Tainted Alcohol & Crime: Mexico Struggles With Image As Cruise Destination

A couple who went on an excursion during a cruise to Cozumel had "no idea how they made it back to their cruise ship cabin" after they "had a few drinks" ashore, according to the Journal Sentinel newspaper.  In an article titled As Dozens More Report Blackouts at Mexico Resorts, Country Says It Will Act on Tainted Alcohol, the Journal Sentinel explained that a couple from North Carolina who cruised to Cozumel went drinking after a snorkeling excursion. "The last thing they remember is vomiting . . . They woke up hours later and felt lucky to be alive. One had a large bruise on her thigh. Both her knees were scraped and bloody."

The story is one of several dozen incidents in Mexico investigated by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that surfaced in the wake of the death of college student Abbey Conner who visited a resort in Playa del Carmen earlier this year. In an article titled A Mexican Vacation, a Mysterious Death, and Now Mexico Travel CruiseEndless Questions for Wisconsin Family, the paper reports that 20 year old Abbey was vacationing with her parents and her 22 year old brother, Austin Conner. Abbey and Austin went to the swim-up bar at the resort where they "toasted the completion of final exams with a couple shots of tequila." 

But a short time later, the hotel staff found them both unconscious, face down in the pool. The parents were later notified that their children were taken to a local hotel; the Mexican doctors diagnosed Austin with a severe concussion with a "golf-ball sized lump on his forehead."

Abbey was reportedly unresponsive and in a coma, on a ventilator, with no reflexes to light, touch or pain. Her collarbone was broken, according to an account in the newspaper. 

Abbey's parents flew her to a hospital in Cancun and then on to a hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, where doctors concluded that she was brain-dead.

Another recent story (video bottom) involved a tourist from Texas who enjoyed a few rum and cokes over the course of several hours at a swim up bar at a Mexican resort, only to be later found floating unconscious in the swimming pool. He incurred $57,000 in medical bills from the local hospital. 

Travel Weekly was just one of many travel journals reporting on what it characterized as "deeply disturbing" incidents in Mexico where "American visitors believe they may have been drugged, incapacitated and possibly abused." Travel Weekly went on to opine on the apparent "indifference to the victim's plight from resort personnel and police, reports of an avaricious medical system eager to exploit foreign patients and the seeming impossibility of justice" which "could have a chilling effect even on repeat visitors who love the country." 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State just issued an updated travel advisory for Mexico, and expanded its warnings about crime and violence in several regions which are home to Mexico's most popular tourist destinations. The U.S. cautioned U.S. citizens that homicide rates are on the rise in areas such as the states of Quintana Roo, which includes Cozumel, and Baja California Sur, which is home to Los Cabos, where Cabo San Lucas is located.

The State Department stated that "resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes." Nonetheless, while most of the homicides are targeted criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shootings, in which innocent bystanders have been injured or killed, have occurred.

Many fans of vacationing in Mexico may say that the violence is limited to the drug trade but the Department of State warns that innocent tourists are at risk of becoming victims.

The Travel Weekly article warns that tourism to Mexico is at risk if Mexico does not implement training to resort staff and tourist police, as well as place pressure on local medical facilities to stop exploiting tourists. But it seems highly unlikely that these proposed changes will take place anytime soon. 

Many people contact our office asking whether it's safe to cruise to Mexico. My thought is that 95% of the visitors who get off a cruise there will have an uneventful experience, if not an enjoyable time, assuming travel to Mexico is your thing. (I wouldn't recommend cruising to Acapulco because of the problem with violence there, as I have stated before.)

But between the Department of State warnings and the reports of tainted alcohol deaths coming from Mexico, if I were considering a vacation cruise, I might think that sailing out of Seattle or Vancouver through Canada and Alaska might seem a little more appealing.     

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.  

Photo credit: Mexico - Miami Seatrade Convention Miami - Jim Walker   

 

Armed Banditos Rob 22 Carnival Passengers on Excursion in Mexico

The issue of the safety of cruise passengers in Mexico is again in the news with the armed robbery of twenty-two cruise passengers in Mexico on Thursday.

The passengers had sailed to Mexico on the Carnival Splendor and were on an excursion near Puerto Vallarta which was advertised and sponsored by the cruise line.

A Mexican newspaper reports that masked men robbed the passengers at gunpoint when they were returning to the cruise ship in a bus after touring "El Nogalito," a natural park.  The gunmen took off with the passengers billfolds, watches, cameras, cellphones and jewelry.  The newspaper reports that the local authorities initially tried to downplay the incident.

The Puerto Vallarta Robbery is Just Latest Crime Targeting Cruise Passengers

Puerto Vallarta - Cruise Ship  - Crime MexicoCruise lines and the local tourism boards usually respond to these type of crimes against tourists by claiming that they are rare.

In the video below (KCAL-9 / CBS Los Angeles) you can hear travel expert Peter Greenberg, say (excitedly) that armed robbery of cruise tourists in buses is "highly unusual" and an "aberration," while mentioning that he has plans to vacation in Mexico next week. 

But the truth is that crimes like this are not rare at all. U.S. passengers disembarking into Mexico and the Caribbean Islands are increasingly being targeted by criminals in groups.  We hear of virtually no crimes against passengers disembarking in Canada, Alaska or European itineraries.  But Mexico and the Caribbean ports of call, plagued by poverty and drugs, are a different story. The banditos go after the money and jewelry and cruise tourists have both.  Why target a single tourist when you can rob cruise passengers in bulk in buses in remote areas?  

