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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sinking the cruise industry?

Who would cruise the Mediterranean in January? I shared that reaction with Jennifer Fried, manager at Traveline in Willoughby, when I first heard of the Friday 13th disaster involving the Costa Concordia off Italy's Tuscan coast. Passengers still are missing from that 4,000-passenger ship, which was recently built and the largest ship serving Europe.  It's winter there this time of year, just as it is here.. not quite as cold but winter nonetheless. The seven-day Med cruise was priced as low as $399 online, and Fried said it's marketed mainly to Europeans. She said she wouldn't book anyone on a wintertime cruise in the Mediterranean.

 I also wanted to find out why many passengers apparently hadn't been part of a lifeboat drill.
On all of my own two dozen or so cruises, the  lifeboat drill took place within the first 24 hours, usually shortly after the ship set sail. Jennifer tells me that when a passenger she booked on a Caribbean cruise failed to attend the mandatory life boat drill, Fried was contacted by the cruise line. "They were ready to put the passenger ashore," she said. "That's how seriously they take it."

Life boat drills have changed some in the 30 years I've been cruising. On my last voyage passengers didn't have to retrieve their life vests, put them on and go to their assigned lifeboat stations. Instead we took life vests to the lounge where we saw a video about evacuation procedures.Attendance was taken to be sure every passenger was there.  Members of the Cruise Lines Industry Association trade group comply with rules mandating a life boat drill within  the first 24 hours of a cruise, according to a spokesman.

Maritime law may differ in Europe, and as Fried pointed out, the Concordia's itinerary allowed it to take on and disembark passengers at several different ports - quite unlike cruises in this part of the world, which begin and end at certain ports and last a prescribed number of days.

"The Concordia seems to have been more like a ferry boat," she observed. When they appeared on Tuesday's Today Show, Concordia passengers Melissa Goduli and her mother Maria Papa said there had been a lifeboat drill aboard the ship the previous Saturday. But other passengers had differing accounts.

But when I took  the Hurtigruten Norwegian coastal voyage from Kirkeness to Bergen it was aboard a true ferry boat. And a very thorough lifeboat drill took place before we departed that Arctic village near the Russian border.

Will this disaster mean the end of the cruise industry? I asked Fried.

"Those who have cruised before usually have a great experience and they'll cruise again," she said. As far as vacation types go, cruising gets high marks for satisfaction.

But I predict some who have never cruised might not be so anxious to do so, despite cruises fares that may come tumbling down in the wake of this disaster off Italy. And I also predict that the rules governing cruise ships and safety at sea will also undergo some changes. 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is just terrible what happened on that cruise ship, but it wouldn't stop me from going on one.

January 17, 2012 at 3:19 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just appreciate the perspective your blog offers. Not being a cruising person, your perspectives about lifeboat training is helpful in my own understanding about the confusion of this highly unusual cruise ship wreck. Thank you!

Will we cruise? This event won't influence our decision.

January 17, 2012 at 5:41 PM 
Blogger Maureen said...

As always, Ms. Podolak has wise insight and updated information on such topics, clearly based on her experience as a travel writer, one with her eyes always on such issues as safety. On several occasions, I have taken her advice and travel tips and have felt much safer and secure, in addition to having a good time. If I ever do take a cruise, which I would love to do, I will contact Ms Podolak well beforehand.

January 21, 2012 at 2:06 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to be going from bad to worse, this cruise ship in Italy. I appreciate the commentary of the News Herald because I will now only cruises after seeking advice about safety. My heart goes out to those families who have lost relatives in this avoidable accident. The ship captain is a disgrace.

January 21, 2012 at 2:08 PM 

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