Story last updated at 4:11 p.m. Thursday, August 15, 2002

New hazards await cruise ship passengers
Several years ago, I was spurred to write my first investigative column when cruise ships plying our Alaska waters developed an unsettling propensity to run into rocks and have unscheduled open-flame barbecues involving several decks. It was a hard-hitting expose, and I was subsequently awarded the coveted Putz Prize for egregious journalistic b.s. by The Association of Retired and Severely Demented Editors.

Well folks, every good movie has its sequel and I could use another plaque for the bathroom wall. So, it's time to take another look at the tourist boat fleet and what improvements they have made after all of these years. This report will be somewhat limited in scale due to the fact that my bosses ignored my generous offer to spend the summer cruising on different ships utilizing their expense accounts. Thus, most of my information was gleaned from certain news media that usually has about as much credibility as a WorldCom executive.

First of all, I'm happy to report that the ships have ceased running into submerged objects and docking facilities that subsequently resulted in passengers ramming perfectly good bottles of pale ale into their sinus cavities. It seemed to upset them. Second, they have managed to keep on-board fires down to a minimum by limiting them to the crew quarters, where they are logged as "virtual reality" drills. This is a great leap forward, but it has been hell keeping good help.

Although there have been many improvements, there's still a ways to go. Some cruise lines have been caught with their bilges down, adding various waste solutions to the waters that would disgust a New Jersey rat. I personally think that each ship should have a lap pool below decks, where the officers have to exercise in whatever is going overboard that day.

Oh, let's not forget the newest ocean trip fad, plague cruising. What ever happened to The Love Boat? Now we have The Virus Vessel, where you compete in power hurling instead of shuffleboard, and each customer has a reserved spot on the ship's rail. The only drinks served at the bars are Kaopectate coolers, Maalox martinis and Mylanta Mai Tais. Buffets feature all-you-can-eat saltines, assorted mild broths and gelatins along with multi-flavored Tums and Rolaids in the dessert trays.

As you can see, things have changed a bit. But still I recommend that you follow Uncle Nick's updated checklist of things to note before making a reservation.

Think twice if they ask you to sign a document attesting that you have the immune system of Methuselah and that you will never, ever, look over the stern between 2 and 4 o'clock in the morning.

Ponder a bit more if their decks have theme names like the Tread Water Promenade, the Code Blue Level or The Old Smokey Steerage Section.

Take a train if your pre-sailing catalogue offers to sell you cruise line logo embossed souvenir deck wear consisting of matching designer float coats and survival suits.

Take a plane if the cruise dudes ask you to complete a pre-cruise questionnaire inquiring as to your preference in antibiotics and what concentrated anti-diarrheal over-the-counter med you'd like as an after dinner aperitif.

Pretty simple, huh? Now, let's say you ignore some of the previous warnings because you have the attention span of a weasel caught in an electric fence and still purchase the tickets. Remember, there will still be time to reconsider and flee screaming down the gangway if, during boarding or the on-ship familiarization tour, you notice the following anomalies:

  • When you arrive, the pier is extremely crowded due to the fact that the captain is having a fire sale from the previous cruise.

  • The ship is being closely shadowed by another vessel named the "USS Medic Marine" and a very large tug.

  • The welcoming committee of the on-board staff and crew are wearing surgical masks.

  • Your cabin has I.V. stands and your bon voyage fruit basket contains a flare gun and an emergency locator beacon.

  • There are Haz Mat suits hanging alongside your complimentary robes.

  • You are told that there will be a four-hour delay in the departure time due to the fact that the disinfecting team ran out of industrial strength Lysol and fuel for their flame-throwers.

    Hopefully, this quick overview of the pitfalls associated with cruising on some of the big ships has provided some valuable insight to you. If, for some strange reason, you already have tickets, but now do not wish to go, please give them to me. I will take the trip and videotape the highlights for you free of charge. Is that a deal or what?

    Nick Varney stumbles into this space every three weeks or so, depending on his cruise schedule.

    Roads ordinance worthy

    Regarding Kenai Peninsula Borough Ordinance 2001-47: As a taxpayer and resident of the lower Kenai Peninsula, I feel that it is an injustice for the borough to approve plats with substandard roads. Later, these either become a liability to those who bought lots and have to struggle with their own maintenance or, in many cases, they become a liability to the borough to fix damaged access and provide maintenance, which then is passed along to the general taxpayer.

    It may make it easier for the developer to sell lots with substandard roads, but eventually the bill for maintenance has to be paid by someone. It is grossly unfair to expect taxpayers in other areas of the borough to pay for the maintenance of substandard roads put in by developers. This continues a subsidy for developers.

    Also, at a time when the borough has increased the mill rate for road maintenance to cover the cost of rebuilding substandard roads it has already accepted from developers, does it make sense to permit developers to put in more substandard roads? NO.

    Furthermore, the substandard roads currently permitted in the borough increase the cost on low income residents who can least afford it Since the borough will not maintain all substandard roads, the residents on these roads must pay for the maintenance on these roads themselves. These residents also must pay the road maintenance cost that all residents pay via property tax, thus they pay twice to maintain their road.

    I lived in Anchorage for more than 20 years before moving to Homer 13 years ago. I watched Anchorage go through the same growth patterns, initially allowing paper plats and putting in substandard roads to eventually becoming more restrictive by requiring approval of plats and requiring the developer to take care of the problem by forming a Limited Improvement District. Now the Anchorage Municipality oversees and sets standards for all roads.

    Since the Kenai Peninsula is one of the fastest growing areas in the state, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly should do the same before it is too late by setting uniform standards for all borough roads.

    Before things get even worse, it is vitally important for the borough assembly to approve Ordinance 2001-47. It would be impossible for emergency vehicles to get into many of these areas, especially during spring breakup months, as these previously accepted "roads" have no base, and homeowners must park their cars far from their residences and walk in.

    Standards must be set before the borough accepts the financial burden of maintaining any more of these substandard roads in the future. Please realize the necessity of passing Ordinance 2001-47.

    I urge all borough residents to contact their borough assembly person and the borough mayor to give support for Ordinance 2001-47, written by Mildred Martin.

    Larsen Klingel