Last November, Princess Cruises invited a number of cruise fans and travel writers on an all expenses paid cruise where they were encouraged to tweet wonderful things about cruising with Princess. The group used the hashtag "#FollowMeAtSea."
When a large billion dollar corporation provides "reporters" with a free cruise, and plies them with champagne and free i-pods, free publicity is the result. You know how it works - here's-a-free-cruise-so-write-something-nice-about-us. Predictably, the pampered Twitter passengers gushed praise on their generous cruise hosts. The typical comment on Twitter was something like "WOW! this is great!"
But something interesting happened last year. A number of people on Twitter, undoubtedly irritated by the mindless cheer-leading of the Twitter cruisers, began to ask fundamental questions about the sustainability of cruising. After all, cruise ships burn the nastiest fuel in the world - bunker fuel. And we are at a time when the endless spewing of millions of gallons of cruse oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well demonstrates that reliance on fossil fuels is a doomed business model - not to mention the disastrous effects on our air, water, and marine life.
A heated debate soon erupted on Twitter. The environmentalists asked pointed questions that the travel writers were completely unprepared to address and the cruise line was afraid to answer. I commented on Princess Cruises' failed social media experiment in a blog Princess' Cult of a Cruise - #FollowMeAtSea Folly.
I asked questions on Twitter which I felt were important, like what excuse does Princess Cruises have for the worst environmental record for dumping illegal levels of copper, ammonia, zinc and fecal coliform bacteria into Alaska's pristine waters? There were some nasty responses from the cruisers, who obviously wanted to party and not concern themselves with such thoughts. Finally, one of the travel writers promised to "grill" the environmental officer on the subject of Princess' history of dumping pollutants into Alaskan waters.
But by the end of the cruise, most of the #FollowMeAtSeas groupies had given up any pretense that there was any legitimate "reporting" on anything having to so with the environment, or other important issues like crime on cruises. The "reporter" who promised to grill the environmental officer about pollution never followed up on her promise. Instead, she was later photographed with the Captain, including sitting on his lap while other "reporters" took turns posing for photos while wearing the officers' hats. Oh well, so much for the rigorous cross-examination.
So here we are at #FollowMeAtSeas - Part 2. Princess has offered another free booze and cruise experience to entice another group of travel agents and cruise fans on the Coral Princess cruise ship sailing an Alaskan itinerary. Free chocolates. Free massages. Free fruit baskets and champagne. You know the drill - go tweet something nice about us.
Most of these cruisers I follow on Twitter, like @OrlandoChris and @CruiseBuzz, have mastered the art of social media and have great blogs and a big Twitter presence. All of the members of this latest Twitter Press Group seem like great people, entertaining and fun to be around I am sure.
So I have been occasionally following the FollowMeatSea hashtag to see how the cruise is going.
Most of the tweets from the group are what I expect. Just this evening, there as an "AMAZING" tweet from @earthxplorer. A "Wow" from @Travelogged. Another "Wow" from @OrlandoChris, who touted the cruise line's C.R.U.I.S.E. program - "Courtesy, Respect, Unfailing In Service Excellence." And finally @BethBlair gave the cruise line a "A+" and tweeted that all of the Princess employees were "friendly, helpful and professional."
There is no controversy on Twitter this year. The environmentalists have their hands full with the oil spill in the Gulf and are directing their energy to tweets about BP and the mounting ecological disaster. No one cares about another silly Twitter cruise.
But there were three tweets from the Princess Twitter group this evening that put a chill down my back. The first was a tweet by @OrlandoChris - "Looking forward to Sabatini's experience tonight . . . The second tweet was by @theplanetd "14 courses and an elastic waistband a match made in heaven here at Sabatini's." And the third by @CruiseBuzz referring to a blog about Princess Cruises' "Ultimate Ship Tour." The article contained a photo of the Master of the Coral Princess, who I immediately recognized - the infamous Captain Manfuso.
You see, last November, a young, handsome and well liked Italian chef aboard the Coral Princess disappeared. His name is Angelo Faliva. He worked in Sabatini's. He was last seen speaking with some passengers in the restaurant. There was talk that he had a disagreement with a Filipino crew member in the galley. There were also rumors that he saw something that he should not have - like drug dealing. Was there a fight? Was he thrown overboard? Or did someone place him in the ship's incinerator as some crew members suspect?
Princess Cruises is not saying. Even though there are many hundreds of closed circuit television cameras all over the cruise ship, the cruise line claims that they have absolutely no information about Mr. Faliva. According to Princess, he just disappeared into thin air.
Mr. Faliva's family is devastated. According to news sources in Italy, Princess Cruises has treated the Faliva family rotten. Mr. Faliva's younger sister, Chiara, traveled to the U.S. and tried to speak to Captain Manfuso who she characterized as cold and rude. He would not explain anything to her.
The Faliva family remains in the dark. Take a moment and read a few of the many articles below which we published about the cruise line's refusal to cooperate with the Faliva family.
So here we have the newest group of "Twitter reporters" who are happy to be wined and dined at Sabatini's and tweet endless compliments about Princess. But someone should sober up and ask a few meaningful questions. How can a crew members cook for guests in Sabatini's and then vanish without a trace? What "courtesy" or "respect" was extended to the Faliva family? If you lose a loved one from a Princess cruise, will Princess remain "friendly, helpful and professional?"
Princess' PR spokespeople Karen Candy and Julie Benson know the case well. Try questioning them about it and see their response.
Will anyone ask Captain Manfuso what really happened to Mr. Faliva? Will anyone print a copy of his photograph above and ask Mr. Faliva's fellow employees in Sabatini's what they know about his disappearance?
Or will we hear more comments like "WOW" the veal cutlet at Sabatini's last night was "AMAZING!"
I'm not holding my breath. I know this cruise will end with no real reporting about anything of importance to anyone.
And I can't wait to see who gets tipsy on champagne and sits on Captain Manfuso's lap at the end of the cruise and poses for a photo wearing his hat . . .
For information about crew member Angelo Failva missing from the Princess Coral Princess cruise ship, please consider reading:
Crew Member Missing from Princess Cruises' Coral Princess Cruise Ship
Twitter cruise photo galavanting.tv/
Captain Manfuso photo @CruiseBuzz's Ultimate Ship Tour
Angelo Faliva photos Faliva family