Monday, April 3, 2017

BEFORE BOOKING THAT SPRING OR SUMMER CRUISE HERE ARE A FEW TIPS

                   DETAILS COUNT WHEN BOOKING A SEA CRUISE 

 
File:Prinzessin Victoria Luise LOC det.4a15439.jpg
Prinzessin Victoria Luise was the first purpose-built cruise ship.
Image: Library of Congress, Caption Link: Wikipedia


 The Spring / Summer Season for ocean cruising is underway. Before you book that cruise here are a few details that you will want to get straight with your booking agent before shelling out your money.  
WHAT IS THE "FLAG STATE" OF THE SHIP? 
 Even though a ship may appear to be "home ported" in a US port like Miami, or the ship's operating company may advertise a US address, there are no full sized cruise ships operating under the American Flag. Not being under the American flag means not being operated in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard regulations. American law does not apply on board. If something terrible happens you, or your survivors standing in a US court in any liability proceeding is far from assured. "Flag state" refers to the nation that the ship is registered under. The "flag state" and the national origin of the ship's owners and managers do not have to be even remotely related. 
 Some nations such as Panama, Liberia, and Cypress offer "open registries" meaning that they will register a ship under their flag for a fee with no required connection between their ship registry and the owners, nor any requirement that any of their nationals serve in the crews of the ship's they register. Open registry ships are subject to little more than the minimalists international standards of ship safety and may be crewed by multiple nationalities often generating something of a language problem which could prove dangerous in a fire at sea, or a ship evacuation. By contrast US registered passenger vessels ( now constrained by economic considerations in the over night trades to small coastal cruisers and river vessels) must be built in an American ship yard from plans reviewed and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. The entire building process through launching and final owner trials is monitored by Coast Guard inspectors. Officers must be American citizens, and crew members majority American citizens. The vessels are inspected annually including the observation of emergency drills by Coast Guard inspectors.
In the ocean cruise market, now abandoned by American ships due to inability to compete with open registry construction and labor costs the closest you can come to the level of safety you would find on an American flag cruise liner is with British cruise lines like the P&O, the next level down would be Common Wealth flag states like the Bahamas. When you go for the open registries you take a real cut in safety but if you must, the Liberian and Panamanian registries at least appear to try and enforce international safety codes and classification society rules, and are generally cooperative with the US Coast Guard. We have extreme reservations about all open registries and do not recommend the Panamanian or Liberian registries per se but rate them the best of the open registries. If the ship is flagged in some nation you never heard of suspect low quality attention to safety. 
 Another option may be the semi open registries. These may carry the names of Western European nations followed by a designation such as "foreign registry". A few Western European nations run semi open registries where ships built in foreign yards but to strict classification society standards such as Lloyd's Classification Society, or American Bureau of Shipping, or Norwegian Veritas are allowed to register under the Board of Trade for the nation offering semi open registry. Under these registries there may be a requirement that a minimum of nationals from the flag state be hired. Inspection standards are relaxed compared to the actual national register, but the flag state takes a definite interest in the safety of operations and these are responsible states with experienced maritime agencies. 
SO YOU SELECTED A SAFE FLAG STATE AND SHIP, HERE ARE SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BOOKING YOUR STATE ROOM:

Unless you are traveling with two staterooms of friends and family never book a room with an adjoining door.

 Not only do such doors lack the sound proofing of the bulkheads but if there are thieves aboard they can hear when you are not present and have privacy to work the lock, and usually a simpler lock. The interior bulkheads (walls) of a cruise ship will let sound through but the adjoining stateroom doors hardly block it at all. To avoid getting stuck with an adjoining door stateroom study the deck plan that comes with most cruise brochures. A two sided arrow may indicate such a door, but check the symbol key and discuss this with your booking agent. If you don't want an adjoining door stateroom say so plainly and clearly 


STAY AWAY FROM CREW AND SERVICE DOOR LOCATIONS:

Again, specify that you don't want to be near crew or service doors with your booking agent. Review the ship's plan in the brochure blank spaces or white boxes between staterooms usually indicates some sort of crew access or storage space. On the better lines like the British P&O, considerate crew members can make this concern pointless. But loud door closure noises at odd hours are more common than they should be

YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE UNDER THE DISCO OR THE BUFFET
 This one is kind of obvious but remember to mention it to your booking agent and look at the ship's plan, look at the decks above and below you tentative stateroom. Under the Buffet is better than under the disco but the sound of moving chairs and feet can be annoying, especially if its open for midnight snacks or at breakfast time if you intended to sleep in.

YOU DON'T WANT TO BE LOCATED ALL THE WAY IN THE BOW (POINTY FRONT END)
 This is the worse ride on the ship, the ships rolling, yawing, and pitching motions are all "enhanced" at the bow. I also recall from my forecastle enlisted Navy destroyer days that there may be a canon like sound coming through the outer hull plating during rough seas as they pound the hull at the bow. Cruise ships will have more interior sound insulation than a destroyer, which at least in my day, had none, but there is a reason why the youngest and most militarily junior personnel in the world's navies are berthed at the bow in the forecastle. Trust me you don't want to actually pay for that ride.

 IF YOU WANT THAT OCEAN VIEW AVOID A CABIN LOCATION NEAR THE LIFE BOATS, UNLESS YOU WANT TO SAVE MONEY
However be advised you may be asked to pay more for that view. A Weather deck cabin across from the life boats affords you lots of day light for your obstructed view and may cost hundreds less than that unobstructed sea view. The plans sent with the marketing brochure often don't show clearly the lifeboat locations. Ask your booking agent about this. Again the rule of thumb is near life boats lots of light, little real view. Unobstructed ocean views often cost extra, but not always. On some designs the life boats are above the cabins no one is charged extra for an unobstructed view but there may be interior cabins with no outside view that are cheaper. 
FOR ALL OF THE REASONS THAT YOU DON'T WANT TO BE UNDER THE DISCO OR THE BUFFET YOU DON"T WANT TO BE UNDER THE FITNESS CENTER
 This one can be tough to spot on the brochure plan, talk with your booking agent and avoid getting stuck beneath this often 24 / 7 noise factory. 

SECURITY: CRIME DOES HAPPEN AT SEA
 At sea when a crime occurs, the only criminal law certain to apply is the law of the flag state. The better the flag state the better the crew vetting and the the less likelihood of crew crime.  Criminally intended passengers are far from unheard of and difficult to prevent from boarding. If you feel you became a victim of a crime while aboard and that it was preventable by ordinary and prudent security precautions on the part of the shipping company,you may or may not have access to US courts for determining liability depending on the nature and provisions of your contract for carriage (passenger ticket) and the presence of any assets of the owners in the country. This is yet another reason why we like the British and Common Wealth carriers, if you become reliant on a foreign court system, at least theirs is familiar and fundamentally fair. 
CRIME HAPPENS ASHORE AT YOUR FOREIGN DESTINATION:  
 A lot of the best cruise destinations look like tropical paradises until you get a little off the beaten tourist path. Many are in fact simply third world nations with all of the crime and danger that implies. Don't hesitate to sign up for those optional escorted tours from the ship. If you land in some sort of trouble you will be reliant on the local police. Don't believe the new TV shows, there is no US FBI special task force coming to your rescue. If you need the help of the US State Department in the form of embassy or consular services our experience as professional mariners is simply don't expect much , don't be surprised if you are treated like an annoyance.
TO ENJOY YOUR CRUISE PLAN YOUR CRUISE !





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