While international airports around the world seem to be bristling with highly visible security forces and armed guards, cruise ships in port--admittedly not nearly as vulnerable to hijacking as airplanes--are responding with a variety of security measures.
Both Holland America's Rotterdam and Cunard/NAC's Vistafjord were using X-rays and metal detectors to screen boarding passengers and baggage at Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades recently, while Los Angeles-based Princess Cruises has instituted trained dogs, metal detectors and X-ray machines for a number of West Coast sailings.
San Francisco-based Royal Cruise Line not only requires its passengers to carry a photo ID supplied by the line with the dates of their cruise, but also inspects all packages carried on board in each port.
At Royal Viking Line, in addition to the increased number of armed guards in every port of call, visitors--allowed only in U.S. ports--must present a visitor pass and an identification bearing a photograph to a special security officer who signs each visitor on and off the ship.
New York-based Sun Line has also begun to use passenger-likeness IDs for reboarding their vessels in port, along with officer-guarded gangways and a policy restricting visitors.
Some ships, notably Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2, NCL's Norway and P&O's Sun Princess, have always enforced a "No Visitors" policy. Others, such as Miami-based Carnival Cruises, have amended their former open-welcomes policies to restrict or prohibit visitors.
Chandris Fantasy Cruises in New York forbids visitors on board and passengers have to go through a strict security check. A form of authentication--boarding pass, room key or dining room reservation card--is required for reboarding, and other measures have been put into effect in the last two months.
Chandris operates cruise ships in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, including the Achille Lauro.
Costa Cruises, another large operator, requires a boarding pass from every passenger in port, both in the Caribbean and Mediterranean.
At Los Angeles-based Sitmar Cruises, a variety of measures have been put into use, different ones at each port. They include metal detectors, trained dogs to sniff baggage, ID cards, hand check of all packages brought on board and limited visitors in ports of embarkation, no visitors in ports of call.
Based on our own random attempts to board ships without passenger or visitor credentials during the five months since the Achille Lauro incident, individual ship enforcement of line policies is uneven but improving.
Without being challenged to present credentials or even identify ourselves, we have walked on board Chandris' Amerikanis in St. Thomas, Premier's Royal in Nassau, Paquet's Azur (under long-term operating charter to a Canadian company) in St. Thomas and Dolphin Cruises' Dolphin in Nassau.
Conversely, it was difficult to get on board Sitmar's Fairwind and Carnival's Holiday and Mardi Gras in Nassau, and impossible to board P&O's Sea Princess, Holland America's Rotterdam and Cunard's QE2 in Caribbean ports this winter.
If you're concerned about security, have your travel agent inquire, or do it yourself, asking specifically what safety measures are being taken on your behalf. And if you are aboard and notice a haphazard enforcement of the rules, particularly when checking reboarding passengers, point it out to the ship's purser.
On the other hand, don't complain if your cruise ship won't permit your friends and relatives on board for the traditional bon voyage parties. The time has come, unfortunately, when annoying safeguards and security checks are a fact of travel life. It's a small enough price to pay for peaceful, stress-free sailing.