"At the Captain's Table" is Cruise Critic's original series of stories penned by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis. Joyce knows the ins and outs of life onboard -- both as a cruise ship staff member and as the wife of Celebrity Cruises' venerable Captain Adamidis -- and offers a behind-the-scenes perspective on issues facing cruisers and the cruise industry.
This article is one of the hardest I will ever write as two unexpected tragedies -- the death of 12 Millennium passengers during an onshore experience and the fire on Star Princess which killed one man -- make it difficult for me to express my feelings.
Of course, disaster hits all sections of the world; no one is exempt. However, in this case, bad news came from a cruise vacation and a special cord was struck. Why? Because it is a time when passengers onboard are at their happiest. I would be a lying to say, "I don't feel anything" when a passenger has lost life. Yet, it states the very truth; I am numb from head to toe. Staring in the sky, tears in my eyes, and feeling the pain of trying to find answers to why this had to happen goes beyond any reason a human mind can fathom. For surviving friends and family, our deepest condolences are offered with sympathy and love for their loss. Comfort at this time won't be found; time, trust and love will give them the base to get through the shock and horror of their situation.
While the events were unfolding about the 12 deaths (and two injured) on a minibus outside of Arica, Chile, I sat at my desk thinking of Celebrity's Millennium, which was our home for nearly four years. Then came the news of the Star Princess fire in the Caribbean. It was a reminder that disaster hits without warning and isn't choosy with whom and where it hits. We are all equally vulnerable.
The victims and families suffer an unjust result -- they lost their loved ones. Passengers traveling with them -- whether they knew them or not -- feel pain, too. Crew members become melancholy for home, aching to hug their loved ones. Everyone is affected. And we, too, from our homes, stared at the television in shock, read the news on the Internet in silence and shared with others our feelings of fear.
Both on and off the ships, many bowed their heads in sorrow asking for strong hearts and strength to all those in need. The feeling onboard is gloomy. Empty seats are stared at. None of the crew members want to enter the departed passengers' bare cabins. Visual images fill minds of how the tragedy took place. It seems odd and somehow inappropriate to hear laughter.
Sadness of this kind can not be shaken off easily. To start the recovery stage, individuals and groups participate in prayers. Which religious belief we have no longer matters; multi-denominations come together for a common purpose in giving silence for the loss of life.
It fell upon my ears that someone immediately asked, "What will the cruise line do for these people since they lured the passenger to travel on them?" And: "What compensation will others get for the one-day delay?" This is so callously insensitive to the families that it doesn't even warrant an answer. It is those folks who are only looking at the monetary value of someone who has already paid the ultimate price.
In just fairness, I feel that Celebrity has been kind, compassionate and giving during a confusing time of need and understanding. They flew in the groups' rabbi, their families and officials to help piece a sorrowful story together. They kept private the flight information to allow families to move quickly without hassles. Their shock and sympathy is comparable to our own. Should we be so cold to ask what will they do, when they already had done, before the questions were even asked?
Unfortunately, the cold and hard fact is, this was a privately booked tour. Legalities for this kind of situation are clearly stated on the brochures handed out and the purchased ticket; therefore responsibilities fall on oneself. What is the difference between all these kinds of tours? Here lies the difficulty in choosing; for some can not afford the higher priced tours, others don't want to pay the difference, and still others feel okay going ashore and winging it. Where do we find these choices? We either find them from the company itself, the Internet, word of mouth, at the port, or by trial and error.
When booking a tour through your cruise ship, you can bet that the personnel ashore are licensed operators with special insurances to cover a wide variety of incidences. They serve large volumes of people per year so they have experience. This is why you pay more. Furthermore, there is less of a risk with a ship's tour as they will delay departure if the bus is late. If you have booked separately, the ship does not have that information and it will sail within a certain time period.
It's easy enough to bypass ship-organized tours, no question. Surfing the Internet, in particular, you can find operators in large numbers, but whether they are licensed is tricky and unpredictable. Don't hesitate to ask for their license, credentials and insurance coverage.
Your best bet is to start with a city or country's official tourist Web site because the operators they list typically have been vetted. If you prefer to book a tour once in port, know this: Those operators set up to sign you up inside the gates of the port are usually licensed. Those outside the gates? Not.
Even when you book an organized tour from the ship or your hotel, realize that an accident or incident can happen. What makes this one so shocking is its severity. On shore tours we have experienced fender benders, flat tires, broken axles, hitting of objects and late return to the ship. In addition, there have been various injuries such as sprained ankles, broken bones, poison ivy, food poisoning, severe sunburn and many other incidences. This is life's experience.
Does it bring comfort knowing this group passed on while enjoying themselves? Not always, though it is a positive start. Should we be afraid to go on a tour in the future? No, but one admits to being leery and, perhaps, strives to be more cautious next time. Through them, we gain strength to keep going so they have not died in vain.
Changing the Subject....
The fire on Star Princess is a dreaded scenario for crew and passengers alike. The "lifeboat drill" suddenly takes on a new meaning when hearing of a fire outbreak. Listen when they tell you to use caution with cigarettes anywhere onboard. Don't toss ashes in the garbage when still warm. Do not use candles and do not play with matches. You will be surprised at the number of small incidents that occur in which smoldering ashes have been dumped into trash bins.
The galley can easily have an incident with oil or flammable material; however, crewmembers are trained to react quickly. A concealed fire has its own mind, a rage that is incredibly fierce. Remember, what you have on land, you have on a ship. Caution is imperative!
After all is said and done, it is easy to point fingers. Those who mocked, laughed or joked during the lifeboat drill are the very ones who often cause incidents.