Stricter lifeboat drills. How many cruise ships are sailing? The 25 most-visited ports.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the May 2012 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 435th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, where travelers like you share advice and recommendations from recent trips… and the ITN staff adds travel news and helpful info on the side.

Here are a couple of news items.

As of March 19, at four airports in the US, some passengers 75 years of age and older are being allowed to go through selected security lanes without removing their shoes. This is one of the changes being tested, on a limited basis, by the TSA.

The security-screening changes are similar to those implemented in late 2011 for passengers ages 12 and under. Currently, in US airports, children under 13 do not need to remove light outerwear or shoes and are simply scanned using a metal detector or advanced imaging technology. They also may be swabbed to detect any trace explosives, a procedure that is expected become more common.

If the imaging scanner detects an anomaly on someone’s person that cannot be explained in additional scans, the passenger then may have to remove his shoes and get patted down.

The tests are being run in only one security lane in each of these airports: Orlando International, Chicago O’Hare, Denver International and Portland International. The results will determine whether or not the TSA “will consider broader implementation.”

Whether or not a passenger is at least 75 years of age will be determined in visual estimates by security screeners. Travel companions who are under 75 still will have to remove their shoes and follow the standard screening procedures.

Screening procedures for passengers with medical devices have not changed.

When the Costa Concordia capsized on Jan. 13, it did so before 696 passengers who had boarded in Civitavecchia, Italy, had been given a formal lifeboat drill. Several cruise industry associations now are requiring that their member cruise lines adopt a more stringent policy regarding shipboard lifeboat drills, or musters, in which passengers are instructed on safety and evacuation procedures.

These drills are conducted under policies outlined in the 1960 International Convention for the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS), part of which states, “In passenger ships, except those engaged on short international voyages, a muster of the passengers shall be held within twenty-four hours after leaving port” (Chapter 3, Regulation 26, Practice Musters and Drills, subsection [b]).

Under the new policy, the mandatory muster for embarking passengers must be conducted prior to departure from port. So say the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), the European Cruise Council (ECC) and the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA).

When guests arrive after the muster has been completed, ECC’s policy states that they promptly be provided with individual or group safety briefings. In fact, some cruise lines will take roll call at the initial drill and then ask any “no shows” to attend a special meeting to be held later.

Passengers share responsibility for their own safety and should be aware that there may be consequences for skipping the lifeboat drill. On Jan. 29, a passenger scheduled to sail out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on the Westerdam was, according to Holland America Line, “disembarked prior to sailing for noncompliance with the mandatory passenger emergency drill.”

In a statement, the cruise line added that the drill had been announced with alarm blasts and over the ship’s public address system and included the warning that any passenger failing to participate would have to disembark.

All cruise lines have full discretion regarding asking any passenger to disembark, and some “contracts of carriage” specify that noncompliance with safety procedures can be cause for putting a passenger ashore.

Many of the safety measures outlined in the SOLAS treaty, including musters, originated with the International SOLAS conference of 1914, convened in response to the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912, 100 years ago. To review the basis for the current official regulations, visit and search for “SOLAS 1960.” For more info on cruise association policies, visit and

In my September 2011 column, I talked about the booming cruise line industry, alluding to the number of cruise ships out there and how some ports are finding it difficult to handle the thousands of passengers, sometimes tens of thousands, visiting a single port for the day from multiple ships.

Regarding the total number of cruise ships sailing the seas and oceans, figures vary depending on the definition of “cruise ship,” but ITN subscriber Maureen Patrick of Margate, Florida, rightfully questioned the low figure I cited.

She wrote, “I can name 298 ‘regular’ cruise ships (plus six presently not sailing), not counting the 117 expedition-type vessels, 547 river boats, 792-plus ferryboats and 79 barges.”

She also has a miscellaneous category listing 75 “specialty (nonexpedition) ships.” In her list, these are vessels specialized to a particular area or having a combination of purposes, including the Hurtigruten cargo/ferry/passenger ships off of Norway; several Göta Canal ships, and vessels of lines like Blue Lagoon Cruises.

When I asked Maureen what her source of information was, she sent her complete collection of lists and explained that she compiled them, herself.

