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Alaska crash highlights buyer beware when it comes to excursions


Alaska is full of natural beauty and for those that are fortunate enough to visit this gigantic state it's well worth the trip and expense.

Glaciers, whales, mountains, waterfalls, large's all there. And for the most part it's as safe a place as any to visit even though the weather can often be unpredictable. Nine people died on a cruise ship excursion last week when the float plane they were flying on crashed into the side of a mountain while returning from Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan.

The cause hasn't been determined yet and it isn't clear if weather played a role in the accident but it's Alaska so it's fair to wonder if it did.

Those who died on this excursion were passengers on Holland America's Westerdam,  a ship I took to Alaska in 2009. Holland America is a great cruise line and they do a great job in Alaska. But when you take an excursion with a cruise line you're doing so because it carries with it the ability to get your money back when it goes wrong.

Having been on more than my share of Caribbean cruises I've taken part in a lot of shore excursions and almost all of them deliver and are memorable. But the ones that go wrong are also pretty memorable too. Including one my wife and I experienced in Belize earlier this year on a snorkeling trip.

That morning in Belize it was pretty clear to me that even though the sun was shinning brightly and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, our snorkeling trip shouldn't have gone on. I've been on a couple of dozen snorkeling trips and you generally have a pretty good idea when you pull away from the dock whether or not it's a good idea to go.

This was one of those trips where something just seemed off. And sure enough, after signing our lives away with a waiver, we made it to our first stop. A couple of epeople got in and right away they were in trouble, unable to keep their heads above the waves and unable to get back to the boat because of the current. After a member of the crew got them back in the boat they announced we'd go to another stop that was "calmer".

After  a 10 minute drive we anchored and a couple of people got in....and right away they were in trouble. These were 20sh, and 30sh people so no elderly folks. All were in good shape.

With my wife utterly terrified at this point and even though I'm a strong swimmer, we decided to stay on the boat. More people got in and quickly got out. Finally we pulled up anchor and went back to the dock.

The cruise line gave us about 40 percent of our money back, along with the rest of those on the trip. But this is an excursion that shouldn't have ever happened in the first place. And it did because often, both the line and the operator feel the "show must go on" pressure.

That may or may not have been the case in Alaska. This piece speaks a little on the subject. And the last guy interviewed offers some good advice to those going on excursions that don't seem safe at the time: Skip it.


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Matt Patterson

Matt Patterson has been with The Oklahoman since 2006. Prior to joining the news staff in 2010, Patterson worked in The Oklahoman's sports department for five years. He previously worked at The Lawton Constitution and The Edmond Sun.... Read more ›