Update: Carnival's New Banned Items List Sparks Controversy

May 17, 2010
Carnival Cruise Banned Item Controversy

Update, May 17, 5:10 p.m. EDT: Carnival has listened to its customers and removed the 700-watt restriction from hair dryers brought onboard. All hair dryers will be allowed on the ship unless they pose a safety hazard.

(May 14, 6:25 p.m. EDT) -- What do flat irons, fans, power strips, cameras and cell phones have in common?

They're all electronics that Carnival reserves the right to confiscate (or destroy), under a new prohibited items policy, if you bring them onboard and Carnival deems them to be a safety hazard -- and the new rules have Cruise Critic members in a tizzy. In a series of threads on our Carnival Cruise Lines forum, our readers have found much to criticize, including the line's customer service representatives (for giving inconsistent answers about what is and isn't allowed onboard), security personnel (for making passengers feel like criminals on embarkation day by pulling them off the ship to root through their bags for contraband) and even the updated policy itself (for being overly strict -- or, at the very least, vague).

The policy can be found in Carnival's FAQ section, under the question Are there restrictions on what we can bring aboard? Some aspects are quite clear -- and nothing new or unheard of. As on many ships, Carnival's staff will confiscate alcohol or beer passengers try to smuggle onboard, as well as fire hazards such as candles or incense, and will prevent guests from bringing onboard items like firearms, explosives, marijuana and knives for safety reasons.

However, the revised instructions are distinctly unclear about daily-use items cruise travelers are used to taking onboard, such as personal grooming devices (hair dryers, straighteners and curlers), electronics (cell phones, cameras, laptops) and electrical devices (fans, power strips, extension cords). According to the new documentation, these are "allowed onboard when used with proper caution" yet if the aforementioned items "are determined to pose a hazard, they will be removed and returned the last day of the cruise." Medically necessary devices are allowed, but specific conditions must be met.

Yet, the posted list does not outline what criteria would be used to determine whether the items in question are a safety hazard, and whether they might be taken away solely for being brought onboard or only for reported misuse. And it's exactly that lack of clarity that has Cruise Critic members upset. Sea Born says of the vague language used in the policy, "Doesn't seem to be any 'clear' guidelines, which leaves it wide open!" Comeon530 simply calls the new policy "clear as mud."

To this end, we asked Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz to clarify the policy a bit more and explain the reasoning -- and the timing -- behind the revision.

What constitutes a hazard? According to de la Cruz, "things that would raise concern include (but are not necessarily limited to): items in poor condition or otherwise appearing to be a potential fire hazard; an excessive amount of electronic items connected to power sources/overloaded multi-plugs, extension cords, etc."

When will my things be under scrutiny? "Confiscation is possible at any point from luggage screening through the conclusion of the voyage," de la Cruz says. Still, her description leaves much to the discrimination of shipboard staff. While it does make sense to us for a room steward to, say, take away a hair straightener that's left on in a cabin unattended (that's dangerous!), there's no way of knowing for sure whether Joe Security on the pier will deem your single blow dryer or plethora of chargeable gadgets unsafe. Cruise Critic members have recently reported opening checked luggage upon arriving in their cabins on embarkation day to find items such as curling irons removed.

Why is this happening now? Members like Irishlinny have questioned the rationale behind the policy. "This is getting ridiculous ... If there had been fires and such, I can see the logic, but I'm sure we would have heard about it here if there had been incidents." De la Cruz responds that "various folks internally had been raising concerns based on the increasing amount of electronic gadgets people are bringing and plugging into multi-plugs and the impact it is having on the ships' electrical systems and related potential safety concerns."

What happens if my confiscated items are lost or damaged? De la Cruz assures us that "handled case by case, [Carnival] would take responsibility if our personnel caused damage to an item."

But that's not enough for people who refuse to part with their belongings in the first place, especially electronics important to their daily routines. Of particular contention is the matter of curling and flat irons, staples of women the world over. The prospect of confiscation, Cruise kitty posts, is an "absolute deal breaker... cannot & will not sleep without my fan blowing on my face, or schlep about with unfinished hair... terrible terrible choice on Carnival's part." Also, Carnival requires these items not exceed 700 watts -- which most modern (decent) hair dryers do. Newcatintown says, "Who knew that taking a vacation would become such a chore? They want you to dress up and be all beautiful for the photos to purchase and then tell you that you can't bring on the tools to do it with?"

Cb at sea sums it up: "Women will NOT go on vacation to have bad hair!"

What do you think of Carnival's new policy? Join the discussion here.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

Fan Cruise Critic on Facebook!

Follow Cruise Critic on Twitter!