Norwegian Cruise Line is resuming calls this week in Roatan, Honduras after canceling last week’s stops following the murder of one of its crew members in port earlier this month.
NCL noted on their facebook page last week that stops were canceled out of “an abundance of caution for our guests and crew, we have cancelled calls to Roatan this week for Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Jewel.”
The suggestion that Roatan is safer this week than it was last week when the cruises skipped the port, or the previous week when the crew member was murdered during a robbery, is foolish. When NCL pulled it’s ships it wasn’t out of an abundance of caution, it was to send Roatan a message. As an economy dependent on tourism, losing thousands of cruise passengers eager to spend money on excursions and souvenirs is a big blow to the small island of about 50,000 people.
While the tactic may be effective in eventually reducing crime-rates, nothing is fixed in a week’s time (though they have arrested a suspect), and we wish the cruise lines were more honest about their methods and educate guests on the potential dangers that still exist. Sure, murders happen in cities around the US, and one incident shouldn’t dissuade you from traveling the world. However, here are some of the homicide/murder rates of popular cruise destinations compared to home port countries and some ‘dangerous’ US cities:
Homicide Rates (per 100,000 people):
New Orleans: 53.2
St. Louis: 35.5
United States: 4.7
United Kingdom: 1
Several other major cruise lines continue to sail to Roatan including Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Regent Seven Seas – despite travel warnings from the US State Department than warn of high levels of violent crime (murders, robberies, and kidnappings) and crooked authorities.
2,100 passengers aboard an all-gay Holland America Line cruise were told that their scheduled stop in Casablanca, Morrocco – despite previous confirmations – was being denied entry by port officials.
The stop would have been the first of its kind in the Muslim country, though the Tourism Minister in Morocco is denying that any official decision had been made and the ship is welcome to come to port. “We don’t ban cruise ships here and we never ask our visitors about their sexual preferences,” he told Reuters.
Whether or not the ship ever makes it to Casablanca is unknown, but the country’s tough stance on same-sex relationships (it’s illegal, and one can be jailed for 3 years), begs the question why a group like this would choose to go there anyway.
UPDATE: 2:30 US Central Time: The Italian captain of the Costa Concordia has been arrested. The Guardian is reporting that an announcement was made after the ship had collided with underwater rocks stating that it was just an electrical failure. Passengers are also alleging they were attempting to board life-boats but the crew wouldn’t allow them to since the Captain hadn’t given the order. Skynews is indicating the captain was arrested officially for abandoning ship hours before everyone was rescued and out of harm’s way as well as several counts of manslaughter.
Normally when we hear of cruise ships running aground, becoming half submerged, it’s typically an old, small ship from a non-leading company. That changed overnight when the Costa Concordia, a roughly $700 million ship put into service in 2006, ran aground off Tuscany Italy and forcing over 4,200 on board to evacuate in a panic.
As of this morning, nearly 70 people are unaccounted for and three have been confirmed dead, though local officials believe some of the missing are likely taking shelter in private residences on small island of Giglio where the ship made contact with large under-water rocks (as seen in the picture gallery below). Passengers who escaped the horror described the experience like a scene from the movie “Titanic,” with plates crashing and climbing around hallways that had been turned on their side.
Costa Cruise Lines is owned by Carnival Corporation, whose 10 cruise lines makeup nearly 50% of the world’s cruise market share. Costa is second in Carnival Corp’s book of business to Carnival Cruise Line, and closely followed by Princess, AIDA, and Holland America lines. Costa is also Europe’s #1 cruise line. In comparison, Royal Caribbean’s various lines (including Celebrity) only makeup about 24% of the world cruise market.
Costa and Carnival are so closely related, that the ship that just ran aground has a sister-ship in the Carnival Cruise Lineup – the Carnival Splendor. The Splendor is actually considered part of the “Concordia Class Ships,” but is a slightly smaller version.
To those who have cruised from the United States, you know that a safety drill is required at the very start of the cruise – but for some reason (whether it not be a priority or a breach in policy)- the safety drill was schedule for later in the day. Some of the U.S. passengers on-board joked, “what if something happened today?” What if.
We hope that the remaining missing passengers are safe and sound – since in this day and age, the largest cruise company in the world with a ship a little over 5 years old shouldn’t be running into islands.
The cruise industry calls it “Wave Season” and the rest of us call it “Hurricane Season.” It’s the time of year in late summer and early fall when cruises in the Caribbean are available at bargain prices due to the higher probability of your vacation being interrupted by Mother Nature. Depending on how you look at it, I was either fortunate enough or unfortunate enough to have a cruise planned for the Bahamas and Key West at the exact time Hurricane Irene was delivering between category 2 and 3 winds on those islands.
I was on the Carnival Conquest which set sail from Galveston, TX on the 21st for a seven day itinerary to the Bahamas and Key West – an Eastern Caribbean itinerary I had not experienced. The vast majority of sailings from Galveston, which is the closest port to our home in Austin, TX, are only to islands we refer to as the Holy Trinity of Western Caribbean cruises: Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.
