Cruise Ship Crisis: Dealing with Disasters and Worst-Case Scenarios at Sea

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Earlier this year you were probably just as fixated as I was by the story of the Carnival Triumph. This massive cruise ship lost nearly all its power back in February and many passengers reported horrific conditions, while others took it in stride.

At the time, a reader asked me, “Survival Mom, what would you have done if you had been on that cruise ship? How do you deal with cruise ship crisis?”

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Well, very coincidentally, I actually WAS on a cruise ship at the same time as the ill-fated Triumph. We also left from Galveston and had a similar Caribbean itinerary. Now that summer vacation season is upon us, I’ll share with you what I had packed for that cruise and a few tips that, I believe, would have helped us survive those days at sea with a smile on our faces and can help you and your family on any type of vacation, whether the seas are smooth or rough.

Here is what I packed along with bathing suits and sun block:

  • Duct tape. Really.
  • Laundry soap. We didn’t do any laundry by hand but could have.
  • Berkey water bottles. We would have had pure drinking water, no matter what.
  • Packets of Clorox wipes.
  • Hand sanitizer, although there was plenty of this throughout the ship.
  • Small LED flashlights. I think we had one for every member of the family.
  • NyQuil. Gosh, I love that stuff! If we really had been stranded at sea for a while I might have opted to sleep through the whole ordeal!
  • A deck of cards and the travel version of Apples to Apples. Without power available there were no movies or TV on the Triumph, and I’ll bet there were a lot of cranky, bored people.
  • Some clothespins. These would have multiple uses for closing a make-shift tent (some people had to sleep on deck when their cabins were too hot) or hanging up wet laundry.
  • A Swiss army knife.
  • A small, soft-sided cooler. We could have kept our water bottles and snacks in this if we hadn’t been able to stay in our cabin.
  • A power strip. Apparently, electricity was available here and there around the ship, so a power strip would have enabled many people to charge cell phones and other electronics.

All of these supplies are quite small, except for the power strip, and should be a part of your emergency kit anyway. Also, everything was quite inexpensive. Having a well-equipped emergency kit needn’t break the bank.

Other than having some handy supplies, what else can you do if a vacation really takes a turn for the worst?

Well, in the case of the Carnival Triumph, the discomfort level of passengers depended greatly on where their cabins were located.

image by PhilaMike
image by PhilaMike

Their attitude also contributed greatly to their experience. This would be true on any vacation, from a camping trip to a stay at a luxury resort.

We had an inside cabin on our cruise, with no window, so we would have been among the passengers camping out on deck. From photos I saw, it seemed that passengers made their own makeshift tents out of bed sheets. Pretty smart. Those clothespins would have come in handy, for sure. We might also have dragged the mattresses from our cabin, unless something else was made available.

The passengers with cabins that had balconies and windows that opened, had fresh air. If we would have been in one of those cabins, we would have invited some of the unluckier passengers inside for breaks. The cruise we were on had a high percentage of people over the age of 60 and families with very young children. Both groups would have been in need of creature comforts after just a few hours.

I would expect a high degree of panic and uncertainty during the first few hours of the crisis because that’s just natural, even among the Survival Mom’s family members! However, at some point one of us would have said, “Snap out of it and deal with it!”

The ship’s captain and crew had emergency plans in place, but even so, it’s up to the individual to find their own ways of coping. Here are a few steps that some passengers of the Triumph took and a few tips of my own.

  1.  Get acquainted with other passengers, or vacationers, as quickly as possible in a crisis. One older couple on the Triumph who had to stay out on deck said they became friends with a younger couple and the four of them got through the ordeal together. There’s nothing like a crisis for bringing people together, and I would have taken advantage of this. I read of one group of passengers that held regular Bible studies. That was smart on a number of levels. It brought people with a common interest together, their focus was on something positive, and it provided a routine and an activity to look forward to.
  2. Set up a routine as quickly as possible. This could include participating in ship activities, walking the outdoor track, or anything else we could do to take at least some control of our time in order to avoid panic and negativity.
  3. Stay hydrated! If we were spending a lot of time out on the deck, we would need our sunblock and plenty of water. The Berkey water bottles, or any other bottles with a filter, would have been effective, even with gray water, if it came to that.
  4. Eat small, light meals and when possible, set aside food for snacks later on. I don’t mean hoarding food if there was truly a food shortage, but taking some food for a meal and then setting a bit aside for later. This would be especially important if with kids or for family members with health issues.
  5. If sanitation becomes a problem, use hand sanitizer and those Clorox wipes liberally!
  6. Find something to enjoy. Out on the ocean, with no electric lights, the stars must have put on one heck of a show. The show of a lifetime for most people.
  7. Avoid complaining, negative people. What happened on the Triumph, happened, and these passengers were never in mortal danger. It would be hard enough to stay positive in this particular scenario, but with kids along, I would have made sure I checked my own bad attitude or worries at the door, figuratively speaking.
  8. For a time, alcohol played a role in helping some people cope with the trauma of being stranded at sea. However, I heard that the captain turned off the tap, so to speak, and passengers had to finish the trip fully lucid. Alcohol would not be my recommendation for coping with any vacation crisis!

