Cruise Ship Horror Stories

Suzan Marie, flickr

The idea of being able to sail away from it all on a cruise can seem pretty romantic. Until something goes wrong, of course. Three travelers share unsettling memories from past cruises.

Kimberley Williamson, a Digital Strategist from New York, shares unpleasant memories of a recent trip when a fellow cruiser turned what was supposed to be a romantic anniversary cruise into a nightmare.

My husband and I decided to take a trip in June 2010 to celebrate our anniversary. We booked an eight-night cruise from New York to Turks & Caicos and the Bahamas on the Carnival Miracle. In the middle of the cruise, we took a shore excursion to Half Moon Cay, a private-island stop. We did a kayak adventure and afterwards were exceptionally hot, so we went straight to the beach. I was in the water cooling off while my husband found us a beach chair when an individual in his 20s walked past me and blew his nose into the water right beside me. I live in New York City, and when someone does something disgusting like that my instinct is to pipe up. This individual became instantly aggressive and angry and we had a brief exchange of words. At that time, my husband found us mid-confrontation and I said to him, "We need to just get out of here." We left the situation for a spot in much deeper water and way down the beach, but I had a feeling it wasn't over.

Sure enough, this man followed us down the beach and began making threatening gestures. He was using his index finger to make a slicing gesture to me and was punching one hand into the other while gesturing to me to get out of the water and confront him again. The whole time this was happening, it seemed so absurd. I kept thinking to myself "I'm a 32-year-old mom...and he wants to fight me? Really?" We ignored him, hoping he would relax and go away, but soon he came charging into the water toward us. He was beet red with fury and was blowing his nose everywhere, snorting. This time there were a lot of people around, safety in numbers at least. But he was furious that I had called him out. He screamed at us that he was bipolar and that he hadn't taken his medication since the cruise began. "You don't even know what I want to do to you right now!" he yelled. My hands up, I just kept telling him to calm down. When he began barking and grunting and spitting like a rabid animal, my husband gestured for back up from another passenger. This passenger was a large individual and we succeeded in getting him to leave. We watched him return to his beach chair, where an older man, whom I took to be the father, placed a towel over the guy's head while he rocked back and forth.

The only people who were on the beach that day were passengers on our ship. And while he had left our vicinity, I was still concerned for my safety. We went right to the lifeguard who said he couldn't help but called someone from island security who also explained that she wasn't able to do anything but offered to walk us back to our ship so we could tell security onboard. We tried to talk to the security guards who checked us back onto the boat but they also said that there wasn't anything we could do and that I should go tell someone at guest services. The agent working at guest services was disinterested, to say the least. After pretending to take notes, she told us to tell someone in security. At this point, with my nerves rattled, I got frustrated that there didn't seem to be a system in place for dealing with dangerous individuals. I told her that my only goal was to have the incident recorded in some official capacity because I was concerned for my safety and wanted to have something on record. I asked to have security call my room instead of wandering all over the ship and risking another run in. She asked for my room number and wrote it down. No one ever reached out to me from security or otherwise.

As it turned out, the individual who had been harassing me was on our floor and we continued to see him every day on the ship. We tried going for walks, and we would see him and his family lounging. As soon as they noticed us they would begin taunting us, trying to get us to have a confrontation again. We avoided it as much as possible and spent the remainder of our trip in our state room.

This thoroughly ruined my vacation. I felt like my safety was not a priority to the staff or the company.

At the very end of the cruise, I filled out the customer comment card and explained the entire story, providing my telephone number and email address asking for someone to contact me. We disembarked the boat and I waited a week and a half before I did anything more. In frustration, I started a blog. In response, I got a form letter, obviously cut and pasted, basically saying that sometimes when you put people together from different backgrounds, there can be tension.

David Sharrett, a retired teacher from Oakton, VA, was supposed to be enjoying a barbeque on a private island, but instead spent his meal choking on smoke from burning garbage.

When I was a high school English teacher, I led a group of students during a week-long cruise with Costa cruise lines. We left from San Juan, Puerto Rico and stopped in places like St. Martin and St. Thomas. One day, we went to the cruise line's private island, Serena Cay, in the Dominican Republic. It was one of those things where you dock and they throw out the anchor and they tender passengers in and throw you a beach party -- a long white stretch of beach with palm trees on one end and a place to snorkel.

