Missing Honeymooner Controversy Surfaces on "Oprah"

January 18, 2006

While there's no doubt that many people who enjoy cruise travel also happen to be fans of Oprah Winfrey's afternoon talk show, we guarantee that a higher percentage of cruisers watched that program today.

That's because front and center on the show, themed "The Honeymoon Cruise Ship Mystery," featured guest appearances by Jennifer Hagel Smith, the bride herself, and Royal Caribbean President Adam Goldstein.

This is the first in-depth coverage of the sad tale that occurred in July on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas. Hagel Smith was cruising the Eastern Mediterranean with George Allen Smith IV, her new husband, when he disappeared, amidst blood stains left on a tender. The controversy has heated up for months now -- and is a favorite topic of tabloid television these days. But an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," whose host's broad-based appeal reaches a vast audience, is a whole new ballgame.

Also key: While much has been heard from the family of her husband, Jennifer Hagel Smith has herself been very quiet. She, as with Royal Caribbean, which also had kept mum on the topic until recent weeks, cited the FBI as the reason behind the silence.

What went down? According to Cruise Critic's Laura Sterling, the show offered a few surprises -- and some welcome answers. Her count of the highlights -- and lowlights -- is as follows:

What surprised me the most was when they were both sitting next to each other on the couch and Adam Goldstein was most courtly, telling Jennifer how admirable it was to come on. In turn, Oprah complimented Goldstein for his willingness to participate.

Goldstein was asked point-blank: "Did Royal Caribbean participate in a cover up?" And just as firmly, he answered back: "We did not participate in a cover-up."

Another surprise: I didn't know that Royal Caribbean asked the authorities more than once -- after they were initially given clearance -- if they were sure they could clean the cabin.

I'm a little dubious about the other guests on today's show, two passengers who at 2:30 a.m. saw Jennifer in the casino and didn't feel she was intoxicated, which is contrary to reports from other passengers. Jennifer didn't respond to that.

Not having a feel for Jennifer, who has been so removed from media coverage of the situation, I was interested in trying to get a handle on her issues. After all, she was the one who was onboard! Jennifer's issues seem crystallized to me now. First, she was promised the security accompaniment by Royal Caribbean -- and they left her with Marie, the guest services director. The issue there was they didn't follow through on that promise. On his part, Adam Goldstein admitted that the ship couldn't give her everything she needed, by way of support, because staffers onboard and at headquarters had simply never encountered a situation such as this (Goldstein revealed he's worked at Royal Caribbean for 18 years).

Jennifer's other major issue was that she felt Royal Caribbean should have kept the ship in Turkey for a longer time. She felt that the captain had prematurely called this an accident, which in turn caused the various government agencies -- Turkish and American both -- to release the ship. Adam Goldstein responded that none of those authorities were aware at the time that the captain had called the incident an accident.

Adam Goldstein came off as very caring. It was interesting that he never took his eyes off of Jennifer the whole time he was talking to her. He seemed to be a very caring, gentle man.

Jennifer's final comment on the show was that she wanted people to stop talking badly about George -- and remember the good memories.

Want to contribute your impressions? Let us know what you think about today's "Oprah"!