Roatan: old and new – which is the real one?

Roatan_0508.726Today is day three of the sixth annual Low Carb Cruise. We sailed on Sunday from Galveston, and ports of call are Roatan, Honduras (Carnival’s Mahogany Bay), Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico. So far it’s been a very busy cruise, as expected, with two very full days of conferences, and one to come. Today is the first port day, and we’re at Roatan.

As usual, we haven’t partaken of any of the cruise excursions, preferring instead to spend most of our time on the ship, relaxing and enjoying the amenities in the absence of most of the other cruisers.   (We have, however, gotten some awesome video interviews with superstars in the low carb and dietary health field.) We did get off the ship for about a half-hour to peruse the tee-shirt shops, because Howard, true to form, didn’t bring enough tee shirts to last him the entire cruise (doing laundry – or sending it out – is not on the menu for me this week :-) ) I think I need to recognize that he’s done this tee shirt “trick” enough times that it’s a pattern, which means: he’s doing it on purpose. Oh well, there are worse vices, I think! And in the meantime, that gives me a chance to add to my extensive tee-shirt wardrobe as well. You didn’t think I was going to let HIM buy tee shirts without buying some myself, did you?

Anyway, there is a marked difference between the Roatan of this trip and the Roatan of our cruise four years ago. This Roatan is beautiful, flowery, clean – practically a Disneyland of the Caribbean. There are nice little buildings housing shops, pretty flowers and lovely beaches. There’s even a airborne ski-lift to ride to the nearest beach, so beachgoers don’t have to get their feet dirty or walk very far. There were even hummingbirds drinking from the beautiful red flowers. The other Roatan was dirty, primitive, smelly and messy. This Roatan is owned by Carnival Cruise lines; the other Roatan was (and still is, I’m sure) representative of the real Roatan – the one that belongs to the citizens. The one where the sewer pipes from the houses extended out over the waters of the bay.

I wonder if we aren’t being Disney-landed into oblivious disregard of our fellow planetary citizens? I wonder what would happen if at least some of the profits generated in this tropical Caribbean wonderland were to accrue to the citizens of the “real” Roatan? Do they want them? Do they want to work for them? Are they allowed to work for them? I spoke to a breakfast companion who said she also visited the “real” Roatan once and noticed that, despite the poverty, lack of sanitation and geneRoatan_tramral disregard for quality of life, every Roatanian had a big television mounted in his shack.

I wonder whether this is due to the inability to do better, or whether the citizenry doesn’t want to do better. Is the television their only means of escape, and is escape what is needed, or should they just work harder? Is the opportunity for improvement there, or is the cruise line hoarding it all?

I don’t know and I don’t think the answers are here, but it seems a shame to see such abundance growing in the midst of poverty. In the meantime, those hummingbirds were absolutely beautiful.



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Carnival Triumph – Third Strike?

My brother, a thoughtful kind of guy who knows my intense interest in cruising, sent me an email questioning my thoughts about the latest Carnival Triumph disaster.  So, I thought I’d post my answer to him here!

As might be expected, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about the Triumph mess.

First of all, it seems to me that Carnival has three strikes against it.  First the Costa Concordia (Costa Cruise line is owned by Carnival), second the Splendor, and now the Triumph.  There HAS to be a common thread among the three that reflects some degree of lack of care by the company.  I realize the Concordia’s ‘lack of care’ was the result of the captain’s imperious atTriumph_shiptitude, and the other two issues were related to maintenance.  But it seems to me that the overarching company culture must foster the captain’s attitude at some point.  After all, didn’t Carnival, the owner of Costa, have some idea that this captain was misbehaving and did they not turn a blind eye?  I can’t believe this was his first time to go outside the boundaries of good sense.

I am not aware of any previous issues leading up to the problems experienced by the Splendor, but it has been clearly documented (and I saw it myself on various cruise-related gathering places) that the Triumph had serious problems on its previous cruise. I saw this discussed during the time the propulsion problems were occurring and not as an afterthought when the engine room fire occurred.   According to the “official” accounts, the two problems with the Triumph were unrelated, but that may just be a convenient fiction.  An engine-room fire is a serious problem, as we saw, and it could have been worse.  And in fact, the Ecstasy, which used to sail from Galveston, and which Howard and I have sailed on, had a much more serious fire that affected the staterooms across the stern of the ship just a few years ago. Of course, much of that isn’t mentioned in polite company these days. Here’s someone who has no problem talking about it, though his income is largely dependent on such issues:  James Walker.  He wrote this article that discusses the 79 fires that have occurred on cruise ships since 1990.

