New smoking rules clear the air aboard cruise ships

Travelers who loved vacationing on the Carnival Paradise, which once was a cruise ship entirely cigarette smoke free among passengers and crew, have reason to cheer. As 2011 draws toward a close, second-hand smoke at sea is dissipating.

With this year’s trend toward prohibiting smoking in cabins and in most gathering spots aboard ships, cruise lines slowly are catching up to the lifestyles of their passengers at home, where work places, public areas, restaurants, and bars are smoke free over much of North America.

As the number of smokers at sea decreases — Carnival says that only 5 percent of its passengers say they want to smoke in

This outdoor section on the new Oceania Marina is one of only two places on the 1,250-passenger ship where smoking is allowed

their cabins – places to puff diminish.

The Paradise, which debuted in 1998, was ahead of its time. I remember the delights of the piano bar and dancing in the disco without the haze of second-hand smoke attacking my eyes, nasal passages and throat. The Paradise remained smoke free for six years, taking a financial hit because fares and onboard revenue from bars and the casino were lower than on other Carnival ships; apparently non-smokers, a decade ago, also drank less alcohol and gambled less frequently.

New smoking rules, this year and next

While no cruise line, other than the defunct Renaissance brand, has yet attempted to be entirely smoke-free, the trend is clear, and new rules are taking effect this year and next.

The biggest changes prohibit smoking in cabins. Joining Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Azamara, Disney, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, P & O, and SeaDream are Carnival (starting Dec. 1), Norwegian (Jan. 1), Holland America (Jan. 15), and Princess (Jan. 15). One the biggest complaints from non-smoking passengers is second-hand smoke in lounges and the smelly results of smoking by previous occupants of their cabins.

Many of these ships still allow smoking on deck on one side of the ship, as well as on private balconies adjoining many outside cabins. The former offers the same issues as restaurants with smoking sections, depending on how close you sit to that section, and the latter is a problem if your balcony is downwind of a smoker (which is why serious non-smokers on these ships will want to book a balcony cabin toward the front. Smoke wafts with the wind. And if the ship is moving while your balcony door is open, cigarette smoke from an upwind neighbor will be sucked into your cabin).

Cruise lines that prohibit smoking on these private cabin balconies are few, among them Celebrity, Azamara, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, and, starting Jan 15, Princess. On two other cruise lines, Crystal and Silversea, you may not smoke on the balcony, but you may smoke in the cabin.

Tip-toeing into a ban on lounge smoking

Passengers who care about second-hand smoke also may want to keep in mind that most cruise lines still are tip-toeing into the idea of smoke-free bars, lounges, and casinos, apparently fearing they would lose onboard revenue.

Smoking is banned in dining rooms on all ships. The rules in other public areas and lounges vary by cruise line:

Carnival, for instance, now bans smoking in most public areas of its 23 ships, including its popular piano bars, though it allows cigarettes in the dance clubs, a portion of the casino and casino bar, a few outside deck areas and in the jazz clubs on 13 ships. Royal Caribbean chooses one public room as non-smoking on each ship. Celebrity does not allow smoking in its casinos. Norwegian allows smoking inside the ship only in the casino and cigar bar. Disney prohibits smoking in all indoor areas.

Newer ships, particularly the smaller ones, are leading the smoke-freer way, perhaps none so blatantly as the 1,250-passenger Oceania Marina, which debuted earlier this year. Smokers are confined to two relatively small areas, a glassed room inside near the bow and a corner of the outside pool deck. I asked an executive with Oceania if the cruise line’s message was that heavy smokers should choose a different ship. “Yes,” he said, without hesitation.

Strict rules from Oceania

Oceania leads also in its penalties for breaking the smoking rules aboard ship:

“Guests choosing to disregard the policy may be subject to monetary penalties – up to the fare paid for passage – that will be imposed to cover the costs associated with the required cleaning of stateroom furnishings, verandas and surrounding deck and accommodation areas. Guests are also kindly reminded that the Master of the vessel reserves the right to disembark any guests, without prior warning, for violation of this policy and said guest(s) shall be responsible for all fees levied by governmental or quasi-governmental authorities, all costs associated with repatriation and vessel’s loss of revenues from said forced disembarkation or costs associated with repairs or replacement of furnishings as a result of combustion of accommodation areas.” Other cruise lines also warn of stiff fees for cleaning a room of second-hand smoke.

If you are a heavy cigarette smoker, or reject the idea of being quarantined in increasingly smaller areas aboard ships, you may want to consider cruising on a European vessel, where smoking rules tend to be less strict. (Spain’s Pullmantur ships seem to offer the most opportunities for smoking, as there are few prohibitions.)

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