|A huge cruise ship is a public place that's akin to a small city.// Photo by Susan J. Young|
Are your kids safe onboard cruise ships? In a troubling incident, a 15-year-old girl was allegedly raped onboard Allure of the Seas last week. Two suspects, both Brazilian nationals, were taken into custody in Broward County, FL, home to Port Everglades, the embarkation home port for the Royal Caribbean ship.
Royal Caribbean stresses that it is cooperating fully with authorities. The line notified both the FBI and Broward County law enforcement, which were waiting for the ship upon its arrival back into Port Everglades. The line also provided the teen with medical care and counseling onboard.
Reportedly, the girl left the teen club at about 1:45 a.m. with another 15-year-old teen she knew from the club. She assumed they were headed to another spot to meet others, but when she arrived there, it was a private area. She told authorities that both her teen companion and a 20-year-man waiting in the room raped her.
Reports of such incidents are relatively rare, stress cruise industry officials. Yet, others including Cruise Law News (www.cruiselawnews.com) disagree and stress that more needs to be done by cruise lines to ensure guest safety onboard ships.
Regardless of which perspective you take, or if your view falls somewhere in between, what general advice should you as a travel professional undertake in advising clients about their children's safety while onboard a cruise ship? Or, is that an issue best left to parents?
Here’s what some experts say about providing generic advice for family clients now planning a 2012 cruise.
Nancy Yoffe, a Cruise Planners agency owner (www.cruisechick.com) in Spartanburg, SC, provides a written safety tip sheet on various topics to her clients. It tells clients: “Please note that when traveling with children, precautions should be taken to insure their safety. Do not let your children wander the ship alone. This goes for teenagers as well."
Yoffe's tip sheet goes on to explain that a cruise ship should be treated like any other destination, using the same safety precautions families would recommend to their kids on a visit to any city. And, the sheet tells clients to advise their children not to talk to strangers or give out personal information.
Margie Jordan, travel agent and CEO, Jordan Executive Travel Service (www.jets-inc.com) of Jacksonville, FL, tells her clients: “Your cruise ship is fabulous. But the people traveling with you are not always nice. A stranger is still a stranger. Keep watch over your children like you would if you were traveling by land. Set meet-up times for teens and ensure they keep them.”
John Lovell, president of Vacation.com (www.vacation.com), says agents should always discuss or mention to their clients that a vacation does not mean they should leave their instincts and common sense at the pier. “Bring it onboard with the sunscreen and enjoy a safe, wonderful cruise experience,” he says.
While Lovell believes cruise lines provide “a very safe experience for the most part,” citing the industry’s investments in security, video surveillance and highly trained personnel, he acknowledges “whenever you pull a large group of people together sometimes things do happen.”
He suggests clients supervise their kids just as they do at home, as well as visit the teen center, speak with the staff to gain a good comfort level and then establish meeting times and places for their teens.
Teenagers, no matter how conscientious, can be impulsive. Several of our experts say teens absolutely need specific meet-up times, curfews and limitations.
But just how deeply should agents become involved in the safety process? Lovell shared the view of others that “we do not expect travel professionals to train parents on how to ‘parent.’”
However, he said it’s entirely appropriate for travel professionals to freely share their knowledge with clients, including any know-before-you-go cruise line safety pamphlets. “A good time to do this is when they [agents] send a client their documents,” he said.
You might also explain to clients that technology can assist families to stay in touch with teens and younger children while onboard, according to Sabine Harris, a travel agency owner in Tampa, FL (www.cruiseplannersintampa.com).
Harris advises families to use walkie-talkies; many lines offer walkie-talkies for loan or rental. Yoffe's tip sheet also recommends walkie-talkies to parents.
Our experts say that no matter where a family vacations, whether on land or at sea, parents should caution their children about possible dangers within their surroundings.
Summing up the straight-forward perspective of our experts was Bob Zweig, a Cruise Planners agency owner (www.cruiseland.com) in Cooper City, FL.
“I tell my customers to be as prudent on a ship as they would at home," Zweig emphasizes."A ship is a city that floats. Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas hold as many people as many of the small towns in America and crime can happen there as well. It only takes one bad person to commit a crime.”