How to prepare for a cruise: Tips from a professional mariner

Are you planning a cruise vacation?

Some things you should know before you go–from my personal maritime expert.

My captain’s in an isolated location with no TV or newspapers or internet access (other than simple email) so I include in my daily missives to him local and national news updates.

The Cruise Ship Carnival Triumph

I sent lots of reports about the problems of the broken and stranded Carnival ship Triumph last week–that poor ship ultimately endured a less than triumphant arrival into port amidst horrific tales of sewage-soaked carpets and open decks, with food so limited that passengers were reduced to eating candy and ketchup on buns.

2-14-13-Carnival-Triumph_full_600Since I have my own personal encyclopedia of maritime knowledge at my fingertips (ha ha) I thought it’d be interesting to share his thoughts about it.

People think I’ve been on every boat imaginable because of him–but that’s not true. I’ve never taken a cruise for a couple of reasons; I don’t like boats very much (unless they’re named after meand I’m too impatient. I like to get to my destination in a hurry.

A boat ride, whether it’s in a lagoon or a river or an ocean–is inherently rife with danger.

My captain’s been involved in salvage work for maritime accidents where he’s had to dive and search for bodies. As you might image, it’s impossible to erase those images from his memory.

The Titanic and the Costa Concordia are obvious examples of the worst possible outcomes.

Living in close quarters brings out the best and the worst in people–even without a disaster to deal with. Add an engine fire, backed up toilets, unlimited alcohol, and you’ve got a potential explosion. Some people panic, hoard food and water; some drink too much (the Triumph crew wisely shut down the open bar)–while others step up to the challenge with exemplary leadership skills; share, organize, and deal with the situation in a calm and logical manner.

I’ve listed a few of my captain’s recommendations before you embark on a cruise. This is by no means an exhaustive list; just a few tips from my in-house expert.

  • If you don’t already have one, obtain a Passport Card, which is a separate document from a Passport that you might have to surrender to a foreign flagged cruise ship. In the event that your passports are taken, a Passport Card might give you a sense of well-being if you want to get off the ship in a foreign port and go home.
  • Take a small flashlight and carry it with you at all times. Keep it next to your bedside.
  • Pack energy bars; nuts and raisins, and even protein powder if you have luggage space.
  • Take part in the lifeboat drills, know where your life jackets are and how to put them on. Pay attention!
  • Locate your life jacket in your cabin as soon as you arrive; practice putting it on.
  • Don’t wait for the required safety drill to memorize the location of your assigned lifeboat.
  • Make a family plan. Stay together.
  • Practice finding your way from your stateroom to a stairway to the deck bypassing an elevator. Know how to escape.
  • Find a U.S. cruise line in the inner coastal waters or Alaska or on the Rivers instead of a foreign flagged vessel that might not offer a passenger the same rights and legal protections. Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Pride of America is the only large U.S. flagged cruise ship.
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