Carnival Cruise Line Shake Down Begins, And That’s A Good Thing

Carnival Cruise Lines fleet of FunShips have plied the oceans of the world for over 40 years, enabling travelers to sample a variety of destinations and cultures. Many of those travelers might not have ventured out of their own back yards without the affordable, normally safe and secure travel option largely pioneered by Carnival. Reporting this week from Cruise Shipping Miami, the South By Southwest of the cruise industry, Gadling was on the scene when the story broke: another Carnival ship in trouble.

Just days before reports of Carnival Dream, her passengers and crew stuck at the dock in St Maarten, Carnival’s President and CEO Gerry Cahill participated with other cruise industry leaders in a keynote panel discussion.

Addressing February’s Carnival Triumph incident, when an engine room fire knocked out the ship’s propulsion, Cahill updated the crowd on hand for the annual State of the Industry discussion. A signature event of Cruise Shipping Miami, last year’s event was dominated by the aftermath of the Costa Concordia grounding. Costa Cruises, like Carnival Cruise Lines, are sister brands along with others that fall under the Carnival Corporation umbrella.

“I can assure you since this fire has occurred it has been the number one priority for both Carnival Cruise Lines and Carnival Corporation,” said Cahill of a comprehensive safety review in-progress on the entire Carnival fleet.

Bringing in experts in fire safety, naval architects, marine engineers, electrical engineers, experts from shipyards and more, Carnival seemed committed to raising the bar on safety as never before. The U.S. Coast Guard determined the cause of Carnival Triumph’s fire to be a failed fuel return line, one that had been properly maintained at correctly scheduled intervals.

“This review is very comprehensive, it will take us a little bit of time to complete it,” said Cahill “but you can rest assured that it is our highest priority throughout the entire organization.”

Doubling down on safety protocols while the detailed fleet review continues, Carnival is taking nothing for granted.

Carnival Dream‘s six massive diesel-electric engines offered over 84,000 in horsepower and were functioning properly. But before going to sea, all systems on the ship are tested and one of those is backup power.

Carnival Dream’s backup system did not pass the test. So with the Carnival Triumph incident fresh in their minds, the failed generator became a “no sail” issue. That’s the good part of the story. Carnival could have allowed the Dream to sail the over 1,100 nautical miles back to Port Canaveral; the ships propulsion system worked.

But taking a page from recent history, a mechanical issue that might not have caused concern before came under the microscope, much like Carnival Cruise Lines, if not the entire cruise industry.

What if some other unknown, unanticipated mechanical breakdown occurred half way between St Maarten and Florida’s Port Canaveral? Carnival has clearly adopted a laser-focused concentration on safety, looking for any issue that could disrupt what should be a fabulous FunShip cruise.

Dream Event Incomplete, Here Comes Another One
Just a day after Carnival Dream was held at the dock (the cruise line equivalent of being grounded, much like the Boeing Dreamliner recently), Carnival Legend was recalled to the port of Tampa, citing propulsion problems. The engines were working; the ship just did not have the ability to go fast enough.

This issue might sound a bit more familiar to frequent cruise travelers. Reduced propulsion issues happen with a bit more frequency on cruise ships from multiple lines and for a variety of reasons.

Design flaws aside, moving parts wear out and these engines and the propulsion systems they provide power for are moving all the time, every day of the year.

Even docked, ships engines are running, albeit at a reduced speed or with a different fuel, for environmental impact reasons. A handful of ships can “plug in” to a shore side power grid but the amount of reduction in emissions is debatable (the power still comes from somewhere) and plugging in only reduces emissions while in port (there are no extension cords).

In the case of Carnival Legend’s recall to port, that move too might not have happened pre-Triumph. Ships with limited (but reliable) propulsion issues commonly run modified itineraries that do not require the drive system to be quite as vibrant.

Carnival Cruise Lines and its sister cruise lines are not taking any chances. They have brought in experts to look for issues not thought of before and are taking quick action when safety concerns come up.

“It is the thing we are most focused on and we will come up with solutions we will implement across our fleet,” added an obviously committed, apologetic and humble Cahill.

The Big Question
But the ugly elephant question in the room is, fairly: “OK, so maybe these things are freak accidents or an abundance of caution. Why are they all happening to Carnival Cruise Lines?”

Results from third-party sources indicate that Carnival Cruise Lines is operating at a level that meets or exceeds that of regulatory organizations world wide, including the very picky U.S. Coast Guard. Believe that, and the negligence hat does not fit.

Maybe the other cruise lines have higher standards. That dog won’t hunt either. Carnival Cruise Line is just one of the Carnival Corporation family of brands that also includes Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn and Cunard Line, none of which have Triumph-like events in their history.

