Leviathans in the Harbor
September 3, 2019 10:11 AM   Subscribe

More and bigger cruise ships are crowding coastal destinations. When is enough, enough? Who gets to decide?

They first noticed the body when the Grand Princess loomed toward the dock in Ketchikan, Alaska. Those tasked with securing the vessel to shore spotted the limp, lacerated humpback whale pinned atop the cruise ship’s bulbous bow. Many of the passengers stepping ashore on the morning of August 9, 2017 were faced with the unfortunate sight. Some raised their smartphones and tablets, others simply shook their heads and continued on to Ketchikan’s museums, shops, and lumberjack show or took excursions farther afield. While they were away, the body was towed to a nearby inlet so the cause of death could be determined. Did the whale die of natural causes before being struck by the Princess Cruises’ ship? Or was it a casualty of increasing cruise ship traffic?

posted by poffin boffin (69 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 


Hasan Minhaj did a segment on the horrors of the cruise ship industry (environmental, legal, labour) recently as well.
posted by nubs at 10:34 AM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Cruise companies are also notorious for exploiting maritime law to the highest possible degree to avoid labour regulation to the maximum possible extent, as well as avoiding almost all legal repercussions for negligence (and they are negligent practically all of the time). As Hassan Minhaj pointed out in a recent Patriot Act episode, until a couple of years ago Norwegian and Royal Caribbean didn't even have lifeguards on their ships, and Carnival still doesn't.
posted by mightygodking at 10:35 AM on September 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


We were in Newport, RI, over the weekend, and a vast Norwegian Cruise Lines behemoth was moored in the harbor. (Like, so big that we could see its blue smokestack over the ten-story resort hotel on Goat Island.)

The ship's shuttle boats were bringing passengers to wander the town, and one of the kids asked whether those were the lifeboats or if there were other lifeboats still on the ship...and the more we looked at the ship, the less sure we were that there are any lifeboats.

I told the kids, "Never go on one of those things: they are just an expensive place to get diarrhea."
posted by wenestvedt at 10:42 AM on September 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


There are always a shitload of cruise ships coming in to Portland, Maine, and I'm always thinking... why. I like Portland, but it's just a somewhat nice coastal town. How boring must where you live be to find this exciting enough to sail around on a giant boat?

Maybe I've lived here too long.
posted by selfnoise at 10:46 AM on September 3, 2019


Earlier this year, a cruise ship crashed into Venice. I'm actually shocked that places like Venice and Barcelona still allow cruise ships. There are plenty of places that might not be able to muster enough popular support to turn away cruise ship money, but Venice and Barcelona are already so overrun with tourists that they're actively making laws to tax and regulate the visitors. If you spend most of the year at-capacity for tourism and you know that large cruise ships are wrecking your harbor, why continue to allow it?
posted by grandiloquiet at 10:50 AM on September 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


the article mentions locals in venice barricading the harbor with boats and forcing cruise ships to dock elsewhere.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:54 AM on September 3, 2019 [13 favorites]


Ahhh I saw that people were protesting, but not that anyone had actually succeeded. Good for them (and also lucky that they weren't mowed down).
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:00 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


. for the whale
posted by scruss at 11:01 AM on September 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


He points to Creek Street, Ketchikan’s colorful, well-preserved former red-light district. It is the city’s most prominent tourist destination and a National Historic District. Locals contend that Creek Street didn’t show up on the port talks or the maps they give out to cruise passengers for years because no businesses were paying the fee, Kiffer says.

Indeed, I have been to Ketchikan on a cruise ship, and I have never before heard of Creek Street.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:05 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Part of me sees the appeal of a luxury cruise: Indulge your sloth and gluttony, see live entertainment, all sorts of recreation at your fingertips for one all-inclusive price. But why does it have to float? Why not just build it all on land? Less chance of disease that way.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:13 AM on September 3, 2019


FOB: That's what they call Casinos (or Branson or ...)
posted by aleph at 11:22 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


But why does it have to float? Why not just build it all on land?

Because you can cross a large body of water without the benefit of a plane. Same reason we've been using boats since Noah.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:28 AM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


But why does it have to float? Why not just build it all on land?

Because the laws regarding gambling and worker protections are much stricter on land, and you can get away with a whole lot more by doing it on a ship in international waters.

We did a cruise once that stopped in both the USVI and the BVI. You can take a ferry from the island we were on one day to the island we were on the next in less than an hour. But we left Charlotte Amalie at about 7pm and didn't get to Tortola until 8am the next day. The boat just sailed around in circles all night so it could keep the casinos open.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:30 AM on September 3, 2019 [16 favorites]


I'm old. Got a chance to go to Venice for first time recently. Local Guide was filling us in on battles locals were having with Cruise Industry.

