,000 is located in the eastern Caribbean between Guadeloupe and Martinique. It’s part of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago. The name Dominica (pronounced do-mi-NEEK-ah ) comes from its sighting on a Sunday in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. (The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti, is a much larger — and unrelated — country 624 miles to the northwest.)
Most of the remains of Fort Young are gone, except for some of the original flagstone walkways and the two cannons flanking the hotel entrance. When I was there, the restaurant in operation was on the covered terrace between the temporary “front door” and the pool area.
My room in the Fort Young Hotel had a balcony overlooking the Caribbean (the sound of the waves crashing on the rocky shore two floors below me was evident, even with the patio door closed). There’s complementary WiFi, a flat-screen television, coffee/tea maker, mini refrigerator, and hair dryer. It had an overhead fan, but also air-conditioning.
The well-lit bathroom had a combined tub-shower and marble countertops.
Dominica, with its rugged landscape and lush foliage, positions itself as the “Nature Island” — and that’s what took a hit in the most recent hurricane, which not only damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the structures, but also toppled some of the oldest trees in the tropical forests and turned slow-moving rivers into raging torrents.
As we drove an hour from the airport (in the northeast of the island) to Roseau (in the southwest) dodging washed out portions of the roadway, the landscape was marked with denuded trees: the only green coming from the tropical vines rapidly growing up the trunks.
Many tourist draws were still closed or open-but-damaged. The hike to Middleham Falls, posted to take 45 minutes each way, turned into an arduous three-hour round-trip journey for our group, which waded through ankle-deep streams and climbed over boulders on the still-hurricane-damaged path.
A major reason for my visit to the island, the Kalinago Territory Experience (a living history park in the middle of a reserve set aside for descendants of the indigenous Carib peoples of Dominica) was still closed to visitors due to ongoing repairs (the statue is a funerary sculpture of a Kalinago chief). In addition, our group’s arrival on Dominica was delayed a day by torrential rainstorms, causing a shortened itinerary.
Another hassle: you’ll need transportation to get around the island. If you rent a car, keep in mind that you’ll be driving on the left on narrow roads that are suddenly just rocks and rubble instead of pavement. It’s easier to hire a driver by the day — especially as the signposting is somewhat sketchy.
(Photos courtesy of Fort Young Hotel and by Susan McKee, who was a guest of Discover Dominica during her visit)