Monday, March 18, 2013

Take a Carnival Cruise to Barbados? No Thanks!

The three most recent incidents of Carnival cruises going awry have many scratching their heads and others wondering if such cruises (say to the Caribbean) are worthwhile. Look no further than the Carnival ‘Dream’ last month which turned into a nightmare and 5 days being stuck in the Gulf of Mexico for thousands. Only onion sandwiches to eat, no power to speak of, and overflowing toilets sending nasty effluent into cabins so that passengers were forced to live on the decks. (They were told to urinate into buckets and defecate into plastic bags.)

Then, so far this month - we’ve had one Carnival ship (‘Legend’) return passengers from St. Martins because of “engine problems” while another (‘Elation’) experienced steering problems and had to cut its voyage short – upsetting lots of paying passengers. Oh, they will get their “refunds” – but the question is whether even those are worth all the grief caused.

What gives? According to several cruise line experts the problem may be too much greed on the part of the company. (Carnival’s CEO is also owner of the NBA Miami Heat.) Thus, in order to retain high profit margins, the cruise line is operating with very short turnaround times and likely that means low maintenance. Low maintenance in turn translates into a high probability of mechanical problems, including for engine, steering, electrical systems, you name it. All the sort of problems we have seen.

Compounding this is the fact that these current cruise ships are absolute monsters, approaching a mile in length, compared to those from a generation ago (think of the QE II) that were barely 1,100 ‘ in length). The greater size obviously means more complexity, more running parts, more difficult fuel –power issues. Hence, much more maintenance oversight than in the olden days of the ‘Love Boat’.

Meanwhile, to hear the PR -meisters try to explain the problems away is truly laughable, including a Judy Woolridge of ‘Travel and Leisure’ Magazine this morning on CBS. To hear her tell it, the cruise lines have been way out ahead in being pro-active. Actually, they haven’t: an ABC 20-20 airing barely 3 weeks ago recounted how crew aren’t allowed to inform passengers of any serious problems. They’re expected to just present a cheery smile and lie, saying “We’re working on it”.

Yeah, right! As for Woolridge, the travel magazine -based cruise line defender, well what the heck do you expect her to say when the cruise industry likely takes out one fourth or more of the ads in her magazine? Do you really believe she’d be inclined to bite the hands that literally feed her?

Why anyone in his or her right mind would want to go on a cruise in one of these monstrosities is beyond me. For one thing, you are literally trapped in this environment with thousands of others for DAYS. An air flight is one thing, yes you’re trapped in a confined cabin for the duration – maybe hours. In a worst case scenario, okay you may be stuck in a cabin for 4 hours under inclement weather conditions or for maintenance repair. But not for DAYS!

Then again, being stuck when norovirus is spreading – as it tends to do in cruise ships (to the extent many captains advise long time clients not to partake of the buffets) makes the trips even more dreadful. Now, combine a norovirus outbreak with no running water, no food, no power and toilets overflowing. Why would anyone put themselves in for such a potential? You are basically placing yourself in the potential of being floating  "Katrina survivors" as we beheld in 2005 with those thousands stuffed into the N.O. Superdome after all the power went out and the food ran out.

People have to answer that for themselves, but for me I will stick to small yachts such as the one I took from St. Lucia to Martinique in August, 1972. It was one of the best sea jaunts ever though most of my fellow Peace Corps passengers got sea sick. But I wouldn’t trade a trip like that for one on a monster cruise liner for anything….even if offered 10 grand!

Well, okay, I might consider a short trip on a Carnival cruise if I was offered $1m. Tax -free!

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