Big problems => Italy charged extra => locals not seeing any of it

Cruise ship passengers can be among the cheapest tourists they ever see. Wander around all day (and do stuff that pisses off locals) then go back to ship and never even have a coffee. Don't know, but local guide was pissed.
posted by aleph at 11:31 AM on September 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Cruise ships, much like golf courses, are on my list of things that need to die, like, yesterday.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:38 AM on September 3, 2019 [35 favorites]




I had somehow believed that river cruises were a lot less bad on all fronts and now I wonder if I made that up.
posted by jeather at 11:49 AM on September 3, 2019


@jeather I would think the smaller it is the less of these type problems. All the river cruises I've seen have been considerably smaller. Hard to say and YMMV but it seems like you've got a better chance ("less bad") with the river ones.
posted by aleph at 11:57 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


There are days when five or six of these behemoths are in Corfu harbour, their disproportionate bulk dwarfing the two venetian fortresses, hordes crowding the narrow streets of the old town, with no time to build any sort of connection to anything they hastily see, swarming through like locusts, leaving litter in their wake. This anonymous mass invasion is just too much.
posted by helion at 11:59 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Deutsche Welles's DocFilm: Dirty Dreamboats (42½min video)
posted by XMLicious at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


So this article focuses on the so-called "leviathian" sized ships, but there's a trend on the other side as well. Provincetown, MA has a very deep harbor, but a small pier, and yet there was an increase in cruise ship traffic this summer due to the arrival of a new "small" 267 foot cruise ship specially designed to enter smaller ports. These ships can hold up to 200 guests, but also 100-150 crew members.

By contrast, a 650-foot ship only docks in Ptown four times a summer and then one 965-foot ship, which only visits once per summer.


This article
outlines some interesting details regarding the financial benefits of having a cruise ship come to your town.
  • The town receives $1,000 per ship visit & $2.50 per passenger for an average somewhere between $1500-$2000. They come approximately 10 times, so up to $20,000 just for the parking space.
  • The average stay is 24 hours, which the town seems to love, because it gives the passengers time to spend money on more diverse offerings besides just walking around downtown.
You have to wonder about the tradeoffs: Hotels, inns and B&Bs probably want these ships to fuck off. Restaurants see some business, but these passengers typically have meal plans on the ships, so how much are they really spending on food?

So I guess it's like choosing between cholera and plague. You can have one monster ship disgorging thousands of passengers at once, or multiple invasions spread out over the season.
posted by jeremias at 12:06 PM on September 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Cruise ship passengers spending less than first reported: A new study funded by the state of Maine finds that each cruise ship passenger spends $62 here, down from a previous estimate of $110.

'No discharge zone' fight comes to Acadia region: In New England, only Maine allows ships to release treated sewage in most coastal waters, and cruise lines have fought local bans.

Some in Maine fear cruise ship tourism has gone overboard: Bar Harbor, where passenger traffic has risen 257% since 2003, weighs economic benefits against a fragile quality of life.

Long-touted economic benefits of cruise ships far overstated: A 2009 study overestimated passenger spending in Portland by at least half, providing a flawed basis for decisions by Maine ports on accommodating the rising number of visits.

Full disclosure: These stories, all by the excellent Colin Woodard, are from the Portland Press Herald; I work there, but I had nothing to do with the reporting, editing, or photography involved in the coverage.
posted by virago at 12:08 PM on September 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


I think they should have a requirement to provide housing and support to places like Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, devastated by hurricanes.

It doesn't appeal to me; cruise ships have always had a weird classist reputation, even now that they are less so, it's a way to eat too much, have too many people around, maybe have some faux luxury. I guess it would be pleasant to be away from winter cold. I am occasionally tempted by special interest or educational cruises.
posted by theora55 at 12:14 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


one of the kids asked whether those were the lifeboats or if there were other lifeboats still on the ship...and the more we looked at the ship, the less sure we were that there are any lifeboats

Uh ... I mean look, give your kids whatever weird ideas you want, I guess, but: there's plenty of real reasons to not like cruise ships, so why make up new ones out of whole cloth? Like, seriously: yes, a cruise ship from Norwegian Cruise Lines (or any other cruise line) has life boats, and every cruise starts with a drill showing every passenger where their assigned lifeboat is, and unaccompanied minors (e.g. at daycare onboard) have wrist bands to identify precisely where crew should take them if such a thing were needed, etc.
posted by tocts at 12:14 PM on September 3, 2019 [16 favorites]


I can't be the only one who read this as Lesbians in the Harbor.
posted by theora55 at 12:15 PM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Hotels, inns and B&Bs probably want these ships to fuck off

In Provincetown? I seriously doubt it. Finding accommodations to actually stay on the Cape in anything remotely like high season is ridiculously hard, and expensive. There is far less capacity for people to stay over than there is demand. A cruise ship bringing people in to be there for the day isn't reducing the amount of hotel stock being used, it's just bringing more people in that might spend money at a restaurant or store.

