Imagine all the things that can go wrong on the ocean. Double it and add vomit. Now picture a judge ordering you to pay Royal Caribbean’s legal fees for all of them. You are still not ready for the horror of HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF ON A CRUISE VACATION: SAFETY TIPS THAT MIGHT SAVE YOUR LIFE.
Let’s begin with what you’re already thinking. Cruise ships are gross. They are all the bacteria of 15,000 catering pans of Subway’s new Kickin’ Chipotle Chicken ™ sealed on a boat with a sewage treatment plant and a generation of people who never understood the need for condoms. You know what old people do with a tissue after they’re done sneezing or having unprotected sex? Trick question– that tissue still has some good bits left. Slide it up your sleeve for later.
My point is, imprisoning yourself in a sewage squirting, pollution-belching germ preserve is disgusting and the most notable danger of cruise ship travel. This book was written 9 years before the coronavirus and the author still didn’t get out of the intro without reminding the reader how cruises are just plague ships featuring Jonathan Taylor Thomas in Home Improvement on Ice: An Interactive Experience.
Before she starts a single chapter on swindlers, pickpockets, or high-sea murderers… before the pages even have numbers, Yvonne wants you to understand these boats are gastrointestinal death traps. She also reminds you staff will be less interested in protecting you than they are the cruise line. Again, she has not started the book yet, and everything on the ship from the crew to the salad bar already wants you dead.
The book is called HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF ON A CRUISE VACATION: SAFETY TIPS THAT MIGHT SAVE YOUR LIFE, but after this initial diarrhea scare it is 71 pages of advice about travel agents, packing, insurance, and import/export regulations. For 18,000 words, the only thing this book protects you from is the deceptive wording of your refund policy. But when things finally pick up, they pick up fast. The “Fire Safety” section explains how quickly a fire on a cruise ship will kill you from crowd panic and smoke inhalation before you worry about the inescapable flames, and she supports her warnings with a recurring feature she calls “Real Case.” It’s where she describes actual cruise ship deaths found during her research. Yvonne collects gruesome cruiseliner facts the way other women her age collect owls. She writes with the dark fascinations of a person wearing another woman’s dentures who often stops typing to ask a mirror, “IS THIS HOW THE WORLD TASTED WHEN YOU BURNED ALIVE ON THE STAR PRINCESS, GLADYS?”
Of course, not all of the safety advice is about terrible things happening to the innocent. Yvonne also has some warnings for people trying to hide their heroin from police dogs.
There are so many things either indifferent to your suffering or directly causing your suffering on a cruise vacation. Because of this, Yvonne rarely spends more than a page or two on each one. Her advice somehow always ends up being both obvious and inadequate like “Don’t fall overboard” or “Watch out for passengers who want to push you overboard.” These quick reminders of man’s fragility and capacity for evil are followed up with another Real Case and then she’s on to the next thing.
Real Case: “I made peace with God.”
Yvonne’s noble attempt to include every tragedy that might ever befall someone on the high seas makes most of her sections weirdly short. Well, except for the one on sex crimes. She has 14 pages worth of things to say about the subject, second only to the 15 page section on Legionnaires disease, Giardiasis, and Norovirus. Which means, statistically, cruise travel is represented by this unappealing pie chart:
You might be wondering why so much of this book is taken up with sexual assault. What makes sex crime survival on a cruise different from whatever rape prevention you’ve been doing for the first 70 years of your life? Holy shit, so much. Once you get four feet outside the borders of “countries,” you are governed by raw capitalism. Our laws mean nothing to ocean rapists, and cruise lines have a financial incentive to make sure no one calls them that. Plus, thanks to byzantine maritime paperwork, every cruise ship employee legally counts as a Panamanian horse corpse. Try prosecuting one of those for alleged crimes it committed in the Bermuda Triangle 31.7👽🧜-90 years past the statute of limitations.
Every page of this chapter is a nightmare. Here’s one where a ship crew member assaulted a teenage girl and escaped criminal charges because of the deranged terms of her ticket contract. Oh, also, about 10 passengers vanish without a trace every year. Yvonne doesn’t come right out and guess what happened to them, but she includes this mystery in a chapter called “SEXUAL ASSAULTS AND RAPES,” not “CHANGING YOUR NAME AND STARTING AN ADVENTUROUS NEW LIFE.”
I learned hundreds of things from this book, all of which can be summed up in the six words “never get on a fucking boat.” If I had twenty words to work with, I’d say, “If you simply must kill each fortnight to silence the Devil’s insistent whispers, get a job on a cruise ship!” And if you gave me zero words, I would expertly pantomime puking overboard while I poop my pants and get murdered, then act out a judge explaining to my family how he can’t do anything about it and, in fact, the terms of my passenger contract means my remains are now wholly owned by Carnival Cruise Lines’ signature fajitas. And every single person watching would guess, “Oh! Oh… Oh! T-the plot of HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF ON A CRUISE VACATION: SAFETY TIPS THAT MIGHT SAVE YOUR LIFE!”