Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Mystery of the Muster Drill:
Cruise Ship Safety Laws Explained

Anyone who has ever cruised is familiar with the muster drill.
Vacation fun is put on hold as the powers-that-be close the bars
and order passengers to gather at an assigned meeting place for
a lesson on how to don a life jacket and what to do in case of an emergency.

While many people listen attentively, every muster has a few of
these types: The guy swilling a beer and laughing with his buddies,
even though passengers have been told no drinking is allowed
during the drill. The couple who hide in their cabin, thinking
they've pulled one over on the authorities. The mom and her kids
who stand in the back of the lounge during the presentation
and sneak out after a few minutes.

Even some of the most flagrant violators must be rethinking that
behavior in light of the Costa Concordia disaster. But inattention
at the muster drill played no part in this tragedy. The drill had
not yet been held for the 696 passengers who boarded in Rome,
even though the ship was some three hours out of port and
passengers were eating dinner when the accident occurred.
Yet the ship appears to have been in compliance with muster
drill requirements.

So what exactly must cruise ships do to ensure that passengers
are educated about emergency evacuation procedures? Cruise
Critic examined the rules and regulations, and interviewed
representatives of governing agencies and the major cruise lines,
to figure out the nitty-gritty on these drills.

All cruise lines have to follow regulations called Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which were adopted following the sinking of the Titanic and are administered by the United Nation's International Maritime Organization (IMO). The U.S. Coast Guard also gets involved by making sure those regulations are followed by passengerships that stop in the United States.

The SOLAS regulations pertaining to muster drills are fairly short and straightforward. They require that the drill take place within 24 hours of embarkation. The regulations differentiate between a muster and a "safety briefing." According to SOLAS rules, whenever new passengers embark, a safety briefing must be held "immediately before sailing, or immediately after sailing," consisting of at least a PA announcement. This may be supplemented with other info -- by written materials contained within each cabin, for instance. Regulations require that the safety briefing provides "clear instructions" that "detail the actions each person on board should follow in the event of an emergency." But a muster, where passengers are physically assembled, is required only within 24 hours of sailing. (In Concordia's case, the muster drill was scheduled to take place after additional passengers boarded on Day 2 in Savona, Italy, which would have been within the required 24-hour window.)

As for life jackets, the rules don't specifically say that passengers must don them during the drills -- but they must be shown how to put them on.

In recent years, lines with bigger ships, including Royal Caribbean and Carnival, have concluded that moving upward of 5,000 passengers, outfitted in bulky life jackets, to their muster stations had become unmanageable. These lines have instituted a new version of the muster drill. According to Bud Darr, director of environmental and health programs for the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), a membership organization that represents the major cruise lines,
passengers now assemble in large public rooms, instead of on the open decks, where they await further instructions.

On some ships, including Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, life jackets are kept at the muster stations rather than in individual cabins; ship safety officials made the switch for a couple reasons. One was that in a real emergency, forcing thousands of passengers back to their cabins to grab their life vests would work against an evacuation. Another had to do with dangerous dangling belts. "'Slips, trips and falls' during the drills was one of the most cited
reasons cruise lines gave us for the change," said Brad Schoenwald, Senior Marine Inspector for the U.S. Coast Guard's Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise. "Passengers would slip on a belt strap on the way down the stairs, and you'd potentially have an injury."

As to when the drills are held, Darr said the norm, at least in most major lines that cater to American passengers, is to hold the muster drill and safety briefing simultaneously before the ship embarks. This way, the lines can cover both requirements at one time. But, again, maritime regulations require only that a safety briefing be held "immediately before sailing, or immediately after sailing," and that the muster be held within 24 hours. So some cruise ships, such as Costa
Concordia, that stop at multiple ports to pick up passengers, do not hold a muster until some passengers have already been onboard overnight.

"The important thing is that each line has standard methods and procedures and a well-trained crew," Darr said.

To that end, the Carnival Corporation -- parent company of Costa, as well as nine other cruise lines -- announced that it will conduct "a comprehensive audit and review of all safety and emergency response procedures across all of the company's cruise lines." Captain James Hunn, a retired U.S. Navy Captain and Carnival's senior vice president of Maritime Policy & Compliance, will lead the effort, working with health and safety executives from the Carnival Corporation cruise lines and outside experts. The team, according to the company statement, "will review all safety and emergency response policies and procedures, officer and crew training and evaluation, bridge management and company-wide response and support efforts." The goal is to identify the best practices to put in place to make sure that a Concordia-like incident does not happen again.

