This morning the Carnival Miracle returned to New York with the body of an 18 year old high school student aboard.
The young man, scheduled to graduate from Saratoga Springs High School this spring, reportedly died of alcohol poisoning last night. He has been described as a "polite young man" in a local newspaper and as a "great, gentle kid" by extended family members on an on line cruise community website Cruise Critic.
18 year old kids are not suppose to die on cruises or during school breaks.
There will be debate where the alcohol came from and who is responsible for the young man's death.
One thing is certain. There's way too much emphasis on booze in the Carnival cruise experience. It's too easy for teenagers to gain access to alcohol on cruise ships. Its particularly easy when bartenders, working for tips, serve too many drinks without any regard to where the drinks eventually end up.
In 1994, the LA Times published an article "Boy's Death Raises Issues of Drinking On Cruises." A 14 year old boy aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas consumed so much rum and tequila that he literally drank himself to death. The cruise line corporate communications manager at the time responded to the minor's death cavalierly saying "the best advice that you can give is that a cruise is a resort vacation. It's not a baby-sitting service."
So should parents watch over their teenagers like they zealously do at home? That's not what the cruise lines like Carnival tell you to do.
If you click on the "Cruise Booze" category to the left you'll see dozens of articles about excessive alcohol sales on cruises. The more booze on cruises, the greater the risk of crimes and death. As a parent of an 18 year-old-about-to-graduate, I find it hard to even think for a second of going on a cruise and returning without my son alive.
Many years ago, my wife and I took a vacation to Disney World with our two boys. While my wife was watching our kids in the pool, I ordered a beer for myself and a wine for my wife. The Disney bartender said he could sell only one drink per adult. So I had to ask my wife to come buy her own drink. I thought what a pain this was, but it was a responsible policy designed to keep alcohol away from underage drinkers.
There is nothing remotely resembling such a policy on cruise ships. Pushing alcohol is the business model of the cruise industry.
If this death becomes a story covered by the major press, you will see attacks on the parents for not supervising their child. But most parents have no idea just how out-of-control cruise ships like Carnival are. Carnival earns many hundreds of millions of dollars aggressively pushing the booze. There are few security guards, There are no real safeguards like I experienced at the Magic Kingdom.
Most parents spend their lives watching their kids like a hawk, but once on a cruise they get caught up in the fantasy environment marketed and sold by the "'fun ships." They let their guard down. The result is tragedies like this while the cruise line makes millions of dollars selling booze.
February 27 2013 Update: Here's the statement from Carnival we received this morning:
"We can confirm that an 18-year-old male guest passed away in his cabin at approximately 3 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26 during an eight-day voyage of the Carnival Miracle which ended later that morning in New York. The cause of death has not been determined. With regard to speculation that he may have died from alcohol poisoning, we can confirm that, based on the preliminary investigation, there is no indication he was served any alcohol by shipboard personnel. Following his death, the cruise line contacted the FBI as per standard practice in this type of occurrence. FBI representatives boarded the ship on Tuesday morning to conduct an investigation. No foul play is suspected. We extend our deepest sympathies to young man's family and loved ones during this very difficult time."