She wrote, “I started cruising back in 1978 and worked on cruise ships from 1982 for about 15 years as a nurse and sometimes as a librarian or tour escort. As sources, I use individual cruise companies (I usually contact them every two years to check on refurbishments and new vessels); the ‘Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships’; Cruise International magazine, out of the UK; Cruise Travel Magazine; Seatrade magazine (, also published in England; the Internet, including; the cruise community, and my personal experience.”

She can name 64 cruise lines, 39 expedition-ship companies, 33 “specialty-ship” companies and 17 barge companies.

Maureen wrote, “As for freighters, I know of 14 companies that take passengers. Each has many ships (I list 224-plus freighters), but only a few of those ships take passengers.”

Separately listing 99 river cruise companies, she also has the names of river vessels categorized by area: Europe, with 200 (sailing the Danube, Rhine, Elbe, etc.); the Nile, 145; Russia, 82; China, 40; the Amazon, 31; the Mekong River, 19; the United Kingdom, 11; the Douro River, 12, etc.

Thanks for all the numbers, Maureen. I was curious.

One of the references Maureen mentioned is the excellent “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships — 2012” by Douglas Ward (688 pp., $24.99, with a spinoff app for $9.99). In it, Ward states, “More than 350 ocean-going cruise ships carrying from 50 to more than 6,000 passengers visit almost 2,000 destinations throughout the world… .”

A different total is quoted by another source that ITN staff found online. Asked, “How many cruise ships are currently sailing the seas and oceans?,” the answer was, “Excluding expedition ships and also small ships largely plying coastal regions, we estimate the number of currently active oceangoing cruise ships to be 277, with a total capacity of 414,000 lower berths.”

That quote came from John Dearing, Director of G.P. Wild (International), Ltd. (15 Gander Hill, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1QU, U.K.), a consultancy firm specializing in research and analysis of the cruise market.

Asked for a definition of “oceangoing cruise ships,” Mr. Dearing wrote, “Ships that are capable of sailing across oceans or open seas, as opposed to those that can operate only on inshore coastal itineraries. For the most part, these are ships carrying 50 or more passengers. The definition excludes ships that operate on one-night or day-only itineraries and fall outside the usually accepted definition of a cruise.”

Going a step further, he added, “A cruise is normally defined as a sea voyage of at least 60 hours’ duration, including two nights at sea, undertaken primarily for leisure purposes and usually visiting at least one port of call (transit port) other than the ports of embarkation and disembarkation.”

One of the reasons I contacted G.P. Wild was to find out which ports in the world receive the most visitors from cruise ships. In October 2011, Mr. Dearing kindly provided the firm’s projections for the 2011 season (shown below). This data was collected by consulting cruise operator websites and brochures and port websites and, where possible, by checking with individual ports.

The firm publishes these projections annually with the third-quarter issue of the “International Cruise Market Monitor” (quarterly, $740), which they publish in addition to the “Cruise Industry Statistical Review” (annual, $995). In 2011, the individual ports were contacted in July to verify the data, and the results were written up at about the beginning of September.

I’m getting to the results. Hang on.

Mr. Dearing wrote, “The 25 ports listed exclude ports such as Miami and Los Angeles which feature almost entirely as turnaround ports. Some ports, such as Barcelona and Civitavecchia, function as both turnaround and destination ports (also known as ports of call or transit ports); for these, only the passengers on transit calls were counted.

“These are year-round figures, although, in the case of some ports, cruise calls are seasonal. The cruise seasons of the following areas can be defined as follows: Caribbean and Bahamas, year-round (but in the Caribbean peaking October-April); Mediterranean, year-round (but peaking April-October); Mexico, year-round; Alaska, May-September; Northern Europe, May-September, and South America, November-April.”

Wrapping up the qualifiers, Mr. Dearing wrote, “The projections are based on 100% occupancy of cruise ships and so may be exceeded where, as in the Caribbean, ships often sail with well over 100%. In addition, calls by ships on charter may be omitted, so that the final total in some cases will exceed the estimates.”

Without further ado… here are the top 25 most popular ports and the numbers of cruise passengers that were expected to visit each throughout the calendar year 2011.