In addition, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) will also be conducting an industry-wide operational safety review, which will include internal reviews by the organization's 26 cruise line members, consultation with experts and regulatory agencies, and the development and sharing of best practices.

We reached out to various cruise lines to find out how they interpret safety regulations and handle mustering, but most weren't that forthcoming about the details. Several, including Crystal Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, would not comment, referring all questions to CLIA. At press time, Costa has not responded to our requests for information. However, several others did respond, and here is the official word, albeit often quite generic, from each of the other major lines:

Azamara Club Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises (all part of the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. brand):
All passengers and crew must complete an abandon ship drill "at the beginning of each voyage." Muster drills are conducted without passengers donning life jackets. On Royal Caribbean's largest ships, Oasis and Allure of the Seas, life jackets are held at muster stations to be distributed by crewmembers in case of emergency, rather than in cabins; on other ships, life jackets are also kept in cabins, and in emergencies, crew will make sure life jackets are distributed at the muster stations. To ensure that passengers are aware of their specific muster location, each cabin key is individually imprinted with that location. The location is also noted on the back of each cabin door. Officers and crewmembers additionally conduct weekly, monthly and annual drills to train and prepare in case of emergencies. All ships have enough lifesaving craft to accommodate every person onboard, with additional reserve capacity.

Carnival Cruise Lines: "Normal procedure" is to conduct the safety drill prior to departure. The safety briefing is held at dedicated muster stations where crewmembers demonstrate how to wear life jackets. Passengers are not required to wear life jackets during muster; life jackets are kept in the cabins. The briefing is conducted in English, but may also be conducted in other languages if there are a significant number of passengers from a particular country or region. During the drill, every cabin is checked by cabin stewards and a red card is placed in each key slot showing that no guests are present inside. Written materials, available in different languages, are also provided. A safety video, which is played nonstop during the drill, is available via in-cabin TV; it outlines evacuation routes, muster station locations, assistance for physically challenged guests, life jacket instructions, etc. Lifeboats are tested during regularly scheduled drills to make sure they are in proper working order. A full-scale life boat exercise, during which lifeboats are launched and maneuvered in the water by assigned crew, is conducted each month, exceeding the quarterly regulatory requirement.

Cunard Line: The line adheres to the SOLAS requirement that a safety drill be held within 24 hours, and "in many instances" the drill is conducted prior to sailing. Each passenger is assigned a specific area to muster and the use of life jackets is demonstrated and practiced during the drill, which also instructs passengers regarding what to do and where to go in case of an emergency. Crew proficiencies are verified during drills and exercises, including periodic exercises with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Holland America Line: The line follows international maritime law by requiring a mandatory lifeboat drill for all passengers within 24 hours of departure. "In many instances," the drill is conducted prior to sailing.

MSC Cruises: Upon embarkation in the main ports, passengers participate in a one-hour muster drill conducted in six official languages, and any other language spoken by a guest. Passengers take their life jackets from their staterooms and go to their assigned muster station. The drill involves the entire crew and simulates the evacuation process. Staterooms are checked during the drill. In secondary ports, before the ship's departure, a detailed safety briefing is held for all newly embarked passengers. The briefing is normally held in a dedicated area, usually the theater or a muster station. Each passenger's muster station is printed on his/her stateroom key. Written safety materials include maps of the muster stations displayed in all public areas, a safety page within the cabin's booklet that is left open and is pointed out by the housekeeper, and maps on the back of each stateroom door with instructions in six languages. A safety video in English is broadcast 24/7 on the stateroom television system on Channel 1. Children ages 12 and younger are given a bracelet at embarkation to wear with their muster station printed on it.

Princess Cruises: Muster drills are held before departure "whenever possible." Passengers are sent to their respective muster stations, which may be in a public room or near the lifeboat embarkation deck. Passengers wear life jackets during the drill. Passengers are required to attend, but a safety video covering evacuation procedures is also played on the in-cabin television. If a large number of passengers speaking a language other than English is onboard, a separate drill is held in that language. Each stateroom has a map of the route to its muster station, and signs are also posted on the staircases.

