On a recent sailing from New Orleans to Cozumel, Mexico, Carnival Triumph passenger 44-year-old Juwanna Brooks fell from her stateroom balcony to her death. Could this tragedy have been prevented? How safe are cruises, and what steps do cruise lines take to keep you safe?
While on a cruise, you need to remember that you’re in an enclosed situation on a floating “island” with thousands of strangers. Think of it as living in a small city, and don’t allow your common sense to take a holiday. Things can, and do, go wrong, from dangerous situations on the ship itself to unsafe ports. Your best protection is to depend on yourself, not the ship, to keep you safe.
Before you book:
Check your ship’s record for health inspections. What you discover may influence your choice of cruise lines or particular ships. (Go here to see the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program)
For instance, Carnival’s Triumph, the same ship that was the setting for the Juwanna Brooks tragedy, had recently failed a health inspection in November, falling eight points below a passing grade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same ship was the scene of a 2013 engine fire that left it with no power or plumbing for five days, flooding the ship with sewage.
In fact, in 2017, more cruise ships failed their safety inspections than in the entire past decade. Carnival headed the list with five ships, and another Carnival ship failed a January inspection.
Failed health inspections can lead to anything from food poisoning to spreading viruses like the norovirus — the “cruise ship” stomach virus that’s spread through physical contact (tight spaces on ships are perfect for this virus). Health violations can include improperly stored food as well as ill crew members working despite having symptoms of gastrointestinal illness. Recently, both Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas and Princess Cruise Line’s Sun Princess made news due to outbreaks of norovirus.
In addition, you might want to check and see if your cruise ship not only has areas dispensing sanitizing gels before entering dining areas, but has crew members who encourage — or insist — that guests sanitize their hands, especially before eating at buffets where their hands touch serving utensils.
Safety on the ship:
Once on board, you will be required to attend a mandatory safety drill. Pay attention. You need to know where to “muster” if you have to abandon ship, and if nothing else, the drill will show you how to use the ship’s life jackets.
Do you see people fighting? Report it. According to news reports, passengers said Juwanna Brooks was arguing with her husband in the dining room, and they had to be escorted out by security shortly before she went overboard. Unruly people can be dangerous to themselves and to those around them. (Carnival did not return Newsmax calls requesting comment on the incident.)
Don’t overindulge in alcohol. Just like on shore, people sometimes overindulge. It may even be worse on cruise ships, most of which offer alcoholic packages at around $50 a day. One of the best ways to make sure you don’t overindulge is to skip the drinks packages — which may allow 15 alcoholic drinks during a 24-hour period! — and buy them separately.
You don’t want to drink just to “break even” on a package. You’re on vacation, but you don’t want to end up so buzzed that your entire cruise is an alcoholic blur. In addition, most “man overboard” events appear to be connected with alcohol, probably beginning with “Hold my drink and watch this.”
Watch your step. Floors may be wet (after all, you’re on the water), so it’s easier to slip and fall. The ship’s movement can also make walking more difficult, especially up and down stairs, so use handrails when possible.
Keep your room safe. Lock your door when you leave, including the door to your balcony, and use the peephole before opening the door to answer a knock.
Use common sense. The same rules about strangers apply on the sea as on land: Don’t accept a poured drink from a stranger, and don’t allow a stranger to escort you back to your room.
Safety on shore:
With terrorism in some countries and gang violence in others, you must consider safety off the ship that goes beyond keeping your valuables out of the reach of pickpockets.
First, keep aware of State Department warnings. (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html). Several countries, including Libya, have been dropped from cruise line itineraries since 2010 due to fear of terrorism, and most cruise lines have cancelled stops in Tunisia. Egyptian and Israeli ports are added and dropped depending on government warnings, and many cruise companies have cancelled stops in Turkey.
Back in August, the State Department issued an update to its Mexico travel warning that added the popular cruise ports of Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Cancun, and Tulum on Mexico’s eastern coast to a previous warning that included many areas of Mexico’s Pacific coast, including Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.
Will your cruise ship warn you? Probably. But the cruise director on a recent sailing whose daily schedule warned customers to be back on the ship before dark, cheered the opportunity to enjoy Cozumel at night when the ship’s itinerary suddenly changed to include an overnight stop. The warning was omitted on the revised daily schedule.
If a port on your cruise makes you uncomfortable, stay on board. If you choose to disembark, don’t explore on your own: Stick with a group, although make sure it’s a small group of four two six people that doesn’t draw unwanted attention. Don’t venture into areas that feel unsafe, and be constantly aware of your surroundings.
The bottom line is do your own research, trust your gut, and have a great cruise.
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