The Dangers vs. the Splendor of a Cruise Ship Vacation, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

There is scarce a more enjoyable and relaxing approach to tourism than that of the cruise: it affords the passenger both the comforts and amenities of a luxury resort, and the opportunity for adventure in exotic locales. And yet, for all the splendors and benefits of the cruising industry, the hospitable and welcoming image of the industry has been tarnished by accounts of disease outbreaks on cruise liners, and the occasional harrowing story of attacks by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Despite recent media slander, numerous safety issues pertaining to cruising have been addressed and resolved, thereby enabling the cruising vacationer to enjoy an altogether safe, satisfactory, and thrilling getaway.

The modern cruising industry began with Samuel Cunard, who in 1840 sailed with 63 passengers on the 1,154-ton Britannia, a steamship, across the Atlantic Ocean (Gulliksen 342). It was the start of a new approach to maritime travel: voyaging for recreation, rather than immigration (342). The industry grew in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, though it was interrupted by World War I—and later by World War II (Brymer 214). But it was the 1970s that really marked the creation of the contemporary cruising industry, as entrepreneurs within the industry sought to increase the popularity of the concept with the public by challenging the widespread idea that cruises were only for the wealthy, and especially for retirees (Gulliksen 342). The result was a new emphasis on amenities, comforts, and fun, designed to appeal to far more people, and especially the young (342). For example, in 1982 Carnival Cruise Lines debuted the Tropicale, a 36,000-ton ship capable of accommodating 1,022 passengers—rather small by contemporary standards (342). However, the Tropicale was revolutionary: it introduced “spacious cabins, an easy-to-navigate layout, and a vibrant interior design” (342).

Today, cruising is a popular and growing industry: the Cruise Lines International Association has reported 7.2% yearly growth rates in numbers of passengers since the year 1990 (Young 114). And Brymer writes that the cruise industry is growing faster than any other segment of the leisure travel market, with over one thousand percent growth since the year 1970 (214). Since the 1970s, the cruising industry has thrived by focusing on both new, larger ships, and better service in three key areas: “’hospitality, food, and entertainment’” (Young 111). Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Sea weighs in at 225,282 tons, and can accommodate 5,400 guests (112). In an expert review of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, Paloti gives the reader a tantalizing view of the amenities and comforts awaiting adventure-bound voyagers: “a surf simulator, a regulation-sized boxing ring, an interactive water park for kids and even a barbershop” (para. 2). These opportunities alone could keep the passenger amused for hours on end—but there’s much more. Other venues for fun include an “ice-skating rink, Johnny Rockets, the Promenade Café, Ben & Jerry’s,” and many others (para. 2). The ship also has a Latin-themed bar, Boleros, and a wine bar, Vintages (para. 5).

In another expert review, Brown reveals the delights and extraordinary comforts of Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas, including “rollerblading, playing miniature golf, relaxing in the thalassotherapy pool, catching a parade on the Royal Promenade or playing poker in the casino” (para. 2). For youngsters, the liner offers a plethora of attractions: various play rooms, “including an arcade and exclusive outdoor deck space” (para. 2). Want to eat out? No problem, there are five restaurants and a café (para. 2). The wine bar Vintages is also present, and this, Brown explains, is fashioned with the aesthetic of “a cozy wine cellar” (para. 6). The ship is the last in its class, the Voyager class, and this is a key advantage vis-à-vis its predecessors: the balconies, for example, were actually constructed outside the superstructure of the vessel itself (para. 4). This produces balconies which are, in Brown’s words, “less cavelike and more light-filled, and cabins are three feet wider and airier, as well” (para. 4). All of this, while en route to Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta, for example (para. 2).

As for destinations, the outlook could not be better: in fact, the prospective voyager has any number of adventure-filled and exciting locales to choose from. The official website of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), Inc. lists destinations from Africa to Alaska, as well as Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand, Bahamas and the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central America, Mexico, the Pacific islands, and many more (“Destinations”). An Antarctic cruise, for example, offers the passenger a chance to see the spell-binding beauty of this ice-locked continent, and to encounter a whole host of the wildlife for which this land is so famous: “gentoo and chinstrap penguins; crabeater, Weddell and leopard seals; humpback and killer whales; and kelp gulls and nesting Antarctic terns” (CLIA “Antarctica” para. 1). For the traveler who would prefer to sunbathe, surf and snorkel, the Bahamas and the Caribbean offer sun-kissed beaches, waves, and sea life, not to mention diverse local cultures, nightlife, golfing, and incredible shopping opportunities (CLIA “Bahamas & Caribbean”). Mexico offers bountiful cruise opportunities as well: the Pacific port city of Puerto Vallarta, for example, a popular tourist destination which boasts a warm and tropical climate, a politically stable and friendly environment, and tourist activities ranging from sightseeing to surfing, and from the natural beauty of the Marieta Islands to the nightlife of the city itself (VisitPuertoVallarta “Travel Facts”, “Unique Places”). The isles of the Pacific offer another chance to experience a tropical Eden: thousands upon thousands of island paradises, replete with chances to surf, sunbathe, see coral reefs, experience the friendly local hospitality of Polynesian cultures, golf, and whale-watch (CLIA “Hawaii, Polynesia, Tahiti, & The South Pacific”). Raft the Upper Navua River in Fiji, and discover “a pristine tropical wilderness” as well as indigenous highland Fijian culture (Travelscene, “Fji Sightseeing and Excursions”). Or try Tahiti: the bustling, cosmopolitan city of Papeete, with its French wines and local jewelry, fabrics, and crafts (CruiseCritic “Tahiti Overview” para. 3).

