Q: Peter, I'm getting ready to go on a Caribbean cruise in the fall, but I keep hearing about all these crimes. Is it safe to go there?
–Trudy, Valley Park, Mo.
A: Trudy, it has always been my motto that you can feel safe to travel just about anywhere as long as you travel smartly. The same goes for cruising in the Caribbean.
You're not alone though, Trudy. After reports of onboard disappearances, the Natalee Holloway case in Aruba, and the case of a young woman killed in January during a cruise stopover on the island of Antigua, many travelers are questioning how safe it is to travel abroad, especially by cruise ship.
The answers I can tell you are comforting, not scary. The actual incidence of cruise ship crime is incredibly low, which is why when something occasionally happens, it makes headlines. And in the Antigua and Holloway cases, the murders happened on shore, not on a ship.
So what can you do to travel smartly? For starters, when you're on the ship, you have to keep your valuables with you at all times and leave expensive jewelry and electronics in the ship's safe. If you're traveling alone, ask someone from the purser's staff to escort you to your room at the end of the evening. If you do happen to be a victim of a crime, whether it be a burglary, theft or assault, report it immediately — and make sure you write down all the details, including how the crew responded to your complaint.
Cruise ships have no legal or enforcement authorities on board. It's really up to you to be the eyes and ears. And when you go ashore, repeat your report to the local authorities. Historically, cruise lines aren't exactly enthusiastic about reporting incidents.
On board, be aware of your alcohol consumption, and don't visit strangers' rooms or wander alone to dark places on the ship.
When you're on land, make sure you don't travel alone after dark — and that goes for men and women. If you're staying at a hotel, keep your passport in the hotel safe at the front desk, not in your room safe, and don't carry large amounts of cash on you. Remember, even the safest cities have areas with high amounts of crime. When you're getting ready to go out, don't just ask the hotel manager or the concierge where to go, ask the maids, the bellhops and doormen where they wouldn't go.
Just keep these tips in mind, Trudy, and you'll be able to rest a little easier on your vacation.