By your argumement, Provincetown and Martha's Vineyard hoteliers should also be pissed that ferries bring people over to spend the day and spend money, except that's absurd, they're already full up.
posted by tocts at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Someone may have more details but when Amsterdam started charging more for cruise ships to dock, they just started docking outside the city and running shuttle busses. I was in Amsterdam a few months ago and a massive ship went by us down the IJ - the scale was just unimaginable.

Cruise ships are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tourism problems in Amsterdam.

(See what I did there)
posted by misterpatrick at 12:20 PM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Bill Burr on cruise ships
posted by smcameron at 12:39 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just to close out my derail:

tocts: Uh ... I mean look, give your kids whatever weird ideas you want, I guess, but: there's plenty of real reasons to not like cruise ships, so why make up new ones out of whole cloth?

Don't worry, we agreed that there were actual lifeboats we couldn't see, plus probably also those neat inflatable ones like the oil platforms use, and plenty of other ways to escape, all in addition to the shuttle boats (which we had previously noted have winch points fore-and-aft, and might also be used for escape). I just like to float out ridiculous ideas to make them look carefully that things and refute me: proving me wrong is a great incentive to sharpen their critical faculties.

But I will always tell my kids to avoid cruise ships, though at least one of them saw the monster looming over downtown Bar Harbor, Maine, when we went to Acadia National Park this spring, and the sight alone was enough to convince him without me saying a thing.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:53 PM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


one of the kids asked whether those were the lifeboats or if there were other lifeboats still on the ship...and the more we looked at the ship, the less sure we were that there are any lifeboats

As tocts pointed out, of course they do, but in the 2012 Costa Concordia shipwreck (as well as the Andrea Doria more than 50 years earlier), if a ship lists heavily the lifeboats on the upper side become useless.
posted by Gelatin at 12:55 PM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


So.. the examples used in this story are very local to me. If you know where to look you can see my house in the photo at the top of the article. I had lunch at the Diaz Cafe on Friday. Dave Kiffer, who is interviewed in the story, lives two houses uphill from me. And if I turn away from my desk and look out the windows behind me I can see a cruise ship right now. I'm about 10 stories up the hill but I can still see the stacks and upper structures of one of the ships at the dock over the tops of nearby houses, because they are that large.
He points to Creek Street, Ketchikan’s colorful, well-preserved former red-light district. It is the city’s most prominent tourist destination and a National Historic District. Locals contend that Creek Street didn’t show up on the port talks or the maps they give out to cruise passengers for years because no businesses were paying the fee, Kiffer says.
Indeed, I have been to Ketchikan on a cruise ship, and I have never before heard of Creek Street.
I'm sorry that you missed Creek Street because it is colorful (both visually and historically) and fairly specific to Ketchikan. I love it enough that although I vary the route of my evening walk I almost always try to include Creek Street's couple of blocks in it because even after thousands of repetitions there is often something worthwhile to see, especially in the quiet hours after the ships leave.

I wasn't born here but I've been in Ketchikan for about 16 years at this point. Even after all this time it astonishes me with its beauty (cases in point: last Thursday evening, this Sunday afternoon) and it kind of pains me that for hundreds of thousands of our visitors every year it's experienced as not much more than a jewelry and souvenir trinket mall.

Anyway, it's too late for me to correct jacquilynne's oversight but given the number of people who come every year there's a fair bet that some of you MeFites will wind up passing through some day. MeMail me if you like and I will try to give a local's opinion on what's worth prioritizing during the limited time you'll have while here.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:04 PM on September 3, 2019 [33 favorites]


The Seattle Times just ran an article by Brendan Kiley about riding the Alaska State Ferries from Washington up the Alaska coast.
Nicknamed “the poor man’s cruise,” some tourists ride the Alaska state ferries for thrift and (relative) solitude from the cruise-ship casts of thousands, plus a touch of that riding-the-rails ambience. You can smell the engine grease; see smaller, more remote harbors; feel a little closer to something like a daring expedition.

