Otherwise brave and robust travelers have been having second thoughts about cruise vacations – and rightfully so. The grounding of Costa Concordia, a fire on Costa Allegra not long after and thoughts of the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic are all valid concerns. Wondering what the experience might be like, we bought a ticket for a ride on Princess Cruises‘ newly remodeled Grand Princess and lived to tell about it.
I know for a fact how very safe cruise vacations are; the numbers speak for themselves. I really do believe that cruise lines value our safety as the number one priority at sea and that only makes sense too. After all, at sea is where the show happens and if they don’t take care of business when completely surrounded by ocean in all directions as far as the eye can see, the future looks grim.
But as much as I love this business, I could not help but look at Port Everglades, full of ships as it commonly is on any given Saturday, a bit differently.
Was I scared to go on a cruise?
Did I have any doubt that Princess would deliver a safe, quality experience?
Absolutely not. They are, after all, the line of the Love Boat.
Still, I was about to board a cruise ship. Every single sailing we had done before this did not have the shadow of a modern day maritime event that seriously flirted with disaster hanging over it. Embarkation seemed normal but I found myself looking closely at procedures and precautions taken by the port authority and cruise line. “Were there always TSA agents present?” I asked myself and could not really remember if there were or not. I was glad to see them hanging around though.
Before boarding we were advised that there would be a mandatory safety drill at 3:15 p.m. That sounded like earlier than normal to me and we framed our early afternoon activities around it, giving that time more attention than on previous sailings in our minds. Unpacking, touring the ship and having lunch – everything seemed normal.
A great deal of attention was given to sanitation procedures, especially in the buffet area where an obvious priority was being placed on good food-handling procedures and eliminating as much opportunity as possible for norovirus situations to happen or get out of control. That made sense after a recent outbreak that caused ships from a number of lines to pump up efforts in that area.
When time came for the safety drill we had already been watching the clock with more interest than on previous sailings and were not surprised to see muster stations fill quickly.
Our safety drill was held in a large public venue, normally used for shows of some sort. We were advised that when the drill began there would be an eight- or nine-minute safety briefing that we should pay attention to.
When that drill started, from the moment it began, those feelings of apprehension that a great many of those on board felt almost instantly went away.
Why? Because when that safety drill started you could have heard a pin drop in that room. The deafening silence was broken only by a small group of teens, probably on a senior trip for spring break. Teens, of course, are indestructible in their minds.
Every single person, and there must have been 300 of them, gave that safety briefing their undivided attention signaling that they understood the importance of it.
Actually listening to the safety briefing as though our lives may depend on the information we were receiving, it was also clearly apparent that the ship was in good hands.
They had a plan on what to do if things went wrong, they knew how to execute it, were practicing part of that plan right then and would be diligent to protect our safety.
No longer were we relying on the undisputed but impersonal statistics of how many millions of people travel safely by cruise ships each year. No longer did we blindly believe it was a safe way to go because we had been on a bunch of cruises and nothing bad ever happened.
When the safety drill was over, the room cleared quickly and passengers went about their business of having a fabulous cruise vacation, whatever that might have meant to each of them. I suspect they might be having an even better time of it too, armed with the truly important information we received that day.
The tragic death of those passengers that did not make it off Costa Concordia will be remembered as a lesson learned by cruise lines, affecting how they do business now and in the future. Still, that event and those people who died should be given credit for arming passengers for many generations to come with a sense of urgency about safety that actually could save many more lives some day.
[Flickr photo via flickrized]