Just for the record, we were on a Royal Caribbean ship and had a fabulous time. Loved every minute of it.

As news about the Triumph reached us, I asked my daughter, age 13, how she thought our family would have fared.  I was so proud when she said, “I think we would have done just fine!”

That’s my girl!

Have you experienced a significant crisis during a family vacation? How did you cope?

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

8 thoughts on “Cruise Ship Crisis: Dealing with Disasters and Worst-Case Scenarios at Sea”

    1. They do xray baggage. My husband’s kilt pin set off some concern as it is shaped like a knife. You should look at the cruise line’s site to see if there are prohibited items.

  1. I spend roughly 6 months out of each year at sea as the Radio Electronics Officer on board a research vessel. I never ever go out without certain items. Before I sail, I have my Doctor write a prescription for a 5 day Z-Pak course, and Flagil as well. The Z-Pak is a broad spectrum antibiotic, and the Flagil is for parasites that you may ingest during visits to 3rd world eateries. (Oh the stories…hurts to think about it) I also recommend asking your Doctor about a prescription for Transderm-Scop. This is Scopolamine in patch form, and it will keep most anyone from getting sea sick. Even if it is relatively calm seas, if you ever need to spend time in a life raft, you will encounter seasickness and the patch must be applied within minutes after you enter the raft. Seasickness can kill you via dehydration, so it must be dealt with effectively. (We like to say the only sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree!) Always have the sea version of a “bug out bag”. This waterproof “abandon ship bag” bag will include water, extra glasses, prescriptions, a hat, sun screen, low carb energy bars (high carb bars will dehydrate you), and copies of your ID and papers. I tend to back up my photos on a thumb drive every so often while out, in case I end up having to leave my laptop on board during a distress. Some of our crew even include a long sleeve shirt in their bags to keep from sunburn. If you ever get the order to abandon ship, begin drinking water immediately- lots of it. Water will be rationed strictly and on schedule once in the raft, so show up well hydrated. Attitude is contagious, whether it is good or bad. Be the person with the best attitude on the boat. As people get edgy in close quarters in poor conditions, you will find that people will be apt to follow your lead in attitude if you consciously make an effort. Just tell yourself to have a good attitude, even if that makes no sense given the circumstances. Close quarters, isolation and stress can slowly take its toll on a person without them even noticing the change. Deciding periodically to deliberately exude a positive attitude will help keep you in check and contribute greatly to your overall survivability.

  2. [email protected] Dollar Hollering Homemaker

    Great tips! I always pack extra food and water wherever I go. Car trouble? At least I have something to eat while we wait or if we have to walk somewhere. It also helps when doctor’s appointments run long or we get stuck in traffic.

    Worst vacation was getting sick in Mexico- I was a kid but it was pretty darn miserable…

  3. I just have to say I did a Carnival cruise 2 years ago and had an absolute blast. I was unable to take a knife with me as it got checked on the boat. yep, but i did utilize my nail clippers and had a small pair of craft scissors in my luggage that passed.
    Dont forget excursions off the boat. My friend and I had a larger “shopping” bag and we carried 2 – 1 liter bottles of water from the boat, didnt drink anything on the islands. small versions of sunscreen, bug spray, hand sanitizer, first aid kit, sewing kit from the dollar store, rain ponchos, umbrella, extra socks, and copies of out personal identification folded small in a ziplock bag. and hats for the sun.
    By the end of our week we had used almost everything in that bag, was nice to have it just in case and most didnt take up much room. though our purchses did 🙂

  4. not sure why my other comment didn’t go through, i shared a link of a travel power strip that I travel with… my other thought was binder clips instead of clothespins because binder clips seem to be a bit more sturdy.

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