By paul motter
While this economic downturn has had one side benefit - great bargain prices of vacation offerings, the downside is that the high unemployment worldwide has caused an uptick in violent crime in some of the islands of the Caribbean. Some locals, desperate for money, have taken to violent crime including housebreaking, armed robbery and even worse.
After a few highly publicized events on the small island of Antigua several cruise lines announced they would stop calling there. But when the capitol of the Bahamas, Nassau, reported a steep increase in violent crime due in part to its 15% unemployment rate the cruise lines could not leave so easily. The city has been one of the top destinations for cruise ships for decades. It has a highly developed infrastructure of dock facilities and tourist attractions including newly upgraded port facilities to accommodate the new behemoth Oasis and Allure of the Seas vessels from Royal Caribbean.
Last December a bus carrying 17 cruise ship passengers on a tour of Earth Village in Nassau was help up by two men with shotguns. The tour guide was tied up and the tourists were robbed of everything of value; wallets, jewelry, cell phones, identity cards and more. Reports said the perpetrators were extremely violent; gun-butting one of the women in the head leading to her hospitalization.
Another violent robbery occurred last October when two masked men robbed 11 cruise ship tourists at the site of Fort Charlotte, Fort Fincastle, the Watertower and the Queen's Staircase. There have been reports of wallet and purse-snatching along the main streets of Nassau as well. While the wallet snatcher was caught, neither of these two massive holdups have been solved.
These events prompted Royal Caribbean to proffer official warnings to its passengers disembarking in Nassau to be very careful while on shore. The best advice is to stay on highly trafficked streets, hide your purse and wallet from sight and do not to wear valuable jewelry or carry more money or credit cards than you need with you.
Another area where a lot of cruise passengers have been reporting problems onshore is taxi cab driver rip-offs. A famous incident on the island Antigua led to six Brooklynites being held for trial on the island for nearly six weeks on charges they assaulted police officers after a disagreement over a taxi fare.
In theory, these people had done everything right - they negotiated the fare before they left, but they believed they had negotiated a round-trip ride. The taxi driver asked for another $50 to take them back to the ship, and they asked to be taken to a police station instead. A melee ensued at the police station between the tourists and local officers and the six were arrested and held.
When it comes to taxis, we don't know what these six people agreed to pay but obviously there was a dispute. If you do choose to take a taxi on your own, be sure you negotiate the roundtrip fare in advance. Do not choose an obscure destination not commonly visited by tourists. Stick to popular areas where there is a police presence. In big cities or even small towns never go walking on back streets where you not within sight of other tourists.
All of these crimes are just another reason to stick to cruise ship sponsored tours. Yes, incidents have happened on cruise ships tours, but they are still statistically much safer than going on your own. Plus you never have to worry about missing the ship.
If you are visiting Nassau, our advice is to spend your day on Paradise Island, just a short $5 cab or ferry ride away from the pier, at the beautiful Atlantis Hotel. This world famous resort-hotel has one of the world's biggest best water parks for the kids and fine restaurants and a large casino for the adults. There are huge aquariums with sharks, manta rays and other sea life, or you can swim with the dolphins. There are fees to access the dolphins or water park, as much $110 for one person for unlimited access to the water park for the day, but there is no charge for people-watching as you stroll through the facilities.
Other Caribbean ports of call that we do not consider safe enough for strolling around on your own include Jamaica and South American ports of call in the Caribbean such as Columbia and Venezuela. You should stick to cruise ship sponsored tours in these ports. There are plenty of fun things to do on these ship sponsored tours, such as zip-lining or horseback riding in Jamaica.
The best advice is to use common sense. Try not to stand out as a tourist. If you are wearing a $1000 video camera and a Rolex watch you may as well be wearing a sign that says "rob me." Women should wear casual clothes and very little jewelry if any. If you are carrying a Gucci purse and wearing Loeffler Randall anaconda boots you are saying the same thing. Just because you are on a foreign island it does not mean they don't know quality shoes. Remember Imelda Marcos?
Also be very careful if any local tries to engage you in unwelcome conversation, especially if they continually touch you to get your attention. Do not allow anyone to touch you, even children, as it is often a diversion for someone else to come along and pick your pocket. If a local will not leave you alone no matter what you say the best thing to do is raise your voice to a shout and say "I told you to leave me alone - now go away." Say it loud enough to attract the attention of everyone around you.
We don't want to give you the idea that every local is dangerous, that is far from accurate, but the point is that you can never be sure of anyone's intent of they are getting too close to you. These are precarious economic times and far more people are desperate than they have been for many years.