Upon boarding, we were told by the captain that they were keeping a keen eye on the weather in our scheduled ports, but that no changes had been made. Since every forecast model had Irene blasting through the Bahamas in just a few days, we suspect the determination had been made to not proceed to the Bahamas and that representatives in the home office were scrambling to find ports that were both available and out-of-dodge from Irene.
It was no doubt a busy time for Carnival, as we were only one of eleven ships that required an itinerary change. In all, over 24 ships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity, and Holland America had itinerary changes.
About mid-day through our first day at sea, the captain announced that we would not be sailing to any of our original ports of call, and that we would instead be visiting three ports in Mexico: Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Progreso.
We were on deck near the shops when the announcement was made, and there was a huge array of emotions among the other passengers. Several were excited about the new ports, and some were disgusted. “I’ve already been there!” “Progreso is a dump – don’t get off the ship!”
Admittedly, we were a little bummed that we would not be sailing on our original itinerary – but those are the chances you take when taking a cruise during hurricane season. And considering, at that point, Jamaica and Grand Cayman could potentially be affected, staying on the other side of the Gulf was the only reasonable decision both for the safety of everyone on board – and being able to enjoy ports of call that weren’t experiencing 115 sustained wind speeds.
Benefits of Booking a Cruise during Hurricane Season (Wave Season)
The biggest benefit to booking a cruise during hurricane season is the price discount – the same itineraries in peak months can run several times higher than those in late summer and early fall. The price is lower, but the guarantee of sticking to your original itinerary diminishes significantly.
Not far behind is the oft forgot benefit of mobility. If you had planned a normal vacation to the Bahamas (flight, rental car/taxi, several nights at Atlantis), you most likely would have had to cancel your trip and received minimal money-back unless you had purchased some form of travel insurance. Even if you got all your money back, timing a vacation between two jobs and kids’ school can be anything but easy – so rebooking something else in the last minute can be daunting at best.
Cruises have the benefit of just turning and going somewhere else – your itinerary may have changed, but you don’t have to re-pack, look for available last-minute lodging and travel arrangements, etc.
Booking excursions through the ship is always a safe bet – but as with any safe option – the price is always a little higher. We’re fans of booking outside the cruise lines to save a little money, but you may want to re-think during hurricane season.
For those who booked excursions through Carnival on the original itinerary, cancelations were immediate and credits to the ship account followed. For those booking outside – many were left paying high on-ship telephone or internet rates to make cancelations for trips they had booked themselves. The deposit/refund policy is different for every private vendor – but undoubtedly some folks lost a few bucks by going on their own.
We had one excursion planned (Horseback riding in Freeport), though they only take cash on the day you leave – so no money had exchanged hands. Once we returned home, we had an email from the vendor letting us know horseback riding wouldn’t be available during the hurricane.
I normally spend quite a bit of time searching and reading about excursions prior to booking outside of Carnival, but when the itinerary changes mid-cruise, you are nearly entirely at the will of the cruise’s excursion desk. In Carnival’s case, excursions can be viewed and booked from the TV in the stateroom – and we found that clicking through this was a quicker way to spend $600 than even the Casino. The only problem was availability – since so many choose to book on their own, and with everyone on-board forced to go through Carnival for excursions, many were quickly sold out and lots of people who waited to sign up were left with nothing to do.
We would have loved to go on our original itinerary to the Bahamas and Key West – but we gambled when booking during hurricane season and lost. In the end we weren’t surprised, but pleased that even though our plans were changed we could still relax on warm sandy beaches, enjoy quality excursions in each port we went to, and enjoy the on-board activities and dining with our family – which was ultimately our main goal.
One of the reasons to go on an Alaskan Cruise is to see the massive ice structures in areas like Tracy Arm Fjord. When ice breaks off it’s known as calving – and when it breaks off in huge chunks – it’s known as “DANGER DANGER” according the the camera woman. There was only one injury – and it was actually because a 60 year old woman fell down and broke her leg. To her credit, you can see smaller (volley-ball sized) chunks of ice shooting toward the boat at dangerous speed.
Local officials in Mobile, Alabama were “shocked” when Carnival Cruise Lines announced it was pulling the Elation from the port and moving it to New Orleans. Carnival at this point hasn’t made any plans to pull the Fantasy out of Charleston, but local groups are putting strain on the line and they may reconsider.
The Carnival Fantasy started docking in Charleston in May of 2010 – the only year-round cruise ship for the port.
Since then, there have been several sources of resistance:
National Trust for Historic Preservation
We know it’s important to preserve important sites in the U.S. that may otherwise not be if it weren’t for this group. However, the NTHP put Charleston on it’s “watch list” at the same time it released its 2011 most endangered sites, and blamed the cruise industry for the rating on the city.
The NTHP says:
In the case of Charleston, expanding cruise ship tourism could jeopardize the historic character of the city, historic downtown Charleston and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Since the cruise ships can’t park in downtown Charleston or “its surrounding neighborhoods,” it’s safe to say the NTHP is worried about an influx of people, and what that would mean for the city.
