This hasn’t been the best year for Disney Cruise Line. The family-friendly cruise line has been anything but family oriented this year, after reports of a sexual assault on a minor aboard the Disney Dream came to light and after a 4-year-old boy nearly drowned in the Disney Fantasy pool. But while Disney still might report fewer accidents and crimes than other major cruise lines, these two tragedies are extremely serious and inexcusable, and who knows how many others have occurred without the public getting informed.
In the wake of Sen. Jay Rockefeller calling attention to the lack of transparency in cruise ship crime reporting and introducing the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013, four cruise lines, including Disney, have “voluntarily” released their crime and accident reports. Many lines have claimed they are taking the necessary efforts to improve cruise ship safety, but of course, who knows if this would have happened without the legislation.
We would think Disney, of all cruise lines, would work extra hard at improving passenger safety following the report of a sexual assault on the minor and the near-drowning of the other child. It would only make sense for the line to actually employ life guards for their ships to prevent another horrific pool-side accident or to provide greater security to make sure another cruise ship sexual assault crime doesn’t occur. But instead, Disney has chosen a different route to their safety campaign. The line has decided to ban smoking on cabin balconies.
According to the cruise line, Disney will ban all smoking products, including cigarettes and cigars from balcony cabins beginning on November 15. But that’s not the harshest part of it all. The line is also going to fine passengers who violate the smoking rule a whopping $250, which allegedly will cover cleaning and maintenance costs for balcony cabins.
Our cruise lawyers can see how Disney might think this tactic might improve passenger safety and their overall experience. After all, the majority of Disney cruise passengers are children and the line doesn’t want to set a bad example. That’s all fine and dandy, but given the fact that the line has already concealed a sexual assault crime, Disney might want to think of stepping up their efforts a little more with a tangible safety protocol that will actually protect the overall safety of guests.
Disney has never allowed smoking inside interior cabins nor in any of the interior areas of any of the line’s four cruise ships. But with the new regulation, there will only be a few spots for smokers to choose from. The line will designate certain spots on decks 4,9 and 10 onboard the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder cruise ships for smoking, while those onboard the Disney Dream will only be able to smoke in outdoor sections on decks 4, 12 and 13.
Is this tactic an effort on Disney’s part to save face following this year’s horrible accidents and crimes? Is the line trying to take the easy (and cheaper) way out of imposing real safety strategies to protect passengers?
Maybe, but Disney isn’t the only cruise line with this mentality. Other cruise lines have also banned smoking on balcony cabins, including Celebrity and Princess, and the luxury liners Oceania and Crystal. Only Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian still allow passengers in balcony staterooms to smoke on their verandas.
But how much can the ban really improve the safety of other passengers? Well, as our cruise lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. can attest to, freak accidents can – and do – happen on cruise ships around the world. Who knows if someone smoking a cigarette out on their balcony might flick a lit cigarette bud accidentally into their cabin and start a fire. Stranger things have happened.
It just seems a little silly that cruise lines would prioritize the smoking ban instead of focusing on more pressing issues, such as improving security onboard ships, performing more accurate maintenance checks of ship equipment, or setting up better surveillance technology or infrared cameras to detect when a passenger goes overboard. These are all things cruise lines can work on to truly improve passenger safety, but we haven’t seen the major cruise lines actually publicly follow through with their promise to improve safety on their vessels.
To keep all this in perspective, it is important to keep in mind that the cruise lines do not want bad things to happen to their passengers. However when bad things do happen, they seem to have the mentality of protecting the cruise line in an adversarial way to the victims. This attitude needs to change. Senator Rockefeller’s efforts in this regard should be applauded. It is only through transparency that real trust can be created by the cruise lines. My guess is that true transparency will not affect the profits of the cruise lines. What it might do is make passengers more aware of the dangers that could be avoided by applying a modicum of common sense. This would be a win-win situation with increased safety for the passengers and less liability for the cruise lines.