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Cruise faithful undeterred at Tampa vacation expo

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:19 PM
TAMPA -

Saundra McCollum's smile couldn't hide her nervousness Sunday morning inside Raymond James Stadium.

McCollum and her aunt, Janice Cooper, were taking a break on the third floor of the stadium's East Club during the AAA Vacation Expo Super Show.

Smiling, McCollum admitted she is in charge of finding the perfect cruise for her family reunion.

"That's in July and I just want to get more information about that," she said. "So if I can get a good deal for everyone that will be nice."

Cooper and McCollum said they were undeterred by the recent black eye the cruise industry took when Carnival's cruise ship Triumph became stranded at sea after an engine fire. The ship was adrift at sea off the coast of Mexico and was brought into a Mobile, Ala., port by tugboat. Passengers complained about hourslong food lines, failed plumbing and no electricity.

Cooper said she has been a frequent cruiser, hopping her first ship in the 1980s. She said car accidents occur on a daily basis, yet that doesn't stop people from getting behind the wheel and driving. So she won't stop hitting the high seas.

"I enjoy it because it's like a hotel in the ocean," Cooper, of Tampa, said. "Everything is there and the ports, you get to get out and meet people. I just enjoy it. I've been able to go to China, Rome and Italy. I just love it. … (Triumph) just happens to be one cruise ship. Accidents happen."

Former cruise ship captain Hernan Zini was on hand Sunday, slated to take the stage at the expo, which featured everything from cruise and rail destination packages to representatives from theme parks and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Zini is a former captain of Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, a ship that accommodates more than 5,000 passengers on 18 decks. He served as a captain for 11 years before moving into his current position in Royal Caribbean's Miami office in June.

"The cruise industry has one of the highest safety records of any of the transportation industry," said Zini, who has been with the company 21 years. "In the last decade we've transported more than 19 million guest and we have a tremendous safety record. That's not to say that from time to time things don't happen."

Zini was impressed with the reports in the news on how well the crew handled the situation.

"Every day there are thousands and thousands of employees who are proud of what they do. They take safety very seriously and when something happens, they step up their game and they're able to manage the situation and bring everybody to the port — with inconvenience for sure — but safely. Nobody was injured, nobody died and at the end of the day, I think that's an important story to tell."


edaniels@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1860 Twitter: @EDanielsTBO

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