Brave Travelers Wanted: Your Cruise Ship Awaits

Brave travelers might sail on this cruise shipOtherwise 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?

No.

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.

Brave travelers on a cruise shipA 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]

USCG: Audits Make Italy Scenario Unlikely in US

Couple to visit most of planet on 424 day tour

coupleDarren and Sandy Van Soye, a couple from Southern California, have started on a global adventure to raise awareness about world geography and make the subject more accessible to children. Visiting fifty countries on six continents in 424 days, they will share the journey with more than 700 classrooms representing 50,000 students.

“Our dream is to educate children about geography and world cultures so we’ve planned the ultimate trek around the world to do just that,” said Sandy Van Soye.

Chronicling the journey on their TrekkingthePlanet web site, they were inspired to plan the year+ trip after experiencing first-hand the positive impact of a previous family journey around the globe. Traveling a total of 12 legs by rail, bus, air and ship, they plan to see some of the most remote and unspoiled places in the world, by visiting sites of cultural and natural significance, to instill a greater awareness and curiosity about Earth geography in as many people as possible.

To make efficient use of their time and set an eco-friendly travel example, several legs of the journey will be traveled using Princess cruise ships.

“We wanted to use cruise ships as part of our travel method because they offer an efficient way to reach all the different stops on our voyage while minimizing our global footprint,” said Sandy in a statement.

Their full at-sea travel itinerary incorporates five different Princess Cruises voyages, totaling 96 days sea. Both the first and last legs of their journey, plus three legs in between, will be aboard a Princess cruise ship.
“We frequently hear stories from travelers who cruise to accomplish a goal – from celebrating milestones with family members to crossing something off their bucket list,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “Sandy and Darren are a great example of how cruise travel can be both relaxing and rewarding. We’re inspired by their story and we’re honored they’ve chosen Princess to help them achieve their trekking goals.”

Their full 424-day itinerary is available on their web site, where they will be journaling their trip and fans can also follow them on Facebook.

The Van Soyes will complete their global journey in March 2013.


Top 10 Underrated World Travel Destinations

Flickr photo by epitomized1

Passengers sick again, cruise line cancels sailing

PassengersLast weekend nearly 700 passengers, on three different ships, contracted the flu-like Norovirus causing Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise lines to delay departure of this week’s sailing for extensive cleaning. Now, another outbreak on one of the same ships has caused its cancellation, mid-sailing, and an early return to port for even more cleaning.

Princess Cruises Crown Princess was on a seven-night Caribbean cruise when the outbreak occurred and will skip calling at the ports of Curacao and Aruba to come back two days early.

“In consultation with the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who has informed us that there are widespread outbreaks of Norovirus occurring in the US, it was agreed that the best course of action to stop the spread of the illness is for the ship to undergo a two-day extensive sanitization,” said Princess Cruises in a statement on their website.

To make that happen, Crown Princess, scheduled to return to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, February 11 will come back two days early, ending the current sailing on Thursday, February 9th.

Passengers on the current sailing will receive a full refund, assistance re-booking flights if they had been booked through the cruise line as well as hotel accommodations if necessary and 25% of what they paid as a credit to use on a future cruise.”On the current sailing 114 passengers (3.70% out of 3,078) and 59 crew (5.01% of 1,178) have reported gastrointestinal illness,” said Princess. On the previous cruise, 364 passengers (11.73% of 3,103) and 30 crew (2.57% of 1,168) were affected.

The move by Princess is unusual but not unprecedented. Norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, is a common illness that is easily transmitted in closed environments like nursing homes, schools and cruise ships.


Virus Leaves Cruise Ship Passengers Seasick

Photo: Princess Cruises

Cruise ships bring nearly 700 sick passengers to shore

cruise shipsBetween two cruise ships arriving in Florida and one in New Orleans, nearly 700 sick passengers were brought to shore over the weekend. Norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, hit passengers and crew causing hundreds to become ill, many to be quarantined and sailings to be delayed. Its a common ailment, magnified by the closed environment of a cruise ship, but avoidable for the most part with some basic precautions and help is on the way in the form of a new vaccine.

Investigators with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went on board Ruby Princess and Crown Princess to monitor cleaning procedures said Princess spokesperson Julie Benson. “We’re working in close cooperation with the CDC to identify the cause,” Benson told CNN after 499 cases occurred between the two ships, both based out of Fort Lauderdale.

In New Orleans, WDSU-TV reported Royal Caribbean‘s Voyager of the Seas returned with 200 cases of the flu-like illness.

