What is Going on Here!

| June 29, 2006

This article was written by a Cruisemates guest in response to a spate of recent strongly anti-cruise media reports, specifically on the following national cable new stations: MSNBC, an interview on MSNBC and Fox News Los Angeles. (click the links to see the reports)

I am not an expert on cruising. As a matter of fact I have been on only one cruise, Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. But I enjoyed it so immensely that I am greatly anticipating my second voyage sometime next year. I discovered that the experience of cruising simply defies the expectations, whatever they may be. In almost every case, the usual response of a first time cruiser is, "If I had known it was like this I would have started doing this years ago."

Unfortunately, I have also discovered that it is nearly impossible to sway the non-experienced person with negative pre-conceived notions about the cruise experience. I have tried to persuade friends and family to cruise with us, and to say they had misconceptions that were staggeringly inaccurate, and also impossible to change, is an understatement. It would be easier to convince Elie Weisel the holocaust never happened.

And it is precisely this negative misconception by some non-cruisers that makes it so easy to frighten them further into believing the worst things possible about the experience.

My first cruise left such an impression on me that I have since been voraciously reading anything I can find about ships. I am in awe of the whole concept of them. So, even though I am a novice cruiser, I am more than casually familiar with the majority of cruise-oriented web sites online, including the ones that I discovered are obviously "anti-cruise industry."

I started reading these anti-cruise sites with an open mind. After all, with only one cruise under my belt it was possible there were aspects of the industry I did not know about. Yet, the more I read them the more I noticed a near absence of journalistic authenticity. It soon became obvious to me that by any measurable standard, these sites are wildly sensationalized and almost totally meaningless.

They appear to be greatly fueled by grotesquely skewed statistics provided by individuals who obviously have axes to grind. The leading "expert" they all seem to rely upon is a Ph.D., but in sociology, who has actually testified before Congress as their "expert" witness in statistics! More about him later but suffice it to say, he did not appear to be any kind of expert in my opinion.

In any case, I didn't pay these sites much mind as they are mostly small and unknown, until I started seeing more legitimate media reports that had actually been fooled into believing their hype.

The one that fueled me to write this article was a column I recently read on a travel web site, Tripso.com, which claims to be the "last honest travel web site." The writer, billing himself as a professional travel consultant, states in his article that although he has never been on a cruise, he would never go on one. Okay, that's his choice, unusual for a professional travel advisor in my opinion, but that is his right. A lot of other folks wouldn't cruise either, for that matter, but they don't describe themselves as travel professionals.

The sad thing was how he made his decision. It appears he based it largely on the obviously skewed reports on these various web sites without question. And that, my friends, is the bottom line here - he admitted he had never been on a cruise and he came to believe they are terrible, scary things based on what he read, while experienced cruisers almost always think they are the best things ever created.

The overwhelming number of those who cruise thoroughly enjoy the experience, as substantiated by the number who return, many of them time and time again. To validate this one need not be a statistician or even to have cruised. Just drop by virtually any travel agency and they will readily tell you of the phenomenal growth of the industry over the past ten years, growth that continues unabated. The fact remains that cruising has the highest satisfaction rating of any vacation/travel industry. And before I forget, what type of vacation does the professional Travel Consultant at Tripso normally cover as a journalist? Air travel. Hmmm, has anyone checked the satisfaction index for air travel recently?

OK, allow me to ask the obvious question. Assuming you have a completely open mind, to whom would you give the benefit of the doubt? Quite presumptuous, don't you think, to warn others to stay away from something they have never even tried? What then, would lead this travel "expert" to make such statements? Was it ignorance or did our "expert" just jump on the bandwagon of anti-cruise industry web sites and take them at face value? If so, what is wrong with that? I believe the answer is in the quality of the information these sites are providing.

If we were talking about smoking there is a mountain of evidence to prove smoking is bad for you. You don't have to be a smoker to know how bad it is for you (though far too many have found out). But, is there a mountain of evidence to prove that cruising is bad? No, and apparently that is the cruise basher's biggest problem. The fact is, all evidence indicates that cruising is by far the safest form of travel ever invented, and ranks the highest in satisfaction levels of all the travel possibilities.

