Bacteria in the whirlpool, live insect larvae, moldy ice machines ... if this sounds like your latest cruise, we'd bet you sailed on Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of Aloha this past December. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) recently released a cringe-inducing review of NCL's all-Hawaii ship -- with stomach-turning revelations worthy of a "Fear Factor" episode -- giving the ship a flunking score of 78.
The CDC grades ships on a 100-point scale. Any score below 86 is deemed unsatisfactory, and failing ships must correct the violations, or face a recommendation from the VSP that the ship not be allowed to sail. Cruise Critic's news team visits the CDC Web site often to see who's squeaky clean and who's got a little work to do. Although the report was issued in December -- and Norwegian Cruise Line has since taken steps to correct and respond to all of the infractions listed -- we figured if we had to suffer through the details, why not share?
The most disturbing health violations include poorly refrigerated beef; food kept past the recommended seven-day post-preparation period; an ice machine decked in pink and black mold; a filthy meat grinder; and counters covered with food particles and mold. Add to this list an improperly chlorinated whirlpool -- cruisers soaking in the tub had to get up and get out when onboard inspectors discovered that the chlorine levels weren't up to snuff. The CDC's report cited other unsanitary conditions such as utensil handles that came into contact with food and inadequate sneeze guards in the buffet; food residue on the waffle irons; food-soiled coffee cups and plates laid out for use; and a contaminated ice cream maker. You can read the entire report here.
The especially squeamish should skip this paragraph: The award for the most disgusting health code violation goes to Pride of Aloha's buffet beverage station. Inspectors found live insect larva growing in pooled liquid at the station. Hey -- even grubs and maggots need a vacation sometimes!
Norwegian Cruise Line spokespersons did not respond to our requests for comment. However, we do know that the insect-filled pools of water at the beverage station have been cleaned up and the moldy ice machines have been sanitized. Still, we can't imagine what went through the minds of the cruisers who were relaxing in the whirlpool, then were ordered to evacuate as staff subsequently netted and closed the offensive tub of water. Were the cruisers told why they had to get out of the whirlpool? Did they run to the showers in frantic disgust? Perhaps only the maggots watching from the beverage station have the answers.
Through its Vessel Sanitation Program, the CDC -- a United States agency that monitors a range of issues relating to public health -- inspects cruise ships with foreign itineraries that call on U.S. ports and that carry 13 or more passengers. Cruise ships are subject to random inspections twice a year. The inspections are conducted to ensure that vessels are maintaining adequate levels of sanitation and to provide guidance to vessel staff when needed.
As previously reported by Cruise Critic, Pride of Aloha is leaving NCL on May 11 and being transferred to parent company Star Cruises to sail in Asia. Pride of Aloha's messy state this past December had nothing to do with the sale -- the ship was losing money in Hawaii. But were the health code violations a result of sloppy management from NCL employees who knew that Pride of Aloha, which has a history of satisfactory CDC scores, was leaving the cruise line?