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It happens all the time on cruise ships. Buckets of cleaning compound idly sitting next to a food service area. Chemical sprays too close to exposed food. Swimming pools filled with unsanitized water. Something as simple as a broken floor tile. It’s all a matter of getting caught.
Last month, Royal Caribbean‘s oldest ship, the twenty-two year old Monarch of the Seas, got caught. Getting caught meant a below passing grade for the twice-yearly surprise Center for Disease Control sanitation inspection. In this case, the Monarch of the Seas received a score of 85. The minimum passing grade is 86 with many ships now receiving scores of 100.
The random occurrence of the CDC Inspection can keep Hotel Directors and Food and Beverage Managers on guarded watch. So where did the staff on the Monarch of the Seas mess up? Some of the violations were decidedly dangerous and none as benign as a broken floor tile, which also warrants a violation. I’ve posted a couple of my photos taken on other cruise lines’ ships, clearly sanitation violations in progress.
A bucket of cleaning solution is right next to the buffet line. Oops!
To begin, on the Monarch, there were a total of forty-three violations ranging from improper food storage to missing safety draincaps in the pool to co-mingling of dirty and clean dishes.
A new feature aboard many health conscious ships is to install a paper towel holder and a waste basket immediately next to the public bathroom with non-automatic exit doors. A good idea since e coli has been found on sinks and bathroom door handles in incredible amounts. However, according to my sources, the Monarch of the Seas not have the paper dispensers and that in and of itself is not a violation. The violation occurred, CDC report states, because there was no warning sign to advise exiting passengers to find and use some sort of paper to open the doors. This is a requirement of the new Vessel Sanitation Program operations manual and something all ships need to initiate; install the paper holders next to bathroom exit doors.
Shower heads hadn’t been properly sanitized, mostly live and a few dead fruit flies were found throughout the Windjammer Lido buffet as well as on or by food preparation counters, the Jade Asian buffet and “exhaust air vent covers were filled with layered dust debris” over the food areas.
A bottle of disinfectant stands guard a little too close to food. Yuk!
Swimming pools were missing the safety draincaps to prevent entanglement, safety signage at the pools was not up to the VSP standards. The safety signs did not include the following: “Do not use these facilities if you are experiencing diarrhea, vomiting, or fever; shower before entering the facility;” and bather load number.
In a statement, Royal Caribbean said it was “extremely disappointed” to learn that Monarch only received an 85 during its last inspection. The spokesperson continued that they are working closely with the proper authorities to “correct and remedy the deficiencies found aboard Monarch that caused the low score,” and that it has “already submitted the corrective action report.” Royal Caribbean is “confident that Monarch of the Seas would receive a passing score when the ship was re-inspected.” According to Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez, the re-test has not yet taken place.
The last time that the Monarch of the Seas failed an inspection was in 1996 with a score of 82. In total, the Monarch of the Seas has been through 43 inspections over the years with a July 2011 score of 97.
As you can see from my photos above (and I have a dozen more), carelessness is running rampant aboard all of the cruise lines. Yet, if the ship isn’t caught off-guard with a surprise sanitation inspection visit, these violations will continue unless the staff is fully aware and monitored so that they adhere to the safety guidelines as instructed. Violations are also found in the crew’s mess area and other crew-only areas. Everyone is at risk.
The good news is that the dreaded Norwalk virus or norovirus, is at the lowest point in years. When I set out on a cruise in the middle of this month, all the ships in port by the second day, except for the one I was on – the Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam – were sailing “Code Red” which means they were experiencing outbreaks of the norovirus and only one day into the cruise.
Holland America has a brilliant plan in place to try and prevent the spread of the virus. For the first 48-hours of a cruise, NO ONE except the sani-gloved crew touches any food serving utensils at the buffet. What this means is that the person next to you in line who’s coughing up a storm into his hand simply can’t touch the serving spoons or even the stack of plates. Everything is conveniently handed to you after you’ve made your selection. By morning of day three, the buffet is back to normal operation. Kudos to Holland America for doing this extra safety measure.
Wonder who has scored a perfect 100 on their CDC Sanitation Inspection?
December’s winners to date:
Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam and Oosterdam
Silversea Silver Spirit
Princess Cruises Crown Princess and Ruby Princess
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Sky
Carnival Cruises Carnival Glory and Carnival Magic
Even these ships were written up with minor infractions but not enough to ding their perfect score.
For Royal Caribbean, the last time their ships had a perfect 100 score was back in July for the Allure of the Seas and May for the Oasis of the Seas. No small feat considering the enormous size of these ships. The only other ship to receive a 100 was the Freedom of the Seas nearly one year ago in January 2011.
What cruise line has the most amount of 100 scores in 2011 so far?
It’ll probably take you by surprise but the #1 cruise line with the most perfect scores is Carnival with seven instances of receiving scores of 100.
Next are Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess tied at five perfect scores. Four for Holland America and three each for Celebrity and Royal Caribbean.
Would I sail on a cruise ship knowing that they had failed an inspection? Of course. Consider that Cunard’s iconic Queen Mary 2 failed her CDC inspection last summer with a score of 84. The subsequent re-take exam was given shortly afterwards and the ship passed with a 92. I was on the sailing that “failed.”
As soon as I hear about the new test results for the old but reliable Monarch of the Seas, I’ll report it.
Remember to use common sense and be health-vigilant when cruising – or in any other contained environment with a few thousand people. The only thing we can’t control is the behind the scenes cleanliness and care of the food and service areas. And that’s an issue that confronts nearly every land-based restaurant in America.
NOTE: As stated above, Royal Caribbean submitted the “Correction Action Statement” to the CDC, with most if not all of the violations corrected. The inspection took place on November 18, 2011. On November 19, an inspection took place aboard the Adventure of the Seas and returned a scored of 97.