Its amusing to watch a cruise line caught in a scandal pretend to be outraged over "unfair" media scrutiny.
Royal Caribbean’s response to Inside Edition’s out-of-control cruise booze expose’ reminds me of the the quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet "The lady doth protest too much, methinks," spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.
Last week, InsideEdition aired a story "Inside Edition Investigates Cruise Ship Drinking" which took a look at widespread public intoxication aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas cruise ship. Inside Edition’s show contained video depicting:
". . . many passengers pound back booze day and night. In the ship’s night club, our cameras spotted people passed out and one passenger face down on the bar. We also observed raunchy dancing and women exposing themselves.
From the moment our undercover producers walked up the gangway, the booze kept flowing. We saw many passengers drinking heavily before and during the mandatory lifeboat drill . . .
But the real boozing we witnessed occurred after the Liberty of the Seas set sail when legions of waiters descended on passengers with tray loads of booze pushing the drink of the day." You can watch the video below:
The following day Royal Caribbean’s President Adam Goldstein wrote a blog about the Inside Edition expose, calling it "sensationalist" and "highly misleading." He wrote about his cruise line’s "SafeServe" alcohol training program and allegedly "strict policies" against over-serving alcohol to passengers.
There is no question that Royal Caribbean has a written policy theoretically designed to curb excessive drinking. But its just that – a policy. In practice, the waiters and bartenders routinely ignore the policy and push alcohol sales. Its hard to take a cruise CEO’s shore-side policies seriously when you watch videos of Royal Caribbean waiters, who work almost entirely on tips, dancing around with bottles of rum on their heads while pouring double shots directly into the passenger’s mouths.
Royal Caribbean pays its waiters only $50 a month. The waiters push booze in order to obtain gratuities. Profits from aggressive alcohol sales are a fundamental part of the cruise line’s "onboard purchases" program. The cruise line nets hundreds of millions of dollars a year selling booze. If Royal Caribbean was serious about curtailing over-consumption of alcohol during cruises, they would pay the waiters and bartenders a reasonable salary.
Lots-of-cruise booze translates into lots of cruise profits but higher incidents of sexual assault, drunken brawls and serious accidents including some leading to death. The alcohol related problems on Royal Caribbean cruise ships date back decades.
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."
There have been problems with too much booze on Royal Caribbean cruise ships ever since.
The first sexual assault case I handled in the late 1990’s involved a 15 year old boy served a dozen glasses of champagne and then molested by a 28 year old Royal Caribbean crew member pedophile.
Perhaps one of the best known cases of an over-served passenger involved another case we handled where honeymoon cruiser George Smith was grossly over-served alcohol. Royal Caribbean bartenders even provided shot glasses for Mr. Smith and other passengers to quaff absinthe that had been smuggled aboard the Brilliance of the Seas.
The seminal case involving the responsibility of cruise lines in dispensing alcohol is a 2004 case here in Miami called Hall v. Royal Caribbean. A passenger on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, according to the opinion, "was injured on the high seas when, after having been served alcohol by the vessel’s employees to and obviously past the point of intoxication, he staggered from a lounge, and while unable to look after himself fell down two flights of open stairways."
The trial court threw the case out saying that the cruise line had no obligation to the drunken passenger. But the appellate court revered, holding that although passengers have a personal responsibility to act reasonably, the cruise lines also have a corporate responsibility of acting reasonably in serving a safe amount of alcohol.
In 2006, a young man from Ohio, Daniel DiPiero, fell off a Royal Caribbean ship when he tried to vomit over the railing which was too low. The accident was entirely preventable. Video showed that the young man had passed out in a deck chair but no security had passed by for several hours.
In 2011, another intoxicated young passenger went overboard from Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas after Royal Caribbean over-served him alcohol.
In the same year an underage passenger alleged that she was raped on a Royal Caribbean after becoming intoxicated.
Many of the problems with alcohol on Royal Caribbean cruise ships in the past few years stem from its all-you-can-drink-packages,where passengers can drink themselves into a stupor for a daily set price. No cruise line with a genuine concern for passenger safety would market these types of unlimited booze deals.
With this history in mind, CEO Goldstein’s protestations about "sensational" media reports fall on my deaf ears. There is nothing more sensational for a family to learn that their son has gone overboard or their daughter has been raped after Royal Caribbean over-served them alcohol.
The Inside Edition video speaks for itself. Little has changed at Royal Caribbean. The cruise line continues to push cruise booze and makes hundreds of millions of dollars in tax free booze profits in the process.
At the end of the day, it’s the "personal responsibility" versus "corporate liability" debate. What do you think?
Please leave us a comment below with your thoughts . . .
May 16, 2012 Update: The South Florida Business Journal mentions our blog in the article Alcohol vs. Drugs on Cruise Ships.