“At Royal Caribbean International we have high health standards for all our guests and crew,” said Royal Caribbean in a statement. “During the sailing, we conduct enhanced cleaning on-board the ship, to help prevent the spread of the illness. Additionally, when Voyager of the Seas arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana, this past Saturday, February 4, we conducted an extensive and thorough sanitizing on-board the ship and within the cruise terminal, to help prevent any illness from affecting the subsequent sailing.”

The CDC notified officials in Louisiana Friday that a cruise ship might be coming in with a Norovirus outbreak, state epidemiologist Raoult Ratard said Sunday, reported CBS News. Putting the illness into perspective, Ratard said that on any given day about 10,000 people in the New Orleans area are likely to have diarrhea and about 30 percent of them because of the Norovirus.

“In a closed space like a cruise ship, in a nursing home, in a hospital, you want to be extra careful,” Ratard said.

On the horizon, new a new medical breakthrough might have the answer to cruise passenger concerns over Norovirus incidents.

“It is possible to prevent infection and illness with a vaccine for Norovirus,” Dr. Robert Atmar, a professor of medicine and molecular virology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston told Medicine Plus. But many questions remain unanswered, he said. For example, “we have to figure out the best way to give it and how long protection lasts.”

Tested on 98 people who received the vaccine or an inactive placebo, all of the participants tested positive for a gene that makes them more susceptible to the Norovirus. But those who received the new vaccine were less likely to develop the illness than their counterparts who received the placebo, the study showed.

Administered as two doses three weeks apart via a nasal spray, there were no safety issues seen in the study and side effects were minimal.

“Further study is needed to answer questions such as who should get the vaccine and how long the protection lasts,” said Dr. Thomas Hooton, a professor of infectious disease at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine noting the Norovirus is “a mess and spreads like wildfire.”

When will this new treatment be available?

No timetable has been set but Atmar suggested the likely initial candidates would be people in nursing homes, health-care workers, the military and segments of the food industry.

How to avoid Norovirus while we wait for the new miracle medicine? Here are some tips to maximize your chances of not getting the Norovirus bug while on your cruise:

  • Wash your hands- Like on land, our hands contact all sorts of things and people, many of which may have horrible sicko germs, waiting to attack us. Do you know how to wash your hands? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the people that police these things, have instructions on how to do it.
  • Don’t count on the hand sanitizers– Those hand sanitizer dispensers all over the ship are mostly for show in the grand scheme of things. They help but there is no substitution for a good hand washing.
  • Avoid touching things– Hand rails on stairs, elevator buttons, walls are all things that some sick person might have touched before you.
  • Don’t pick your nose– I know, gross, but a really good way to get germs on your fingers into your body.
  • Avoid closed spacesCruise ships themselves provide the closed environment that the Norovirus needs to multiply and thrive. Elevators then, are almost like a closed environment within a closed environment and should be avoided. It won’t kill most people to take the stairs and get some extra exercise either.


Virus Leaves Cruise Ship Passengers Seasick

Flickr photo by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

Woman cruise ship captain in the spotlight

woman cruise ship captainBack in December of last year, Inger Klein Olsen took the helm of Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria and joined a small group of women in a male-dominated occupation. Now, P&O Cruises has made history with their first woman cruise ship captain sailing to Australia at the helm of Pacific Pearl. Captain Sarah Breton joins four other female senior officers on P&O Cruises Pacific Pearl along the biggest group of female senior officers on any cruise ship in the region.

“We are thrilled to finally have a female Captain in charge of one of our great Australian ships and believe that Captain Breton is a fantastic role model for girls who dream of a career on the high seas” said Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, which operates P&O Cruises.

Captain Breton, 45, has served on board many ships including the former Royal Princess, Sky Princess, Canberra, Pacific Princess, Grand Princess and Star Princess as third officer, second officer, navigator, first officer and safety officer reports northernstar.com. After being promoted to staff captain in 2001 on the original Pacific Princess she went on to serve onboard Coral, Tahitian and now the new Pacific Princess.”Growing up near the water I always loved boats and the ocean, so it really does fulfill a lifelong ambition of mine to be a captain with P&O Cruises” said Captain Breton.

The worlds very first female captain of a major cruise line ship was Karin Stahre-Janson back in 2007 on Royal Caribbean‘s Monarch of the Seas. Since that time, few other women have been named master of the vessel on a number of lines.

Flickr photo by WexDub

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