What the Media Gets Wrong About Cruising

media wrong about cruising
This is what we see when we watch cruise coverage on cable news. - Photo by iofoto / Thinkstock

There are plenty of myths about cruising floating around the internet: they’re full of old people, there’s nothing to do, and so on. Most of them are fairly harmless and easily disproven, but if you’re a true lover of cruising, nothing irks you more than the media shining its sensationalist spotlight on your favorite vacation.   

During a slow week, major news networks (we’re looking at you, CNN) salivate over the chance to fill the gaps of a 24-hour news cycle with stories of cruise ships broken down, infected with a norovirus, or otherwise in peril. Even though these are rare occurrences, networks will dedicate hours of time to delivering half-truths and misinformation about the cruise industry. Like most media circuses, it always blows over, but it’s never fun dealing with all of your friends “helpfully” bringing the coverage to your attention and letting you know you should reconsider your next sailing.

So the next time a sensationalized story makes front page news, here are some media misconceptions to keep in mind:

1. "Cruising is an unregulated industry."

The Myth: Cruise lines use legal loopholes so they don’t have to report onboard crime, undergo inspections, etc.

Why People Believe it: Because virtually all cruise ships fly the flags of other nations, people assume they’re totally exempt from US regulation and oversight. It’s a fairly logical conclusion, but it’s also incorrect.

Why It’s Not True: Cruise lines are actually subject to a wide range of regulations concerning everything from crime reporting to ship conditions. The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) is law requiring all cruise lines to report serious incidents (homicides, kidnappings, sexual assault or theft in excess of $10,000) to U.S. Law Enforcement or face stiff penalties. Cruise ships are also subject to annual sanitation inspections by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the scores are made available to the public. (Check out the CDC's handy infographic of what else they inspect on board.) There are also environmental regulations concerning emissions, and standards of labor for crew members.


life boats cruise ship

All cruise ships have more than enough life boats for all of the passengers and crew. - Photo by Rigucci / Shutterstock


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2. "Onboard crime is rampant."

The Myth: Cruise ships are hotbeds of serious crime like assault and rape.

Why People Believe It: Because crimes that likely would not have received more than a brief mention on a local news station can become a national headline if they happen on a cruise. Our guess is that the thought of having something bad happen to you in a strange place while you’re trying to enjoy a vacation is a particularly scary thought, so these stories tend to bring in high ratings. It also doesn’t help that some people believe (incorrectly) that cruise lines are not obliged to report crime on board their ships (see myth #1).

Why It’s Not True: Violence, theft, and sexual assault are all terrible crimes, and they can indeed happen on cruise ships. But do you know where else they can happen? Pretty much everywhere. In fact, if you look at the numbers comparing the rates of crime in America vs. the rates of crime on cruise ships, it’s clear that crime rates on land are equal to, if not much higher, than those on cruise ships. The gulf widens even further when it comes to large cities, so you could make the argument that taking a cruise is a safer choice than a trip to New York, Miami, or Los Angeles.


coast guard

The coast guard also performers its own inspections for the safety of the passengers. - Photo by Mitchel Frick / Thinkstock


3. "Cruise ships are floating petri dishes full of norovirus." 

The Myth: Cruise ships are unsanitary incubators for viruses.

Why People Believe It: Any time there’s a norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship, you can bet it’s going to make headline news. And while it’s somewhat understandable that an outbreak of any kind might be scarier on a ship, the real reason you’re far more likely to hear about is that cruise lines are required by law to disclose these outbreaks publicly. Hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that are the source of the vast majority of norovirus outbreaks have no such obligation.

Why It’s Not True: Let’s look at the numbers: in 2013, there were 4 norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships departing from U.S. ports involving a total of 834 passengers. When you consider that 10.1 million passengers took a cruise in that time period, we can say that you have a 0.008% chance of catching the norovirus on a cruise. For a bit more context, the CDC estimates that there are approximately 20 million cases of norovirus in America every year, so cruises account for less than 1% of all reported cases.



Join the discussion

What do you think about the way the media covers cruising?


Posted by EatSleepCruise

I agree with Glomaroone. Most national news focuses on negatives with cruising. But they do the same thing when there is a plane crash or major car accident, or any other catastrophe that is travel related. Bad news gets ratings. We love to cruise and these negative reports will not deter us from going on future trips. We have four cruises planned in the next 20 months!

Posted by glomarrone

Yes, I do think that the media seems to enjoy reporting mishaps on cruises. They know that such reports get them more listeners or readers. In fact, most news reports are about negative things that happen. Even the weather channel perks up when there is the slightest chance of a hurricane brewing. I feel very safe on cruise ships but I don't take chancres either. I feel safer on a ship than I do in a hotel.

Posted by CrewMember

As a former crew member I'd like to say, thank you. I get so tired of hearing about the "dangers" of cruise ships, especially Norovirus. Your statistics truly show the incorrect perception of what the media likes to characterize epidemics. As someone very familiar with onboard US Public Health requirements (much more strict than in most restaurants and public swimming pools) it bothers me greatly that this is not more well-publicized. Thank you.

Posted by Johngold

Simple reason for the news. Bad news sells, Terrible news bring high ratings.

Posted by FreeTess

Good points. Who else needs to report Noro? And often the people who talk about these problems have never cruised.

Posted by JCSJCML

On all my cruises I've never used the room safe and have had no problems. Also never gotten sick and the safety standards are high. I feel a lot safer on a cruise ship than I do on land. As Johngold mentioned, news outlets are just trying to get ratings.

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