Update:  Mr. Walker seems to think, according to his interview with CNN, that most passengers were treated quite well and aren’t likely to get a whole lot more out of Carnival.  See the interview here.

Aboard ship, one of the things that is repeated frequently during the safety drill is that fire is by far the most serious danger aboard any cruise ship, and guests are vigorously exhorted not to throw **anything** overboard, not to leave chargers plugged in inside the staterooms, etc.  But there’s not much the passengers can do about an engine-room fire.  The engine room is the one place on the ship that no passenger is ever allowed to enter, even on paid tours. The engine control room is the closest one can get, and it’s a sterile-looking room with various lights blinking here and there – nothing even vaguely similar to the actual conditions of the engine room.  One has to wonder what must have happened inside the engine room to cause this fire.  Nobody’s telling.

Also, you have to remember that the news services are looking for the worst possible pictures, the most dangerous circumstances, the passengers who are most vocal with their complaints.  They label it “the cruise from hell,” “nightmare voyage,” etc.  and I am certain that the entire trip was very unpleasant.  There’s no doubt that Carnival is liable in these circumstances, but of course they make it as difficult as possible to seek legal recourse.  The cruise ticket specifies when and where the line can be sued (Miami only, for cruises originating in North America) and of course, the first lawsuits have already been filed.  Of course, there are lawyers who are standing on one foot waiting to do just that.  And then there are the news pictures of Mickey Arison enjoying his Miami Heat game while the passengers are suffering.  Maybe he should have flogged himself in front of the cameras while the ship was adrift.  I am not sure what would have satisfied the news agencies and the passengers.

I do know that for me, I would have been mightily unimpressed with his boarding the ship and offering an apology, which is what he eventually did (and of course there was serious compensation for all the passengers too).  What is the deal with apologies these days? Who cares?  Saying “I’m sorry,” is the easiest thing to do.  Why does this matter?  I am certain Mr. Arison is very sorry that his company is shown in such a bad light.  He’s not even pretending to be sorry – he really is!

My husband and I have sailed on the Triumph twice.  The last voyage was this last September – Labor Day week.  The Triumph was easily the most beautiful ship of the Carnival fleet, and I am sure it looks horrible now.  The pictures of sewage running down the walls really don’t surprise me.  When you consider how the ships are constructed, all that sewage flows not far from everyone’s head anyway.  But 99.99% of the time, the pipes are working properly and no one has to think about it.  They’ll clean it up, fit it with the newest upgrades and start an advertising campaign to get it back in service.

One does have to consider that despite the conditions, no one was killed, no one was seriously injured, and really, no one was even in serious danger.  There may be some sanitation-related issues and illnesses, but even that was handled as well as can be expected.  I have far more sympathy toward the crew members who have to deal with some of the passengers’ spoiled attitude (“I’m on vacaaaaaaaaaaaation….I shouldn’t have to put up with this!”) than the passengers who were waited on hand and foot even during the worst part of the cruise.

I have often said – and really mean it – that given a choice, I’d never sail Carnival again.   But Royal Caribbean only sails from Galveston between November and April, and I really prefer to sail more often than once a year.

In the meantime, the news services will keep hunting for the latest disaster news so they will have something else to beat to death. It’s why I limit my news viewing to less than an hour a day.

photo credit: adrants via photopin cc

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Norwegian Jewel returns to Houston in 2014!

Finally after a LOT of years, Norwegian is again going to sail out of the Houston area, specifically from the Bayport, Texas terminal.

The Bay Area News has the full story, here.

“With the growth of our capacity from the upcoming additions of our two new ships — Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, we can expand our existing fleet into new homeports,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief executive officer.

The last time I sailed Norwegian was an ill-fated Alaskan cruise in Norwegian Jewel to sail out of Bayport, Texas in Fall 20142001.  Ill fated?  Yes, it started out beautifully but we woke up the next morning after sailing to the horrible news about the Twin Towers in New York.  After that, of course, our focus was more on getting home than on enjoying our cruise.  I will say, though, that NCL did a fantastic job of taking care of us and getting us home, despite the fact that the officers, staff and crew also were terribly affected by the events.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Norwegian Jewel again near me!

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