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Isaac forces some South Florida attractions to close

Dr. Jason Chatfield’s tropical weather checklist isn’t like the rest of ours.

Stocking up on supplies and examining buildings for any trouble spots sound familiar enough. But then there are other considerations, like building a corral for the kangaroos and training the macaws to go to their “safe place.’’

“We do our best to not make it any more stressful than it has to be on the animals,” said Chatfield, staff veterinarian and general curator of Jungle Island, an attraction on Miami’s Watson Island that houses more than 300 creatures.

Like the rest of South Florida’s key tourism industry, Chatfield springs into action when a weather system such as Tropical Storm Isaac starts menacing the region.

As of Saturday afternoon, Miami-Dade was under a hurricane watch and Broward under a tropical storm warning, with rain already coming down on Saturday and nastier weather expected Sunday and Monday.

Cruise lines changed itineraries for several ships, mostly shifting the schedule of port stops.

But Royal Caribbean International announced Saturday that Allure of the Seas, which was scheduled to leave Port Everglades Sunday, would instead sail on Tuesday. Passengers were asked not to arrive at the Fort Lauderdale port until 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. The itinerary of the 5,400-passenger ship will be adjusted because of the shorter sailing.

Carnival Valor, which was supposed to return from an eight-day cruise on Sunday, will have to stay at sea because PortMiami will be closed Sunday. The port is scheduled to reopen by noon Monday if the weather allows. The ship’s next trip will leave Miami on Monday instead of Sunday as a five-day voyage rather than six-day trip; a stop in Key West has been canceled.

Another Carnival ship, Legend, was supposed to return to the Port of Tampa Sunday. The port is expected to close by 3 a.m. Sunday, however, so the ship is docking instead at Port Canaveral and will transport disembarking passengers to Tampa by bus. Carnival Cruise Lines is also shuttling the next batch of passengers from Tampa to Port Canaveral and will sail the scheduled trip from there at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport reported 10 canceled flights, six of them to and from Haiti. Miami International Airport was showing five cancellations Saturday afternoon to or from areas affected by the storm.

A slew of attractions announced that they would close for all or part of Saturday and all day Sunday, including: Jungle Island, Zoo Miami, Miami Seaquarium, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, HistoryMiami and Miami Art Museum.

Friday, workers at Zoo Miami were trimming trees and checking shutters, and employees at Miami Seaquarium were under instruction to get ready to kick hurricane plans into gear. At Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, staffers covered historic stained glass doors with a screen system that the museum adopted after Hurricane Wilma.

“Because we went through Andrew...and we suffered quite a bit of damage from Hurricane Wilma, I can tell you that we take it very seriously,” said marketing director Holly Blount.

The Florida Keys, under a hurricane warning, urged tourists to leave if they had a way to do so by Saturday night. Conditions were expected to worsen by early Sunday morning.

Some visitors to the Florida Keys tried to pack in some last minute fun Friday before leaving Saturday to try to avoid the storm.

At the Holiday Isle Raw Bar in Islamorada, honeymooners Brian and Erin Moore from Las Vegas were having a beer while watching Jet Skis roar past. They said they were changing their plans slightly due to the storm, taking a side trip to Miami for the weekend before driving down to Key West.

“We aren’t really scared, but we wanted to try to avoid the rain,” said Erin Moore, who now will be spending Saturday night on South Beach instead of Duval Street.

In Miami-Dade and Broward, visitors bureaus prepared to set up in county emergency operations centers and help hotels in evacuation zones find places inland where they could send guests if necessary.

Broward tourism chief Nicki Grossman said about 8,300 people who are booked in hotels for meetings or sporting events would need to be moved in case an evacuation were ordered. Most often, she said, tourists go home early rather than move to safer hotels or shelters.

No sporting events, meetings or trade shows had canceled the plans in Broward as of Friday.

“People are very sophisticated now about how they watch hurricanes and storms,” Grossman said. “Just like we do, they wait until they have to make a decision.”

There were no reported cancellations from groups booked for events in Miami-Dade hotels either — though the storm’s early uncertainty provided some moments of panic.

Marina Pavlov, president and CEO of the Miami Lakes-based Florida Association of Nonprofit Organizations, said the group has taken part in many phone calls about its annual conference, which starts late Sunday with a training session at the Deauville Beach Resort in Miami Beach. Pavlov was hoping the main event, which starts Monday, would draw as many as 200 people from South Florida and elsewhere in the state.

“It will be raining,” she said. But the conference will go on, Pavlov said. She’s making sure the association’s website carries that message — and says some portions will be available online for people who can’t make it. If the storm were to take an unexpected turn to hit Miami-Dade, she said the event would be rescheduled.

The group has been discussing the possibility of a hurricane since the beginning of the year, when the organization decided to book in late August during a period when storms can be busy.

“We’re trying to do everything with less costs; that’s one of the things that nonprofits do,” she said. “Offseason, it’s easier to negotiate.”

The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau has been participating in updates at the county’s EOC and said the drill, by now, is down pat.

“Always good to have a little practice,” said William Talbert III, the bureau’s president and CEO.

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