Sunday, January 22, 2012

Is Cruising Safe?

Is Cruising Safe?

With the airwaves full of news about the Costa Concordia I think it is a good time to talk about safety on cruises. There have been amazing stories of heroism and unbelievable cowardly behavior. What can you do to make sure you have a safe and fun cruise vacation?

Here are my thoughts on the matter. In general I believe cruising is safe. There are things you can do to make it safer for yourself. I'm sure I've missed some things but I've tried to use my training in disaster preparedness for earthquakes as a base. Of course you can't carry a emergency supply of food and water but there are some simple things you can do.

First off choose wisely which cruise line you travel on. Check safety records and check in on cruise forums. Look for reviews and see what people say about the various cruise lines. I'll be honest I did that before I went on the first of our two cruises. Safety records were one major reason I chose Disney Cruise Line for our cruises.

Think about yourself and everybody in your party when choosing a cruise line to go on. Many are not much more that floating parties with drinking and gambling most of the day and night. Think of what happens when the atmosphere of a location is drunken partying. Is that where you wish to be?? Is that where you want your family, especially young children? When there is no limit on alcohol behavior can get way out of line. This can be a danger for not only the person drinking but those around. It can lead to drunken accidents and risky behavior as well as brawls. It puts you at risk of not being able to protect yourself and allows you to become a perfect target for predators. Remember you are "confined" on that ship with the other guests on board. It is not easy to totally stay away from someone if they choose to bother you.

Disney Cruise ships do have bars and there are a few people that get a little "to happy". On the two cruises I've been on I saw a few people that should have stopped a few glasses before they did. Still they were not rude nor did they display overtly risky behavior. Most seemed to be reined in by the fact they had children with them. There was one gentleman that was a little loud because he was drunk. He made comments about people as they walked into the dining room several nights in a row. The comments were neither rude or off color. They were funny and silly. He would call out things like, "Look at that family! They are all dressed alike. That is fun! We should have done that." Obviously the comments were meant for his traveling companions and not the room at large. His voice was so loud we could hear him half way across the room. It was silly, annoying and unnecessary but not dangerous behavior.

Consider where your cruise is going. What is the geopolitical situation of the ports of call of the cruise itinerary you are considering? Is there war or unrest there? Consider the size of your ship. Are there pirates in the area you are thinking of cruising? Have other ships like the one you have chosen been attacked in the area? I'm not trying to scare you, I'm just trying to get people to think.

In the ports you are going to is there a recent history of attacks on tourists?  When we booked our Mexican Riviera cruise on the Disney Wonder we were scheduled to go to three different ports of call, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. Several months before we left a grave with many bodies was found outside of Mazatlan. The violence of the Drug Cartels had reached the tourist areas that had been left alone up to then. Disney, along with other cruise lines, decided to no longer stop at that port. Instead of going to Mazatlan our schedule was changed to stop at Cabo San Lucas twice instead. The cruise industry knows better than to take people into dangerous areas. Still, it is wise to check with the State Department and see if there are any travel warnings for the area you are considering going to.

I will be honest things were a little scary in Puerto Vallarta. There were armed Mexican Army personnel in full battle gear with AK47s at the ready in the port. If they are that heavily armed who knows what the people they are guarding against are carrying! I sure don't want to find out! We chose to stay inside the port area and got back on the ship after a short walk around.

Be aware of what is going on around you when you are in port. Don't get so distracted looking at the scenery that you don't notice the people around you that might mean you harm. Only stay in the tourest areas. Better yet only get off the ship to go on guided Shore Excursions set up by the cruise line. You are no longer in the sheltered confines of the ship with the ship's crew to help you. If you run into any trouble you will have to rely on the local law enforcement to help you. You do have the added assistance of the local consulate for your country.

I suggest each person in your group carry a small little bag. In that bag should be a small flashlight, batteries, whistle, money and the card style US Passport if you are a US citizen. The flashlight can help you get around the ship if the power goes out. Don't forget if the power goes out there will be little to no light in the hallways and inside areas of the ship. The batteries are for the flashlight. The whistle is so you can call for help. Give rhythmic bursts on the whistle so people know it is not a natural sound but one made by a person. The money is so you can get things you need if you have to leave the ship with nothing but that little bag and the clothes on your back. The US State Department now issues two different types of passports. One is the classic book style that is required if you fly in or out of the United States. The second style is for use by US citizens traveling by ship or car in and out of Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.  This is a small plastic card that looks like the Drivers Licenses most states issue. This Passport Card is easy to carry in a wallet or pocket. It is sturdier than the old book style. The reason for keeping your Passport Card with you is for identification as a US citizen in case of emergency. If you have to get off the ship during an emergency and can't get back to your cabin to get your Book Passport out of your safe you will still have ID. It is also a good idea to carry it when you go off the ship. It is smaller and easier to carry than the book style. It will make it easier to get help from the US Consulate if needed.

In the unlikely case of an emergency stay calm. Panic kills quicker than most disasters. If you can keep your head while those around you lose theirs you will survive when they may. You may even be able to calm and save some of them. Remember to take care of yourself first. This may sound strange but hear me out. If you take care of yourself first then you can help others. If you allow yourself to be injured you most likely will not be able to help anybody.

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