Unusual Cruises

By Ann Dermody
Published: February/March 2013

Last year, almost three-quarters of the 15 million cruise-ship vacations worldwide were taken by Americans. While the enormous super-ships continue in their competition to outdo each other in the "faster, bigger, newer" sweepstakes, another facet of the industry has been quietly developing.

Cruise Ship Safety

After the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster last year at Port Giglio, off the coast of Italy, many people started wondering, and worrying, about the safety of cruising ships, and captain and crew competency. The good news is that deaths and injuries aboard cruise ships are rare, particularly when you consider that more than 16 million passengers safely travel the high seas each year. But to make things even safer, CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) the main North American cruising industry's marketing group, has joined worldwide cruise organizations to step up safety measures even more.

Among the new rules are passenger-safety drills before the ship leaves port; official rules established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) require a safety drill only within 24 hours of embarkation. Some shipping lines have been taking this so seriously there are reports of passengers who refused to attend the safety briefing being asked to leave the ship. The best person to look after you, is you. With that in mind, here are some tips to keeping safe aboard.

Know where your life jacket is. Most likely it'll be in a closet in your cabin and you'll probably have to try it on during the drill. Even if you're not asked to, fit it on, get comfortable with the straps, and do the same with the rest of your party, especially children. If there aren't enough jackets, or if they're the wrong sizes, alert a crewmember to get you the correct ones.

Pay attention during the safety drill. This may not be the most exciting activity aboard, but you'll have to attend one, and while you'd probably rather keep sipping your cocktail, remember it might make the difference between sinking or swimming (literally) later.

Know where you are. Determine where your cabin is on the ship and what your best route out of it might be. There likely will be a route on the back of your door with the assigned congregation point in case of an emergency. You'll also probably be given a map of the cruise ship when you board, or there'll be one in your cabin.

Avoid getting sick. Ships with 13 passengers or more, and those with a foreign itinerary with U.S. ports, get report cards from the Vessel Sanitation Program of the CDC, which routinely inspects ships for cleanliness, repair, food prep, storage, hygiene, pest management, and so on. Go on the CDC website before you book your trip to see the grade your ship received. wwwn.cdc.gov/InspectionQueryTool/InspectionSearch.aspx

Be as vigilant as you would in a city. Just because you're on vacation with a bunch of other holidaymakers doesn't mean there aren't unsavory types here, too. Large cruise ships can have 5,000 people and more onboard, so it's important not to let your guard down totally, and take all the precautions you would anywhere else. Don't try to re-create the Leonardo Di Caprio/Kate Winselt scene in Titanic, either. Many of these ships are 10-stories high with giant propellers, so your odds if you fall overboard are not good.

Use the ship's safe. But leave your most treasured and valuable items at home. You'd be surprised how many people know the bypass code for your in-room safe.

Obviously, some of the cruises in our story are smaller outfits that don't necessarily fall under U.S. jurisdiction. If you're thinking of booking a cruise online or through an agent who doesn't offer much website guidance about their safety procedures, don't be afraid to ask. You can also ask the operator or company to provide you with a list of previous passengers to talk to. In the end, trust your gut, and even if you get there and something seems amiss, don't be shy about pointing it out and getting it rectified, before you set sail.

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