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Holland America Cruise Ship

Assault at Sea

My first cruise, as a ship’s doctor, was on Sitmar’s FairStar. At 26,000 tons, it was the queen of the fleet in 1975. Over the last 30 years I have taken over 30 cruises on numerous cruise lines.

In recent years there has been a disturbing increase in the number of problems on cruise ships. I am no longer comfortable that my 20 year old daughter is safe, and we constantly advise her of the potential dangers from passengers and crew alike. After all, a modern cruise ship may have over 800 doors, and danger may lurk behind any one of them.

Last summer we cruised from Rome to Ephesus, Turkey, on Holland America’s Noordam. The night before we arrived in Turkey, my daughter’s friend was assaulted by an apparently inebriated young girl. The minor smashed a heavy water glass on her friends face, necessitating multiple sutures and inflicting ugly scars. The girl, and her parent, were ordered off the ship in Turkey, and Holland America promised full cooperation in any investigation.

To my mind, Holland America has a peculiar sense of the word “full.” While the head of security was intimately involved in the investigation, and while he promised that his report would be made available to the family of the victim, the family is still waiting, 5 months later.

My daughter’s friend was assaulted at 2 am on the sports deck, near the shuffle board courts. There’s a whole row of cameras monitoring that deck, but strangely enough, none of them captured any images of value, or so we were told. Even though I asked that the images be saved, all were erased within 24 hours. Four college students witnessed the assault, and all stated that the girl, who was 15 years old, was obviously drunk. I asked security to review other cameras on board, and save any video that included the assailant. Security said that they reviewed all of the tapes, and the assailant was on none of them. Considering the number of security cameras on board a modern passenger liner, this assertion is hard to believe.

Nonetheless, we still like cruising. In a few months we plan on cruising from Buenos Aires to Lima on Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner.

As with any travel, be aware of your surroundings, avoid drunks or abusive people, and recognize that if a crime occurs aboard a ship, jurisdictional questions make prosecuting the guilty a very difficult endeavor.


It is now one and a half years since the incident occurred on a Holland America ship. Nothing has been resolved. Holland America has not been helpful at all, and failed to honor their most basic commitments. I doubt if Holland America is any worse than any other cruise line. One must be prudent on all cruise lines, and don't expect any help if trouble occurs.


Cruise Essentials

The cruise line and most travel agencies will tell you the essentials of what you need to know. They’ll tell you to bring a current passport, appropriate clothing, and various other bits of information.    There are a few things they don’t talk about because it may limit their own options. The informed traveler pays attention to these details.

The cruise lines charge a higher fare for higher decks. The highest decks are the most expensive, but they are not the best. Since I have a tendency to get motion sickness, for me the best cabin is in a central location (midship) at a mid-level deck. As you move forward or aft, or higher, the rocking motion of the ship is more accentuated. Don’t get talked into paying for a “better cabin” on a very high deck.

Think about noise. Only once did I make the mistake of accepting a cabin beneath the promenade deck.  Even though there may be signs asking passengers not to run before a certain hour, it only takes one self-centered runner to ruin your sleep. The staff is unlikely to confront a runner, so you hear the banging of the feet on the deck about every 2 to 3 minutes as the runner circles the deck.

Keep thinking about noise. Unless you are a real party goer, or a great sleeper, make sure that your cabin is not near the theater or the discos. Check above, below, and on the side.

If you are traveling with family, adjoining rooms may be great. Otherwise, avoid them. I will not stay in a room that adjoins another after a recent cruise experience. It seems that the husband next door was losing a lot of money in the casino. Every morning at about 3 AM we were awakened by extraordinary shouting. It just streamed through the air space around the doors between the cabins. My wife and I got an extra blanket and used a knife to push it into the airspace to mute the sounds.

No matter how much, or how little, you pay, everything is the same except for the room. Interior rooms on lower decks can be a real bargain. On the lower decks, try to avoid the front and the back (bow and stern) because of the noise of the waves hitting the bow, and the engine noise and vibration in the stern.

Make sure you take some clothing with you as you board the ship. Remember, if it’s not in your possession, you may not get it. On every cruise you’ll hear stories about passengers who did not get their suitcases. When you consider that a modern cruise ship can disembark, and embark, over 2,000 people within a few hours, at the same time that they are restocking the entire ship, it is amazing that more is not lost. I always wheel a carry-on suitcase with me. If someone objects, I tell them it contains medicine.

Keep your hands clean. If you wash your hands frequently, and use the sanitizers located around the ship, you are much less likely to get norovirus, or other diarrheal diseases. Being placed in quarantine can ruin an expensive vacation.

I believe that cruises are pretty safe, but they are far from perfect. A recent experience where my daughter’s guest was assaulted on a Holland America ship brought this fact too close to home.

