Are Cruise Lines Spending Too Much Time on Scheduling Itineraries Instead of Improving Onboard Safety?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Cruise ships in Grand TurkMany of us have been on cruise vacations throughout the years, and with each passing season, ships keep getting bigger and better. The vessels themselves are becoming large enough to easily transport over 4,000 passengers, and with features like giant waterslides, aquatic acrobatics, and even an obstacle course track, the ships themselves provide more than their fair share of adventure opportunities for excited guests.

But for the majority of travelers, the real thrill has and will always be the incredible ports they are able to visit. From tropical islands in the Caribbean to mythical lands in the Mediterranean, cruise itineraries seem as though they are perfectly calculated with a specific adventurer’s ideal vacation in mind. And, for the most part, they are. But is there a little too much emphasis placed on the “fun” aspect of cruising? Sure, the maritime attorneys at our firm understand that the onboard entertainment and the incredible itineraries are what drive people to book a cruise vacation. But at the same time, safety cannot be ignored.

For the past few years, it appears as though there has been a tradeoff within the cruise industry. Improved safety has been forsaken in exchange for a greater allocation of funds toward improving itineraries and onboard activities.

Cruise lines spend billions of dollars each year increasing the number of activities offered on their vessels and tweaking their ports of call, but with every passing cruise ship accident, crime, and illness outbreak, it seems as though the cruise lines aren’t even spending half of that on safety enhancement protocols, which may include improved training programs for crew members and the installation of modern radar technology to pinpoint when and where a passenger falls overboard.

A recent interview in the New York Times featuring a Carnival Cruise Line’s employee in charge of creating itineraries highlights the cruise industry’s fixation on entertainment as opposed to its lack of focus on safety.

Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president for revenue management and deployment, was asked to discuss his particular line of work and the process that goes into choosing itineraries in the interview. According to Mr. Thornton, who has been working for Carnival for 25 years, itineraries are chosen after careful review of guest suggestions and cost analysis reports.  Mr. Thornton explained that Carnival aims to “keep [guests] happy and coming back.” But given the fact that he has access to guest reviews and data reports, does he pay any mind to the dangers involved in visiting some of these ports?

As much thought as Carnival appears to put into design exciting vacations for its loyal guests, perhaps it should also give as much consideration to safety, given the increasing number of cruise ship accidents that has befallen the industry in recent years.

Bigger ships and more exciting itineraries are important because that’s what keeps travelers coming back, but safety is what allows them the ability to keep cruising. Cruise lines have a responsibility to maintain their ships, thoroughly train their staff, and overall, provide a reasonably safe onboard and offshore environment for their patrons.

The more that itineraries are expanding and the more shore excursions that are being offered, the greater the chance for accidents and crimes to occur. Certain ports, even ones that are highly frequented by cruise lines, are being plagued by increasing crime rates. Take the Bahamas, for instance, arguably the most visited port. The Bahamas has been facing an increased rate of crime, including sexual assault and theft of cruise passengers. Many passnegers are advised to remain close to port when visiting the islands, yet, cruise lines haven’t canceled the port yet. This means there is still a risk for passengers to be harmed.

As far as shore excursions go, most are operated by third parties, which cruise lines claim to have no direct control over. Perhaps, one way to increase passenger safety is to create itineraries that are designed and executed by the lines themselves. Another idea might be to designate crew members to accompany passengers on any given shore excursion to keep an eye out for travelers.

Though shore excursions can be fun, many are not as safe as travelers might imagine. We applaud Mr. Thornton’s dedication to providing Carnival guests with fun-filled and intriguing itineraries, but at the same time, decades of experience in maritime law matters have allowed our attorneys to recognize the dangers present in these itineraries.

For this reason, we recommend guests to employ the “buddy system” when traveling for added protection. Stick to known areas that are frequented by cruise passengers and crew and avoid “off the beaten path” choices ashore.  Accidents and crimes are less likely to happen in highly visited areas – especially when guests travel in groups that can look out for each other. We also recommend guests to bring their own first aid kits onboard their ships and with them on shore excursions. Additionally, our firm released a free app for iPhone and Android users called Cruise Ship Lawyer that allows guests to document incidents that happen during their vacation, free Skype feature that allows guests to make phone calls even at sea, and also a means to contact an attorney from our firm directly in order to obtain legal assistance in the event of an emergency.

The best and most enjoyable cruise vacations are the ones where passengers can feel safe. We wish every cruise enthusiast wonderful and safe travels.