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The Truth about Falling Off A Cruise Ship



I’ve never fallen off a cruise ship.

This is no small admission, given that I drink quite a bit while on board, travel solo and am known to be a bit of a clutz. But the secret to my success in this department comes down to two words: personal responsibility.

I bring it up because this week, the family of a woman who — while traveling with friends aboard the Carnival Liberty — consumed too much alcohol, climbed up the railing and fell overboard is suing the cruise line. And while this is without doubt a tragic situation, the story raises serious questions about both how often this happens and who is to blame.

Beyond The Numbers

Photo: PortMiami Twitter

In reporting the story, NBC’s affiliate in Miami stated that “nearly 300 people” have fallen off of cruise ships since 1995. And when delivered by an intense newscaster reporting on a family’s tragedy, that sounds like an awful lot, even though simple math allows you to conclude that it happens to approximately 13 people a year. And heck, maybe 13 people a year falling off ships sounds like a lot, too… but consider the fact that over 11 million people in the United States alone took cruises over the past 12 months, and you begin to get a clearer picture.

Playing the Odds

If you were told tomorrow that your odds of winning the lottery were 13 out of 11 million, you probably wouldn’t run out to buy a ticket. (Fun fact: They are actually far worse, but the lottery folks would much rather you think of it in terms of “all you need is a dollar and a dream.”) Heck, your chances of getting hit by lightning this year are 1 in 960,000… which, now that I type those words, is a lot lower than I imagined! Yet they are significantly higher than the 13 out of 11 million chance that you will wind up going overboard.

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The Blame Game

What can be disturbing in these types of stories is the way they are reported. Newscasters breathlessly talk about passengers “falling” overboard as if they tripped on an uneven sidewalk. Anyone who has ever been aboard a cruise ship knows that it is literally impossible to simply “fall” off a ship without first climbing atop something. Maybe it’s a chair on your balcony, maybe you want to perch on the railing for a selfie. One thing you are not doing is simply walking along the deck when — woops! — over the edge you tumble, like a discarded napkin blown away on a breeze.

Alcohol often plays a role in these cases, and it’s easy to point a finger at the bartenders who may have over-served a guest. There is, perhaps, some validity to that claim. But doing so takes personal responsibility away from the person consuming the alcohol, not to mention the family and friends accompanying them. Would you rather put your fate in the hands of a stranger who is serving you alcohol or the people with whom you are celebrating?

(flickr/Ronnie Robertson)

In the wake of any passenger going overboard, there is also a renewed cry for increased protections against it happening in the future. The question becomes exactly how that should be done. There are technologies being developed — including one which would essentially use beams of light to detect when someone has fallen over and, when the light beam is broken, sound an alarm — but there are, at this point, major flaws in the systems.

For example, they might have difficulty distinguishing between a body going over the railing and, say, a deck chair doing the same. And it’s worth noting that once you’ve gone overboard, even if an alarm has sounded or someone has noticed, it may already be too late. Stopping an in-motion ship is not as simple as tapping the brakes on your car, and locating someone in the vastness of the sea is a daunting-at-best task.

The most obvious — and draconian — solution is, of course, to limit passengers’ access to the ocean. Higher railings on decks or even a complete lack of stateroom balconies. But given that for many cruisers, the almost primal urge to connect with the sea is one of the reasons we sail to begin with, this seems unlikely.

Perhaps at the end of the day, the answer is to accept that accidents — often tragic, sometimes fatal — happen. On land, in the sky and on the sea, they simply… happen. In their aftermath, we look for answers where none can be found and seek change where perhaps none is needed. It’s in our nature to blame, especially when trying to comprehend a situation which happens so rarely, we never even imagined it to be a possibility.



How Cruising Keeps Us Young



The 80s music was thumping, the lights were flashing, and, as instructed by the cruise director and his staff, folks were waving their hands in the air as if they just didn’t care. Among them was Marjorie, who was celebrating her 86th birthday dancing the night away at Spice H20 aboard the Norwegian Breakaway.

