Don't Drink the Water ... in Canada?

September 24, 2008
Most travelers know about Montezuma's Revenge and the perils of drinking the water in Mexico, and many have been warned to be careful about eating street food in Asia. But did you ever think it would be dangerous to eat the food -- and drink the water -- in Canada?

On Monday, an item in the Princess Patter onboard newsletter on Royal Princess warned passengers not to sample local food and water in Saint John, New Brunswick, on Canada's Atlantic coast. And so passengers bypassed local restaurants, which actually are famous for fresh seafood from the Bay of Fundy.

Restaurant staff didn't know what hit them. "It was much slower than normal," says Brendan Kane, a server at Billy's Seafood Company in Saint John's historic City Market. "We didn't find out what was going on until the late afternoon." Apparently, many eateries learned the truth when Canadian journalists who'd gotten wind of the story came around asking questions.

It turns out Princess' warning was a bad case of "cut and paste." When creating that day's edition of Princess Patter, ship staff inadvertently added in some copy left over from Royal Princess' South America cruises earlier this year -- where in some ports, cruise travelers do need to be careful about local cuisine. Although the Saint John warning was simply an error -- and an embarrassing one at that -- many Princess passengers dutifully took the advice of the daily newsletter and avoided restaurants ashore.

According to an official statement from Princess, the line "sincerely apologize[s] to everyone in St. John who might have been offended by this mistake, and we are reviewing our onboard printing and proofing procedures to ensure such an error is not repeated. We have also apologized to our passengers onboard Royal Princess for the mistake and have clarified that Saint John is home to, among many other things, fantastic seafood and local beverages."

It may be too late now for this week's Royal Princess passengers to get a sampling of local cuisine -- such as fresh scallops, lobsters and clams straight from the bay -- but the good news is Saint John has a slew of cruise ship visits scheduled for the upcoming weeks. In the next week alone, the port will be visited by Jewel of the Seas, Sea Princess, Carnival Victory, Queen Mary 2, Norwegian Spirit and Caribbean Princess. Next Tuesday, even Royal Princess will sheepishly return to the city where it caused such trouble.

With three ships in port today, Saint John back to its usual levels of business. "Today we were slammed," Kane tells us, referring to a four-hour lunch rush, which will be a good thing for the restaurant's finances and reputation. He didn't think Princess' snafu would cause any lasting damage to the city.

In the meantime, we urge cruise passengers to remember that Princess Patter and other onboard publications do not exactly live up to New York Times levels of accuracy in reporting. Who among us hasn't shown up for an onboard activity, only to realize the time was printed incorrectly, or spotted typos in materials slipped under our cabin doors. As all the Royal Princess passengers who missed out on scrumptious seafood lunches this week have learned the hard way, sometimes you just have to take announcements in cruise ship publications with a few grains of salt.

--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor