THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Even on a cruise ship, pranksters can be too provocative

Email|Print| Text size + By Bruce Mohl
Globe Staff / August 15, 2004

At 3:45 on the morning of July 31, as the Carnival Cruise ship Miracle was sailing into New York Harbor, a warning to abandon ship came over the public address system.

Hundreds of passengers, many of them groggy from sleep, began to head toward their evacuation stations and put on life jackets. Others heard the announcement more clearly and were puzzled that it seemed to be a warning only for members of the crew to abandon ship.

Paul Bushman of Quincy was one of those who was puzzled by the announcement. He was having trouble sleeping so he heard the announcement clearly. He was sure it focused on crew members only. He went out on his room's balcony to look around and didn't see any activity so he stayed put.

''I was scared, though," said Bushman, who is 68 and didn't relish the thought of climbing into a lifeboat in the middle of the night.

Suddenly, a female voice came over the public address system stating that the earlier warning had been a hoax. A few minutes later, the captain's voice was heard saying the initial announcement had been a hoax and that passengers could ignore it.

Many passengers were so puzzled that they gathered in the main lobby until the captain came down and spoke to them personally, assuring them the ship was in no danger.

Jennifer de la Cruz, a spokeswoman for Carnival, said this is the first time an incident like this has ever happened in the cruise line's history.

''It was very thoughtless and cruel on the part of the individual who perpetrated this hoax," de la Cruz said, adding that anecdotal evidence pointed to one or more teenagers as the perpetrators.

She said the public address system was located in a room that was open during the day when it was heavily staffed by ship employees. At night, she said, the room was locked.

She did not know how the perpetrator gained access to the system, but other passengers on cruise line message boards have speculated that whoever did it may have been the sons or daughters of ship staff.

De la Cruz said Carnival has taken a number of steps to secure the public address system on all its ships. She declined to specify what those steps were.

''You can be darn sure that we've taken measures that something like this will never happen again," she said.

Boston tough on drivers Boston is the most challenging city to navigate in the United States, according to a study conducted for Avis Rent A Car, which is using the results to promote its mobile-phone-based navigational system.

In the 75-city survey, Boston was followed by Washington, San Francisco, Baltimore, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Seattle, Providence, and Norfolk, Va. Cities easy to navigate included Salt Lake City, San Antonio, and Las Vegas.

Driving difficulty was judged using comparisons of street layouts, travel time indexes, complexity of directions needed to travel to important destinations, annual delays, and days of snow and rain.

The Avis Assist system is available for $9.95 a day. Using global positioning system, or GPS, technology, it allows a driver to select a destination and have the device tell him or her how to get there. It's like having a navigator in the front seat with you.

I encountered some problems with it when I tested it in March, but Avis says it has made a number of improvements since then.

Air travel keeps risingAll three airports serving Eastern Massachusetts saw passenger traffic rise during the first six months of this year.

Manchester Airport in New Hampshire reported a 10.7 percent increase, as passenger traffic topped 900,000. What's amazing about Manchester is that the growth is real growth: Its traffic did not fall off after the terrorist attacks in 2001.

Boston's Logan International Airport reported a whopping 16.4 percent increase in passenger traffic during the first half of the year, but Logan is still trying to get back to traffic levels that existed before 9/11. An estimated 12.5 million passengers used Logan during the first six months of this year.

T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I., reported a gain of 3.3 percent to 2.57 million passengers during the first six months of this year, well below passenger levels in 2001. Of the three airports, Green has had the hardest time recovering from the downturn in traffic that followed 9/11.

Bruce Mohl can be reached at mohl@globe.com.

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