Still, bad things happen to good travel options and cruise travel is no exception. Like the hotel fires that occurred with some frequency in the first half of the last century, right now is a time when cruise lines are addressing safety concerns as never before.

Cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO put it well in a recent Huffington Post article:

“One of the many lessons I’ve learned in the industry over the past 24 years is that policies and procedures are constantly evolving. Nothing is etched in stone and improvements will always be made, especially when safety is concerned.”

When thinking of the post-Truimph era of cruise travel, who better to pioneer raising the bar, creating new protocols regarding the issue of safety than the organization that created the industry in the first place?

While shoddy journalism by a whole bunch of news organizations clearly focus on sensationalizing the story, I’d hate to forget the contribution to the world of travel that cruises have made. Carnival Cruise Line is shaking down their ships, looking for and trying to anticipate anything that can go wrong. We hope their efforts keep that door to the world of travel open to those who might not otherwise have seen it.

[Photo credit – Chris Owen]

Overnight Stays In Port A Popular Cruise Option

Cruise ship overnight stays in port are becoming more popular all the time. Breaking away from port-intensive itineraries, long-time cruise ship travelers appreciate the extra time at iconic destinations. Those new to cruise vacations like being able to explore strange, new worlds but have the convenience and security of that cruise ship waiting for them at the end of the day.

Azamara Club Cruises features voyages with overnight stays at events such as Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, the Monaco Grand Prix and the British Open. The focus towards events brings what Azamara calls a “destination-immersive” travel experience.

“We continue to offer more late-night and overnight stays in ports than any cruise operator to offer guests the chance to savor a destination’s nightlife, oftentimes after the other cruise ships have departed,” said Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises in a Breaking Travel News report.

Azamara is not alone. Overnight stays are fairly common among luxury cruise lines. Dialing back the price a bit, mainstream cruise lines are getting into overnights as well.

Norwegian and Royal Caribbean sail to Bermuda, bringing multiple full days in port to explore the pink sand paradise. Carnival Cruise Lines and others do the same sort of thing in the Bahamas, overnighting in Nassau to allow late-night party time but no drive home.

But other ships, going to areas where they could easily sail to a different port each day and keep moving, are stopping to allow more time in dream destinations.

Disney Cruise Lines will sail Disney Wonder from Los Angeles round trip with an overnight in San Francisco. Costa Cruises has Costa Favolosa with an overnight stay at Dubai.

It’s all part of a focus on delivering what travelers want, a game cruise lines have had nailed for decades. Today, a maturing cruise industry is seeing a different kind of prospective passenger. Travelers now want more time in port, less touristy experiences and more destination immersion.

Cruise lines are setting up to deliver.

[Flickr photo by joiseyshowaa]

Travel contest season is in full swing

January brings cold weather, post-holiday blues, dreams of travel and travel contest season every year. With few exceptions, sellers of travel roll out some of their best promotions during this time too. Aimed to make those dreams reality and have us focus on whatever travel product they are selling, travel companies want to bring our attention to their options over another.

Amble Resorts’ Life-Changing Travel Contest has travelers looking at their new travel blog, The Ambler, for a chance to win a free flight anywhere in the world. Launched in mid-December, the contest is quickly gaining momentum as globetrotters from around the world share their most life-changing travel moments in the hopes of fulfilling resolutions to travel in 2012.

This contest asks visitors to reflect on their own life-changing travel experiences and draw inspiration from the stories of others, encouraging people to broaden their travel horizons and explore the world in 2012. The contest will reward one commenter with a trip to the destination of their dreams, in the form of a $1,500 travel voucher (OK, maybe not anywhere in the world) on the airline of the winner’s choice, valid any time in 2012.Getting serious, Travel+Leisure has the Dream Of A Lifetime $25,000 Spain + Venice sweepstakes where the grand prize winner gets a travel package worth up to $30,000 or can take a $25,000 cash option as well.

Even non-travel companies are getting in on the January travel mania with Fisher Boy frozen food company giving away a Caribbean vacation at one of Beaches Resorts worth $8,000. You’ll have to tell them why you like their products (fish sticks) as part of the entry but liking them on Facebook is not required as many contests are.

The cruise industry has “wave season“, that time of the year when everybody wants to buy a cruise, going full speed ahead. In addition to some of the best values of the year, multiple lines are having contests that result in someone winning a cruise. Holland America, Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean all have their versions

One of the best payouts comes from a contest run by TripFilms, a travel website that brings destinations to life through video. Their Watch and Win contest grants one entry for each video watched from start to end. The prize? A trip for two people that the winner may select from a bunch of destinations as well as a travel stipend of $500 per person ($1000 total).

