JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you’re planning a vacation to the Bahamas or any country outside the United States that is currently under a heightened travel advisory, there are a few things you should know before booking your vacation.
A dream vacation turned into a nightmare for two women who came forward about being raped in the Bahamas after getting off a Carnival cruise ship that left Jacksonville.
Amber Shearer and Dongayla Dobson said they were visiting a Bahama resort for an onshore excursion when staff members offered them cocktails. The women now believe the drinks were spiked with drugs because they said they were barely conscious enough to realize they were being raped.
The Royal Bahama police later issued a statement announcing the arrest of two men accused of raping the women.
In the wake of what happened to the women, travel experts like Scott Lara are urging travelers to become informed about the countries they plan to visit.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the traveler to be aware and understand what’s going on. Yes, the State Department issues advisories. Yes, the cruise lines and those of us in the travel media let others know, but it’s ultimately up to the traveler to be aware of advisories in different countries,” Lara said.
On the state department’s website, the advisories are categorized by levels.
Level 1 means you should exercise normal precautions
Level 2 – you should exercise increased caution
Level 3 – you should reconsider traveling to a specific country
Level 4 – you need to avoid travel
When Shaerer and Dobson got off the cruise ship, they entered a country that was under a level 2 advisory because of reported violent crimes in tourist and non-tourist areas of the Bahamas.
Lara said if you are exiting a cruise ship to go on an excursion, make sure you are not alone.
“When you take a cruise, you go down to the shore excursion desk and you’ll be on a shore excursion with 10, 15, or 20 people. So yes. There is safety in numbers. If you choose to get off a cruise ship or even in an all-inclusive resort to go out on your own or hire a taxi or someone to take you around, you’re doing that at your own risk,” Lara said.
Travel advisories also detail what specific streets and neighborhoods to avoid.
Travelers can also visit step.state.gov to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to inform the nearest U.S. Embassy of your travels.
Carnival issued this statement on the incident in the Bahamas:
“While ashore in Freeport, Bahamas on an independent shore excursion, two guests on Carnival Elation reported to Bahamian police that they were sexually assaulted at a local beach. Our onboard Care Team provided support for the two guests as they sailed back to Jacksonville. Bahamian police are investigating the matter and Carnival is providing our full cooperation.”
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