Cruising has received a bit of a black eye lately and, with the recent highly-publicized events at sea, it's not surprising. Only a tiny percentage of voyages become nightmares, but it only takes a few for an entire industry to take a blow.
The new Safe Return to Port requirement has been newly implemented in the hopes that these sorts of mishaps will be a thing of the past. Simply stated, the rule is that any vessel must be able to make it into port under its own power from up to 1,000 miles out to sea after almost any emergency, while providing passengers basic services in safe areas. No more being stranded at sea waiting for rescue, the idea is that a ship is its own best lifeboat.
However, since the rules apply to ships built after 2010, only a handful of ships meet the requirements, and some have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
In order to see how one of these new ships operate firsthand, we took a behind-the-scenes peek as Captain Dino Sagani showed us around the Royal Princess.
Captain Sagani explained how every one of the ship's major systems has a backup system in a separate fire zone. To demonstrate he took us into the Safety Center - an area reminiscent of a war room - with instant access to every inch of the ship. He demonstrated how any situation can be immediately sealed off and, for effect, he touched his screen and a fire door slammed shut behind us.
If any major system is damaged within the contained area, then a backup can safely take over from another place. These redundancies are so thorough that there is a complete second bridge on another deck. As an additional safeguard, everything that happens in the Safety Center is seen simultaneously at the Princess headquarters in California to provide oversight and consultation in the event of any emergency.
The idea is to be prepared just in case, but emergencies can come individually as well, and that's where the Royal Princess' hospital comes in. Yes, hospital is the correct term here, this is not the school nurse's office by any means.
The facilities include a state of the art ER, complete with digital X-ray, automatic external defibrillators in case of cardiac arrest, intensive care units and, yes, a morgue. And as a hospital, there are also rooms where patients can be treated for up to several days, so getting sick or injured doesn't necessarily mean being sent ashore at the next port.
Another big part of a safe cruise is the food preparation. On a ship this size, about 175,000 pounds of food a week is brought onboard, so safe storage and handling are imperative. Huge refrigerated storerooms keep the foods fresh until they are ready for preparation and serving. To avoid any cross-contamination, produce, meats, and seafoods are all kept separated.
For freshness, produce and seafood are supplied locally at ports along the way, with the beef raised in Australia specifically for Princess Cruise Lines. The ship has a self-contained butcher shop where the meat is cut, so by keeping control of the meat every step of the process, the risk of any nasty viral or bacterial outbreak is greatly reduced.
Having had the chance to see all of these safety measures before our week on the Royal Princess started, we became more aware of all of cleanliness practices in the passenger areas as well. Hand sanitizing stations abound, every surface shines and, everywhere we looked, someone was always cleaning something.
It would have taken a miracle for a bug to penetrate the perimeter and infect us -- and that's nice to know.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
YOUR TURN: Do you enjoy cruising? How do these new safety implementations affect your outlook on cruising?