“This is something I’d never, ever do at home!” she told me, shouting to be heard over the music. “This is why I cruise!”

How Millennials Changed Cruising And Cruisers

It wasn’t all that long ago that cruising was thought of as where grandma and grandpa went to shuffle between Bingo games and the buffet, occasionally stopping to nap on the promenade deck. But that was before freestyle dining, free-fall waterslides, surf simulators, robotic bartenders and on-board breweries… you know, all the things that have been added by cruise lines in part to broaden their appeal to a younger demographic.

But a funny thing happened along the way to luring those young folks: Some of us rediscovered things we thought we’d left behind… or discovered them for the first time. Cruise ships seem to have the same effect on older folks as do weddings… we go from being those people who would shout “Turn that music down!” at home to tearing up the dance floor until the wee hours of the morning.

Why sleep when you can dance until dawn at the “silent disco” party on Norwegian Bliss?

During a recent sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, I watched a teen who was scared to try the RipCord flight simulator be convinced to give it a go… by watching his grandfather do it first. And just shy of my own 55th birthday, I recently went speeding around the upper deck of the Norwegian Bliss on a go-kart before throwing myself into an intense round of laser tag. (To be fair, I killed more of my own teammates than I did our opponents, but I had a heck of a good time doing it!)

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Without doubt, this is a win/win for the cruise industry: Not only are more people hitting the high seas than ever before, but the average age of passengers has dropped significantly over the past 20 years. Plus, by continuing to offer the amenities expected by old-school cruisers even as they pump up the thrills to attract the younger generations, an ever-increasing number of multi-generational groups are sailing.

The “Something For Everyone” Factor

Taking a break from the dance floor — more, I suspect, for my sake than hers — Marjorie told me that she and her husband had cruised together for over three decades, and that when he passed away, she assumed she would probably stop sailing. But it was actually her granddaughter who, seeing an ad on TV, suggested the whole family should take a vacation together. The more they looked into the idea, the more even disinterested members of the clan came around as they found out just how much there would be to do, even if they didn’t get off the ship.

Thrills such as the SkyRide on Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon are designed to attract new and younger cruisers… but they also wind up appealing to adventurers of all ages! Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line

This cruise, she says, is unlike any she and her husband had taken in the past. “I’m trying to keep up with the young folks,” she says, adding with a laugh, “and I must be doing okay, because I think they went to bed an hour ago!”

This is where I shamefully admit that Marjorie outlasted me, too. Although we crossed paths again several times during the week, including at a whiskey tasting. “I figured what the heck,” she says, raising a glass to toast. “You only live once!”

Have you done things on a cruise ship you probably wouldn’t do at home? Do you believe that cruising helps keep you young? 


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How Cruise Lines Celebrate Earth Day Every Day



As cruisers, there’s little we love more than the ocean. And since oceans cover 71 percent of our planet’s surface, it only makes sense that the cruise lines want to do whatever they can to have a positive impact on both the waterways of the world and the land on which their passengers live. So while people around the world are marking Earth Day, we thought it appropriate to take a moment to acknowledge some of the major moves the cruise industry has made over the past few years to try and help Mother Nature.

  • Changing The Way We Cruise
    Let’s face it: Most of us probably don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the mechanics of cruising. But the industry as a whole is spending a lot of time and money into ships fueled by Liquefied Nitrogen Gas. In fact, Carnival Cruise Line’s Aida division is about to roll out the first-ever ship to be entirely powered by this more environmentally-friendly fuel source.

The Aida Nova will be the first cruise ship is currently under construction. Rendering by AIDA Cruises 

  • Changing The Way They Operate
    Over the past few months, all of the major cruise lines have announced plans to reduce the amount of single-use plastics… with the help of passengers. Royal Caribbean announced that not only will they be cutting back on items such as straws, but that they will also be looking into other aspects of their business to see how they can make major changes in this area.

Straws will soon be available only by request on most cruise lines… and that’s a good thing.