And yet, despite the seemingly-endless delights and joys of cruising, there are perils as well. A case in point is gastrointestinal illness (GI), a recurrent problem that has afflicted a relatively small, but still significant, fraction of cruise passengers (Neri et al. 172). As Neri et al. explain, the rate of GI illness declined from 29.2 to 16.3 per “100,000 cruise ship passenger days” from 1990 to 2000; however, it then rose to 25.6 per 100,000 cruise ship passenger days from 2001 to 2005 (172). The pathogen responsible for this increase is norovirus, which afflicts not only cruise ship passengers, but also causes outbreaks on land, typically from restaurants (172-173). In fact, according to these authors norovirus was responsible for some 57% of “239 nationally reported restaurant outbreaks” in 2004 (173). The virus is quite contagious, and it spreads readily from person to person (173). However, outbreaks can be controlled by isolating ill patients and by maintaining a regimen of hand washing (173). For venues such as cruise ships, other measures include reducing the exposure of the staff to persons infected with norovirus, and, in extreme cases, closing facilities entirely (173).

However, this is not the whole of the story. Nori et al. analyzed outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness on three cruise ships, with an eye towards comparing the “knowledge, attitudes, and practices” of both infected and uninfected passengers (173). In particular, they wanted to know if there were patterns, crucial differences between the ideas, knowledge, and behaviors of the infected versus the uninfected that set them apart (173). What they found was very interesting and revealing. True, passengers with infected cabin mates, passengers who had had some social contact with other infected, and passengers exposed to vomit or diarrhea were at elevated risk of infection (174). However, they also found that a number of passengers had either delayed in reporting to the infirmary, or had simply refused to do so altogether, based on the belief that “the illness was not serious”, which led them to attempt to treat themselves—and thereby infect more passengers (174). On one ship, passengers who were ill displayed a statistically-significant tendency to not believe in the efficacy of “hand washing or hand sanitizer… to prevent spread of diseases that cause GI” (174). Moreover, in each of these three cases, the authors established that some passengers were carrying GI before they even embarked on the ship (174). This leads to a recommendation from Nori et al. for improving passenger safety and health on cruise voyages: cruising lines must institute routine procedures for screening for such diseases prior to embarkation, a practice that a majority of cruising lines sadly do not adhere to (174). Moreover, another needful measure is a better emphasis on passenger education in the use of hand sanitizer and hand washing for reducing incidences of norovirus outbreaks and other, similar diseases (175). And indeed, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been consistently working with the cruising industry towards precisely this outcome (175).

In a study of 11 Antarctic cruises which took place from “November 20, 2004, through March 10, 2005”, Bledsoe, Drill, Zak, and Li analyzed a total of 232 medical complaints for 1,057 passengers and 10,673 person-days (36-37). This included both illnesses and injuries, and yielded a rate of a mere 21.7 medical complaints for every 1,000 person-days (37). By far the most common medical complaint was motion sickness: 96 complaints, 42.3% of the total, 9.0 incidents for every 1,000 person-days (37). Next came infectious diseases, with 39 complaints, constituting 17.2% of the total, and with 3.7 incidents per 1,000 person-days (37). Third came injuries, with 34 complaints, constituting 15.0% of the total, and with 3.2 incidents per 1,0000 person-days (37). The figures fell off quite sharply from there for other complaints (37). The key point here is that this demonstrates precisely how rare incidents of illness or injury can be on a cruising tour, even when one considers a total population of 1,057 passengers and a total of 10,673 person-days, distributed across eleven cruises. Moreover, the authors remarked upon something quite curious—and, for the prospective cruise voyager, reassuring: the only injuries and illnesses reported from these eleven cruise voyages were minor (39). This, despite the fact that most of the passengers were of a more elderly demographic, and despite the additional fact that the ships traversed the Drake Passage, notorious for its rough waters, on the way to Antarctica (39). The authors also detailed the specific measures taken by the cruising lines to minimize the risks and hazards of the Antarctic environs: although the cold climate carries the risks of hypothermia and frostbite, land excursions take place only during the day, and passengers return to onboard heating, warm food and hot showers (39). Furthermore, on every land excursion the passengers must take survival gear, as a precaution against any group of passengers being stranded overnight—despite the fact that there is only one documented case of Antarctic tourists being stranded, in 1967 no less (39).