Other motivations appear to be at play (environmental? anti-cruise industry?) since the cruise industry currently only accounts for under 4% of the city’s 4.4 million annual visitors.
If the NTHP is truly concerned about the number of visitors to the city, perhaps they should be looking at all industries – but regulating 4% of visitors brought in by a single industry is the obvious work of special interests.
Southern Environmental Law Center
With anti-cruise industry mentality growing from the NTHP, the Southern Environmental Law Center decided to strike while the iron is hot by filing a lawsuit saying that the cruise lines aren’t operating within local zoning ordinances, causing traffic problems, and violating state environmental laws.
“Charleston relies on a careful balance between tourism and preservation that cruise ship interests shouldn’t overwhelm,” says Blan Holman, an attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The mayor of Charleston says the lawsuit against Carnival is “bogus” and “rogue,” and cites the fact that cruise traffic is minimal compared to the cities annual tourism figures.
The chairman of the South Carolina Sate port Authority is calling the lawsuit “irresponsible.”
“Their goal is to cripple our port system to satisfy their anti-growth agenda. First it’s cruise ships, then cargo ships. Next it will be trucks and rails. They don’t seem to care that their agenda would irreparably damage economic development and kill jobs all across South Carolina.”
Mobile and Charleston
The local officials get it in Charleston, but it may not matter what they think in the end. Any port operator will tell you that vying to be a home port for a cruise ship is extremely competitive – especially with newer markets opening up and the ability for cruise lines to pack-up and move operations with relative ease.
When special interest groups force cruise ships into lawsuits that even the mayor thinks are bogus, they can increase a cruise line’s cost of operating in that port by millions of dollars.
One of the big reasons Carnival pulled out of Mobile, Alabama was they couldn’t raise profit enough to offset local environmental laws that are set to be in place by 2012, and calculated the ship would be more profitable in nearby New Orleans.
If Carnival decides its not worth the added cost and headache to do business in Charleston, we hope the local officials aren’t “shocked” – because the writing is on the wall today.
Taxi drivers are at it again – this time in Victoria, British Columbia. Upset about a $200 seasonal fee to pick passengers from the cruise terminal, taxi drivers have boycotted the first cruise ship docking of the summer season.
You’ve heard about plug-in electric cars like the Chevy Volt, but what about a plug-in cruise ship? Carnival Cruise Line is going to retrofit two of its ships to run on electric power next year….kind of.
Two ships, the Queen Mary 2 and the Caribbean Princess, currently dock at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal about 40 times every year, and while in dock, they run off power generated by the ship’s enormous diesel engines. By next year, Carnival will outfit them at a cost of $4 Million to run off “shore power” via what is basically a giant electrical outlet that will be built into the port.
The move comes after lobbying from local citizens that were concerned about the environmental and health risks of having ships idling in their community.
It isn’t the first time Carnival or Cruise Ship terminals have used the technology – power is available in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, and Carnival began using the technology 10 years ago in Juneau, Alaska.
In October 2010, divers doing homeland security safety checks beneath the cruise ship terminal made a startling discovery: Live ammunition between 20mm and 90mm in size.
The port was used as a munitions depot during WWII up until 1971, and the investigators explain that it isn’t necessarily surprising.
“Wherever munitions have been handled in the past, they have rolled off the pier, they’ve been dropped out of cargo net. It’s perfectly normal, it’s expected. What is unexpected is that there is a cruise ship terminal built directly above where some of these munitions are,” says one munitions expert.
As the cleanup continues, the crew has found 11 live munitions and hundreds of other “munitions related items.”
The 90mm size are the most concerning – as they are commonly used as anti-aircraft projectiles – and are also commonly used in tanks.
Experts say that while the cleanup is important, the items found pose a very low risk overall and shouldn’t be cause for alarm among those cruising from the terminal.
Currently, Holland America and Princess are among the largest cruise lines to sail from Seattle.
What are your thoughts? Would this report make you think twice about sailing out of Seattle?
An 18 month dispute between taxi drivers and tour bus operators in Phuket, Thailand came to a head today when a group of 180 taxi drivers blocked the port entrance as Silversea’s Silver Spirit docked in the port for the first time.
The Silver Spirit, Silversea’s newest ship, stopped in Phuket today as part of her inaugural 119-day World Cruise.
Basically, the taxi drivers feel that large tour bus operators are a threat to their livelihood. They probably are.
According to a local Phuket newspaper, taxi fares are on par with developed countries, but locally they do not service their vehicles often, have sub-standard conditions in the taxis, and most don’t have insurance.
The Silver Spirit docked at 8am with plans for 475 passengers to take buses to Phuket City and Patong. After four hours of bargaining, the bus operators agreed to let the taxi operators take 250 passengers.
However, the ship is set to sail at 2pm local time, so many opted to just stay on the ship while in port.
90% of the people on board are American. The U.S. Navy has a presence at the port but their role in the matter is unclear, if nothing else than to keep the peace.