So they drop us off on the island, and there's a buffet line and they have picnic tables set up off in an area a little bit back from the beach. Immediately, I smelled something burning. It was not a good smell -- not barbecue chicken or ribs. It was a pollution smell.

I'm a real stickler about things like this. I don't like sitting behind a bus and having pollution spewing into my car. And I wasn't going to put up with it here on this beach. So a couple of us took a walk to have a look. It couldn't have been more than 25 yards back in the bushes from where lunch was being served, the cruise company was burning their garbage in a giant incinerator with a large smoke stack. There were people who were unloading sacks of garbage that they had brought in on tenders from the ship. It was just a matter of yards from where they were cooking the garbage to the picnic area, and the smoke was blowing right into the area where people were eating.

It was disgusting. It was unhealthy, is what it was. I couldn't eat. I was choking, literally, on pollution. And what got me also was the willingness of the passengers to sit there and eat and not say anything. Shockingly, people were perfectly happy to guzzle hotdogs and hamburgers while they were breathing burning Styrofoam. They were wolfing down their food, oblivious.

I gathered my students and we decided to take the tender back to the cruise ship. When we got back it was still light, and I approached one of the uniformed people on the boat who spoke English and asked if they could see the plume of smoke rising from the island, and they agreed they could see it and said they'd talk to someone about it and get back to us.

I went straight to one of the administration offices and told them about what we'd seen and they sort of gave me the lateral pass to someone else. A number of my students went to the purser's office to complain that they didn't think it was cool. We kept going to the office, to the front desk, asking someone to explain why we were sitting in the middle of a garbage-burning extravaganza on the private island. Long story short, no one ever contacted us about our concerns. I had taken photos from the tender and on the ship of the big plume of smoke rising from the island, and I sent them to Costa after the trip saying that it was unacceptable.

I never heard back from anyone personally after I sent the photos. I may have gotten a form letter, but they simply were not interested in addressing it or pursuing it at all. I would not cruise with Costa again. There are so many great ships out there, why go with someone who chooses to ignore legitimate concerns with evidence?

Paula Hubbs Cohen, a writer from the Phoenix area, was enjoying her vacation at sea until a young woman went missing.

My husband won a sales contest with his company and the top sales people were rewarded with a Royal Caribbean cruise aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas in March of 1998. We had never been on a cruise before. It was difficult for me to decide to go because we had two young children at the time and I'd never been away from them for a week, but we decided to go.

A few days into the cruise, approaching the port in Curacao, we received a flyer under the door of our room with a photo of a young woman in her early 20s and a message asking if anyone had seen her. Later, the captain made one of those "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking" announcements, explaining that a passenger was missing. The woman was traveling with her parents and a teenage brother and they had last seen her on the balcony of their cabin very early in the morning. When the family woke up, she was gone. The ship was searched and there were some very official people -- FBI and Coast Guard -- going around asking questions. Apparently she had last been seen in public in the disco, so anyone that had been there the night before was questioned. One of my husband's co-workers and his wife were staying in the cabin directly under the cabin where the missing girl had last been seen by her family. He was taken aside by the Coast Guard and basically asked if he had seen anything go flying over the balcony. He had not.

For the rest of the trip, there was a lot of speculation about what had happened. Maybe she had fallen overboard, or was pushed. Or perhaps she had been murdered and snuck off the ship. Or maybe she voluntarily left. Passengers were talking about it for the rest of the trip, even speculating that she had been drugged and kidnapped to be sold into prostitution. It definitely dampened our moods, not just because we were frightened and confused by what happened, but we were also stunned and heartbroken for this poor girl and her family.

A few months later, the story of Amy Bradley's disappearance was featured on Unsolved Mysteries. As far as I know, she was never found. My thoughts and prayers have gone out to the Bradley family every time the story of this cruise comes up.

That was our first and last cruise. I'm not saying that I was totally turned off to cruises because of what happened on that ship. But now when I see stories about strange things happening on cruises -- people going missing, assaults happening when people are at sea -- before I would have glossed over that. But now I understand. You're out in the middle of the ocean with an enclosed population of people. You're at the mercy of the people you are with. There's nowhere to go if there's a problem.

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