Seabourn: The line follows international maritime law by requiring a mandatory lifeboat drill for all passengers within 24 hours of embarkation. "In many instances," the drills are conducted prior to departure. Passengers are instructed where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.

-- by Carol Sottili, Cruise Critic Contributor
-- Photo appears courtesy of member G'ma.

Friday, February 10, 2012

CRUISES: Disney Takes Possession of the Fantasy
2/9/2012 - Disney took possession yesterday of its newest ship, the "Disney Fantasy" (pictured), at a shipyard in Germany. The ship will depart Feb. 16 for the trans-Atlantic crossing to Port Canaveral. See

Carnival Cruise Lines announced its 2013 plans for the "Carnival Miracle" and the "Carnival Splendor." The "Miracle" will go to the U.S. West Coast to take over the Alaska and Hawaii routes currently operated by the "Carnival Spirit" (which will be repositioned to Australia), a seasonal Mexican Riviera program, and a Panama Canal voyage. Meanwhile, the "Splendor" will move to New York next year to take over a Caribbean schedule from the "Miracle." The "Splendor" will undergo a major drydock overhaul this December, and it will operate three 13- to 18-night South America voyages before it arrives east. See

Cunard will observe this year's Diamond Jubilee for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II with a "royal rendezvous" of its three ships on June 5. The occasion will mark the first time all three vessels have arrived and departed together in formation at their Southampton homeport. See

Holland America Line posted more details about its 2012 Mediterranean season. The line will operate 32 different itineraries in the region (seven to 42 days) on seven ships. Highlights include the 62-day "Grand Mediterranean and Black Sea Voyage" aboard the "Prinsendam" this spring and the new 17-day "Spanish Rhapsody" itinerary aboard the "Rotterdam." Fares for seven-day Med sailings start from $699 ppdo. See

Viking River Cruises will operate Douro River sailings in Portugal and Spain next year aboard the "Viking Douro." The 10-day cruise/land packages include stops in Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto before the cruise portion begins. You can lock in two-for-one fares plus $1,100 airfare discounts per couple for these trips. See

MSC Cruises will allow a second guest to sail free when the first passenger books the Feb. 28 four-night Bahamas voyage aboard the "MSC Poesia" by Feb. 15. Fares start from $449 ppdo. See

Celebrity Cruises will expand its "Celebrity Life" onboard activities program this year by offering "Celebrity Life Plus" options on its trans-Atlantic voyages. The activities will range from art classes and special-interest lectures to fitness sessions, wine tastings, and cooking demonstrations. See

Cruise lines around the world (including CLIA members) announced the immediate adoption of new emergency drill policies that require musters for passengers before a ship leaves the embarkation port. If passengers board a ship after that muster has happened, they will be given separate safety briefings as quickly as possible. See CLIA's announcement for more details.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines will do away with the five percent discount for bookings made via its web site by the end of this month. The line says it wants to give agents a level playing field with consistent fares that consumers can't beat by going to its web site.

(Credit: Meyer Werft)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

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Monday, February 6, 2012

West Coast cruisers discover Hawaii's Aloha spirit

(By Rob Lovitt, contributor)

Sapphire Princess sails from Los Angeles on a 14-day Hawaiian Islands itinerary in 2012.

As fans of Hawaii well know, the islands are great place to chill out, de-stress and generally slow down. These days, though, more people are doing so before they even arrive.

That’s because they’re boarding cruise ships on the U.S. West Coast, taking four or five leisurely days to cross the Pacific before visiting a handful of ports and then turning around for another leisurely cruise home.

“The pace is very different,” said Erik Elvejord, director of public relations for Holland America. “We’ve found that there’s a core audience among our guests that’s looking for that kind of product.”

They’re apparently in good company as more cruisers have been signing on for such sailings. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, more than 124,000 visitors arrived by cruise ship last year, an increase of 22.9 percent over the year before.

