Empress of the Seas Flunks CDC Sanitation Inspection

Empress of the SeasAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas flunked a surprise sanitation inspection conducted in early June. The Empress of the Seas scored a failing score of only 80.  You can read the report here. A score of 85 or lower is considered a failure.

The Empress of the Seas underwent an extended period of renovations in Spain and later in Freeport, Bahamas when the ship was transferred back from Pullmantur. Royal Caribbean canceled a total of thirteen cruises scheduled for earlier this year. The first sanitation violation related to the renovation and involved a bathroom for the medical staff which could be used only for storage and was "heavily soiled." Back in April of this year, Royal Caribbean told the Miami Herald that “as work has progressed, we learned that more significant infrastructure and physical improvements across the ship’s multiple galleys and provisioning areas were needed to meet our high standards.”

I was contacted previously by crew members, during the renovation period, who complained  of unsanitary conditions on the ship. There was talk that the CDC had inspected the ship and initially had not given the ship a passing score, although there was nothing officially posted on the CDC website. Several crew members said that the ship had fallen substantially in disrepair while operated by Pullmantur and had a major problem with pests.    

It is apparent, however, that once back in the Royal Caribbean fleet, the Empress failed to meet high standards. The report regarding the June inspection details forty four CDC violations, ranging from improper procedures to monitor acute gastrointestinal illness cases to incorrect potable water and swimming pool/whirlpool testing.   

The report included numerous references to live and dead flies and cockroaches around refrigerators, buffet lines and other areas used for food storage. The ships was also in violation of the CDC's requirement to use rat guards, and was utilizing rat guards on only one out of six mooring lines while the ship was in port.

A crew member states that the Empress was reinspected earlier this month, on July 10th, and received a score of 97.  If such an inspection took place, the CDC has not posted that inspection yet.  

Royal Caribbean, including its Celebrity brand, has failed other inspections in the past.  In 2013, the Celebrity Century scored only a 78.  The same year, the Celebrity Summit scored only a 81. The Monarch of the Seas scored a 85 in 2011. 

Two years ago, Market Watch published the 5 Most Hygienic Cruise Lines and concluded that Costa and Disney and three other smaller lines had never failed a CDC inspection. Since then, the Disney Wonder experienced a gastrointestinal outbreak in April of this year.    

We last mentioned the Empress of the Seas three weeks ago when it experienced problems with one of its engines, causing Royal Caribbean to alter the cruise ship's itinerary.

Photo Credit: By Jsausley - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Empress of the Seas Experiences Engine Problems

Empress of the SeasA number of cruise sites are reporting that Royal Caribbean Empress of the Seas is experiencing problems with one of its engines, causing the cruise line to alter the cruise ship's current itinerary.

The popular Cruise Critic site says that the ship called on Nassau yesterday and visited CocoCay today but did not call on Grand Cayman as originally planned. The ship will call on Key West on Wednesday as planned. Cruise Critic quoted Royal Caribbean saying that the cruise line "will work on the issue, (while) the ship is sailing at a reduced rate of speed."

There is no indication from Royal Caribbean when the problem will be fixed or whether future sailings will be altered as well.

Royal Caribbean is offering an onboard credit in the amount of 10 percent of the cruise fare paid, per cabin.

This gesture will not sit well with some  cruise passengers currently on the Empress of the Seas, I suspect. Bahamas is not a particularly popular port in contrast to the Cayman Islands. The ship was transferred to Royal Caribbean from Pullmantur Cruises after a 50 million dollar cosmetic renovation first in a shipyard in Spain and later in Freeport, Bahamas. The delay resulted in at least a dozen cruises to be missed, much to the aggravation of families booked on the canceled cruises. Its a shame if there are passengers aboard who were on previous canceled cruises.

We last mentioned the Empress of the Seas in an April Fool's spoof.   

Photo credit: Jsausley CC BY-SA 4.0.

Royal Caribbean to Homeport Empress of the Seas in Havana

CubaIn breaking news, Cruise Law News has learned that Royal Caribbean will be home-porting the refurbished Empress of the Seas in Havana, Cuba.  

Effective August 14, 2016, the Empress of the Seas, originally named the Nordic Empress, will be sailing 7 day cruises from Havana to Nassau Bahamas, Labadee Haiti, Falmouth Jamaica and Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. In a starting move, the cruise line will be changing the name of the cruise ship to the Cuban Empress.

The cruise ship left the Royal Caribbean fleet in 2007 and, since then, has sailed for Royal Caribbean's Spanish subsidiary Pullmantur Cruises. Last year, Royal Caribbean announced that the cruise ship would be returning to its fleet in March of this year. The ship has been undergoing extensive renovations, first in Cadiz Spain and currently in Freeport Bahamas for the past several weeks. The ship was supposed to be sailing a Caribbean itinerary this summer but recently canceled six weeks of cruises because the cruise ship's renovations were behind schedule.  

Many travel agents have speculated that the cruise ship, because of its smaller size, is well suited to be the first ship for Royal Caribbean to enter the Cuban cruise market.  It will be the smallest cruise ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet behind the Majesty of the Seas. Many travel agents have noted that the cruise line has not booked any cruises on this ship after July as a sign that Royal Caribbean has planned all along try to get the Empress into Cuba before the end of the summer.

Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain commented that "Cuba is a great opportunity for us in the cruise business because we bring our own hotels and our own infrastructure . . . "

Earlier this month, Carnival announced that it had obtained approval from Cuba to sail from the U.S. into Cuban ports. On May 1st, Carnival's new "social impact" brand, Fathom, will be sailing passengers from Miami to several ports in Cuba, on the Adonia, a cruise ship with around 700 passengers. This will be the first time in 50 years that a cruise ship from Miami will call on a port in Cuba.  

Motivated by profits (fares on the Adonia are 2 to 3 times the average cost of a Caribbean cruise) and its competition with cross-town rival Carnival, Royal Caribbean pulled off a coup by one-upping Carnival by becoming the first U.S. cruise line which will base a cruise ship in Cuba. Royal Caribbean's Chief Operating Officer Adam Goldstein, who reportedly has spent several weeks in Havana meeting with Cuban officials, is expected to speak at a press conference later today. 

Royal Caribbean will utilize Havana's relatively modern cruise facility where two European lines, Costa Cruises and Pullmantur, used to operate. But both pulled out after Costa was acquired by Carnival Corporation in 2000 and Pullmantur by Royal Caribbean in 2006  due to the U.S. ban on travel to the communist nation. 

Royal Caribbean has made several Cuban-themed renovations to the cruise ship which executive Goldstein will be announcing shortly. The Cuban Empress will feature the "Che Guevara cigar room" Cuban Prisonwhich will feature hand-rolled Cohibas cigars. The cruise ship will also unveil the "Royal Castro Grill" where cruise passengers can enjoy fine Cuban cuisine. Late night entertainment will take place in the "Fidel & Raul's" nightclub where guests can dance the Mambo and sip Cuban "Havana Club" rum.

The cruise line will be offering excursions to Cuba's famous Combinado del Esto prison which houses thousands of dissidents and political prisoners. Also imprisoned are hundreds of Cuban families who tried to flee Cuba to the U.S. on make-shift rafts but were intercepted by U.S. based cruise ships and then forced to return to Cuba (no photos allowed).

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Photo Credits: 

Top - Mark Scott Johnson CC BY 2.0 commons / wikimedia.

Bottom - Franklin Reyes / AP Photo via Avax News