The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: A 1995 Travel Retrospective

Most cruises went smoothly. We must keep this in mind. Ships, the overwhelming majority anyway, left port and returned to port. Passengers, the sensible ones at least, tanned without getting burned. There were no reports of attacks on cruise directors or ships' photographers. At an ever-increasing number of captains' cocktail parties, the champagne seldom ran out.

But, sadly, there were some mishaps at sea in 1995; enough, in fact, to turn the phrase "cruise control" into an oxymoron - and enough to merit our starting this review of travel in 1995 on the high seas.

The year started off well (or perhaps this was an omen) when Royal Caribbean Cruises announced that it was putting Haiti back on its itinerary. But things quickly started to go wrong.

In February a 14-year-old Canadian boy on the Regal Princess argued with his parents and jumped overboard, drowning 16 miles southeast of Miami.

In April the Sky Princess cancelled a cruise because of engine trouble, sending 1,200 passengers home from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In June the Royal Majesty, 17 miles off course as it sailed to Boston from Bermuda, ran around on a shoal off Nantucket, stranding 989 passengers.

That same month a fire in the engine control room of the Celebration left the ship adrift without power 35 miles off the Bahamian island of San Salvador. For two days, 1,759 passengers experienced no air-conditioning, hot food, running water or flushing

toilets; they could, however, avail themselves of an open bar.

All these mechanical problems, however, did not deter Venice's gondoliers from threatening to attach motors to their boats to better handle the swells in the lagoon.

As if to show that riverboating is just as perilous as sailing the high seas, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co.'s luxurious new paddlewheeler, the American Queen, got stuck in mud during its inaugural journey up the Ohio in June.

Alaskan waters were no sanctuary. Also in June the Star Princess, sailing in the Lynn Canal between Skagway and Juneau, hit Poundstone Rock; in July a fire broke out in the engine room of the Regent Star while the ship was in Prince William Sound.

That same month 70 people aboard the Horizon, which last year experienced an outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease, sought treatment for stomach cramps, diarrhea and fever.

In August Hurricane Erin sank the gambling ship Club Royale, which had left port in West Palm Beach to ride out the storm at sea. The captain and two crew members drowned. A month later, a Tennessee man - a passenger aboard a Dolphin Cruise Line ship during the hurricane - sued the company for what he called a "poor job of storm evasion."

Pearl Cruises and Regency Cruises went out of business.

But despite reports that in 1994 the cruise industry experienced a drop in sales for the first time in 15 years, new ships, bigger ships, kept coming.

In the air

Air travel, by comparison, looked pretty good, though a South African Airways plane had to make an emergency landing after 72 flatulent pigs activated the fire alarms. This incident is not to be confused with the one in which a passenger defecated on a food service cart. (See "Special Mention," below.)

Proving conclusively that we are living in the Age of Endorsement, Western Pacific Airlines began selling ad space on its planes. The first customer, 20th Century Fox, painted an entire aircraft with images of the Simpsons, which is probably better than, say, the hand of King Kong.

The Unabomber threatened to blow up an unspecified plane leaving Los Angeles, tightening security at LAX. Toward the end of the year, all U.S. airports took similar measures, fearing attacks from terrorists.

Philadelphia International Airport was well prepared since biologists from the Department of Agriculture had already appeared on the tarmac armed with rifles after three planes had run into deer.

A baggage handler at New York's JFK was accused of stealing a diamond necklace and bracelet from the suitcase of the Duchess of York.

A pilot for American Airlines was arrested for allegedly fondling a passenger during a flight.

House speaker Newt Gingrich, flying back from Israel, experienced the opposite problem, and on arriving home complained of being snubbed by President Clinton.

The year ended in tragedy, with the deaths of more than 150 in the crash of American Airlines Flight 965 in Colombia - the deadliest accident involving an U.S. carrier in seven years and the first ever involving a twin-engine Boeing 757.

Risky business

Travel, that jolt from the familiar into the unknown, is always fraught with risk. In Cambodia in January, an American woman was killed when gunmen opened fire on the bus she had taken to Angkor Wat. (The government subsequently banned visits to the ruins.)

In July, five Westerners were taken hostage by Kashmiri rebels in northern India; the decapitated body of one of them, a Norwegian tourist, was found in August.

Another Norwegian, back home in the Arctic, was mauled to death by a polar bear, which also injured a Swedish tourist. An Italian guide was trampled to death by an elephant in Namibia. A recent college graduate from Illinois, on his first trip to Europe, was gored to death while running with the bulls in Pamplona.

A busload of South Korean tourists was taken hostage by a masked gunman (a North Korean) in Moscow's Red Square. Sabotage was responsible for the derailment in Arizona of Amtrak's "Sunset Limited," which killed one passenger and injured 80.

A bus accident in Turkey resulted in the death of a 25-year-old medical resident from Boston, whose parents subsequently founded the American Parents for Safe Student Travel Abroad, an organization designed "to alert Americans - particularly younger travelers to the Third World - to dangerous road and driving conditions overseas and to bring pressure on governments to improve roads, enforce traffic regulations and raise driving standards."

