Since Sept. 11, cruise lines facing a drop in tourism have tightened security and switched to destinations closer to home. Some are now offering reassurances to jittery passengers from a higher power. "We're trying to provide our guests with a source of comfort," said Noelle Sipos, manager of cruise programs at Royal Caribbean. "Even though they're here for a vacation, we want to help them out emotionally and spiritually."
At sea, cruise ships are self-contained societies, with restaurants, recreation and their own medical facilities. Just as on land, there is an acute need for spiritual care because of the attacks, the threats of war and fear of bioterrorism.
Holland America had clergy aboard all its ships even the attacks. Carnival Cruises has since brought clergy aboard ships at dock, while Royal Caribbean decided it wants religious figures aboard all ships. Clergy hold religious services, provide grief counseling, offer comfort for an international crew feeling especially far from home and are available to listen. Shipboard clergy are often Catholic priests who can perform nondenominational services, though Holland America adds Protestant ministers on trips lasting longer than 10 days and rabbis during holy days.
The Rev. Robert Warren, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in Graymoor, N.Y., will sail on Holland America to the Panama Canal next month. Two of his close friends were on a ship destined for Bermuda on Sept. 11. "The first thing they looked for was a church," he said. The ship held a Mass that evening.
The cruise lines could use some comfort, too. Since Sept. 11, the industry has lost passengers afraid to fly to the port where their cruise begins. More than half of cruise passengers fly to and from their starting point. Two weeks after the attacks, Renaissance Cruises announced it was shutting down. Royal Caribbean planned layoffs and Princess Cruises docked its oldest ship for six months.
Cruise lines have dropped their prices and the deal for clergy is even better: a free trip. Still, cruise lines are struggling to find religious leaders who can spare a week or two away when they're so needed at home. "They know very well it's going to be very hard to suddenly get someone," Moy said.