Schadenfreude is good for business: Swine flu reroutes cruise ships to Catalina

Ask any of the T-shirt or restaurant vendors on Santa Catalina Island what they think of Mexico's swine flu scare. You might just get the high-five sign.

Five of the world's largest cruise lines suspended all stops in Mexico last week due to fears of swine flu, according to various media reports. While this does no good to the battered Mexican economy, it was cause for rejoicing in Catalina, whose tourist economy has tanked this year.

Because the cruise lines will be avoiding ports of call throughout Mexico, they will either dock at San Diego or Catalina, 20 miles off the coast from Los Angeles. Through May, the island expects to see 25 cruise ships dock at Avalon, triple its normal number for the month, according to the Catalina Chamber of Commerce. Each cruise ship can dump more than 2,000 hungry, thirsty, souvenir-seeking tourists onto Avalon's scenic streets. Businesses are jubilant. Some have even hung banners welcoming the passengers.

Once a playground for the rich and famous of Hollywood, Catalina is a popular family getaway for Southern Californians, another world just a one-hour ferry ride away. My family goes every summer. Although the swine flu scare is already diminishing and the cruise ships will soon be back to their original Mexican destinations, the bump in tourist dollars is sure to help keep Catalina thrumming through the summer. It's gonna be one crazy Memorial Day Weekend on the Island. Good luck snagging the coveted window seat at Luau Larry's.

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