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Chicago-based Entertainment Cruises is using a stimulus grant "to help prevent and detect terrorist attacks," according to the Department of Homeland Security.


Dinner cruises: Protecting America’s borders

by Ryan Craggs
Feb 18, 2010


CRUISE2

Ryan Craggs/MEDILL

The Spirit of Chicago and Odyssey II are among Entertainment Cruises' fleet.

Related Links

Stimulus CheckupEntertainment CruisesDHS grant programs directorate information bulletin

From the "Stimulus Checkup" report

Dinner Cruise Company Gets Terrorism Prevention Money ($943,190)

Few security analysts see the dinner cruise industry as a key vulnerability in our nation‘s efforts to combat terrorism. But, that did not stop the Department of Homeland Security from awarding nearly $1 million to the privately-held Entertainment Cruises, LLC, to step up its security efforts.

The Chicago-based company has 23 vessels in eight cities, including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which according to the company, help to provide ―superior dining and entertainment experiences for its guests. One ship, the Spirit of Boston, which received stimulus funds to pay for an alarm and surveillance system, is a three-deck vessel, boasts ―chic table settings, two dance floors and the ―largest outdoor patio deck on Boston Harbor.

In an interview on the company‘s blog, Dan Russell, General Manager for Chicago, said that his favorite cruise ship was the Mystic Blue:  “It is very laid back atmosphere (which I really need right now), casual, good food. It‘s like a lounge on the water.

Entertainment Cruises vice president, Gary Frommelt, noted that it was unusual for his company to get terrorism-prevention funding, “We feel that we‘re really a low threat for a terrorist incident. But the stimulus was a nice perk.”


Certain words strike fear into the hearts of Americans: Osama bin Laden. Anthrax. The Oklahoma City bombing. al-Qaeda. Hijackers. Dinner cruises.

Dinner cruises? 

Apparently that’s what the Department of Homeland Security thinks.

The department gave approximately $1 million in federal stimulus money to Chicago-based Entertainment Cruises, which runs dinner cruises in Chicago and a handful of cities on the East Coast.

No one at the department wanted to talk on the phone about the grant, but they emailed a rationale for giving a dinner cruise company close to $1 million: 

“The DHS grants that Entertainment Cruises applied for and received will help prevent and detect terrorist attacks; increase the use of tamper-resistant biometric credentials for workers in secure areas; and improve emergency communications at sea and in ports.”

The email went on to say, “The vast majority of America’s critical infrastructure and key resources are owned and operated by the private sector. Accordingly, the port security grants support the efforts of both public and private sector partners to strengthen our entire maritime security system.”

The nearly $1 million awarded to Entertainment Cruises was among the 100 “questionable projects” included in the Stimulus Checkup report issued by U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in December. The report details projects ranging from an anti-capitalist, socially conscious puppet show to a project that pays Buffalo residents to keep a daily journal of their malt liquor and marijuana use. 

Entertainment Cruises appeared as reluctant to talk about the award as the Department of Homeland Security was. After repeated phone calls and a visit to the company office, Entertainment Cruises responded in an email about their plans for the $1 million.

“As a member of the maritime community” the company said it was using the grant to “meet new maritime security regulations for passenger vessels” and “to increase and improve security for the added safety of our passengers and crew.”

The McCain-Coburn report said Entertainment Cruises vice president, Gary Frommelt, noted that it was unusual for his company to get terrorism-prevention funding, “We feel that we‘re really a low threat for a terrorist incident. But the stimulus was a nice perk.”

According to reports on Recovery.gov, the federal Web site tracking expenditure of stimulus money, the grants to Entertainment Cruises did not save or create any jobs.    

Neither McCain nor Coburn responded to requests for comment.