It's inaccurate fear mongering that misinforms opinions about the cruise industry.
Early cruise misconceptions were simple; "it's for old people," "I'll feel trapped on a boat," "all they do is eat," and "it's too regimented." But as the cruise industry matured and addressed those older concerns something interesting happened, new cruise misconceptions: "cruise ships have criminals," "they're rampant with disease" and "they nickel and dime you onboard."
There is always a tiny grain of truth, but these new misconceptions are far more frightening, especially that cruise ships attract criminals looking to target the unsuspecting. Who would spread such hogwash? Personal injury lawyers and the web sites that feed them clients are good examples.
Cruise lines are especially vulnerable to misconceptions because only 17% of Americans have ever been on a cruise. Lack of first-person eyewitnesses to refute the claims of these professional cruise industry bashers makes their jobs far too easy.
Let's examine the new cruise misconceptions:
(1) Cruise Ships are Death Traps
A number of people go missing from cruise ships each year, but the misconception is about why it happens. According to media reports in 2010 there were 13 overboards from the popular U.S.-based cruise lines you already know. The headlines infer these people "disappeared" or "fell" from the ship - an unfortunate description of an event where we really don't know what happened.
Sadly, jumping from a cruise ship is a highly effective method of suicide, one that always leaves many questions. Was it planned or a spur-of-the-moment decision? Did they think they could survive the fall and swim to safety? Each case is different and we'll never know. In all of the above cases I am strongly of the opinion that the cause was suicide, and I have no evidence to change my mind. Two weeks ago a young man jumped from Carnival Conquest's deck 11 just after it left Cozumel. Witnesses say he appeared to be arguing with his wife. The shoreline was still close by but he did not survive the fall and his body was never found. In fact, few people survive the fall or are ever found. This fatal miscalculation could play into many of the younger victim's misfortunes
Most cases, by far, have no witnesses only adding to the mystery. Two weeks ago a 75-year old man disappeared from a Holland America ship. The family was understandably devastated and confused. Two weeks later his body washed ashore. "No evidence of foul play" the local investigators determined. Another suicide, in my opinion. How do we know these people weren't victims of crime? There just isn't any evidence; blood, fingernails or chipped paint. Since the year 2000, the number of missing person cases with any evidence of foul play is a mere handful – out of 100 million U.S. cruises. George Smith is one of them, but the FBI never made a determination of foul play. In fact, no legal entity has ever made a determination of foul play for a passenger going overboard from a U.S. cruise ship. What do the cruise lines know? Most cruise ships have hundreds of video cameras, many trained to capture overboards. But standard cruise line policy is "no comment" because they are not the legal authorities. By law, the jurisdictional authorities are given full access to all cruise line evidence, and I still cannot remember a single legal determination of "foul play" in any recent case of a person going overboard.
To be sure, people die accidentally on cruise ships; from falls on stairs or anaphylactic shock. But I can't tell you why some people track all such events and list them on web sites that identify the cruise line as somehow liable in every case. The term "cruise victim" is actually legal lexicon now, as if any misfortune that occurs on a cruise ship is automatically the responsibility of the cruise line.
But isn't even one death on a cruise ship more than enough for concern? Some 393 people died in our national parks in 2010. The Golden Gate Bridge averages 30 suicides a year. This isn't a pretty topic, but some light needs to shed on the fear mongering people calling cruise ships "death traps."
(2) Ships Are Rampant with Disease
Norovirus, the second most common virus after the common cold in America, is a nasty bug often called "stomach flu." The estimated likelihood of your ship having a Norovirus outbreak is below 1%, with "outbreak" defined as afflicting 2% or more of the shipboard population. In 2010 there were only 3854 cases of Norovirus on cruise ships. This was out of 13,000,000 cruises taken. That comes out to .029 percent of all cruisers getting "stomach flu."
So, why do cruise ships have the "disease" stigma? Cruise ship outbreaks are tracked
(3) Cruise Ships "Nickel and Dime" You
Cruising was once considered an "inclusive vacation" because the cruise fare covered food, drink and entertainment. It still does. As has always been true in the past; alcohol, soda, shore tours, spa treatments and gratuities are not included in the average cruise fare, with the exception of luxury cruise lines which include all of the above.
In fact, nothing has changed in terms of what is included in the average, mainstream cruise fare. Optional goodies have been added at a cost; spa services, special dining, movies on demand, boutique coffee…No one is twisting your arm to buy these extras.
To be clear, the characterizations of "nickel and diming" come from cruisers who believe the quality of the food included in your cruise fare has gone down to steer you towards the alternative restaurants. These claims vary by cruise line and as mentioned there may be a grain of truth, but that's a matter of opinion, not a statement of fact. I personally do not agree.
The New Cruise Industry
Without a doubt, cruising is a very complicated industry with many aspects to explore beyond offering a great vacation; social, legal and economic. One thing that always amuses me is people who simultaneously describe cruising as boring and sedentary, yet the cruise lines as audacious and dauntless.
The state of the modern cruise industry was molded by both international and domestic maritime law. Everything the lines do is legal under current law; they do not cheat the tax system, employ slave labor or harbor criminals. Everyone has their own moral barometer and no one is perfect.
Cruise misconceptions are so time-consuming that most of the industry just ignores them now. I just addressed them because of recent comments I received to some of my preceding articles. Whether or not you enjoy cruising is ultimately up to you. My only concern is that you have an informed opinion.