Out of, say, the last eight days, how many have been really good ones?
Had that question been asked of the 3,143 passengers of the Carnival cruise ship Triumph as they exited the crippled ship Thursday in Mobile, Ala., they might have hit you with their complimentary sweat-soaked bathrobes.
The truth is, despite the deteriorating conditions after a fire knocked out the shipís main power and left them bobbing in the Gulf of Mexico, for about 75 percent of their scheduled four-day cruise, life no doubt was as good as I found it on my two Carnival cruises.
For those who are big fans of eating, Carnival does its best to transform itself into a floating Golden Corral. The buffet spreads are available virtually every waking hour and, I can attest, will appeal to even the most finicky of eaters.
Additionally, no doubt, there was fun on Lido Deck around the pool and plenty of what I found to be really good entertainment throughout my ships, the Sensation and the Legend.
And so, for three of the planned four days of the scheduled cruise, Triumph patrons got exactly what they expected. Then things got more than a little interesting until the weary seafarers finally docked in Mobile three days later than they expected.
As for Carnivalís mea culpa, there would be a full refund to all 3,143 ó full reimbursement of transportation expenses, a voucher for a free cruise and a $500 check. Oh, and the aforementioned bathrobe.
While I can sympathize a bit for the troubles of the cruisers, thereís a part of me that says it could have been much worse. As for other maritime misfortunes, when it comes to safety, would those on the Titanic trade places with those on the Triumph?
As for conditions, I canít help thinking about the historical accounts Iíve read about the Mayflower crossing compared to those four extra days at sea for the Triumph.
As for the compensation, well, while Iím sure many who endured the ordeal will be dissatisfied, it seems pretty generous to me. And, while I realize not being there puts me on shaky ground when I say that things could have been much worse for the shipís patrons, thatís exactly what Iím saying ó at least compared to those forgotten by many: the crew of the good ship Triumph.
During my two Carnival cruises, I came to respect greatly the efforts of very hard-working crew members. The ones I met hailed from all parts of the world, and their occupational lifestyles are far from glamorous.
Those who worked so tirelessly on the Triumph cleaning up the mess and trying to make the best of a very bad situation, some far below Lido Deck who never saw the light of day, even in normal circumstances face work conditions few of us would ever accept.
The basic labor standards available under U.S. law do not apply to Carnival staff because the worldís largest cruise lineís vessels are registered in Panama.
According to sociologist and author Ross Klein, cruise staffers work a mandatory 11-hour shift, which often becomes 13 or 14 hours. International law allows crew members to work up to 77 hours a week for as little as $600 a month. That's less than $2 an hour.
While there is an encouraged gratuity, Klein says it can hardly be counted on and what is given often doesnít make it past the management level. And how many of the Triumph's passengers do you think were in a tipping mood?
Klein also has found cases where cruise crew members didnít have a day off for 10 to 12 months.
Except in cases of workplace injuries, Carnival is not bound by U.S. labor laws. Because a substantial amount of what goes into its national coffers comes from Carnival, Panama routinely has changed its laws to suit Carnivalís best interests. Of course, that often is bad news for members of the rank and file.
Despite Carnival's reliance on American tourists and U.S. agencies like the Coast Guard, which kept constant watch over the Triumph during last weekís ordeal, the cruise line over a five-year period paid a microscopic 1.1 percent in corporate taxes out of $11.3 billion in profit, Klein said.
So, while you can extend sympathy to those 3,143 passengers, Iíd suggest you save the lionís share for Triumph's crew, who cleaned up in fetid conditions, rarely slept and were almost universally stiffed when it came to tips.