The good news? When it comes to cruises, 99.9% of the time things go off without a hitch. People have a wonderful vacation and go home happy. After all, tens of millions of passengers set sail on thousands of cruises each year. Cruising wouldn’t be near as popular if problems came up constantly.
The bad news is that when things go wrong, they can go very wrong. Being in the middle of the ocean means that if a problem arises, you can’t easily avoid it. From engine troubles to sickness to a shipwreck, help is not always close at hand on a cruise ship.
Of course, those stories make headlines and are widely reported by the media. There’s just something about mishaps at sea that capture the public’s imagination. Maybe it’s the fear of something like that happening to us, or maybe it’s the dramatic images that we can now see from these cruises thanks to cell phones and social media.
No matter the reason, there’s something powerful about seeing and hearing about these stories. That’s why we’ve listed what we consider the five worst cruises of the past decade. Your cruise is almost sure to never turn out like these, but for those unlucky passengers, the mishaps of these trips are seared into memory.
Carnival Triumph | February 2013
What started as a regularly scheduled cruise from Galveston turned into a nightmare for the passengers on board. Early one morning there was a fire in the Carnival Triumph’s engine room, which led to a loss of power on the ship. Without power, the ship couldn’t move, and many of the common functions of the ship were broken as well. As a result, restroom facilities backed up, creating a health issue. Thus, the Carnival Triumph trip was referred to as “the poop cruise” by some media.
With the ship drifting and the facilities out of order, passengers began to sleep on the deck, putting up bedsheets from the cabin to act as sunshade. Eventually tugboats were able to bring the ship back to port, but not to Galveston where the cruise started. Instead, the closet port — Mobile, Alabama — had to make do.
While passengers were never in any real danger, the entire incident was certainly a black eye for Carnival… and may have turned many off of cruising forever.
Viking Sky | March 2019
You likely saw the images of the stranded Viking Sky rocking back and forth off the coast of Norway. The ship, which held more than 1,300 people, was stranded off the coast reportedly after low oil levels in rocky seas caused the engines shut down automatically.
Under normal circumstances this could likely be fixed quickly. But the Viking Sky was in the middle of rough weather, with waves as high as 26 feet.
That led to some of the most dramatic images ever seen from a cruise ship:
Given the circumstances, an operation to rescue passengers individually via helicopters began. Hundreds were taken off the ship this way until the ship was able to get back to a port.
Thankfully despite the harrowing pictures, only a couple of dozen people sustained injuries.
Explorer of the Seas | January 2014
While stories about illness outbreaks on cruise ships make headlines regularly, none of those stories matches what happened aboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas in January 2014.
On that cruise — which had to be cut short — there was a norovirus outbreak. Norovirus is a particularly nasty illness that can spread quickly in places like cruise ships where there are many people within close proximity of one another. What made this case so notable is that it was the worst outbreak in recent memory.
In total, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that 634 passengers (more than 20% of all those sailing) came down with the bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, another 55 members of the crew were also sick.
According to the National Post, the ship was sanitized and no one was allowed to board for 24 hours.
Norwegian Breakaway | January 2018
Just a few years ago the term “bomb cyclone” wasn’t in our national vocabulary. Now every winter we hear about them. In 2018, passengers on the Norwegian Breakaway got a first-hand look at a bomb cyclone.
Departing New York, the ship sailed down to the Bahamas before the weather started to worsen. Turning back to head home to New York, the ship was actually going through the heart of the storm. With the bomb cyclone — also known as winter storm Grayson — rapidly intensifying, the waves were an estimated 15-30 feet. Winds were forecasted at hurricane force. Given the cold temperatures that time of year, ice formed on parts of the ship as well.
No word on injuries during the cruise, and hopefully no one was seriously harmed. The YouTube video below showing the cruise has been viewed nearly 9 million times.
Costa Concordia | January 2012
For the most part, the cruises mentioned so far were unfortunate, but in terms of harm to passengers, there was relatively little. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the Costa Concordia. All told, 32 people on the ship perished when the ship struck a rock and partially sunk off the island of Giglio in Italy. Many consider it the worse cruise ship disaster since the Titanic.
Trouble began about 10 p.m. on January 13. The ship, sailing too close to a reef, struck a rock that left an enormous gash on the port side of the ship. Rushing water caused the engines and generators to shut down, leaving the ship drifting. As the Costa Concordia took on water, it eventually came to rest on a rock ledge, which may have ended up saving lives. Throughout the night passengers and crew evacuated, leading to dramatic images of people scrambling down the side of the turned over ship.
In the aftermath of the wreck, it took more than two years to right the ship and refloat it so it could be towed away. In all, the salvage cost was more than $1 billion dollars. The captain of the ship was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the disaster.