So, to solve it this problem, the bashers have had to resort to creating their own "evidence" and statistics, which sadly only works because it feeds right in to every irrational misconception many cruise novices tend to harbor.

The Anti-Cruise Industry Web Sites The number of web sites devoted to bashing the cruise industry is fairly small, thankfully, and they have one thing in common - fear-mongering as a means to stop the growth of the cruise industry because they have personal reasons for wanting to "get back" at it.

One site comes from an individual who had a family member go missing from a cruise ship and obviously refused to accept the most plausible reason for her disappearance. He is trying to "get back" at the industry, which he apparently feels was responsible for his loss.

Another individual got into the cruise bashing business by accident. By all appearances, she was looking for any topic for a web site that might attract a lot of readers so she could make money from pay-per-click advertising. The disappearance of George Smith on his honeymoon just happened to be dominating the headlines at the time.

A third individual actually wants his readers to boycott an entire cruise line because he wasn't satisfied with the manner in which a bartender addressed a request of his to turn down the volume on a public CD player. He not only has a web site of his own; he has written three anti-cruise industry books. Think about this. Say you went on a vacation to a theme park and had a bad experience. What would you do? Maybe write a letter of complaint and tell your friends and co-workers. But would you choose to make it a full-time job? Would you write three books? Would you dedicate your time and financial assets to making and maintaining a web site listing nothing but derogatory claims about the theme park industry? I doubt it.

And more than anything else, you certainly wouldn't go back and repeat the experience, would you? You would have to be crazy to do anything as contradictory as that, right? What if I told you that this person, who is the self-proclaimed expert all of these cruise bashers rely upon, has only one claim to any experience within the cruise industry at all, the fact that he has paid for and sailed on dozens of cruises? Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Ross Klein's Cruise Junkie Web Site Cruisejunkie.com is the web site of Dr. Ross Klein, as mentioned he is a man who purports to be an expert on the cruise industry. Dr. Klein is a Ph.D. in Sociology at the 18,000-student Memorial University of Newfoundland, a university spread over four campuses, three in Newfoundland and one in Great Britain. Klein, the "expert," has even testified in front of Congress. I kid you not! Unfortunately for his anti-cruise colleagues he is the best expert witness they can find. So let's take a look at his web site.

Klein proudly points out that he is the author of three books on the pitfalls of cruising (although no sales figures for any of those books have been released). Still, I can find nothing whatsoever in Klein's background to suggest he has been even remotely professionally associated with the cruise industry. Let us, therefore, look at some of the claims he has made about the industry in his web site and other places and see if his conclusions about the cruise industry appear to be something an expert would say.

Environmental Issues Even with my limited cruise experience, I know that most cruise ships launched since Royal Caribbean's Voyager Class ships in 1999 (Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas) are environmentally "green." Not so much as a toothpick is thrown overboard and even the only liquid discharged is treated water that comes close to meeting potability standards.

Yet Klein testified to congress that in two years, three cruise ships received Letters of Memorandum from the State of Washington concerning the discharge of effluent into the sea. The truth is, these cruise lines self notified the state, they were not "caught", and the discharged water had gone through an upgraded state of the art sewage treatment system that was pending the state's stamp of approval.

Now, Klein's web site lumps these incidences under the heading "Environmental Fines," yet since 2003 there have only been two alleged instances wherein a ship has discharged sewage in U.S. Waters. I say alleged because even according to Klein's own site, in neither case was a fine levied by any governmental agency. As a matter of fact, even if one incident is true, it wasn't even illegal, and I repeat - there were no fines.

As a matter of fact, many of the incidents listed in this "Environmental Fines" section are hearsay or anecdotal citizen complaints and in most cases wherein incidents are reported, he does not list the outcome. I'm ready to "bet the farm" that in the Washington State case, the new sewage treatment system was subsequently approved.