  1. 1. Cozumel (Caribbean), 2,590,000
  2. 2. Nassau (Carib.), 2,586,800
  3. 3. St. Thomas (Carib.), 1,825,000
  4. 4. St. Maarten (Carib.), 1,605,450
  5. 5. Civitavecchia (Mediterranean), 1,481,800
  6. 6. Grand Cayman (Carib.), 1,444,000
  7. 7. Barcelona (Med.), 1,100,000
  8. 8. Naples (Med.), 1,030,560
  9. 9. Piraeus (Med.), 1,000,000
  10. 10. Livorno (Med.), 934,950
  11. 11. Dubrovnik (Med.), 882,260
  12. 12. Santorini (Med.), 842,000
  13. 13. Roatán (Carib.), 820,000
  14. 14. Juneau (US West Coast), 770,000
  15. 15. Katakolon (Med.) 744,350
  16. 16. Ketchikan (US West Coast), 740,860
  17. 17. Mykonos (Med.), 737,000
  18. 18. Tunis/La Goulette (Med.), 720,000
  19. 19. Grand Turk (Carib.), 703,000
  20. 20. Belize (Carib.), 700,650
  21. 21. Freeport (Carib.), 688,000
  22. 22. Costa Maya (Carib.), 684,000
  23. 23. San Juan (Carib.), 634,600
  24. 24. Key West (Carib.), 625,000
  25. 25. St. Lucia (Carib.), 622,800

Mr. Dearing noted, “New ports have been created in recent years in the Caribbean, including Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatán Island, Honduras, and Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands. The last-named trebled throughput between 2006 and 2011.

“Among traditional ports, the following are some of those that have achieved especially strong growth (2011 compared with 2006): Vigo, northwestern Spain (+128%); Livorno, western Italy (+99%); Bergen, Norway (+99%); Kuşadası, Turkey (+93%); Civitavecchia (near Rome), Italy (+83%), and Marseille, southeastern France (+82%).

“All these ports are in Europe and the Mediterranean, reflecting the much stronger growth in these regions in recent years compared with that of the Caribbean and the West Coast of North America.”

Donna Schoeni of Grove, Oklahoma, wrote, “Considering the catastrophe of the Costa Concordia, would you consider reprinting three letters that appeared in the June ’08 issue? I kept a photocopy. They concerned being prepared to abandon ship.”

We’re a bit tight on space in the print magazine, but those letters can be found here in our online archives or, as stated in a screened box in every issue, ordered as a reprint for $2.50. The letters were written when a reader asked for firsthand advice from anyone who ever had to hop into a lifeboat — she wondered what to grab, how to be ready, what transpired, etc. — and their titles are “Worst-case Preparedness,” “When Fire Threatens the Ship” and “ ‘Abandon Ship’ Bag.”

One thing the letters have in common — each writer stated that they now keep, near the cabin door, an emergency bag with a change of warm clothes, necessary medications and items like a flashlight, sunscreen, lip balm, passport, money, etc.

I also would point out that an item we printed about a tourist houseboat sinking in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam (April ’11, pg. 70), noted, “Two people said they escaped only because they had left the key in their cabin door lock.”

Whatever type of vessel you’re in, just be ready to leave quickly.

Susan Jerrick of Portland, Oregon, has this information request: “I have just spent 2½ useless hours on the phone with one of the best known of the Web search sites (e.g., Kayak, Travelocity, Expedia, etc.). This made me stop and think, ‘What search sites do NOT favor American airlines but give foreign carriers equal billing with domestic airlines for flights anywhere in the world? What truly international search sites are there that provide a wider selection of flights from global lists of airlines?’ I also would welcome any insights into the limitations of search sites or into location-based screening.”

Can you help? Send your suggestions and comments to Non-US-centric Travel Search Sites, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail (Include the address at which you receive ITN; ITN prints letters from subscribers only.) We’ll compile and print the responses for all to see.

That’s what this magazine is all about: travelers helping each other by sharing notes. With all of the letters and articles submitted, ITN staff does fact-checking and editing. The resulting collection of information is, we believe, unique.

Each of you has something to contribute. What was your favorite part of your last trip, for example? If you were to take the same trip over again, what would you do differently? Tell us.

It will result in letters like this one from Mary-Pat Parker of Gaines, Michigan: “I was discussing my travels with a friend, and she asked how I found out about all these places (I have been on all continents except one). I told her I got the ideas by reading ITN. Please send her one of your free sample copies, as she is a big traveler also. Love the magazine! Thanks for all the great articles.”

And Suzanne Smith of San Diego, California, simply wrote, “Thanks for the great information. ITN is a central hub in the world of international travel.”

Stay connected. Read and write to ITN.