Code Bravo: Lessons Learned during a Cruise Ship Fire
Last updated on October 6th, 2021 at 09:38 pm
We were so excited. It was our first cruise and our 10th wedding anniversary. We were expecting a time of relaxation, warm, sunny weather, amazing food, and impeccable service.
We stepped onto Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas full of expectations for the perfect vacation and headed off to explore and wait for our cabin to be ready.
Our cabin was located on the third deck, aft (back of the ship). It was literally the last cabin. When we booked the cruise, I don’t think we really understood how long the hallways were.
It felt like we were walking, and walking and walking before we reached the cabin door – and Grandeur of the Seas is one of the smaller ships in Royal’s fleet. Our suitcases were waiting for us outside our cabin door and we unpacked while waiting for the muster drill – the interruption at the beginning of one’s cruise that seasoned cruisers wish they could ignore.
Muster Drill, you’re wrecking my Sail Away
The muster drill entails all passengers congregating at their assigned lifeboat location for instructions on what to do in the highly unlikely event of an emergency. It takes place after passengers have boarded, but before the ship leaves the dock.
It’s seen as an annoyance because some passengers have already been on board for a few hours and the “par-tay” has already started. Being newbies, we were the first ones on deck and it seemed like forever before everyone else managed to join us.
Fellow passengers were loud and complaining while our Muster Station Crew Members tried to get everyone’s attention and take roll call. (Yes, they keep track of all passengers, so you can’t hide out and skip the drill). Once everyone was accounted for, the captain’s voice came over the P.A. system.
We tried to hear his instructions over the murmuring of the other passengers, but we only got the basics – loud alarm, life jackets, meet at our muster station. Then everyone dispersed back to their week of heaven at sea. No one could have ever imagined that 3 nights later, we’d actually need these instructions.
Off to a Great Start
For us, it was our 10th wedding anniversary and a time for us to relax. We had been through some personally challenging things over the few years preceding this cruise and this was just what we needed.
The 70’s Party
One of the highlights of the cruise was a huge 70’s party in the main atrium. About half the ship gathered in the atrium as staff and passengers alike danced to popular 1970’s tunes. It was a great time – and we made our way to bed at about 11:00pm that night…
Bravo, Bravo, Bravo
It was 2:45 am on our third night. We were awoken to some commotion in the hallway and opened our cabin door to see what was going on. There were 2 crew members fiddling with a panel (later discovered to be a fire hose) and they reassured us to just stay in our cabin.
Before our cabin door even closed, smoke billowed in. The crew had opened a hatch which was immediately perpendicular to our cabin, right on the other side of which was a fire.
The crew starting banging on cabin doors and yelling to get out. We had already grabbed our shoes and shirts and my purse (we were just in our pajamas) and were running through the thick, acrid smoke to the nearest stairwell.
Should We Jump Ship?
It wasn’t until we reached the 5th deck where the muster stations were that the alarm sounded.
Crew members were scrambling and we noticed the lifeboats were already lowered with doors open (Yikes!).
Code Bravo had already been sounded (the code that the crew uses to alert one another to a fire – the most serious emergency on a ship). We started to rush toward our muster station (which was at the very back of the ship, corresponding with our cabin location) and were stopped by a crew member, in obvious panic, telling us we couldn’t go to our muster location. she just kept repeating, “you can’t go down there.”
We didn’t believe her because, after all, the captain had instructed us to meet at our muster station (See? We paid attention during the drill!). And, we realized in the initial smokey panic, we had left our life jackets in our cabin.
As we got closer to our meeting point, however, we saw huge plumes of smoke rising in the moonlight. As we passed other muster stations, we asked for life-jackets from their stashes on deck. My husband was seriously contemplating jumping overboard in his panic!
The Night Dragged On and On
We got as close to our station as we could and recognized our station team leaders. They scanned my Sea Pass card and we realized my husband had left his sitting on the cabin vanity.
They were able to manually account for him, and then told us they were moving our muster station to the theater, at the front of the boat.
Within minutes the captain announced that if we couldn’t get to our muster station, that we should go to the theatre, at the front of the ship. We, along with 5 other muster stations sat in the theater.