A heading like "Environmental Fines" where most incidences involve no fines are mere examples of the sensationalism behind Klein's web site. Under the same section Klein lists tour boats such as the Texas Treasure, a 9,332-ton casino vessel that only sails short day cruises. He lists "paper" violations many of which did not involve fines. Some incidents listed aren't even violations at all! Also under this section one finds more than a few of the "eyewitness" reports never officially documented by any agency.

In another section of his web site entitled "Incidents at Sea," Klein nevertheless also lists crimes, accidents and other incidents occurring on land - not at sea. He has a category for vessels under "Incidents at Sea" called "Ships/Cruise line" implying that all the vessels listed are cruise ships, yet nothing is further from the truth. He includes happenings on apparently anything above the size of a rowboat, including fires and the sinking of overloaded inter-island third world ferries. In short, many of the disasters and near disasters that Klein reports have absolutely nothing to do with the cruise industry at all.

Another heading which reads "known cases of persons falling or jumping overboard " from cruise ships is preposterous in its pomposity. No one has fallen from a cruise ship in modern history unless they were doing something they shouldn't have been doing.

Still, a graph on Klein's web site reflects a passenger going overboard even though his own explanation of the event reveals the man was prevented by security from even making it over the side of the rail. This incident is also one of many that is nothing more than an "eyewitness" report never officially reported, but which nevertheless made it into Klein's "statistics."

Klein's same graph reveals a passenger going over the side of a cruise ship on which he wasn't even a passenger!

What this shows is that his web site is mostly comprised of the "he said she said" conjecture style of reporting with a large dose of one sided, personal complaints. In essence, the amount of incontrovertible fact that can be found on there falls somewhere between slim and none. And yet this individual testified before Congress as an "Expert Witness."

Klein on Crime on Cruise Ships Klein's testimony before congress involved primarily statistics, and was given with the intent to refute the testimony of a true professional statistician, Dr. James A. Fox. Klein presented a different interpretation of Fox's statistics which he claimed was far more accurate than Dr. Fox's simply because Dr. Fox was speaking on behalf of the cruise industry. Such a premise is ludicrous when one takes under consideration that his peers universally recognize Dr. Fox as one of the finest statistical analysts in the world. Klein on the other hand, has no known qualifications to present statistical analysis, and Klein is known cruise industry maligner. So why should a cruise-basher's "statistics" be any more accurate than those from a professional who was hired to do his job because he is the the most credible statistician the cruise industry could find?

Currently one of the biggest concerns confronting cruise novices is the "safety factor." These encompass everything from getting sick, being sexually assaulted, robbed, or even dying, either accidentally or otherwise. Klein countered Fox's statement that one is 17 times safer on a cruise ship than on land in the U.S. by saying one is twice as likely to be sexually assaulted on a cruise ship than on land.

Now the anti-cruise segment has taken this sexual assault issue, using Klein's misguided "statistics" and run with the issue. Another basher actually trumped up the stat on a nationally released press release by trumpeting "one is twice as likely to be sexually assaulted on a cruise than in a major U.S. city." How ludicrous and inaccurate can we possibly get? They can't even keep their own story straight.

Does sexual assault happen? Yes, it happens everywhere. But despite the false claims of this anti-cruise lobby, the chances of a sexual assault happening to any cruiser are so small only the most paranoid should refrain from a cruise. Much safer on a cruise ship than anywhere on land is what Dr Fox'x statistics conveyed on this issue.

Let me give the subject some perspective by stating something about such crimes where I live. I grew up in a town in the Southeast that currently has an approximate population of 16,000 and which is ranked in the upper half of the top 100 small towns in the United States in which to live. Among many other attributes, it is statistically quite safe to live in this town. Notwithstanding that fact, in 2006 there were fourteen arrests for sexual assault (including one rape) even here.

On March 27th, 2007, Deputy Assistant Director Salvador Hernandez of the FBI testified certain facts before Congress. From fiscal 2002 through February 2007, (a period in excess of five years) the FBI opened 258 cases of crimes on the high seas of which 184 involved cruise ships. Sexual assault represented the greatest percentage (55%) of crimes reported. Most of the sexual assaults occurred in cabins and over half of those were alcohol related. Fifty-nine percent were not prosecuted due to; lack of evidence, indications that the act was consensual, and/or contradictory victim/witness/subject statements. That translates to the FBI either prosecuting or referring for prosecution, in approximately only 60 cases of sexual assault spread out over the entire period. Statistically, a very safe environment as far as sexual assault is concerned.

