With the latest fire aboard a cruise ship—this one, a Memorial Day blaze on the Grandeur of the Seas which thankfully didn't result in injuries—some industry watchers are wondering if bookings will finally suffer over safety fears. But for as long as I can remember—over the past two decades that I've been investigating the travel industry for Condé Nast Traveler—there have been cruise scares. Twenty years ago the troubles included fires, norovirus epidemics, alleged rapes of passengers by crew members, and toxic shipboard doctors; today we still have fires, as well as shipwrecks, pirates, and passengers disappearing overboard. And yet none of it has hurt cruising: The number of new cruise ships and cruise-goers still grows significantly each year.
There are reasons to criticize the cruise industry, but the risk inherent in boarding a ship isn't one of them. If anything, cruise lines' emphasis on safety (which is important, of course) has gotten so pronounced that it can get in the way of a rewarding travel experience. I've been on ships that have instructed passengers not to shake hands with people they meet onshore, for fear of spreading germs to the ship—as if travel without meeting locals and offering a friendly handshake is truly travel (and even though these same ships have crew members spray passengers' hands with sanitizer every time passengers board the gangway and enter the buffet area). I've been on ships that scare passengers into taking the ship's overpriced and lumbering group tours, claiming ridiculously that you're physically safer with a group—as if the freedom and flexibility that come with independent exploration don't make for the best travel memories. I've even been on a ship where passengers, who had been through the muster drill on Day One, had to repeat the same drill later during the cruise, even though everyone was an experienced cruiser—and even though most of the drill was spent reading out the cabin numbers of all the no-shows.
And yet these disasters continue to scare many of us. Why? We're more afraid of risks that kill us in particularly hair-raising ways than we are of risks that we feel we have control over. (Thus we're more afraid of shipwrecks than of car accidents, which kill many more people.) We're more afraid of human-made dangers than of those with natural causes. (Which explains why a fire at sea seems scarier than the skin cancer you could get from too much sun on the pool deck.) And we're more afraid of risks that are highly publicized, especially on TV, when they involve spectacular events, such as a listing ship partially submerged off the coast of Italy, in plain view of news photographers and a "60 Minutes" crew.
For all its growing popularity, cruising is still a small slice of the overall travel industry. The latest figures from the Cruise Lines International Association show that only about three percent of the U.S. population has been on a cruise. Those are the people who know, from firsthand experience, how safe a typical cruise is, despite the news reports. As for those people who have never taken a cruise, it's easy to see those pictures and blow the risks out of proportion to reality. That is, until Royal Caribbean, Carnival, or whichever line is in the news lures them back with the convenience, price, and other upsides of a cruise vacation that become too good to ignore. In fact, I'd say now is the time to pounce on any great deals that Grandeur of the Seas might come out with. It's scheduled to start sailing again in July.
By Wendy Perrin, The Perrin Post - Conde Nast Traveler
For more cruise news & articles go to http://www.cruisecrazies.com/index.html
Re-posted on CruiseCrazies.com - Cruise News, Articles, Forums, Packing List, Ship Tracker, and more