The choices include Costa Rica Natural Paradise, Guatemala with Tikal, Panama Canal Cruise & Tour, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore & Yellowstone, California Coast & Yosemite and others.

Most of these contests end January 31, 2012. Many of these and other contests can be found at TravelOnion where most current travel contests are rounded up and updated frequently.

Not feeling lucky? How about some money-saving tips if pay you must?

Flickr photo by Tostie14

Death by cruise ship? It can come in several ways

OK, so “death by cruise ship” is not exactly the kind of story that makes us want to break out the suntan lotion or brush up on our Bingo skills but it happens. People can and do die on a cruise ship for a variety of reasons. Earlier this week the decrepit Russian ship that sank in the Volga river was a Titanic-like example we might not think possible today. But it happened and over 100 people died. Still, there are other ways to die on a cruise ship. Some you really have to try to make happen, others just sort of happen all on their own.

Fall off the ship
Its not as hard to do as we might imagine. But people who do this really have to be determined to be successful. Nobody simply falls off. Nobody really gets blown off by high winds either. If the ship is in a high-wind situation, open decks get closed for obvious safety reasons. Suicide By Cruise Ship is a common reason though as well as alcohol/drug-induced shenanigans close to the edge of the ship. Most common reason for falling off a cruise ship: sitting/standing on the guard rail of a balcony stateroom.

Get murdered
A 57-year-old Los Angeles County teacher pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Thursday in the beating death of his wife on the Carnival Elation in July 2009. reports that Robert McGill admitted that he “deliberately and intentionally” killed his wife, Shirley McGill, after an argument. The couple were celebrating Robert’s 55th birthday and Shirley’s retirement by going into the port city of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico according to court papers. Witnesses aboard the ship saw McGill just before he beat his wife of five years to death in the bathroom of their cabin saying he was stumbling around and barely able to walk.The Ship Sinks
Again, that does not happen all that much. Like never. Finding out what went wrong is the focus of investigations into the sinking of that Russian river boat. These things are not supposed to happen in today’s world and that incident could have been prevented had the ship been maintained properly and commonly-accepted safety protocols followed.

This week marked six years since George Smith mysteriously disappeared from Royal Caribbean‘s Brilliance of the Seas. He was on an eight day honeymoon sailing when something went terribly wrong and he somehow went overboard to be lost at sea.

It’s a tragic yet fascinating story that captivated media world-wide at the time and maritime personal injury attorney Jim Walker was all over it.

“Our firm represented Mr. Smith’s wife, Jennifer Hagel. She hired us to obtain answers to what happened to her husband and to seek compensation for his death” Walker says on his CruiseLawNews blog wrapping up a week-long series of posts about the event today.

The incident started a firestorm of attention on the cruise industry how it does business and what they could do to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future.

“Mr. Smith’s disappearance, and the manner in which Royal Caribbean chose to handle the incident, brought much needed attention to the cruise industry” said Walker adding “The events which followed Mr. Smith’s death led to five Congressional hearings into disappearances and crimes on cruise ships, culminating in the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act in 2010.”

Bad medicine
Cruise ships have what amount to fully-functioning hospitals aboard that can handle anything from a case of motion sickness to surgery.

Don and Marlene Bryce were celebrating Don’s retirement and their 53 years as a married couple on Holland America Line’s Rotterdam. Eight days into the cruise, Don became ill so Marlene called the ship’s doctor who gave Don medicine for vomiting reports Apparently treating Don for motion discomfort, his condition worsened. Marlene communicated to the ship’s infirmary several times over the next few days that Don was not getting better only to be told to give him more medicine.

12 days into the cruise, in the middle of the night, Don’s skin was turning dark. Marlene called for a nurse, who never came. Give him water and food, she advised over the phone.

Finally at 4:50 a.m., after Marlene called again, a nurse arrived. By this time Don’s skin was dark, and he was cold. Then he collapsed and died. The doctor arrived two minutes later.

“I was probably five feet away from him on a chair and saw him die,” said Marlene tells KOMO and ABC News.

Under maritime law, cruise lines aren’t responsible for the actions of the doctors they hire, since the doctors are independent contractors.

Not everybody dies
In defense of the cruise industry, the number of people who die while on a cruise is quite small, probably about the same as the number of people who die licking stamps. tracks this sort of thing and list Cruise and Ferry Passengers and Crew Overboard. Since 2000 the number they report is 164 people. That’s out of an estimated 83 gazillion people who have taken a cruise and lived to tell about it. The cruise line with the most people overboard? No, not the Funships of Carnival Cruise Line but Royal Caribbean according to CruiseJunkie.

