2013 Cruise: Embarkation and Security Theater

After attending Mass on Sunday morning and getting everything packed and ready, Melissa and I headed up to the cruise terminal at the Port of Baltimore and arrived there around 1 p.m. You may recall that we had an awful experience with the Baltimore cruise terminal a couple years ago, where we ended up having to stand in line in an uncomfortably hot building for hours. It wasn’t nearly that bad this time around.

The line for passing through security—which is manned by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)—was the trouble spot this time around. There were a mere four metal detectors for thousands of people arriving for their cruise at roughly the same time. It took us a solid hour, give or take, to make it through security. And while I was allowed to keep my shoes on, they have now started doing the idiotic ‘take your laptop out of the bag’ thing at the Port of Baltimore.

Security Through Absurdity

Laptops, tablets, e-readers, smartphones, and most other modern electronic devices are essentially identical under an x-ray. There are slight differences in size, and even slighter differences in internal components, but they’re all basically the same thing tweaked for different usage patterns.

Devices like the Microsoft Surface, Asus Transformer, and others blur the line between laptop and tablet, taking on elements of both. Even when there is a clear delineation, as there is between the Apple iPad [tablet] and Apple MacBook Air [notebook], you’d be hard-pressed to tell me which was which on an x-ray image. The only real giveaway is the presence of a physical keyboard. Other than that, they’re basically the same.

The lines between modern smartphones, tablets, and laptops are so thin that they are practically invisible . . . and yet, according to the TSA, laptops are a dire security risk and must be scanned separately from the bag that contains their chargers and accessories. Tablets, on the other hand, are totally safe and can stay nestled in your bag. And your smartphone, which is probably far more powerful than any six-year-old laptop, doesn’t need any special attention either.

The ‘take your laptop [but not your tablet or phone] out of the bag’ rule is the clearest indication yet that what we see in airport security lines is not well-reasoned precaution, but meaningless theater.­

But I am happy to report that the TSA did manage to catch a hardened terrorist trying to board the cruise . . . a sixty-plus year old man who unintentionally left a single round of small-arms ammunition in his jacket pocket (and happened to be going through security around the same time we did). Of course, since a round of ammunition is a perfectly legal thing to have in your coat pocket, the TSA should have just confiscated it and let him go about his business.

Or, even better, ignore it. A single round of ammunition can’t hurt anybody if there is no gun to put it in. But the poor guy had to spend a good forty-five minutes being interrogated, and have all of his bags thoroughly hand-searched, before he was finally allowed to proceed on to the ship.

There was also a good-sized collection of confiscated material behind a TSA desk, which I could see from the check-in line. It contained dangerous weapons like open water bottles and Lysol spray and a box of wine and (I kid you not) a clothes iron. Boy, do I feel safe since TSA is on the job!

Anyway, after we made it through the security theatrics line, things proceeded much faster. We only had to wait another fifteen or twenty minutes in the check-in line, and then another fifteen-or-so minutes before we were actually allowed to board the ship. It was a much longer process than I remember at other ports, but still much better than the last time we sailed out of Baltimore . . . and this time the building was kept at a reasonably comfortable temperature too.

The Carnival Pride

Once on board the Carnival Pride, we proceeded straight to our room, which was an outside room with an ‘obstructed view.’ In our case, about half of our window is filled with a lifeboat and related equipment, but we have a pretty good view of the ocean through the other half. The room’s layout is comparable to other Carnival and Holland America ships we have been on, and is more ‘open’ and usable than the one on the Royal Caribbean ship we sailed on last time.

After settling in, we did a quick tour around the ship, which has a French renaissance theme and is filled with French artwork and decor  We also signed up for a ‘Behind the Fun’ excursion, which a coworker of mine highly recommended. It is an excursion that is only advertised on-board, and is only open to thirty-two people (two groups of sixteen, on a first-come first-served basis), that takes you to the parts of the ship that guests usually aren’t allowed to go . . . the bridge, the galley, the crew quarters and cafeteria, etc. The excursion itself actually took place on Friday, so stay tuned for the details.

We then had the standard lifeboat drill and embarked from Baltimore before heading to dinner. This time around we ended up at a table for eight, and we had a lovely dinner with two other couples. One was a pair of first-time cruisers from Maryland, and the other a pair of repeat-cruisers from Canada. Nice folks all-around. We also found out that Melissa will be getting the next day’s menu ahead of time, so she can place an order and the chef can be sure not to set off an allergic reaction.

And after dinner, we pretty much went straight to bed. Both of us had been staying up late over the week leading-up to the cruise so we could be sure everything was buttoned-up and ready to go . . . so a good night’s sleep was long overdue.


Scott Bradford has been putting his opinions on his website since 1995—before most people knew what a website was. He has been a professional web developer in the public- and private-sector for over twenty years. He is an independent constitutional conservative who believes in human rights and limited government, and a Catholic Christian whose beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. He loves Pink Floyd and can play the bass guitar . . . sort-of. He’s a husband, pet lover, amateur radio operator, and classic AMC/Jeep enthusiast.