And 2012 promises to be a banner year, as well. In addition to nine Holland America sailings from San Diego — up from six two years ago — Disney will offer its first-ever Hawaii cruises with two sailings from Los Angeles. Princess, meanwhile, will be fairly criss-crossing the Pacific with 27 departures from L.A. and San Francisco.

San Francisco, in particular, is poised to become a hotbed of Hawaiian cruising with Princess offering seven sailings this year — up from zero last year — and eight in 2013. It’s hardly a coincidence that the city is about to break ground on a new $90-million cruise terminal that will open in 2013.

Although still a small market by Caribbean standards, the business is getting a boost from several quarters, including weak demand for Mexican Riviera cruises, the frustrations of air travel and the cruise industry’s embrace of homeporting.

“Mexico has been in decline since about 2006 — before the economic downturn, before the border violence,” said Stewart Chiron, aka The Cruise Guy. “The cruise lines couldn’t invest in new ports so all they could do was add more sailings,” a move which further eroded the profitability of the itinerary.

More recently, the problem has been compounded by concern over Mexico’s ongoing drug war, which prompted several cruise lines to suspend port calls in Mazatlan last year. Many have since reinstated stops there but, according to Bay Area travel agent Lynda Turley Garrett, “People are still thinking twice about Mexico.”

Some are also thinking twice about flying. “As airline tickets have become more expensive and fees have become more onerous, consumers have been looking for ways to cruise without having to include the airline component,” said Dwain Wall, senior vice president/general manager at CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

That, in turn, may explain the concurrent drop in traditional intra-island cruises, in which visitors fly to Hawaii for seven-night sailings. Offered exclusively by Norwegian on a U.S.-flagged ship, those itineraries hosted 119,000 passengers last year, a drop of 2.5 percent from the year before.

On the other hand, cruising to Hawaii from the West Coast is not for everyone. At 14 to 15 days, such itineraries tend to be expensive and provide only cursory visits to three or four islands. They also take place on foreign-flagged ships, meaning they require short stops, usually in Ensenada, Mexico, to comply with maritime law.

And would-be passengers had better like sea days — lots and lots of sea days, as they typically entail four to five days each way.

Even so, say observers, the market is likely to stay strong for all of the above reasons and, perhaps, for one few might have foreseen.

“It never hurts when a movie comes out that’s set in a gorgeous place,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of “I watched ‘The Descendants’ and thought, oh, I want to go back.”

John Borthwick/Lonely Planet Images

The Hawaiian Islands are the perfect vacation destination for travelers of all types.
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Why I Work By Referral...
I want you to know how much I appreciate you.  I strive to build positive business relationships by working exclusively with people I admire and respect, and who value the services I provide.

Relationships Are More Important Than Transactions

You may have noticed that many travel agents take a transactional approach to sales -- identifying clients, closing the deal, and then moving on to the next one.  I choose not to work that way because I believe you deserve more from the professional you decide to work with.  That is why I work by referral and repeat clientele.

Since my primary source of new business is referrals from people who know and trust me, I don't have to spend precious time prospecting and promoting myself.  I can dedicate myself fully to the activities that benefit you most, and always deliver truly exceptional service.

Working by referral is all about trust.
And let's face it, when we are seeking any service we are all looking for someone we can trust -- someone proven who comes highly recommended and is already on our side.

You Control My Business

I know that I must earn your future referrals, so I aim to exceed your expectations.  I have a vested interest in making sure that you are completely satisfied at the end of our transaction together.  I want you to be so "fired-up" that you can't wiat to tell your friends and family about me and the fantastic service you received!
When you come across an opportunity, I appreciate you referring me to great people like yourself, who would benefit from the excellent service and personal attention I provide.

Service After the Sale

I devote myself to serving the needs of my clients before, during and after each sale.  Instead of disappearing after the closing, you can expect me to keep in touch.  I will be sending valuable information to you each week or month (permission based upon your choices).  Please call me from time to time to check in and let me know if you need anything. 
I hope you will turn to me for help with any of your travel plans because it is such a privilege to work exclusively with people like you who I admire and respect, and who value the service I provide.

The Value of Referrals

90% of consumers worldwide said they are most likely to trust the recommendations of the people they know, a figure that was well above any other form of advertising, according to recent market research conducted by The Nielsen Company.

I'm never too busy for you and/or your referrals!!