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03.17.2011

Cruise Port Uncertainty

I cannot recall another time in my 15-or-so years of cruise reporting that there was so much uncertainty about ports of call. For the last couple of years cruise ships have been constantly changing destinations for all kinds of reasons.

I think it started with the H1N1 "epidemic". That led to the immediate cancellation of all stops in Mexico - even though in the long run not a single cruise ship ever succumbed to a serious outbreak of the H1N1 virus. The truth is that by the time the vaccine was widely available worldwide most people had lost interest in getting inoculated. It just goes to show how some things can seem so important at a given time and in the end become relatively minor events.


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After that we had problems with crime in various Caribbean ports of call. In early November, 2010, St. Kitts was in the news when a busload of cruisers from Carnival Miracle was held up at gunpoint, stage-coach style. The robbers took wallets, watches, handbags and jewelry. This was just 48 hours after a similar incident happened to a group of Celebrity Mercury passengers on the same island. The cruise lines stopped calling at the tiny island for a few months - until the local officials convinced them to return.

Similar crimes happened in other Caribbean tourist spots. In St. Thomas a young girl was sadly caught in the crossfire of a local gang war while on her way to a popular beach. She died from the gunshot wound. In Nassau, two incidents similar to the St. Kitts robberies occurred in the same month (Nov. 2010). 18 passengers in all from Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line were on Segway tours when they were stopped, beaten and robbed of all of the possessions. But both of those ports (St. Thomas and Nassau) were considered too incremental to the cruise industry for ships to stop going there.


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Mazatlan, on the other hand, has not been so lucky. A few months ago cruise ships stopped the Mazatlan calls solely because two non-cruise ship tourists had been victimized with simple snatch and grab robberies; a man's wallet and a lady's necklace. The ships returned to the west coast Mexican city after a plea from the local tourist authority, but last month a shooting of two non-cruise ship tourists at a local hotel caused all of the cruise lines to cancel all stops in Mazatlan once again - very frustrating for the locals who point out their crime rate for cruise passengers is not as bad as what has happened in the Caribbean. But the cruise lines point out that the perception of crime in Mexico is hurting their business and that is enough - they have no choice. Naturally, crime is not the only reason port stops are being canceled even right now.

When political unrest exploded in Egypt in January many cruise lines canceled port stops in Alexandria, on the Mediterranean. All tourism was halted in Egypt for awhile in but some of the Nile River boats have now returned to service as things have calmed down.


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Then Tunis, home of the famous ancient city of Carthage, also became politically unstable, and now port calls have been canceled there. The entire Middle East is so uncertain right now than many cruise lines are choosing to halt all port stops there including other countries like Jordan and Israel. This was followed by extreme unrest in Libya causing Crystal Cruises to cancel its scheduled port calls to ancient sites of antiquity there.

And now we have the Japanese earthquake tragedy, where although the zone of destruction is relatively small, the burden that has been placed on the nation's transportation infrastructure made calling almost anywhere in Japan problematic. Oceania's 684-passenger Nautica replaced this week's calls in Hiroshima and Kobe, Japan, with additional days in Shanghai, China and Taiwan. Azamara Quest skipped a Sunday call in Osaka, Japan, and the Queen Mary 2 bypassed Nagasaki on Saturday.


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Now Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas has canceled a port call in Fukuoka, Japan and will go directly to its next port of call, Busan in South Korea. The ship also will skip three calls in Japan on the next sailing scheduled to begin on Saturday.

Looking back, it is interesting to note that the Haiti earthquake, although much less intense than Japan's, also did an incredible amount of damage. Ironically, when Royal Caribbean chose to continue stopping in Haiti there was a cry of opposition by people who just believed it was "bad taste." Looking back, I still believe Royal Caribbean made the right decision by choosing to continue visiting Haiti - bringing crucial supplies and economic sustenance to the island in its time of need.


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Bottom line; these are unusually uncertain times - historically, and this is one of the longest periods of sustained chaos in the cruise business that I can ever recall. Wouldn't a little old-fashioned normality be a welcome change of pace right now?

Discuss Safety in Mexico here: How Safe is Mexico?.

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new feature articles

Eating Up Celebrity Eclipse
by Janice Wald Henderson Our culinary editor assesses the cuisine aboard Celebrity Eclipse - a cruise line known for its food. blue arrows

Ship Spam - My Pet Peeve
When the use of email became commonplace, the emergence of unsolicited junk mail has given the canned meat of the same name a bad name. blue arrows

Holland America Staterooms Open at 11:30
How does Holland America manage what no other cruise line has yet accomplished? blue arrows

Sneak Peak at the New Royal Princess
The all new Royal Princess; 141,000-tons and 3600 berths, will debut in spring, 2013. blue arrows

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