  • Finding Creative Ways To Recycle
    Proving the environment isn’t something cruise lines are only now thinking about, we reported back in 2015 on the fact that Disney Cruise Line was donating its used cooking oil — we’re talking tens of thousands of gallons — to the Bahamas Waste Management organization so that they can in turn use it to fuel some of their vehicles!
  • Encouraging Passengers To Do Their Part
    Most cruise lines offer their passengers the option to get more than one use out of their bathroom towels. And while this might seem like a rather insignificant move, it actually can have a pretty huge impact. After all, if even 100 passengers on each ship opt to get more use out of their towels, think about how many items that takes out of the laundry stream over the course of a year, thus conserving a whole lot of water!
  • Making Decisions That Aren’t Always Popular
    Not every way in which the cruise lines help the environment is always a big hit with every passenger. To this day, Carnival still gets complaints from people who didn’t approve of the decision to remove table cloths from the Main Dining Rooms during most meal services. But again, the number of items taken out of the laundry cycle (and the amount of water and energy conserved as a result) is downright staggering when looked at over the course of a year.

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    The amount of laundry processed by a cruise ship each day is staggering.

  •  Making Recycling A Priority
    Most cruise lines do everything in their power to separate garbage. On some ships, food scraps are ground up and turned into fish food. On others, room stewards sift through garbage to try and separate recyclable items.
  •  Being A Part Of The Global Community
    Over the years, cruise lines have thrown their financial and even political support behind numerous charitable organizations including the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, making it clear that they care not only about the environments populated by their passengers, but the many creatures with whom we share the planet.


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Cruiser Suggests Removing Gratuity To Send Message



Upset that a cruise during which she hoped to relax was disturbed by construction taking place on the ship, a disgruntled passenger took to a message board to vent. It was the type of complaint that pops up from time to time on cruise-related message boards, claiming that a significant number of passengers had complained to guest services about their restful vacation being disrupted by the work being done. And like clockwork, one of the people responding to the original posting offered a suggestion which is made far too often.

“When things like this happen,” he suggested, “everyone should go to guest services and remove the daily gratuities. That will send a powerful message to the cruise line!”

Nassau Bahamas

Except, of course, that it wouldn’t. And worse, it would be punishing the wrong people. Think of it this way: If you go to a restaurant and the waitress works her butt off to give you the best service possible, but the food isn’t very good… should your server be punished via a lousy tip? Or would it make more sense to speak to a manager regarding the chef who prepared the food?

Still not convinced? Imagine it was your child working in that restaurant, doing an absolutely top-notch job and yet being stiffed on tips because the chef prepared bad food.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide To Cruise Tipping

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The daily gratuities charged by most cruise lines are a subject of much debate. Personally, I’ve long advocated that the charge should be rolled directly into the price of the cruise (which would also cut back on the inevitable outcry which arises each time they are raised). I also think there should be no circumstances under which they can be removed.

“But what if the service is bad?” some will ask.

“Doesn’t matter,” I will respond. Because even if you do come across a few bad apples during the course of your cruise, the vast majority of the crew members — including many you will never see, let alone acknowledge — work hard to make sure you have the best possible vacation.

“I remove the gratuities,” some will say, “and then individually reward those who provide me with good service.” Again, I will remind them of all the people who work hard behind the scenes and who will never be on the receiving end of their magnanimous dispensing of individual tips.

Personally, I can think of nothing that could ever justify my removing the daily gratuities charge from my bill. Beyond that, however, the notion of removing the tips of hard-working individuals as a way to “send a message” to their bosses is incomprehensible to me.

Want to send a message to the corporate offices? Write a letter. Send an E-mail. Heck, take your business to another cruise line and then write a letter letting the one you’ve left behind exactly why you decided to do so. If you truly believe that money talks, then surely the loss of a loyal customer is going to speak far louder than would the comparative pittance that is the daily gratuity charge.

Under what circumstances would — or have — you removed the daily gratuity fee? Do you think the cruise lines should simply roll the fee into the overall cost of the cruise? 

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