The next wave: clearing the smoke on cruises

June 15, 2008|By Spud Hilton | Spud Hilton,San Francisco Chronicle

It's difficult to truly appreciate smoking restrictions on cruise ships until you've sat in the late-night dance club on an Italian ship packed to the ceiling with 300 chain-smoking Italian high school students.

The dance floor had a fog machine, but it was completely unnecessary.

Just two years after I witnessed that scene, however, the world is a different -- and increasingly smaller -- place for smokers. Public buildings in the United States, cafes in Paris and pubs in Dublin, Ireland -- all post signs forbidding cigarettes. And the cruise lines are starting to follow the wave -- a little at a time, anyway.

In April, Celebrity said it will eliminate smoking from staterooms and, more significantly, all balconies, in October, becoming the first major North American line to ban lighting up in both areas. (Italian line MSC Cruises enacted a similar ban in September.)

Violators of the policy, according to Celebrity, may be charged a $250 cleaning fee, or may face action through the ominous-sounding "guest conduct policy."

A few of the ultra-luxury and boutique lines have already made similar changes, including Regent Seven Seas and, to a lesser extent, Crystal Cruises. Celebrity's and MSC's are among the first behemoth-ship lines to cover all cabins and balconies, the latter traditionally having been the haven for smokers at sea. Royal Caribbean, for instance, enacted a smoking ban last year on all staterooms, but not on balconies.

It's unlikely, however, that the big lines will attempt a total ban. While the great majority of passengers are identified as nonsmokers, cruise lines are well aware that, demographically, smoking passengers are some of their best drinkers and gamblers (the top two sources of revenue for cruise lines). What follows is a sampling of some current policies. (Note: In almost every policy, cigar and pipe smoking is limited to specific rooms or portions of decks.)

Carnival: Smoking is prohibited in all dining areas as well as a number of public rooms, including the aft cabaret lounge, main show lounge, library and along the promenade. Unless otherwise indicated, smoking is permitted in casinos, dance clubs, piano bars and other select live music venues, as well as designated areas on open decks.

Crystal: Smoking is prohibited on all verandas. Restaurants and the main entertainment lounges are nonsmoking zones, and most bars and lounges have limited areas set aside for smokers. Cigarette smoking is still permitted in staterooms and suites.

Holland America: Smoking is allowed in all staterooms and balconies as well as in portions of most public areas and on outside decks. The only prohibition on puffing is in hallways, dining rooms and show venues.

Princess: No smoking in dining rooms and restaurants; most indoor public rooms (casino, lounges) have designated areas for smokers. Smoking is permitted in staterooms and balconies.

Royal Caribbean: No smoking in staterooms, hallways, restaurants, entertainment venues and most of the ship's interior public spaces. Smoking is permitted on starboard outer decks, in designated areas in bars and lounges and on balconies.

MSC Cruises: The Italian cruise line described at the beginning of this story has since taken a less-smoky course, having "eliminated smoking in all areas where nonsmokers and smokers would have shared the same spaces."

Regent Seven Seas: One of the toughest bans: Smoking is permitted only in designated areas of the outdoor Pool Grills, open deck areas and in a sections of a few public rooms (detailed on the cruise line's Web site).

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