Disney Ship Hammered By Hurricane Sandy Raises Questions

 @MarkJohansonIBT on October 29 2012 3:26 PM

Cruise ships may be built to withstand rough seas, but Disney Fantasy was no match for Hurricane Sandy over the weekend.

Passenger David Evans recounted a frightful night on the ship for a CNN iReport Sunday, including personal video footage he captured that shows water from the ship’s pool overflowing on the deck, doors slamming, glass breaking and items from a store falling off shelves. Evans said veteran crew members told him it was “the worst night they had ever seen.”

“By 12:00 a.m. Saturday, the ship was being tossed in every direction,” he said. “The sliding doors to the bedroom in the suite began to quickly slam open and shut. Around 2 a.m., there was a violent tossing of the ship from side-to-side, and most of the furniture was overturned in our room. All of the glassware was shattered as it hit the ground. Elsewhere on the 13-story ship, store shelves were emptied by the increasing power of the storm.”

Evans said the captain eventually announced that passenger should remain in their rooms, because the weather had become “far worse than what was predicted in that area.”

The ship ran into trouble in waters near Miami but docked safely in Port Canaveral several hours later. Though Evans said the crew did their best given the circumstances and offered passengers a 25 percent discount on their next voyage, others were not so pleased.

“I was on the ship. And yes, we made the decision to go at the end of the hurricane season. So -- that's on us. However, Disney made the decision to further risk the safety of its passengers to protect their profits,” one Fantasy passenger commented in a thread under the iReport.

Disney Public Affairs Manager Rebecca Peddie acknowledged in an email to IBTimes that guests “had a difficult evening” when the Disney Fantasy experienced rough sea conditions en route to Port Canaveral.

“At Disney Cruise Line, our captains and crew members are highly trained and experienced in navigating through inclement weather,” Peddie said. “Overall, the ship is fine and is currently sailing a seven-night Western Caribbean. We had minor damage involving some cracked windows that have been addressed.”

The incident, nevertheless, raises questions about the cruise industry’s policies during a hurricane.

Whereas airlines typically cancel flights well in advance of a storm, it’s rare for a cruise to do the same. Instead, ships alter their routes around the storm, switching itineraries as needed in hopes of avoiding foul conditions. In Disney Fantasy’s case, they weren’t so lucky.

“Cruise lines normally figure they can navigate around storms avoiding the brunt and, thus, rarely, if ever, cancel cruises because of weather,” explained Ross Klein, creator of CruiseJunkie.com and author of four books on cruising, including "Cruise Ship Blues: The Underside of the Cruise Ship Industry." “In most cases, ships are able to alter their planned routes to avoid direct confrontation with a storm. At the same time, this does not mean that cruise ships do not encounter bad weather and violent storms.”

Klein said newer ships may have more difficulty in rough seas than older ocean-going vessels, because they have a much larger structure above the water line and are flatter below. That said, he’s not so sure Disney is at fault.

“I have to believe the captain when he says the storm's severity was greater than anticipated,” he noted, adding that it’s similar to being on an airplane and hitting extremely severe turbulence: Is it the airline's or the pilot's fault?

“At the same time, I would say that the culture of the industry is one where economic interests often take a high priority. In this case, I could see that the ship didn't take a circuitous route returning to Fort Lauderdale because they didn't want to delay the next cruise, but given the damage experienced onboard the ship, I don't think they anticipated what they experienced.”

Probably not. Most dream cruises don’t involve a run-in with a Frankenmonster.

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