Category Archives: News

Man overboard – or not?

Man overboard - or not?

There was an hour of intense drama on Ruby Princess last night when a passenger gave the ‘Man Overboard’ alert.

While the way the crew handled the event was nothing but impressive, the reaction of the passengers was fascinating and in some cases, bizarre.

The captain made an announcement about an hour out of Mykonos, as the sun was beginning to set. “Man overboard, port side”.  I’m on the starboard side. So what do I do? Rush out onto the balcony, only to find that pretty well everybody else on the starboard side had rushed out onto their balcony. I met many of my neighbours for the first time.

Everybody was in a state of mild shock, wondering if it was for real.

Being a nosy journalist, I went down to the promenade deck to see what was going on. But in under five minutes since the announcement, the crew had sealed the outside decks with ‘crime scene’-style yellow tape. All the officers who weren’t on the bridge or guarding the doors, where small crowds had formed, were gathered on the port side and a red flare was streaming smoke from a distant spot on the water. One man said excitedly, “This is awesome,” as though it was some kind of entertainment that had been laid on. Another guy said to his friend, “Come on, let’s go to the casino.” A Japanese man turned up with a huge Nikon, full zoom lens attached, presumably hoping for some gruesome action.

Most upsetting was the frightened parents who were running up and down the stairs in panic, trying to remember where they last saw their kids (there are a lot of families onboard with teens who do their own thing on the ship).

Meanwhile, the art auctioneer calmly continued to describe the ‘Picassos’ in the Explorers’ Lounge. The scene was truly surreal.

At this stage, we still didn’t know if there was an actual person in the water and the ship was a-twitter with rumour; it’s incredible how quickly untrue speculation spreads, the most chilling part of which was that a child had gone missing. Passenger Services started naming people who should make contact. The captain made a grim-sounding request for the person who had sounded the alarm to identify themselves. A Greek coastguard boat was spotted heading towards us. But by now, the flare had burned itself out and the sun had set.

The crowds dispersed and people ambled into dinner, where I kept a vigil by the window; at this point, the ship was almost stationary in the water as the search continued. I don’t know how you’re supposed to react in a situation like this; it seemed like something potentially so enormous and so tragic, but most people just kept on eating. On the other hand, what else were they supposed to do?

Eventually, the captain made another announcement and the entire dining room fell quiet; you could have heard a pin drop. The person who sounded the alarm had failed to identify themselves; the crew had done all they could; nobody had seen a person in the water or, indeed, the blue sunlounger which had caught the alarm-sounder’s attention in the first place; and we would resume our course to Piraeus.

So it was a false alarm that turned out to affect a lot of people. The officers, the engine room crew, the dining room service crew, all the passengers who were separated from their family at the time, the Greek coastguard… I imagine one passenger is feeling very foolish indeed today. But the episode has certainly given me a thorough respect for the intense emergency training that cruise ships’ crew receive.

SJB

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Filed under Cruise Lines, Family Cruises, Mediterranean Cruise, News

Would you visit high-crime Caribbean ports?

In today’s home page poll, we ask: would you avoid itineraries that visit Aruba, Jamaica, or St. Thomas? All three have been in the public eye, at least to some extent, for crimes against tourists (as has the Bahamas’ Nassau which we should have included!)

Vote in our poll — but before you head over to Cruisecritic.co.uk’s home page to do so, tell us if Monday’s tragic death of a cruise passenger while on the island of St. Thomas would affect the way you’d pick your next Caribbean cruise?

CSB

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Filed under Advice, News, Opinion, Polls, Virgin Cruises

St. Thomas – No Longer a Caribbean Paradise?

In the aftermath of a tragedy – a 14-year-old girl, a passenger on Carnival Victory, was shot to death on the island of St. Thomas yesterday — people are understandably wondering if that Caribbean island is no longer a paradise.

Actually, it hasn’t been paradise for a long time.

A new post on the St. Thomas Blog, which generally focuses on the island’s charms, sums it up well:  “Today is the saddest day of my residency in St. Thomas because today I can no longer tell tourists, readers, locals and anyone else that St. Thomas is safe. It’s not. Criminals aren’t just killing criminals, they’re killing innocents.”

St. Thomas (along with other Caribbean isles with the same urban problems as many of the world’s big cities) hasn’t been safe in eons. This is not a secret, especially not among cruise line executives, politicians, tourism officials and residents. In a statement reacting to yesterday’s gang shootout, the U.S.V.I. governor John P. De Jongh, Jr. notes that “What we are experiencing today is the result of many years of neglect which we can no longer tolerate. Everyone must rise up against those who continue to wage violent crime on our streets.”

Fighting words? Not exactly. But it does seem that the citizens of St. Thomas feel powerless to effect change.

That’s exactly how I’d feel if I lived there now. That’s exactly how I felt when in fact I did live on the island – way back in 2000 – when gangs ran rampant, when random violence was common, when the only time you really felt safe was when you were hanging out in tourist areas. Yesterday’s tragic turn of events tells us now that you’re not safe even in those places.

Should cruise lines pull out of St. Thomas altogether? It’s a fair question. Would you want to go there now? This isn’t meant to punish some really fine folks who live there, who put their hearts not only into what makes it potentially such a beautiful vacation destination but also into improving the community in which they live. But the U.S. Virgin Islands needs to get this house in order.

Ironically, one of the most positive memories I have of my time there came about after a young man was shot and paralyzed from the waist down while in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas’ main city (and arguably the premier duty free shopping mecca in the Caribbean). Islanders reacted by volunteering to host “Bringing Peace to Paradise,” a music festival that aimed to motivate residents to fight crime – and provide the former surfer with funds needed to pay for surgeries and, hopefully, to help him walk again. The powerful spirit of the volunteers, who came together from so many different life paths and offered such a variety of skills, created a glow of goodwill that penetrated into some pretty dark spots. At least for a short while.