The other main peril of cruising that has received considerable media attention is rather limited by geography: attacks by Somali pirates, operating in the Gulf of Aden that links the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. In 2009, these marauders made headlines when they seized the container ship Maersk Alabama (Anderson 24). A hostage crisis ensued, culminating in an intervention by U.S. Navy SEAL snipers (24). But the problem continues: in this impoverished failed state on the Horn of Africa, piracy is a lucrative business in the strategic waters of the Gulf of Aden (24). However, faced with this threat, the cruising industry has begun to evolve a number of very successful countermeasures. For example, MSC Cruises (USA) turned to a private Israeli security company, hiring specialized teams of highly-skilled, very well-trained personnel (24). In April of 2009, the MSC Melody was attacked by Somali pirates: they were hit by water cannons, and then driven away by warning shots fired by the Israelis (24). Moreover, some cruise ships have resorted to carrying firearms when passing through the Gulf of Aden (24). And the Holland America Line (HAL) recently debuted a technological marvel, a new weapon in the anti-pirate arsenal: the Long Range Acoustic Device, capable of producing a very powerful, focused beam of sound capable of inflicting permanent auditory damage (25). Cruise ships are also large and fast: they can sail in open waters far from shore, out of range of pirate vessels; their speed and turbulence makes them difficult to board; they can outmaneuver pirates, generating large waves that make it difficult for the attackers to board, and they can ram the much smaller pirate vessels (25). Finally, cruise ships are protected with steel doors leading to the bridge, along with an electronic lock—well beyond the capabilities of Somali pirates (25).

A cruise vacation offers both incredible benefits and certain hazards as well. But the benefits far outweigh the potential perils: the cruise passenger will be able to look back on memories of many enjoyable and relaxing hours, both on the ship and off. Depending on the cruise ship, the passenger may enjoy ice-skating, swimming, rollerblading, and even surfing—not to mention dining and socializing with other passengers. The destinations range from the raw natural beauty of the icy Antarctic shores, with such iconic wildlife as penguins, seals, and whales, to upscale nightclubs, luxury resorts and beaches in Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. By comparison, the risks of gastrointestinal illness—not to mention other diseases and injuries—are relatively small, and easily guarded against. Finally, cruise ships sailing through the waters infested by the Somali pirates have evolved a number of sophisticated strategies for dealing with them. In sum, there is no reason not to go on a cruise and experience the adventure of a lifetime.

Works Cited

Anderson, Wayne M. “Preventing piracy.” Cruise Travel, 31.2 (2009): 24-25. EBSCOhost. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

Bledsoe, Gregory H., Justin D. Brill, Daniel Zak, and Guohua Li. “Injury and Illness Aboard an Antarctic Cruise Ship.” Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 18.1 (2007): 36-40. EBSCOhost. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

Brown, Carolyn S. “Mariner of the Seas Expert Review.” Rev. of Mariner of the Seas, by Royal Caribbean. CruiseCritic. CruiseCritic, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

Brymer, Robert A. Hospitality and Tourism: An Introduction to the Industry. 11th ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2004. Print.

Cruise Lines International Association, Inc. “Destinations.” Cruising.org. Cruising.org, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

CruiseCritic. “Tahiti Overview.” CruiseCritic. CruiseCritic, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

Gulliksen, Vance. “The Cruise Industry.” Society, 45.4 (2008): 342-344. EBSCOhost. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

Neri, Antonio J., et al. “Passenger behaviors during norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships.” Journal of Travel Medicine, 15.3 (2008): 172-176. EBSCOhost. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

Paloti, Melissa. “Freedom of the Seas Expert Review.” Rev. of Freedom of the Seas, by Royal Caribbean. CruiseCritic. CruiseCritic, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

TravelScene. “Fiji Sightseeing and Excursions.” TravelScene. TravelScene, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

VisitPuertoVallarta. “Travel Facts about Puerto Vallarta.” VisitPuertoVallarta.  VisitPuertoVallarta, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

“Unique Places in and around Vallarta.” VisitPuertoVallarta. VisitPuertoVallarta, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

Young, Susan J. “A Cruise Revolution.” Travel Agent, 337.11 (2010): 114-118. EBSCOhost. Web. 08 Apr. 2012.

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