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.     

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