After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Simone Schwartz nearly canceled her family's long-planned holiday cruise. Then she took a deep breath.
"We're going to go," Schwartz says. "The kids have been looking forward to this Disney cruise for 18 months. We can't just live our lives in a bubble."
The Schwartzes were scheduled to cruise with two other families; one of them no longer wants to go. "It's a very stressful time to travel, and when you throw kids into the mix, it's worse," Schwartz says.
But it's also stressful for those planning to leave the kids behind. Lauri and Randy Lockrey booked a cruise for their 15th anniversary. "Now I'm worried about being away from the kids if something happens," Lauri says. "But if I take them, it's not the same vacation. I'm still Mom."
President Bush is urging Americans to get back to their routines. For 7 million people a year, that includes taking cruises, many of which are booked months ahead, reports the Cruise Lines International Assn. If you're booked for a cruise that takes place before the end of the year, you must decide soon whether you are going ahead with the trip to avoid cancellation penalties in most cases.
"There's no right or wrong," says Schwartz with a sigh. "Will terrorists hit our cruise ship? It's crazy."
Such an attack wouldn't be unprecedented. In 1985, Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Italian liner Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean, killing American Leon Klinghoffer.
"People are concerned about flying to the cruise port, about a ship being a possible target, and about the economy," says Nancy Schretter, creator of the Family Travel Network (http://www.familytravelnetwork.com). "The other problem is that people are feeling guilty about enjoying themselves."
Those who were considering winter-break trips are holding off, sending shock waves through the cruise industry. Renaissance Cruises has shut down, citing the sudden decline in travel. Carnival reports that reservations are down 40%. Royal Caribbean Cruises expects layoffs over the next several weeks. Cruise lines have announced plans to reposition ships from Europe and the Middle East to routes closer to home next year.
Cruise lines were already hurt by the softening economy. They're also faced with a rapidly increasing inventory: By the end of this year, 18 new ships with 24,000 berths are expected to launch, says Cruise Lines International Assn. President Jim Godsman.
Family business is critical to the success of cruise lines. Families account for about 40% of new customers, nearly 2 million people a year, according to the cruise association. Lines insist that because ships are controlled environments with officials carefully monitoring access, families should feel secure.
Since Sept. 11, ship security has been significantly increased, with additional luggage inspections and even the use of trained dogs. Passengers will have to spend more time checking in, disembarking and claiming bags.
(For more information on cruise security, visit the cruise association Web site at http://www.cruising.org, the Coast Guard site at http://www.uscg.mil/safeports or the International Council of Cruise Lines site at http://www.iccl.org.)
The good news is that prices have dropped.
"It's a buyer's market," says cruise expert Larry Fishkin. "These deals are unprecedented."
Fishkin's company, Leisure Link International, is touting seven-day Thanksgiving and Christmas cruises for less than $500 per person; call (888) 801-8808 or visit http://www.eleisurelink.com. Disney Cruise Line has three-night trips starting at $419 for adults and $199 for kids; call (888) 325-2500 or visit http://www.disneycruise.com.
"Some people are telling us that you have to show kids that life goes on and that family vacations are more important in times like these," Schretter says.
Of course, no one can guarantee our safety. But I don't think any of us would want to allow terrorists to make us prisoners in our own homes. They've already turned pre-trip anticipation into anxiety.
"The fun of planning, the excitement, is gone," Schwartz says of her upcoming trip. "But once we get there, it will be great."
Taking the Kids appears twice a month.