Four tourists, including a 13-year-old boy from Israel, were injured at the Empire State Building when their elevator slammed into the ceiling of the elevator shaft.

It was not a good year at the Grand Canyon. In February, seven Taiwanese tourists died, along with the pilot, when their twin-engine Piper Navajo crashed there. A few months later a 25-year-old California man slipped while walking along the rim and fell 500 feet to his death. Then in August, a van returning from the canyon overturned, killing seven of the passengers (all Taiwanese) and injuring seven more. It is not known if their families created a Taiwanese Parents for Safe Tourist Travel in America organization.

Yosemite - which for the first time closed its five High Sierra camps for the summer because of overuse - also saw tragedy. In August, a 27-year-old Frenchman took a dip in a river and was carried over a 600-foot waterfall. A month later a body was found in Bridalveil Creek; it was believed to be that of a Massachusetts woman who had disappeared during a stroll on July 9.

At here at Mount Rainier, two park rangers died while trying to rescue an injured climber.

Heat, hurricanes, hoopla

A summer heat wave scorched much of the United States, and hurricanes rolled across the Atlantic with the force and frequency of tractor trailers on I-95. Several Caribbean islands, along with Mexico's Yucatan and Florida's Panhandle, sustained extensive damage. A volcano erupted on the Leeward Island of Montserrat.

In Paris, painters began a 14-month brush-up of the Eiffel Tower, giving the landmark its 17th coat. The city also instituted a new program, "Bonjour," calling for greater kindnesses toward tourists. One of the instructions was for residents to smile more frequently.

Greece suffered a 25 percent drop in tourism, owing, a survey said, to visitors' impressions that merchants were greedy and service surly. The government of Poland, perceiving a different kind of image problem, hired the former manager of the Sex Pistols to create a media campaign that would make Warsaw "sexy." (We can only assume that Roman Polanski was unavailable.)

Disney announced the creation of a Disney Institute (for "learning vacations"), the addition of a safari park at Disney World, and the building of a second park, themed around the sea, in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Sea World in Orlando unveiled plans for a new park based on Key West. And a New York writer and photographer suggested that Detroit turn its abandoned downtown buildings into "a ruins park."

New York City's Algonquin Hotel dedicated a "James Thurber Suite." Six roach bombs destroyed the New Orleans apartment where Tennessee Williams wrote "A Streetcar Named Desire." In an unrelated event, Elvis Presley's kitchen at Graceland opened to the public.

The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame opened in Cleveland and the Route 66 museum opened in Clinton, Okla. Though the Guinness Book of World Records museum closed after 19 years in the Empire State Building.

Christo wrapped Berlin's Reichstag, using 70 panels of lustrous silver fabric. A fast-food restaurant began serving blini and vodka opposite McDonald's on Moscow's Pushkin Square, and a Planet Hollywood opened its doors on the Champs-Elysees.

Parisians' attempts at smiling were aggravated by summer terrorist bombings that gave way to autumn strikes and labor unrest. With no trains or subways, the Seine's famous tourist boats (Bateaux-Mouches) took citizens to work.

In October, Washington hosted the first White House Conference on Travel and Tourism. President Clinton, in his opening address, urged Americans to show a friendlier face to foreign visitors. A month later the federal government shut down, closing the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument and national parks.

Distinguished travelers

A number of people distinguished themselves as travelers this year. Guy Delage, a 42-year-old Frenchman, swam to Barbados from the Cape Verde Islands. Some questioned the feat's validity because he slept in a raft that drifted at night.

On the opposite ocean, 50-year-old Steve Fossett became the first person to complete a solo balloon crossing of the Pacific. In a less momentous accomplishment, Fort Lauderdale bartender Steve Trotter rode a barrel over Niagara Falls for the second time.

Fidel Castro got around some, visiting Paris (where he was received as a hero), New York City (where he was denounced as a dictator), and Vietnam (where he was lectured on market strategies). He visited the Eiffel Tower and the remains of Ho Chi Minh.

The Clintons were also on the move. Though he didn't go there, the president normalized relations with Vietnam. Hillary took Chelsea to see the Pyramids, and then traveled to Bangladesh, where a village, so honored by her visit, changed its name to Hillarypara. For vacation, the First Family swapped Martha's Vineyard for Wyoming's Grand Tetons, where Bill and Hillary went white-water rafting, though the deputy White House press secretary took great pains to refer to it as "river rafting."

Gerald Durrell, the author of amusing books about his adventures collecting animals for his zoo, died at the age of 70. And Paul Theroux, famous for churlishness, published his sixth major travel book, this one about the Mediterranean, with much of the action taking place on a cruise ship.

Special mention

The Ugly American of the Year was Gerard B. Finneran, 58. The investment banker assaulted a flight attendant and defecated on a food-service cart after becoming drunk on a United Airlines flight from Buenos Aires to New York. A magistrate later barred Finneran, president of TCW Americas Development Inc., from flying without court permission and ordered that he undergo evaluation for alcohol abuse.

And the Traveler of the Year had to be Chessie, a Florida manatee, who last summer traveled as far as the Chesapeake Bay (whence the name), made it this year to Rhode Island, after brief stops at (well, just outside) Savannah, Charleston, Atlantic City and New York City.