Millions of people are choosing cruise holidays each year, but the number of accidents is very small, writes Sally Macmillan.
As we head into another record-breaking cruise season, I've heard the question "Are cruise ships safe?" more times than I can recall. Certainly it seems that whenever there is an accident or outbreak of illness on a cruise it hits the headlines, but considering how many people cruise worldwide (some 21 million last year, according to CLIA), it's worth keeping a sense of perspective. The catastrophic sinking of Costa Concordia in 2012 was, thankfully, a very rare occurrence – it was Italy's worst maritime disaster since World War II.
While you hear stories about people falling overboard, it's actually extremely hard to "fall" from a cruise ship. Railings are (by regulation) at least 1.1 metres high and most overboard incidents are tragic accidents involving someone climbing over a balcony after drinking too much alcohol, or someone deliberately jumping - for reasons known only to themselves.
Cruise lines operate under the international Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) rules, which govern everything from navigation to man overboard procedures, food-handling practices, firefighting, and safety drills for passengers. The safety muster (when all passengers gather on deck or in lounges for instructions on lifeboat location and wearing life jackets) must be held within 24 hours of a ship setting sail with new passengers. Captains have the power to chuck you off the ship if you don't attend the muster, so you've been warned - take it seriously.
Other concerns that people express about the safety of cruising include being robbed on board and whether there are lifeguards by the pools. You should take normal precautions against robbery: stash valuables in the safe in your cabin, or don't bring them in the first place; keep an eye on your handbag or wallet when going ashore; and if something goes missing inform the cruise director or staff at the guest relations desk straight away so a search can be conducted if practical.
Ships' swimming pools aren't usually supervised by lifeguards, so if you're travelling with children it's important to be aware of this. It's up to you to take the same sort of precautions you would in everyday situations and keep a close eye on your children all the time they are in or around the pool.
Meet the crew
NAME: Rik Sprengers, from Holland
POSITION: Cruise manager, Uniworld's River Queen (Rhine, Main and Danube rivers)
MY JOB: I make sure the program is running smoothly and take care of our guests. I enjoy my job because of the people I work with. All the staff – from the Los Angeles, European and Sydney offices to the staff on board – are so dedicated.
MY TYPICAL DAY: I'm normally confirming buses, tour guides, writing daily programs, daily talks, making sure we deliver what we promise and helping with individual guest requests or medical help if necessary. I also assist guests in choosing from our diverse program and help them decide what to see and do in the ports.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT: I once had a request from a guest to make the Icelandic volcano stop erupting, so she could go home and see her newborn grandchild. It's difficult to pinpoint just one moment, every cruise has a different group and different individuals. Every day we are in a different port, city and perhaps a different country. No two days are alike.
FAVOURITE PORTS: Amsterdam, especially on the Tulip and Windmill cruises in spring. I can show off my home country when it is at its most beautiful.
TIP FOR PASSENGERS: Never put your money belt and passport in the garbage bin of the bathroom in your cabin for safekeeping – use the safe! I had a guest who learned this the hard way – it took a team of three ladies from housekeeping, the hotel manager and me 35 minutes to sort through all the garbage bins to find the money belt she'd hidden and which was removed during turn-down service!
Pack stuff in your hand baggage that you might need once you've boarded your ship and are waiting for your cabin to be ready, especially if you're travelling with kids: swimsuits, medication and important documents.
New Burma rivership
Check out the artist's impressions of the interiors of APT's new rivership, RV Samatha, in the company's 2016-17 Burma river cruising brochure. The lavishly decorated main restaurant (pictured) will serve dishes devised by APT's Asian ambassador, celebrity chef Luke Nguyen. RV Samatha also features a private dining room for eight that offers a degustation menu. The new rivership will have 30 twin-balcony suites (the biggest being 48.7 square metres), a sun deck with pool, day spa, free Wi-Fi and a main lounge and bar, and will sail from Mandalay to Yangon. Book by March 31, 2015, for free return flights to Burma; see aptouring.com.au.
See the Northern Lights with Dr Karl
Everyone's favourite scientist, "sleek geek" Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, is accompanying a nine-day World Expeditions cruise from Longyearbyen, in the Arctic, to see the aurora borealis. Just 20 passengers will sail on the schooner Noorderlicht, which is equipped with zodiacs for onshore wildlife-spotting excursions. Dr Karl will be on hand to explain this extraordinary phenomenon and deliver a series of lectures. The voyage departs on September 25, 2015, and has been timed to offer the best chance of viewing the Northern Lights (and polar bears and Beluga whales). See worldexpeditions.com.
TV star to join Love Boat cast on board Regal Princess
Tori Spelling, actress and daughter of famed Love Boat producer Aaron Spelling, will serve as the official Master of Ceremonies for the christening of Princess Cruises' Regal Princess later this month. The original Love Boat cast members are reuniting for the ceremony in Fort Lauderdale, which kicks off the cruise line's 50th anniversary celebrations. The 3560-passenger Regal Princess is virtually identical to Royal Princess, which was famously christened by the Duchess of Cambridge last year, just before she gave birth to Prince George.
OFFER OF THE WEEK
has just released a new 34-night cruise tour package that takes in Alaska, North America and the Panama Canal with introductory discounted prices of up to 40 per cent, when you book by December 15. The package, which starts at $6489, includes return airfares, 29 nights aboard Norwegian Sun, three nights accommodation in Tampa, Florida, and two nights in Vancouver. It departs April 19; phone 1300 369 848, see ecruising.travel.
CAPTAIN COOK CRUISES is offering a range of Christmas party packages to suit all tastes and budgets on MV Sydney 2000. Christmas party lunch cruises start from $59 per person while dinner cruises start from $79. Or you can charter your own vessel and enjoy a private party on Sydney Harbour from $109 per person. Phone 02 9206 1111, see captaincook.com.au.
EASTERN EUROPE TRAVEL has developed a series of cycle itineraries and maps for guests to enjoy on their Amadeus river cruise programs from Budapest to Prague in 2015. Passengers can cycle in Bratislava, Vienna, Linz, and from Durnstein to Melk in the picturesque Wachau Valley. All equipment is provided and prices start from $2990 for the 10-day fully inclusive cruise. Phone 1300 668 844.