Much fuss has been made in the media this week about Carnival’s latest cruise ship incident, the Triumph’s engine fire. As a cruiser, I felt it was time to bring some balance.

Now, I should first say that I’m not a Carnival fan, I cruise Royal Caribbean. This isn’t because I feel Carnival is unsafe, but that I feel Royal Caribbean delivers a superior experience. I’ve firmed-up this opinion by bringing some friends who had previously cruised with Carnival along on my most recent Royal Caribbean cruise.

Cruising is Dangerous

Of course cruising is dangerous, you’re afloat. This is like saying riding in a car is more dangerous than sitting in your living room, of course it is. Travel, of any kind, involves risk. Is the risk of being on a cruise ship great, to the extent you shouldn’t cruise, of course not. Millions of people have cruised without so much as a scratch.

People like to make a big deal out of incidents when they happen, and certainly some of the recent cruise incidents have been significant — the Costa Concordia (also owned by Carnival) disaster resulted in fatalities, and was largely the fault of the captain’s recklessness. However, the Carnival Triumph incident was not one of recklessness, but rather one of dealing with a bad situation. If a cruise ship has a break-down, passenger comfort will suffer, it’s a fact of life.

Cruise Lines Underpay Employees

Several news stories mentioned the “underpaid” employees on cruise ships as a contributing factor to the Carnival Triumph incident. I disagree. Cruise lines do pay lower wages than American companies, but this is because the ships are not registered in the United States. Cruise lines don’t register ships under the US flag because they would then have to abide by US minimum wage laws, and this would increase costs and prices of cruise vacations.

Now, let’s break this down. First of all, cruise lines pay below US minimum wage because they can. I can’t blame them for this, it’s capitalism. However, most of the crew members are not American, in fact I’ve never met a waiter, stateroom attendant, or Guest Relations crew member from the US on any of my cruises. This is due to the wages. Americans can make more money at home, so they stay home. But someone from, say, Jamaica may be able to make more aboard a cruise ship. If he/she wants to take the job, they should be free to do so.

If crew members were truly “underpaid,” there would be no one lining up to come work for the cruise lines. Based on my conversations with crew members, I don’t believe any cruise line is having difficulty finding new crew. The concept of being underpaid is relative to the person. Someone in San Francisco may be underpaid making $13.00/hour, where someone in a small town may be just fine at that same wage level; countries are the same way, and therefore it works for the cruise lines.

Carnival Should Have Moved Faster

The title of one article I read was “Why Did it Take So Long?” I’m honestly surprised that people are this dumb. The Triumph, one of Carnival’s larger ships, is enormous. You can’t just run a tug boat out to it, hook up a rope and go flying across the ocean. Nor can a tugboat supply enough electrical power to return propulsion to the ship in distress.

Carnival elected to tow the ship to the nearest port, Mobile, rather than to it’s destination, Galveston, which made the return trip shorter. They also switched to Mobile from a port in Mexico after the ship drifted closer to Mobile. Carnival could have easily decided to tow the Triumph to Galveston, the port from which the vessel departed, but this would have been a longer tow, and they knew it was important to get this over with as soon as possible.

Should You Go Cruising?

The $50,000 question is then should you cruise or not? Personally, I say go. Cruises are some of the cheapest, most well-conducted vacations available. Comparing my cruising experience to all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, I would take a cruise any day (and I have).

If you don’t agree with the wage issue, choose another vacation, voice your disapproval with your wallet; where the cruise lines will feel it most.

If you’re unwilling to take the risk, stay home. Your cruise is just as likely to be hit by an engine room fire as your resort in Las Vegas is to lose power for your stay.

But for now, hand me a Mai Tai, I’m off to the ship.

Cruising the High Seas…and Eating Spam?

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