For perspective on the Carnival Triumph situation -- the ship dragged back to port after a harrowing and unhygienic five days of floating in the Gulf of Mexico without power or flushing toilets -- we contacted two cruise industry experts: Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor at Cruise Critic, and Jay Herring, author of "The Truth About Cruise Ships" and a former senior officer with Carnival Cruises.

How common are engine room fires and other meltdowns on cruise ships?

Herring: Cruising is very safe. These incidents are very rare -- maybe once a year, once every couple of years. You're more likely to be hurt driving to the cruise ship terminal than are you actually being on a cruise.

Brown: Engine room fires happen, but 99 percent of the time passengers aren't affected.

How serious was the situation?

Herring: On a scale of 1 to 10, Costa was a 10. (Last year's Costa Concordia accident in Italy caused 32 deaths.) This is a 5 or 6.

Did Carnival handle the disaster well?

Brown: This is a textbook case of how not to react. Nothing about the handling of the situation seemed well done.

Any heroes deserve a mention?

Brown: The crew kept everyone safe. The cruise line had better be generous to the crew.

Do you think Carnival's compensation package -- reimbursement for the trip, credit toward a future cruise and $500 -- is fair?

Herring: I think the compensation is more than adequate.


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Will this event affect future bookings?

Brown: Not only virgins (newbie cruisers) but people who have cruised before are skittish. It's a challenge to get past it. But if we can get past Costa, we can get past this.

Any advice for people now nervous about cruising?

Brown: Any ship designed after 2010 must have two engine rooms. If you have any concern, go for a ship that has this new feature.

Would you still sail Carnival?

Brown: I would take Carnival tomorrow. This was an aberration.

-- Andrea Sachs, Washington Post