Update: Norwegian Epic, Others Squeak By in Recent Cruise Ship Sanitation Tests

May 10, 2011

Update, May 10: According to NCL spokeswoman AnneMarie Mathews, Norwegian Epic was reinspected as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's vessel sanitation program Saturday, May 7. The ship earned a score of 98.

(April 20, 11:45 a.m. EDT) -- NCL's flagship Norwegian Epic earned a paltry but passing 89 during its most recent vessel sanitation inspection, an unusually low score for a ship that's less than a year old.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's stringent (and surprise) cruise-ship-cleanliness exam is conducted twice a year, and anything below 86 is considered a failure.

Some of Epic's infractions during the January 29 inspection, its second ever, were particularly cringe-worthy, including an insect trap located directly over a trolley of stored cleaned dishes. In another instance, a crew member was observed placing a pot into the hot sanitizing rinse for only seven seconds. (The pot needs 30 seconds, said the CDC report.) Some of the electronic print-outs indicating a fecal accident at one of the swimming pools were missing notations.

The 89 came as a surprise to the line -- NCL is known for regularly acing the exam. In a statement, it pointed out that it has a 98.7 rolling-12-month-average score for all of its ships. Epic, for its part, earned a perfect 100 on its first test in August 2010.

The statement added that NCL isn't taking the score lightly, even if it's considered a passing grade. "Since Norwegian Epic's inspection in January, we have been working diligently to rectify the identified issues," the line noted. "As noted in our response to the report, all have been corrected (or are in the process of being corrected) and we have conducted extensive training of staff regarding proper procedures by our sanitation supervisors. We are confident that we will see a much improved result during the ship's next inspection."

New cruise ships generally fare well on CDC tests, as lines have been able to build ships with the inspection in mind. Like Epic, Celebrity Eclipse, the third in Celebrity's grass-covered Solstice class, and Disney Dream, the first new-build from the Mouse in a decade, each earned a 100 on their first pop quizzes. Other relatively new ships that fared well on recent tests include Allure of the Seas (99), Seabourn Sojourn (97) and P&O Cruises' Azura (97).

But Epic isn't the only ship squeaking by. Other less than stellar students include Carnival Glory, which eked out a passing grade of 87 during a January inspection; SeaDream I, which earned an 87 in March; and Grand Mariner, a small ship sailing for Blount Small Ship Adventures that was docked points in February when, among other failings, inspectors found a "plastic bag with strawberries and an open container of frozen waffles left in a chest freezer with raw meat." (Cross-contamination makes the rubber-gloved contigent frown.)

When it comes to onboard cleanliness in general, however, germophobes will be happy to know that there have been no failing scores since the aptly named Albatross, a private vessel, earned a 69 in February 2010. The ship was slammed by inspectors, who cited issues with unchlorinated pool water, dubious warming butter pads and a general failure to keep required cleaning records. According to the CDC, lines are required to document parasite destruction for cold smoked salmon. The crew of Albatross did not.

Since January 1, eight ships have nabbed perfect scores, including Azamara Journey, P&O's Aurora, Disney Dream, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Jewel, Freedom of the Seas, HAL's Amsterdam and Celebrity Century.

We're curious: Do you check CDC scores regularly, and if so, do they impact your choice of cruise ship? Share your response here.

--by Dan Askin, News Editor