Illness on Cruise Ships On his web site, Klein states that well over 6,300 passengers on cruise ships became ill with gastrointestinal illness in 2006. For those unaware, Norovirus (or the Norwalk Virus) is a gastrointestinal ailment that is the second most common virus in the United States and is found not just on cruise ships. It is also called many other names including, "stomach flu." The cruise industry is the only facet of the hospitality industry required by the CDC to provide detailed statistics on the number of cases of gastrointestinal illness. That is why you read so much about "Norovirus" on cruise ships and nowhere else despite the fact that it is very common everywhere.

Now think; if over 12 million passengers will cruise this year, even if as many as 6,000 become ill with a gastrointestinal illness that puts your chances of getting sick at .05% of all cruisers (one in 2000). Regarding crime, if as many as 100 cruisers (itself a vastly inflated number) become the victim of a crime involving sexual or physical assault while on a ship, the fact is you are safer on a ship than you are walking down the street in your home town.

Klein's Cruise Expert Qualifications Summed Up For the most part, Klein's web site and most of his links are crammed with disinformation, inference, innuendo and conjecture, not to mention more than a liberal dose of nothing more than gossip; all of which he lumps into his "statistics." Most obviously, "Cruisejunkie.com" is NOT the web site of any expert on the cruise industry.

Despite my concerted attempts, the only relationship that I have been able to establish between Klein and the cruise industry is, I am reliably informed, that Dr. Klein has been a paying passenger on approximately thirty cruises. This certainly does not provide justification for Dr. Klein to pass himself off as an expert on the cruise industry and almost certainly wouldn't qualify him to testify as an "expert" witness in a major legal proceeding. To provide a corollary, I have written probably over 500 newspaper columns dealing with one basic subject. While of course quite familiar with my subject, I certainly wouldn't for countless reasons, consider myself expert enough on it to totally condemn any legitimate industry associated with that subject.

I believe, however, I may have found what ultimately could be the reason behind Klein's crusade and if I'm correct, the reason is for me at least, incomprehensible. The start of his campaign against the cruise industry appears to correlate with the same time frame he received what he felt to be an unsatisfactory response to a complaint he made to an upscale cruise line about his perceived ill treatment by a bartender.

Over what any reasonable person would consider an insignificant tiff, Klein literarily foams at the mouth in his explanation of the event. He actually prompts everyone visiting his web site to not only boycott that particular cruise line, but also every product of the parent company which extends to hotels, resorts and travel agencies! To say that such is pomposity to the extreme has got to be among the world's grandest understatements. Therein lies the most plausible explanation I can detect for Cruisejunkie.com and one which simultaneously jerks the proverbial rug of legitimacy from beneath Ross Klein, among the cruise industry's most vociferous, yet most ill prepared, critics.

Backing Up My Point Of course bad things can happen on cruise ships. But cruising is still the safest form of modern-day travel by far in almost any aspect imaginable. There have been very few injuries or deaths in the last 10 years that one can attribute to the fault of the industry. Do these sites mention that? No. They solely focus on the bad without even attempting to put any of their claims into perspective.

There are reportedly three million injuries each year in transportation-related accidents and approximately 40,000 fatalities. Quite possibly the majority of those injuries and deaths are primarily the result of individuals driving under the influence or as a result of not having the common sense to buckle a safety belt. I wonder how many of the zillion or so web sites out there that address such accidents and injuries are those primarily sponsored or funded by legal firms?

I guess you have to drum up business somehow, and maybe the sponsoring of web sites whose alleged reason for existence is to serve the "public interest" is one of them. But I happen to believe it is the unconscionable tactic of scaring the hell out of people by the use of totally unreasonable innuendo solely for the sake of making money.

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