From time to time, Cruise Law News has a guest blogger. Caitlin Burke is a recent graduate from the University of Florida.  She majored in Recreation, Parks and Sport Management.  Ms. Burke wrote a senior honor’s thesis entitled a "Qualitative Study of Victimization and Legal Issues Relevant to Cruise Ships."  She is working as a case manager for Walker & O’Neill as she prepares for law school.  

Caitlin discusses her experiences in a cruise port of call two years ago, and offers 5 safety tips for students:

In March of 2008 I took a cruise over Spring Break with one of my friends from the University of Dominican Republic - Cruise - Port of Call - Taxi Ride Florida.  It was technically my "last spring break” so naturally I wanted to make the most of it.  I decided to take a 9 day cruise.

I boarded the Norwegian Pearl and set sail around 5 p.m., pina colada in hand.

The first night was like everyone else’s first night of spring break – a mess.  Lots of alcohol, lots of socializing, lots of exploring, lots of alcohol, lots of alcohol . . . lots of alcohol.  (Don’t judge me).  It was indeed a great first night of spring break. Needless to say the next morning my friend and I were feeling slightly under the weather. (I blame the stress and exhaustion of school and midterms, some will argue it was the massive amount of tequila consumed the prior night).

We awoke slightly groggy but ready to disembark and explore our first port of call in the Dominican Republic.  We boarded the small tenders, becoming evermore nauseous as we bounced up and down with every wave.  I bounded off the boat praying I wouldn’t lose the greasy breakfast I had just consumed at the cruise ship breakfast buffet.

Finally on firm land, we looked for a taxi/excursion/attraction to begin our exploration.  At first look, Semana seemed like a tourist hot spot – there was a strip of brightly colored shops and restaurants.  Some of our friends took taxis for informal "tours."  But we walked down the road, window shopping and trying to find something that was more “local” (i.e., less touristy).  As soon as we made it to the end of the strip, we made a right hand turn, which we almost immediately began to regret.

All of a sudden buses, cargo vans, motorcycles, vespas, bicycles all began to fly past us honking, yelling, screaming, hollering, and whistling at us as my friend and I looked at each other in disbelief.

Cruise - Port of Call - SafetyWe continued to walk down the road but felt increasingly uncomfortable. The local men were intensely staring at us, whistling, and making inappropriate comments.  We looked at each other, fear in our eyes, turned around, and bolted back to the tourist strip. Still nauseated from the tugboat ride over, we decided to eat some lunch and let our stomachs settle before returning back to the cruise ship.

We sat at a restaurant that was as close to the cruise ship as possible (also flooded with other passengers from our ship) and ate a burger for three and a half hours.  We were disappointed about not being able to see the island but happy to have made it back unharmed from the 20 feet we ventured off.

After working at a law office that handles only cruise ship related incidents – like shore excursion and port-of-call assaults – I’m thankful that I trusted my gut and did not venture out to see the island.  We were able to see other ports and island destinations in depth as the trip continued, but we regretted even getting off the ship in Semana.  I recommend anyone traveling to foreign ports to be cautious, trust your gut, and don’t venture off if you’re even the least bit skeptical of your surroundings.

Like your mom always tells you, better safe than sorry. 

Caitlin’s 5 Safety Tips for Spring Break:

Cruise - Spring Break Safety Tips1. Don’t drink too much. Have a designated sober person who can look out for the group.

2. Travel in groups. Never let anyone wonder off alone. Even if they say "I’ll be right back," go with them.

3. Always watch your drinks being opened, being prepared, and being poured. Date rape drugs are common and easily accessible on cruise ships and in foreign ports. Do not trust the bartenders or waiters preparing your drinks.

4. Never leave your drink unattended (as college students we tend to our drinks pretty well, so this is probably the easiest rule to abide by).

5. Use your common sense and don’t let your guard down. Crimes occur on cruise ships and in the ports of call.


Update March 9, 2010:

Caitlin’s blog was named one of Lexblog’s Ten Best Blogs of 3,000 law blogs for the week!

Way to go Caitlin!