January 16, 2003
Cunard’s venerable QE2 is launching its last year of Atlantic crossings with a bit of a whimper. The ship this month flunked the notoriously-critical vessel sanitation and inspection exam by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While QE2 scored an 85 -- just one point lower than passing -- it’s not so much that it failed but the nature of the infractions that are raising eyebrows. For instance? Inspectors for the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program, who conducted the investigation in Port Everglades, spied cockroaches scurrying about in a kitchen, mold in icemakers at several bars, and a clogged ventilation system in the kids’ facility. Other infractions included faulty food storage and dishwashers that weren’t sanitizing utensils properly. According to a statement from Cunard President Pamela Conover, "this score is completely unacceptable. In the short term we have concentrated 100 percent of our efforts on rectifying the short-comings noted by the CDC. When QE2 is reinspected we are confident that she will receive a satisfactory score, and we have dedicated ourselves to ensuring that Cunard ships meet or exceed recommended guidelines." Just as embarrassing as the failing score was the timing of the inspection: QE2 has just embarked on the first leg of its World Voyage. A Cunard spokeswoman says the company has filed a “corrective action report” with the CDC. In 24 exams over a period of 10 years, Cunard’s QE2 has flunked two other times -- with worse scores than this month’s (80 and 79 respectively) but has also scored as high as 98. Though it must be said that the ship has flirted, a number of times, with scores right on the edge of passing. It should be pointed out that older ships -- and QE2 dates back to 1969 -- automatically are at a disadvantage when inspected by the CDC because new procedures and kitchen requirements are now, automatically, incorporated into new-vessel design. Still, even the venerable Norway, which predates QE2 by a long shot, excelled on its most recent CDC inspection in December, snaring a 95. In other notable recent ship inspections, Holland America’s Amsterdam, which can be credited with launching the recent Norwalk Virus outbreak media coverage when four successive cruises had higher-than-normal illness rates back in the fall, scored respectably in early January with a 93. The inaugural inspection on Carnival’s newest -- Conquest -- resulted in a 97. And two quite-contemporary ships -- Holland America’s Zaandam and Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas -- squeaked by their recent exams, eking out an 86, which is the minimum passing score. None of their infractions, it must be noted, were as dramatically, um, visual, as those on Cunard’s QE2. Only one other American cruise line currently has a ship on the CDC¹s no-pass list and that’s Windjammer’s Legacy, which came in at 82. The first (and only) Windjammer ship to expose itself to the rigorous inspection process (by nature of the fact that it’s the only ship in that fleet of sailing vessels that calls at an American port), Legacy was checked out in St. Thomas. Certainly this small, 1,740-ton, 122-passenger ship, originally launched in 1959, has built-in challenges and it has struggled, since that first inspection in 1997, to keep its sails-above-water in the sanitation arena, though CDC officials have, in the past, applauded the effort (and in fact awarded Legacy three successive 93s in 2001).