Cruisers are sitting ducks.  Consider that over 100 cruise passengers have been robbed at gunpoint or murdered just in Mexico or the Caribbean islands in the last couple of years:

Eleven Royal Caribbean Cruise Passengers Robbed In Nassau

Eighteen Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Passengers Robbed at Gunpoint in Nassau

Fourteen Passengers Robbed at Gunpoint at Anse-La-Reye Waterfall in St. Lucia

Seventeen Celebrity Cruise Tourists In Bus Robbed in St. Kitts

Royal Caribbean Crewmember Murdered in Mexico 

Bahamas Cruise Crime Nightmare Continues 

Gun Fight in Cabo San Lucas - Is It Safe to Cruise to Mexico?

Violence Strikes Puerto Vallarta Jewelry Store While HAL Cruise Ship in Port  

More Caribbean Crime - Carnival Cruise Passenger Killed in St. Thomas  

NCL Cruise Passenger Murdered in Guatemala

Passenger From Star Clipper Murdered in Antigua

Cruise Passengers Attacked and Robbed in Antigua While Cruise and Tourism Officials Meet

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines Pull Cruise Ships From L.A. Due to Crime in Mexico

Does the Cruise Industry Monitor Crime in Ports of Call? 

Is the cruise industry providing adequate warnings to families of the dangers ashore in the ports chosen by the cruise lines?  It seems to me that unsuspecting cruise guests are being disembarked into increasingly dangerous ports of call in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Expect a lively debate where Mexican officials will understate the problem and the cruise industry defenders will chant "crime occurs everywhere."  But it's only in Mexico and the Caribbean ports where cruise passengers are robbed at gunpoint, literally by the busload.

 

Violence Strikes Puerto Vallarta Jewelry Store While HAL Cruise Ship In Port

There has been a very public debate about the safety of cruise passengers while in Mexican ports.  In June of this year, Princess Cruises pulled out of Puerto Vallarta (and Mazatlan) stating "as the safety and security of our passengers and crew is our highest priority, and based on the continued violence in these areas, we’ve made the decision to cancel our calls to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan.”

Puerto Vallarta was not pleased and responded with an accusation that the crime rate was actually higher on Princess' cruise ships  than in this Mexican port. 

Last month Princess announced that it would add these two ports back to its itinerary next year but Puerto Vallarta Mexico Crimewill monitor the violence in Mexico to determine if it would continue to serve the two ports.

Well now we have another violent crime which struck pretty close to apparently unsuspecting Holland America Line cruise passengers as they visited a shopping square near the cruise terminal.  (HAL and Princess are both owned By Carnival).

A Cruise Law News reader brought to my attention that a newspaper in Mexico reports that when a Holland America cruise ship was in port in Puerto Vallarta earlier this month, six armed criminals robbed a jewelry store right across from the ship pier.

The November 1, 2011 article states that six heavily armed men robbed a jewelry store, located at the exclusive Plaza Galleries and got away with millions of dollars of diamonds.

The robbery turned violent as the gunmen repeatedly beat the store manager in the head with a pistol.

The incident occurred around 1:00 in the afternoon while cruise passengers from the HAL cruise ship were in the shopping plaza where the jewelry store is located.  The news article reports "several tourists from Holland America cruise ship, docked at the Maritime Terminal, located across the street, were in the square."

There is no indication that any of the HAL cruise passengers were in danger or even knew of the robbery.  Nonetheless, it is unsettling that heavily armed banditos can stick up an exclusive jewelry store in a shopping square on a port day across from the terminal and get away scott free. 

I wonder if Princess Cruises or HAL even know that the crime occurred?

 

November 25 2011 Update:  "Radio Silence"

"Cruzi" @CruiseCritic had an interesting comment on this story:  " . . . these days there is more "stuff" going on of concern to tourists right in the tourist zone in PV than ever happened in Mazatlan in the tourist zone.  Difference is almost nothing gets press in English from Puerto Vallarta, and no "incident" chatter on forums permitted.  The city relies on tourism nearly 100%.  I also wonder if Holland America is even aware of what went on.  Probably, because it happened under their noses in a mall frequented heavily by passengers.  I just happened across this article searching for something else that just happened there.  Was anyone on the HA ship in Puerto Vallarta on November 1st?  This group has struck again, more than once, alluding capture, but that's not all that's going on there.  Yet, radio silence."  

Photo credit:  informador.com.mx

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Tells Princess Cruises: "We're Safer Than Your Cruise Ships!"

I ran across an interesting article written from the perspective of a Mexican port which one of the cruise lines labeled as too dangerous to visit.

It seems like Princess Cruises has incurred the wrath of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico after the cruise line dropped the port from its cruise itinerary citing "continued violence" as the reason.  USA Today quickly picked up on the story and conducted a poll asking its readers whether cruise lines should Puerto Vallarta - Crime? - Princess Cruises - Mexicopull of of this port which Princess Cruises painted with a broad brush that all-of-Mexico-is-unsafe

Princess spokeswoman Karen Candy told USA Today:  “As the safety and security of our passengers and crew is our highest priority, and based on the continued violence in these areas, we’ve made the decision to cancel our calls to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan.”

But the good people in Puerto Vallarta are pointing out that their city is a heck of a lot safer than the city where the cruise line is headquartered in Southern California or most of the destinations visited by Princess cruise ships such as Bermuda, Bahamas, and Jamaica.  The article is entitled "Princess Cruise Lines: Stop Slandering the Safety of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico."

The article also points out that Carnival Cruises, its owner, as well as Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruises still include the Mexican port on their itineraries.

The article points out that there is a high rate of crime on cruise ships and Princess has had more than its fair share of incidents of sexual assault against women, both passengers and crewmembers, on its fleet of cruise ships.  Are Princess Cruises ships more dangerous than this Mexican port of call?   Is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?