On June 10, 2007, my wife, 12-year old son, 10-year old daughter, and I set sail on the Carnival Conquest from Galveston, Texas. Being that this was our first cruise, we were looking forward to spending some quality time together as a family. The first stop was Jamaica, when we opted for a Carnival excursion, “Lethe Village Tour”. We selected this tour to show the kids traditional Jamaican culture. We had no idea how this decision would change our lives forever.
I am a 17-year police veteran. Before my current profession, I proudly served in the U.S. Army. Safety and protection is my number one goal with anyone, especially with my wife and children. With this in mind, I attended the excursion meeting that was held on the ship by the Cruise Director.
During that excursion meeting, the Director's words were… “In order to see the true Jamaica, you have to take a Carnival Shore Excursion." He added, “The Carnival Shore Excursions are guaranteed safe." He explained that in the port city, we may encounter some undesirables, attempting to sell marijuana or pressuring us to take their cab. He explained that the Red-Tag cabs were the only registered cabs. He continued to persuade us to take a Carnival Excursion. There were no other warnings mentioned, other than the marijuana and high pressure taxi-sell. After the meeting, I was confident in my decision to take the Carnival Excursion, because of the “guaranteed” safety.
We arrived in Montego Bay on June 13th, where my family and I boarded the excursion bus, along with 13 other passengers. Two of the passengers were my father and step-mother. My father, who is 67 years old, has had two major heart attacks with the last one in July of 2006. This was the perfect relaxing excursion for him.
We drove approximately 30-40 minutes into the country of Lethe, Hanover. Along the way, we observed extreme poverty. The people looked at us as though they were angry with us for some reason.
We arrived at the plantation and we learned a few things about bananas and coconuts. Then, we boarded a green and yellow trolley, connected to an old John Deer tractor. The excursion tour guide had turned us over to an elderly Jamaican plantation worker who pulled the trolley further into the plantation, surrounded by lush, thick jungle vegetation. I was relaxed and felt secure, as my family and I observed the flowers and tropical plants. Dalton had given a presentation on the banana plant and was pulling us through the plantation, towards a botanical garden to view some flowers and listen to a kindergarten class sing to us.
As we traveled further through the plantation, we approached a side-road to our right that was also surrounded with vegetation. It was here that our world came crashing down… Two men ambushed our trolley, approaching with guns and a knife. They immediately took control of our lives, pointing a pistol at the driver and ordering him to stop. Visibly shaken, the driver exited and pleaded for the men not to hurt anyone.
The two gunmen began yelling. They approached on opposite sides and were either madmen or on some form of drug. My two children were sitting behind my wife and me, next to my stepmother and my father.
One of the gunmen placed an 8" revolver in my 10-year-old daughter’s face. My daughter was crying and pleading with the gunman not to kill her. I have never felt so helpless in my life! I still get physically sick thinking about this. As visions of my daughter’s life passed before my eyes, all I could think of was how badly I wanted her in my arms. The gunman kept the gun in her face, as he stole her disposable camera and all the belongings of the other passengers.
These gunmen were jerking passengers around, as they removed the valuables. One gunman took his knife and cut a camera strap from around the neck of one of the passenger. There was no doubt that these guys were violent and on the verge of hurting one of us. They continuously called us “***** foreigners” and it appeared as though they were angry about us being there. Once they had stolen everything, both gunmen disappeared back into the jungle, leaving my family and all the other victims visibly shaken, violated, and terrified.
The driver brought us back to the starting point of the plantation, where we exited the trolley and told other tourists of our nightmare. They all loaded back onto their buses, and were taken back to the Carnival Conquest, leaving us at the plantation still in fear and shock.
The other plantation workers were upset about us being robbed and grabbed their machetes and some sharpened cane poles. They wanted to go back to the robbery site to search for the gunmen. I had never seen the sharpened cane poles, but later, I figured that they knew it was dangerous around there or they never would have had the weapons. As a police officer, it was easy to tell that these guys must have known this area was dangerous and they needed these weapons on-hand for protection. Carnival should have known, as it was a Carnival Excursion.
Approximately 20-minutes later, the Jamaican police arrived. One officer took shorts statements from all of us; however, I wrote out a statement for him. He kept saying that more officers were supposed to come and help with statements. They never showed, but I believe all available officers were out searching for the robbers. The officer told me that they were notifying the local villages to look out for the suspects. I did find out that the owner of the Lethe Village Tour Plantation was running for the Ministry of Tourism.
After approximately 3 ½ -hours, we were transported back to the Carnival Conquest, where some of the crew shuffled us back onto the ship and into a debriefing room.
After the debriefing, we were released back to the cruise. We began hearing from Carnival employees, regarding their knowledge of how dangerous Jamaica can be, and their reason for not leaving the ship. Every crewmember to whom I spoke stated that they do not leave the ship, because they fear for their safety; yet, Carnival allowed us and other passengers to leave the ship, guaranteeing our safety?
The next day, I was told that the two gunmen tried to exit the jungle approximately 2 miles from the plantation around 10:00PM, where they encountered the Jamaican Police and tried to shoot their way out. One gunman was shot and killed and the second one got away.
Carnival brought a Crisis Intervention Therapist onboard, who met with us. She remained on the ship, all the way back to Galveston, Texas. At the end of the cruise, she recommended that our family seek further counseling, in order to deal with this traumatic event. My wife and I agreed. A letter was also delivered to our cabin from the CEO of Carnival, apologizing for the incident. It also stated that a Guest Relation Supervisor would be standing-by for our phone call on Monday morning, June 18th. When I called on Monday to inquire about the additional counseling the supervisor was not available. I left a message.
When the supervisor returned my call, I expressed my concerns and asked how we would go about having Carnival pay for our counseling. She stated that she could not confirm whether or not Carnival would pay for the counseling, and would not have an answer on this for a few days. This infuriated me even more, thinking that if it had been THEIR 10-year old girl, who had a gun shoved in her face and forced to plead for her life, they would have immediately said, “Yes” to my counseling request. At this point Carnival began handling this incident as ‘strictly business’. There was no compassion whatsoever!
My wife continues to shake at times, so much that she has been unable to return to work. My son claims that he sometimes sees one of the gunmen in our house. My daughter has broken out in hives. I, for one, get so angry and upset that I physically shake and then cry. I go back and forth. I am nauseated just writing this story. We all have nightmares in relation to this incident. It is ridiculous and totally neglectful on the part of Carnival that we were not given the true facts and information about Jamaica. I would never have subjected my family to this if I had received this valid information, in advance, and I will now live with that decision forever.
I wish to strongly encourage anyone, who is considering traveling to Jamaica, to STOP! It is not worth the risk. They prey on the tourists, knowing that they carry money and other valuables. Unfortunately, the local citizens earn approximately $50-$100 dollars a week. The two gunmen, who robbed us, escaped with approximately two to three thousand dollars. This is the equivalent to someone robbing a bank in the USA. This will only continue. They have no choice. The poverty is too bad.
I am hoping to get this information out to the public and caution all tourists, who are contemplating a cruise or trip to Jamaica. It’s not safe! I want to warn you, because Carnival will not.