As I viewed the amazing time lapse photography of the Costa Concordia being raised upright 20 months after it ran aground off the Italian island of Giglio in January of 2012, I thought this would be a good opportunity to review the most important health and safety tips every passenger should know before embarking on a cruise ship.
Read the safety information in your cabin. This is especially true if you have children in your group. Locate your lifejackets, write down the location of your muster station, and review together the safety instructions in the cabin. You will receive a visual presentation later in the day at the safety drill, but it doesnt hurt to get a head start.
Become familiar with your surroundings. Gather your group together, grab the deck plan map you received at registration and take a tour of the vessel. Get to know the ship, paying close attention to the location of the emergency exits, lifeboat stations, rescue boats and the medical facilities being aware of the proximity of each to your cabin.
Make a Grab & Go Kit. After youve unpacked, place your key important items in a waterproof or zip-lock freezer bag, and store them in a single place, ready to grab at a moments notice. These items might include your medications, small flashlight, an extra set of eyeglasses, a list of contacts or PDA, a small amount of cash, a credit card and a drivers license. If you store the kit in your cabin safe, be sure you know the combination and can access it quick.
Don't nap during the safety drill. In the wake of the Concordia disaster, new, improved safety measures and crew training have risen to the forefront, and the requirement of safety drill attendance by every passenger and crew member is enforced more than ever. Pay close attention to the detailed instructions and demonstrations by the crew so you will be prepared in case of an emergency.
Lay down the law with your kids. Some parents are under the mistaken impression that a cruise ship is a safe, enclosed environment, no harm will come to their children, and they can let the kids roam freely. While it's not necessary to be helicopter parents and some freedom is okay, specific guidelines should be set and reinforced. No running, no shouting, no entering adult-only areas, no horseplay in the elevators, and no entering crew quarters or the cabins of others at any time. Meet up with the kids frequently at appointed times and places throughout the day. Make a set of rules and enforce them. Write them down and require the kids to read and sign them, well before embarkation day.
Report any suspicious activity. Don't ignore crime, or anything else that seems a little off or makes you feel uncomfortable. Perceived theft, suspicious adults hovering near children's areas, passengers climbing aboard rails, drunken fights, or any other misbehavior or suspicious activity should be brought to the attention of a crew member who can deal with it accordingly and prevent a mishap from occurring.
Wash your hands frequently. Much has been written and spoken about when it comes to the noro-virus. While illness can be avoided by refraining from touching handrails and door handles, using hand sanitizer and taking other health precautions, nothing wards off illness like good, old-fashioned soap and water, whether or not there is a current health warning in place.
Drink responsibly. Nobody likes an annoying drunk, especially one that engages in unsafe or unhealthy behavior. Drink responsibly and watch your limit. Alcohol impedes judgment and makes us do things we would never do when sober. More importantly, never accept drinks from strangers. Take steps to avoid injury, sexual assault and other mishaps that can result from over-imbibing.
Be safe on shore. Just as in any land vacation, going ashore means taking preventive measures against theft and crime. Whether or not you take a ship excursion, guard your personal belongings. Travel lightly when possible, and wear a money belt or cross-body bag, keeping your money and credit cards close to your person - out of sight under your clothing is even better. If booking an independent tour, do your research to be sure the company is reliable and trustworthy. When getting into a taxi, be sure it is properly licensed and accredited and that the driver is responsible. When possible, use the buddy system - avoid traveling alone, especially in places off the beaten track. Have fun and explore, but just be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Above all, use common sense. Whether you are aboard the ship or touring on shore, the most trusted weapon in your safety arsenal is simple common sense. If it feels strange or unsafe, then it probably is, and you should either remove yourself from the situation and/or notify a crewmember or the authorities. For example, don't flash your cash or valuables or leave them out in the open.
By using a little common sense, you can have fun on your cruise and be safe, too.
By Janice Neves, CruiseCrazies Contributor
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