Is there hope for me?

If all this has you a bit worried about your upcoming cruise-of-a-lifetime and you don’t want it to be the last, following some simple safety tips will probably reduce the odds of dying on your cruise.

  • Watch the drinking– As noted here, alcohol and/or drugs are a common ingredient in the recipe for death by cruise ship. Its really easy to get loaded on a cruise with crew members walking around with trays of drinks that you don’t even have to carry cash to buy. Going ashore in Mexico is not like going to your favorite local Mexican restaurant. They play by different rules and not one bar will be held accountable for selling you too much liquor like they might stateside.
  • Be medically responsible- Tell your travel agent or the cruise line in advance of any existing medical conditions you may have no matter how small. Once on the ship, pay a visit to the ships infirmary to be sure they got that information and to put a face with it. Later, if you have to call about a problem, odds are someone you met will answer. Medical professionals naturally “size up” people when they meet them then note differences if they meet again.
  • Don’t go if you don’t want to– Going along on a cruise vacation because that is what the rest of the family or group wants to do is not a good idea if you too are not into it. This is not like a theme park ride. This is a floating city and a closed environment you can not walk away from. That can lead to all sorts of bad, negative things. What might have been a simple misunderstanding on land can become a major problem at sea resulting in really destructive behavior.

Death by cruise ship? It can be avoided pretty easily.

Flickr photo by Jemingway

Cruise lines loosen up, let guests in secret areas

Ever since the terrorist attack of 9/11 security has been tight on cruise ships, and rightfully so. As a great big floating hotel, ships are also great big floating targets. When it comes to security, cruise lines have an unwavering focus on protecting ships and passengers. Having made a higher level of security commonplace, cruise lines are once again opening doors that up to now have been locked tightly.

Below deck, backstage and behind “crew only” doors, the sophisticated operations of cruise ships have always been of interest to guests. Now, Royal Caribbean is granting access to those secret areas through an All Access Tour.

“The All Access Tour offers guests the opportunity to learn about what it takes on-board to deliver the world’s most contemporary vacation, also known as the Royal Advantage,” said Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of Hotel Operations, Royal Caribbean International.

Guests now have the option to visit behind-the-scenes operations spaces and meet key shipboard staff members on an escorted tour during their Royal Caribbean vacation. The All Access Tour will offer guests insight into the inner workings of some of the world’s largest cruise ships and be available fleet-wide.
“Our guests have always inquired into what happens behind the scenes and below deck” said Bauer, adding “We are glad to offer these really special guest tours into areas that are normally not accessible, escorted by staff members who explain the complex workings of running of the world’s largest and most innovative cruise ships.”

The $150 per person All Access Tour escorts guests into a variety of formerly “off limits” secret areas, including a visit to the bridge, galley, backstage of the main theater, engine control room and other behind-the-scenes operations areas that collectively create the best vacation experience and value for guests. At least one 3.5 hour All Access Tour will be offered on itineraries shorter than seven nights, and two tours offered aboard a seven-night or longer itinerary with additional tours added, based on demand.

It’s not just Royal Caribbean that is opening up areas not seen in a long time, Princess Cruises jumped in a while ago with their Bon Voyage Experience.

The program is a new twist on the departure celebration of bygone days, when friends and family would routinely come aboard to see off passengers. Because of increasingly tighter security procedures, this practice disappeared more than two decades ago, but Princess added it back last year, complete with lunch in the dining room and tour of the ship.

The Bon Voyage Experience enables passengers to extend an invitation to their guests to join them on-eboard during sailing day for a four-course dining room lunch with wine, a ship tour and a souvenir photo. Passengers and their guests get VIP priority embarkation and will be able to spend about four hours together on the ship before it sets sail. The cost for the program is $39 per person, which can be applied toward a future Princess cruise.

Princess Cruises also offers an immersive cooking experience where guests go behind the scenes for a Chef’s Table program.

Galley tours
available during the quiet off-hours are one thing, the Chef’s Table experience is quite another. This program takes interested diners behind the scenes during the height of dinner preparation in a fully-functioning production kitchen where they’ll also enjoy Champagne and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a special multi-course tasting dinner paired with selected wines in the dining room.

Sister-line Carnival Cruise Lines does a Chef’s Table too. This one-of-a-kind culinary experience includes an exquisite multi-course dinner hosted by one of the line’s master chefs along with a private champagne reception and a personalized tour of the galley for $75 per person.

As cruise lines loosen up, if programming like this is cause for worry that someone would join the tour with a bomb and blow up the ship, forget it. There was an armed security guard along on the tour every step of the way.

Flickr photo by sketchyparrot