Aboard the Costa Concordia: One Family’s Nightmare

Our family vacation aboard the Costa Concordia went terribly wrong. Here’s what it felt like to almost go down with the ship.

By Dean Ananias, Georgia Gonos Ananias, Valerie Joy Ananias, and Cynthia Kristin Ananias
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine October 2013

Costa ConcordiaLaura Lezza/Getty Images

On January 13, 2012, the Ananias family—Dean, 66, Georgia, 63, and their daughters Valerie, 32, and Cindy, 25, of Los Angeles—set off on a dream cruise aboard the luxurious Costa Concordia. (A third daughter, Debbie, 30, had just gotten married and was not on board.) Carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew, the enormous vessel left Rome for what was to be a seven-day cruise, visiting ports in Italy, Spain, and France. Instead, the ship slammed into rocks on the first night. As the scene
on board turned to mayhem, here’s how one family survived:

DEAN: While we were sitting in the dining room that first night, the theme song from the movie Titanic began playing. I remember Georgia commenting that maybe this wasn’t the best song to play on a cruise ship! Turns out she was more right than she knew.

A short while later, as we were eating our salads, we heard rumbling, and the ship started vibrating like a mini-earthquake. Next came a loud bang, and the lights flashed. The guy next to us got up and bolted for the door, with his wife hurrying behind. The table on the other side of us was a mess of screaming kids. Over the PA system, we heard an announcement, which at first we couldn’t understand. After sitting through Italian, French, and German versions, we finally got the English one and learned that we had “nothing to fear” because this was just an “electrical problem.” Meanwhile, the ship was starting to tilt, and things were falling off the upper level.

Panicked passengers were pushing and shoving their way out of the dining room, sliding on the slanting floor. We waited for the stampede to clear so we could avoid getting separated.

CINDY: People were freaking out in various languages, rushing for the doors. A waiter motioned for us to take the service stairs up to the lifeboat deck. Things weren’t much better up there. Normally on cruises, there’s a muster drill the first day, where the crew shows you what to do in an emergency. But there had been no drill on this cruise, and now there was zero organization.

My sister Val was convinced we had hit something. She asked Dad, who had been in the Navy, how much time we’d have to get off the ship if it were sinking.

That’s when we noticed that everyone else had life jackets. Apparently, while we had waited for the stampede to pass, everyone had raided the life jacket bins, and now they were empty.

Next: “I knew this crew wasn’t going to do anything extra to help us” »

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