Cruise ships have had a rough few years.
From norovirus outbreaks to the occurrence of a ship slowly sinking off the coast of Italy, these floating resorts haven't made particularly good headlines. Of course, ships have always made people at least a little nervous. After all, Gilligan's three-hour tour resonated so well for a reason.
A ship at sea is a closed universe -- days from land, surrounded by salt water and the occasional shark -- so when something goes wrong, it's hard to get help and harder to get off. As such, it's important to keep accidents to a minimum, and the CDC conducts annual exams to make sure things stay that way.
Unfortunately not every ship scores all that well. On its 100 point scale, the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program considers any score of 85 or below unsatisfactory. Here are the 14 ships at or near the bottom of the list.
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Editors' pick: Originally published June 27.
Now, at the outset, it's important to reiterate that an 87 on the CDC's inspection is not a failing mark. That said, it's only two points above.
A ship can fare poorly for an extremely wide variety of reasons. The CDC inspects food storage, water quality, medical facilities and many other shipboard factors.
In the case of the Carnival Dream, many of the factors involved water quality issues. Including both potable and recreational water supplies (i.e. the swimming pools and water slides), these were the first ten issues flagged. From there most of the other issues involved food storage and preparation.
Owner: Hamburg Cruise, SA
Food preparation and water safety are two of the biggest issues for any ship, and that was true for the MS Hamburg as well. Most of this ship's violations came from this contamination or poor safety standards when it comes to keeping the food and water clean.
The reason for this is simply, because there are so many ways for food and water storage to go wrong. Storage facilities kept a few degrees off or slightly too damp can lead to a violation, which is what lets them pile up.
Owner: Compagnie Du Ponant SA
On a ship, medicine matters.
As we noted above, when you're far from land the entire universe of resources boils down to what's inside the hull. As a result it's important that a ship keep its medical facilities completely in order.
That's where the La Soleal went wrong. Among its first several violations were failures to keep the medical facility up to code. Paired with concerns about proper food handling and preparation, this raises the significant issue that on a ship, it's important to stay fully prepared.
Owner: Hapag Lloyd Kreuzfahrten Gmbh
A CDC report amounts to a combination restaurant, fire marshal and copy editor's inspection all rolled into one.
The upshot is a whole list of violations that appear ticky tacky at first, and some probably are. A cruise ship can be written up for failing to warn passengers that undercooked meat or eggs can cause illness. Which… does anyone who can survive without adult supervision need that warning?
On the other hand, some warnings make much more sense than they appear. Absorbent materials on the ice machines or building food storage pallets out of the wrong substance can all lead to real problems.
Owner: Bimini Superfast
Of course, sometimes other factors make it harder to take these violations seriously.
For example, a health code violation at the "Bimini Breeze Bar" might be serious, but who can really muster up fear over the dangers haunting that fun and happy place? Or the risks that lurk at the sailfish buffet?
It sounds more like a Disney movie than a health code violation.
Owner: Japan Grace
Operating on a ship also means dealing with unique requirements, and is apparently not that dissimilar from running an intelligence agency.
For example, apparently crew members on the ship have to report "additional immediate contacts" such as a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse beyond their cabin mates. This network has to be documented, and failure to do so constitutes a medical violation.
Stepping down to the 86 scores takes us just one point above a failing mark.
Where some violations can sound frankly adorable, others can get downright gross.
When a food handler on the Freedom of the Seas showed up for work with acute gastroenteritis, it caused a big problem. After all, who wants the cook contaminating his food? Brown liquid at the base of a soda machine, failures to keep track of sick crew members… it can get a little disgusting.
Owner: American Cruise Ferries
Medical problems plagued the Caribbean Fantasy as well and raise another important issue when it comes to shipboard inspections: it's not just about the ship.
Although it's easy to think that an inspection is about the condition of the ship and its surfaces, in fact much (if not most) health and safety issues are about crew behavior. Proper cleaning, reporting, storage, handling -- all of this is about keeping a crew trained and attentive to best practices.
When that starts to slip, you get crew members who show up ill and aren't properly isolated. Then you get violations.
Owner: Holland America Line
Another way ships can earn violations is by isolated incidents of rule-breaking.
Like them or not, the CDC imposes best practices for a reason. When a ship breaks those rules even for one-off events, it earns a black mark.
Take, for example, The Amsterdam's luau barbecue. By holding this event poolside, in an area without adequate protection for the food or suitable handwashing stations, the risk of foodborne illness leaps and the CDC violations become a certainty.
Owner: Royal Caribbean International
Specific areas can also cause huge problems for a ship, just like any other business.
One of the hardest parts about keeping a cruise ship in code is the many, many ways things can go wrong. Operating one of these massive vessels means successfully running not only a ship at sea (hard enough on its own) but also a restaurant, a hotel, a bar, a theme park, a daycare and more.
Failures of any one of the moving parts of any one of these businesses means points lost, such as the "numerous, serious food safety violations cited… in Room Service" on the Anthem of the Seas.
Owner: Princess Cruises
Unfortunately for the Crown Princess, we are now in failure territory.
According to the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program website, a score of 85 or below is considered "not satisfactory." Although an 84 means that the ship still does most of its onboard functions well, it has officially slipped below the cutoff point.
On this vessel, the language of the CDC's report makes it easier to see how that might have happened. From pans "soiled with white debris [and] white mold" to food kept past its expiration date, this score might be just two points too low, but they matter.
Another miss, the Regatta raises another issue important to government regulation: it's best not to lie to the inspectors.
In what seems like a minor note, the Regatta's inspectors found an espresso machine on a cabinet labeled "spare parts only." The crew assured them that this machine was used only for spare parts, as the sign indicated.
The report then spends 383 words detailing all of the very obvious evidence that this machine was in current use, starting with the wet grounds in the tray and ending with "a small fly was in this area."
There are many responses to someone with a tie and clipboard. Lying may be the worst of them.
Owner: Carnival Cruise Lines
One more step down, but still not that far from a satisfactory 86-point score, the Carnival Legend is a good opportunity to point out some of the more esoteric ways a crew can violate the CDC's sanitation rules.
Working with the lights off, for example, cost the team at Carnival's Swirls station points, as did using the wrong cloth to wipe down an ice cream station. At the Green Eggs and Ham breakfast station, a menu warned of foodborne risks to "particularly those who may be more vulnerable" instead of "especially if you have certain medical conditions." An issue with the itinerary caused garbage to back up in a storage room.
There are lots of ways things can go wrong.
Owner: Japan Cruise Line, Inc.
So here we get to the bottom of the list: the Pacific Venus, and it did not do well.
Unlike this ship's competitors, it did not miss the mark by inches. A score of 76 isn't just ten points below satisfactory, it is also substantially lower than of the other ships on this list.
The list of violations here was lengthy, from a "reddish purple drip" inside the ice machines to handwashing sinks with the water set at 122 degrees, the Pacific Venus did not do well.
Hopefully the crew has a chance to clean up their act, literally.