But without lasting peace, you can’t have paradise.

I ask again: should cruise lines pull out of St. Thomas? Should you vote with the power you have – to choose Caribbean cruises where St. Thomas is not on the itinerary?

Perhaps it would be the wakeup call that the island needs to make a significant and lasting charge against the runaway violence that plagues it now. Perhaps the local leadership would be wise to understand why St. Croix, the largest American virgin island, and one replete with attractions, gorgeous scenery, great surfing, pristine beaches and charming small towns, went from being a popular cruise port to one that, because of crime that wasn’t battled, has become almost nonexistent.

CSB

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Filed under Advice, Destinations, News, Opinion, Virgin Cruises

The last word

Okay, for the last word on NCL’s Norwegian Epic (well we make no promises — but this is the last word for awhile!), check out this Cruise Critic interview on U.S. radio magnet Peter Greenberg’s national show. It’s a frisky look at what works and doesn’t on the ship : http://bit.ly/ap9Gwx. Cruise Critic also got a very nice shout out from the BBC’s Fast Track program on Epic-related opinions but it’s not available to watch in the U.K. so…sorry about that.

And if you’re catching up on cruise news and reviews this weekend, here are a couple of other Cruise Critic stories from this week worth checking out:

*Strikes in Greece have impacted cruise travel (and travel in general) in Athens this week; we’re keeping an eye on the situation throughout the weekend: http://bit.ly/cOalRE.

*If you’ve ever thought about heading to Glastonbury for the famed rock festival (or more probably if you’re reading this blog, you haven’t ever considered such an experience — but maybe you know someone who has?), a cruise ship rock festival is a lot more intimate and you don’t have to deal with mud (and tents). Check out this virtual slideshow on sister site Cruisecritic.com (http://bit.ly/avNuI0 ) as Dan Askin takes us along with him on a trip aboard Carnival Inspiration. He keeps it pretty clean!

*For the latest reviews from Cruise Critic members just off ships, check out brand new submissions from Independence of the Seas, Thomson Celebration, Island Escape and Azamara Quest. Start here: http://www.cruisecritic.co.uk/reviews/.

Have a great weekend!

CSB

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Filed under Cruise Lines, Destinations, New Ships, News, Singles Cruises, Theme Cruises, Virgin Cruises

When is a story not a story?

Headlines yesterday screamed: Man burns feet on cruise ship! Burns so severe his leg was amputated!

The article originally appeared in the Daily Mirror and the curiously seamy topic was picked up by travel bloggers everywhere. But here’s the thing: It’s a non story. And none other than John Honeywell, the Mirror’s own travel blogger (http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/captain-greybeard/2010/07/cruise-amputee-wont-give-up.html), had the wisdom to say so.

In fact, one place you did not read about the Ocean Village passenger who claims he burned his feet on an over-hot pool deck, was Cruise Critic. That’s because when we first heard about the passenger’s lawsuit — in 2008 — U.K. editor Kelly Ranson investigated the claims. She recalls, “as tragic as it is that his injuries were so severe they required amputation, there were a number of inconsistencies in the story that seemed out of line.”

In the end, we did not write a news item on the story then and we won’t write one now.

One of Cruise Critic’s big mantras internally, when reporting on news stories, is a very simple one, gleaned from grammar school: “Do your homework.” It’s not enough to take one person’s tale at face value. It’s also unacceptable to reprise an article that appeared in a newspaper or online media outlet by simply repeating the facts without doing our own diligence.  As such, we spend a lot of time chasing stories that seem on the surface to be quite riveting but that in the end don’t pan out as legitimate. And in that case, as in this case, we don’t write them.

CSB

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Filed under Advice, Cruise Lines, News, Opinion

Norwegian Epic’s trials: Are they over?

In a news piece yesterday, Cruise Critic’s Dan Askin writes about the varied and many trials and tribulations that Norwegian Epic’s experienced in its short life as a ship. The latest — the malfunctioning propeller that altered some preview cruises here in Europe and in England — is clearly on the minds of many and we’re working on a news item about that.

The ship arrived in Southampton late yesterday as you all know. For the expected next cruise, a two nighter to nowhere, which we’re on now, Epic’s stayed tied up at the dock. But good news! We’ve just learned that we’ll take to the high seas at 1 p.m. for a one night cruise to nowhere!

One of privileges of being able to experience a ship on a pre-inaugural basis is that you get to see it while it’s brand spanking new. One of the challenges is that all new ships come with kinks and they need to be worked out. Some require passengers onboard to help in discovering kinks. Others are mechanical. That’s the way it works. What I’m seeing now onboard is that everything is really coming together beautifully. As long as NCL gets the mechanical problem sorted, I think the lucky, lucky folks who are on the Atlantic crossing, which departs tomorrow night, are going to have a grand time.

CSB

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Filed under New Ships, News

Norwegian Epic’s just arrived in Southampton!

It’s a very pretty cruise into Southampton and the ship got a nice welcome from the folks at Carnival UK, who took to the rooftop to cheer on the ship (not sure you’ll be able to tell from photo).  Fred. Olsen’s pretty Black Watch is tied up alongside — talk about David vs. Goliath, sizewise. It looks tiny next to Epic. Alas, vista of piles of garbage on a dock that I’m looking at right now — and smelling — isn’t too nice; god help us if we dock right next to it.

CSB

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