The captain kept making announcements that they were trying to get to the fire (get to it??), or that we were still heading full speed for the Bahamas (we were off the coast of Florida when the fire started), or that the US Coast Guard and another cruise ship (thanks, Carnival) had come along-side just in case we all needed to bail.
It became a waiting game. Passengers were realizing they needed things from their cabins and crew members were being sent, if safe, to retrieve things such as medications and even oxygen tanks.
We had to be escorted to the washrooms so as to keep all passengers accounted for. A few hours later, the captain finally announced that the fire was under control.
By morning, we were docked in Freeport (our nearest port), the fire extinguished and all of us had to be flown back to our departure port, our dream vacation over.
There are more details to this story, but we will say that Royal Caribbean staff and corporate office staff were helpful all the way through.
We were put up in a nice hotel in Freeport for the night since our room had been damaged by smoke and water.
The next day we were flown back from Freeport to Baltimore at no cost to us. We were also given a full refund AND a voucher of equal value for another cruise.
We did end up going on another cruise about 6 months later. This time to Bermuda, which was a wonderful trip.
Although we were a bit apprehensive to get back on a ship, we felt that Royal Caribbean staff handled the situation as best they could. We saw how prepared they were for emergencies like this and we have been loyal to them since.
Throughout the emergency, we learned some important things:
It’s during times of panic that bad decisions can be made. Even if you don’t know what to do, ask a crew member.
They have so much emergency training that it becomes like second nature and they will be more than willing to help in order to keep everyone safe.
Don’t Assume It’s a False Alarm.
Trust me, the captain isn’t just going to “pull your leg” by sounding the alarm. We heard so many complaints as we passed by people that they couldn’t believe they would be woken from their deep sleep and for what??
They weren’t the ones that were wiping soot from their nostrils after fleeing for their lives. When the alarm sounds, move quickly, regardless of whether it appears to be directly affecting you or not. It means something serious is happening somewhere on the ship.
Pay Attention During the Muster Drill
Don’t be the loud-mouth who is disrupting those trying to listen. It’s especially important that first-timers know what to do and where to go when the alarm sounds.
Take note of who your Station Crew Members are so you are able to recognize them if exceptions have to be made during the emergency, like location changes. It’s much easier to remain calm and not panic if everyone knows what to do.
Take note of where the life jackets are in your cabin and at your muster station. Make sure you take them with you when you leave your cabin.
If you forget them in a panic or are away from your cabin when the alarm sounds, at least you’ll know where to find them on deck.
If you are able, quickly get dressed. In our situation, we didn’t have a choice and had to leave with what we were wearing. If the alarm sounds in the middle of the night, grab something quickly, grab your life jacket and go.
It can be cold if you have to wait on deck for hours like a lot of passengers on our ship had to do.
Know Where Your Ship ID Is
Before you go to bed, make sure your Ship ID cards are in a place where you have easy access to them. Don’t leave them in a random pocket or under a bunch of papers on the desk. It saves time when accounting for passengers.
Keep Valuables In the Cabin Safe
In our case, I knew I hadn’t shut our cabin door tightly when we fled, so I was concerned our belongings would be damaged. At least I knew that our passports and drivers licences and credit cards were locked in the fire-proof safe.
Side note: except for being covered in a thin layer of smoke residue, our things were okay. There was some water damage to the cabin across from ours. Remember, all the cabins are like individual boxes and have extensive fire protection between the walls so fire can’t spread easily, but don’t be careless.
As a result of our emergency, muster drill instructions now remind passengers to bring medications and other items of need. This is imperative, especially if you need to evacuate the ship, and you need your medication to live.
My husband is on medication, but we didn’t think to grab it in our panic. Fortunately for him, it wasn’t life-or-death, so he was fine, but it was several hours before we were able to access our cabin to retrieve it.
Listen to the Crew
Remember, the crew is trained extensively for emergency situations. Don’t be difficult and uncooperative since it just makes a bad situation worse.
Don’t talk when they’re trying to give instructions or take roll call. They are probably just as scared and stressed as you are, but they know what needs to happen to keep everyone safe.
Even though we were frightened, they were calm and professional and helped to keep us as informed as possible.
In The End…
For us, we were really disappointed when our cruise ended, but it didn’t turn us off from cruising. In fact, we were so impressed with how the crew handled the emergency that it actually made us feel more confident on our next cruise, which we took a few months later.
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