September 11 and Cruising

How the cruise lines and ships responded to the 9/11 tragedy as it was happening.

Ten years ago today we all stared in shock as the twin towers burned and suddenly collapsed before our eyes. Then came the indignation. But probably the emotion that stuck with me the longest after the attack was uncertainty; about how life would be in the coming days, weeks and years.

It took several years for some people to regain the courage to fly again, but personally I feel like a hero. My partner and I had a cruise scheduled in Europe the following week, and we decided not to let the terrorists beat our hearts and minds. For the September 13, 2001 version of this very newsletter we used the headline "We Choose to Fly!" And as far as I recall, we were among the first journalists anywhere to state that in public.

And so I did fly to New York City from Phoenix on September 17, and we flew from Newark to Europe on September 19. On my way in I flew right over the tip of Manhattan and could still see the burning wreckage of the twin towers from the air, the smoke trailing southeast over Coney Island for miles out to sea. With our public decision not to let the event affect our travel plans I like to think we gave courage to our readers to keep living the good life those terrorists wanted to deny us.

There were many heroes around the 9/11 events; but some you may not hear about were the cruise lines like Princess, NCL, Carnival and Celebrity with ships home-ported in New York City that summer. Those cruise lines had ships full of passengers out to sea when the tragedy occured, and when the New York Port Authority closed the New York harbor these ships were not allowed to return to New York. Adding to the challenge, all of the nation's planes were grounded.

The crew on those ships went far beyond the call of duty those critical days that followed. The cruise lines opened up the ship's phone lines (back when satelite calls were charged at $12/minute) to all people who had relatives in New York City. The staffs comforted the bereaved who knew people in the twin towers, and those people who were unsure of a loved one's whereabouts. They all held prayer vigils in the punlic theaters and kept alive the tradition we all love and respect so much in this cruise industry; caring for people.

For a particularly poignant interview by one cruise director who led one of those New York-based cruises read our Interview with Carnival's Corey Schmidt. His stories are touching and inspiring.

The cruise lines made the decision to end the cruises as soon as possible and get their guests home as soon as possible. Most of them landed in Boston and arranged for busses to take New Yorkers home. The airlines remained grounded for days; Amtrak was not coming all the way to Manhattan.

And so, today we celebrate those U.S. and foreign citizens working on those stranded cruise ships of 2001, who did their humble duties for their ships full of American passengers and showed us that in the cruise industry respect for our way of life goes on no matter what.

When it comes to changes in our daily lives, arguably travel has been affected the most; as evidenced by the long security lines at airports. You now need a passport to fly internationally, and you face strict rules on what you can carry about the plane.

But many people do noy know that cruise ships also have stringent security procedures for passengers, because many of them are done behind the scenes. For example, every cruise ship now sends a copy of its passenger manifest to the Dept. of Homeland Security at least a day before it sails. If there are any red flags, the cruise line is notified immediately. So far, there have not been any terrorist incidents, but the lines have captured a few other kinds of felons attempting to flee the country.

After many years of "open wounds," it now seems acceptable to openly discuss 9/11 in the media again. I watched several shows last weekend showing exactly what happened in the air. What has never been fully reported is how the cruise lines dealt with the event, so I want to assure you that there were many heroes in our industry. They may not have risked life and limb, but their compassion and perseverence to comfort and assist their guests, and to get them home, went far beyond the call of duty.

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