Here's a vacation that will please the kids -- even the teens and tweens -- as much as you and grandma and grandpa. Even better, it won't bust the budget and you don't have to go near an airport.
Let's talk cruising.
No, I haven't been living on Mars these past weeks in the aftermath of the Costa Concordia tragedy off the coast of Italy that left 17 dead and 15 passengers missing and presumed dead -- including a 5-year-old and her father. More than 500 passengers have now filed a $460 million class-action lawsuit against the cruise line for intentionally putting passengers at risk.
It is important to keep in perspective that the Concordia disaster was by all accounts an aberration in an industry that prides itself on its safety record. Between 2005 and 2010, cruise lines carried nearly 100 million passengers with a total of 16 deaths related to marine casualties -- less than .16 fatalities per million, the Cruise Lines International Association reports. Lifeboats these days can carry 150 people, can go 30 mph and are equipped with emergency supplies and life jackets.
The Concordia mega-ship ran aground off the island of Giglio, Italy on Jan. 13 because the captain allegedly deviated from his planned route and struck a reef closer to shore. Even more egregious was his conduct afterward -- apparently leaving the ship before all of the crew and passengers were evacuated. The evacuation, by all accounts, was chaotic. The accident shouldn't have happened. Certainly no one should have died.
It's no surprise then that first-time cruisers, including many families, who represent more than 40 percent of cruisers, are backing away. "We're hearing from regular cruisers that they plan to move forward as planned, but cruise lines will feel the pinch with sporadic or first-time cruisers; new bookings will probably slow," said Travelzoo's Senior Editor Gabe Saglie.
"We're already seeing it," added Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompete.com, which sells more than 50,000 cruises a year and anticipates lower prices for consumers in the coming months as a result of fallout from Concordia. Look for deals less than $100 a day per person -- half that for kids traveling as third and fourth passengers, he suggests. Drive to a port near your home (there are more than 20 to choose from) and save even more.
Sure it's a good deal, you're thinking. But will they keep me and my kids safe? And that's no small matter with more than 1.3 million kids now cruising a year -- it's not uncommon on big ships for there to be more than 1,000 children onboard during school break and summer sailings. Disney Cruise Line averages 800 to 1,000 kids on every sailing, in fact.
The reality is the cruise industry has made great strides not only in entertaining and caring for kids (even infants), tweens and teens with an ever-expanding array of programming and amenities but also to safeguard their safety and make it easier for parents to keep track of them. (Check out which major cruise lines have to offer at my 2012 Family Cruise Guide, http://www.takingthekids.com/travel-topics/taking-the-kids-cruise-guide-2012/).
Carnival Corporation, which carries more children than any other cruise line -- 670,000 annually just on Carnival Cruises -- has already announced a comprehensive audit and review of all safety and emergency response procedures across all of the company's 10 cruise lines.
(c) 2012 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.