(5 p.m. EDT) -- As oil continues to spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the first question on every Gulf cruiser's lips is "Will my upcoming cruise be impacted?" Although spokespersons for Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Disney Cruise Line tell us that cruises have been departing on schedule, changing weather patterns and currents could impact how close the oil comes to cruise ports.
So far this month, tar balls -- pieces of the Gulf oil slick that have broken off -- have reached Alabama as well as beaches near Pensacola, Florida, near the cruise ports of New Orleans, Mobile and Tampa. They are also beginning to enter the Gulf Stream and could loop up over the next few weeks to reach the shores of the Bahamas and South Florida.
Which ports and ships could be affected?
Although oil has been washing up on beaches in Alabama, the Bay of Mobile remains "open to sea vessels," reports Carmen Gibson, a public information officer for the Joint Information Center. Although small streams of oil have entered the bay, they are avoidable by ships. Gibson says that booms -- at-sea barriers -- are helping to keep the oil from getting into the bay, and possibly could maintain an oil-free path between the shoreline and the oil spill that cruises can traverse.
Carnival Elation, which sails from Mobile, has high priority at the decontamination center should it need its hull cleaned, but Carnival representative Vance Gulliksen confirms that the ship has not needed any such cleaning so far -- and that Carnival ships have been able to successfully sail around the spill.
A representative from the Port of Mobile did not have additional information to share today, but reaffirmed that the port has not yet been impacted and that Alabama is doing everything possible to make sure we keep it out of Mobile Bay.
In addition to Mobile, we're keeping a close eye on ships that call on Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas, as well as those that turn around regularly in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, New Orleans and Tampa. Lines, as mentioned above, include Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Disney Cruise Line.
What's the cruise impact?
Although cruises continue to depart, as a precaution, Carnival -- which stands to bear the greatest impact, as it sails from Mobile, New Orleans and Florida ports -- has been sailing through oily areas of the Gulf during daylight only, according to Gulliksen. This has led to slight changes in departure times. However, Carnival ships are still sailing in many other parts of the Gulf of Mexico (where there is no oil) during nighttime hours.
Cruise Critic member Rockhound62 posts, "Just got back from a cruise out of (and back to) Mobile ... on the way back you could see an oily sheen covering the water at sunset the evening before we docked. The water churned up by the boat was a dull olive green, a color we hadn't seen all trip. There was a slight smell, but not overwhelming. They say the oil forms a layer thinner than a human hair on the water, and this is what we were seeing." Other members have posted that most people are not reporting any smells of oil from their cruise ships, though a few claim to have smelled oil -- either from their cruise ships or from their homes in Alabama and Louisiana.
Cruise Critic member and travel agent Jeano222 spoke to a Carnival representative and reports the following: "In conversation I asked about how Carnival is going to handle sailing from gulf ports that might be jeopardized by the spill and was told they are discussing changing U.S. gulf ports based on need. They would relocate ships for embarkation and disembarkation and bus as necessary. As of right now, things are remaining normal, but they are planning for any complication." However, Gulliksen would not comment on any contingency plans at this time.
What should I do?
At this time, all cruises are sailing as usual; stay tuned.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor