Safety concerns drive travelers to cruise vacations

Say what you will about cruise vacations, they have been scoring bonus points with travelers recently as ships were easily moved away from scheduled stops in Nagasaki, Japan. One by one, cruise lines have come and gone from other troubled areas of he world too like Mazatlan, Mexico and troubled Egypt before that. The moves illuminated once again the simple fact that unlike land-based travel options, cruise ships are mobile and can be moved out of harms way.

At a cruise industry conference in Miami this week, the topic of safety kept coming up time and time again. Cruise line executives, without hesitation, all agreed that safety is number one on their list both at sea and ashore when guests get off the ship.Avoiding possible problems in Japan may seem an easy task, simply steer the ship in a different direction. But a whole lot more goes into those decisions that you might imagine.

Passengers choose a cruise for a number of reasons, one of which is the itinerary. When trouble ashore makes sailing elsewhere the right thing to do, that does not mean everyone is going to be happy about it. In the case of the massive earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan, the choice was clear and there was no advance warning. Passengers on board may have been disappointed but even the most surly cruise passenger would just need to understand and go with it. The same can be said for the Egypt problem when unrest caused ships to change itineraries there too.

In Mexico the situation is a bit different as cruise lines have to look at what is happening ashore each and every week. After ships pulled out of Mazatlan earlier, the Mexico government officials and tourism people rushed to speak to executives from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) about the problem and what they were going to do about it. They told the cruise lines that extra security would be in place and that they had addressed the problem.

The problem is, as one cruise line executive told me, things change from week to week. “One week we pull up to the dock and it is lined with police…everywhere in the port there are security people all over the place. The next week, nobody.”

That’s a problem for the cruise lines who (rightfully) demand a safe experience for passengers disembarking at any given port. That same cruise line exec told me emphatically “We have GOT to provide a safe method of travel and consistently safe ports”

Another factor cruise lines have to consider is resupplying the ships. When ships change ports, a number of things already in motion before arrival have to be altered. Vendors had been scheduled to deliver food and supplies, those are needed and will have to be sourced elsewhere.

Can you imagine making a grocery list then going to the grocery store and it is closed? You have GOT to have this stuff so you go to a different grocery store, one unfamiliar to you so the whole process is not as efficient but you make do. Cruise ships don’t have the luxury of simply being able to make do. They have a lot of passengers on board who will need the stuff they were going to get. They also can’t just hope for a good parking spot at the dock like you might have imagined you would get heading over to that other grocery store. Ships are assigned berths and being able to have a place to park the ship is important.

The ship might have been refueled at that canceled port too and will surely need that fuel at some point. Unlike people in cars might do, ships can’t run down to “E” on the fuel dial and expect good results. That’s playing it a bit too close when you are responsible for many passengers in your care. Ships carry extra fuel just for reasons like this but eventually have to be refueled.

Other normally routine matters have to be addressed too and a change in the ships itinerary affects those as well. Making it all work happens behind the scenes without us knowing and in most cases, without rescheduling or rearranging affecting the on board experience. Shore excursions booked through the cruise line are canceled automatically and payments refunded. That’s the easy part. Setting up excursions for a new, unscheduled port at the last minute is another challenge they face.

The good news is that every cruise line has systems in place to handle every possible contingency when a port has to be changed. In the olden days, that mostly happened when a weather related event or some mechanical problem with the ship made modifying the itinerary the logical choice.

The bad news is that these days, an ever-changing world where security concerns keep coming up seems to be affecting itineraries much more often. The cruise lines will do their best to modify an itinerary in a way that provides the “best possible safe itinerary” that cruise line executive told me. Cruise passengers can be confident that where they may sail to is safe. Still, many are disappointed when changes are made to a vacation they may have been planning for years.

One primary factor of travel that those disappointed cruise passengers don’t get is the nature of travel.

Travel of any kind is a game of chance at best. Be it hiking, backpacking, a road trip or some other form of travel, unanticipated delays, problems, revolutions, or changes of different kinds happen. They just happen. In today’s world, they seem to be happening more. Having an open mind and going with the flow or “not sweating the small stuff” is a quality all cruise passengers need to have more than ever. Make that number one on your next packing list.

As safety concerns drive travelers to cruise vacations, look for the mix of people you see on ships to change if you pay really close attention. It will be interesting to see if traditional travelers, concerned about safety, sail and blend in with the typical cruise passenger, an animal that is getting harder to define anyway or if their addition will have an effect on that traditional cruise passenger.

Flickr photo by Tom’s Shots