The cruise "product" is the same no matter how much you pay for it, so try to get the best price. If you can travel on short notice, and are willing to accept the last of the cabins - which are likely to be in some of the less desirable areas as described above - you may get a really great price. Otherwise, booking farther in advance may be the best bet. I have priced cruises using the booking service on our site and compared the price to many other popular travel sites. I have been pleasantly surprised that the prices tend to be the same.

Please check the links under staying healthy. Unfortunately, illness spreads rapidly in the confines of a cruise ship. There are a variety of things one can do to minimize one's chances of getting sick. The United States Centers for Disease Control makes recommendations, which should be followed carefully. It really ruins your vacation to get severe diarrhea, and then be quarantined to your cabin. Also, there is a link to the CDC "unsatisfactory" page. If you think that your six star cruise line must have the most hygienic ships, you may be surprised at the results.
The link to the unsatisfactory inspection results is unstable. The link provided goes to the "Advanced Cruise Inspection Search" page. Select "Cruise Ships" and "All Vessel Inspection Scores", then "All Dates", then "85 or lower." It is worrisome that some of the best cruise lines have had some very poor scores.


Silversea's Prince Albert II: Iceland to Greenland to St. John's Newfoundland: August 2008


Prince Albert II in Prins Christian Sund, Greenland

We recently completed a 16 day cruise from Reykjavik, Iceland, to St. John's, Newfoundland on the Prince Albert II. While the cruise was, overall, very interesting and enjoyable, the ship could hardly be considered 6 stars. True, Silversea has done a remarkable job restoring a rusting, dry-docked ship in little over 3 months. However, while the Prince Albert II has come a long way, it still has a long way to go before one could consider this ship "luxury cruising."

The first thing we noticed on boarding the Prince Albert II was that the carpets, in places, seemed worn and tattered. I wondered how this could be on a ship that had it's inaugural cruise only the month before. I asked some crew members, and was informed that the ship builder in Trieste placed the carpets on the floor before working on the ceilings. Apparently, huge amounts of dust and grit were ground into the carpet even before it set sail.

When we entered our cabin, we discovered that the TV did not work, nor was there any music. The only available "station" showed ship information, such as time, temperature and location. As soon as we opened the bathroom door, we were hit by a strong sewer smell. Fortunately, the seals on the door were good, so the smell did not permeate the cabin. I was told that the problem was ship wide, and like so many other problems, they were working on it.

Next, I sat at the foot of the bed. When I sat down, I thought that the bed had additional drawer space since the bed felt like a wooden bench. Unfortunately, I was sitting on a mattress that felt more like a plank of plywood than a mattress. I was curious about the mattress, and googled the manufacturer, "Index-Cool." It seems that Index-Cool provides marine related services, especially relating to cooling. Nowhere could I find any indication that they manufacture beds.

Drainage on the Prince Albert IIWidnow Casing on the Prince Albert IIPrince Albert II
Deck Drainage Window Frame

Many passengers had significant problems with the air conditioning. While we were able to open our veranda doors to get fresh air, passengers without verandas or balconies complained of poor air circulation, and broken controls. They were informed that major repairs to the A/C system were necessary, and that these repairs could only be accomplished in a shipyard.

Silversea is noted for its excellent service, and, at times, it was truly exceptional. At other times it was awful. For example, my wife was served a cup of English Breakfast tea that looked like mud. My wife asked for a new cup of tea, and the waiter refused, saying only "this is English Breakfast tea, ma'am." Another ship employee saw the tea, and whispered to my wife not to drink it, and that the employee was just lazy.

Personally, most of the problems didn't bother me very much, although I did awaken with a sore back most of the trip. However, when sailing on the Prince Albert II passengers are paying for a 6 star experience. They are not receiving value for their money.


Are polar cruises safe?

The recent sinking of the MS Explorer cruise ship in Antarctica has spotlighted the dangers of operating passenger vessels in remote polar areas.

Cruise Ship Nurses Have their Cake and Eat It Too

Registered nurses who work on cruise ships pray they don't retire so that they can continue traveling around the world. Theirs is one of the most sought after traveling nurse jobs.


Search suspended for missing cruise ship passenger

NEW ORLEANS — The Coast Guard suspended the search Sunday for a missing 77-year-old cruise ship passenger.The search began Saturday after Carnival Corp.'s Fantasy reported that the passenger was unaccounted for after mooring at the Port of New Orleans following a five-day cruise.

Cruise ship fire kills five in S Egypt

Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- A cruise ship fire killed five Egyptians and wounded two others on Sunday near the ancient city of Luxor in southern Egypt, a security official confirmed to Xinhua. The fire broke out at the ship's engine room and quickly spread throughout the rest of the ship, which resulted in the evacuation of 43 French tourists on board the M/S Aurora cruise ship, according to the security official who would not like to be identified.

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