Camping on deck is cheaper than getting a cabin, and those staying in the Columbia’s 101 staterooms watched us couple dozen outdoor sleepers with mild curiosity as we settled in on deck: some (like me) repurposing plastic reclining chairs as cots in the covered solarium, others pitching tents and exhaustively taping them to the deck.
I find this a lot more tempting than an actual cruise ship. I think I'd prefer to pay for a cabin, though.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:24 PM on September 3, 2019 [21 favorites]


In Provincetown? I seriously doubt it. Finding accommodations to actually stay on the Cape in anything remotely like high season is ridiculously hard, and expensive. There is far less capacity for people to stay over than there is demand. A cruise ship bringing people in to be there for the day isn't reducing the amount of hotel stock being used, it's just bringing more people in that might spend money at a restaurant or store.

It's true, I'm just guessing about Ptown. However, my family was once in the hotel business in an area where cruise ships were prevalent. The issue was actually the one you mentioned: "It's just bringing more people in".

Many hotels, inns, and B&Bs see no benefit from the disruption that cruise ship visitors introduce. Part of what they sell is a level of relaxation, peace & quiet.

Here's a practical Ptown example: many of the cruise ships unload their passengers around 9:30am or earlier. Commercial St doesn't actually have a lot going at that hour, there's only a few shops open and the breakfast places. So what you end up with is this rapid influx of aimless people wandering around looking for things to do and competing, in some sense, for the intangible resources.

A guest decides to stroll down to that quaint coffee shop that just yesterday was a pleasant start to the day, and now there is a line of 40 people looking for their caffeine. From the hotelier perspective, there is no upside here, only downside.
posted by jeremias at 1:32 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


The ferries are an excellent choice -- my favorite way to see Southeast Alaska (I confess I have not been on the routes that serve other parts of the state) -- but their future is in jeopardy.

I've arrived at that point in my life where I probably will be booking a cabin from now on but have put in my time camping in the solarium or in one of the lounges. It's expected and considered a perfectly normal part of travel in SE AK.

Just be aware that the food options available on most ferries are substantially less elaborate than you will find on the cruise ships.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:36 PM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Primed by reading DFW’s awesome essay about how terrible cruises are (“A Supposedly Fun thing I’ll Never Do Again”), I was delighted by what a lovely time Mrs. Cupcakeninja and I had on a cruise to Alaska a few years ago. The behemoth ships hold no charm for us, and we went with a midsize Holland America ship. A++ would (and will) sail again.

The labor situation, environmental catastrophe, etc. are galling, but having anything like an “ethical vacation” seems at this point like a contradiction in terms. Whether it’s the environmental impact of airplanes or the corroding cultural impact of tourist zones, to say nothing of neon-lit water fountain and gambling oases in the desert, the problems are endless. I don’t think that means we shouldn’t try to do better or throw our hands up at actively worse things... but I have been worn down by tut-tutting, especially from friends who say “ew, cruises” and seem to be flying somewhere every time I turn around. (I know this smacks of straw-person-tude, but I’m talking about real people, real conversations.)
posted by cupcakeninja at 1:37 PM on September 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


Here's a practical Ptown example: many of the cruise ships unload their passengers around 9:30am or earlier. Commercial St doesn't actually have a lot going at that hour, there's only a few shops open and the breakfast places

This was my experience cruising - they are set up for really old people who want to be back aboard the ship to dine at 5:00pm and be safe from the local vampires. Most of the Caribbean locations we went to docked at like 7:00am and left at 3:30 or 4:00pm. And there were 2-3 locations that didn't allow cruise ships to dock, so you took 300 person shuttles to shore.

Also the ships don't seem very big when you are on them.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:17 PM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]



I can't be the only one who read this as Lesbians in the Harbor.


That would be the post earlier this year about Olivia cruises.
posted by zamboni at 2:29 PM on September 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


I spent some time in Lisbon last year. You could really tell when the big cruise ships came in--the main sights would be overwhelmed with people milling about.

From this year: Lisbon Choking on Cruise Tourist Boom

Quoting from the article, something I had not heard before: SO2 emissions from the cruise ships [in Lisbon] are 86% higher than those emitted by Portugal's entire car traffic over a year.
posted by gimonca at 2:46 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I may have watched too much public television but those European river cruises appeal to Mrs Ber and I. Just a slow cruise up a river with good food and drink. Am I wrong about this?
posted by Ber at 2:49 PM on September 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Are there not all-inclusive resorts that offer the same activities as cruises, only on dry land, and with bigger bathrooms? I'd just as soon do that, if my goal were to wallow in luxury for a week.
posted by elizilla at 3:02 PM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]




When I was living in Grand Cayman on the max cruise boat days (I think six cruise ships was the maximum) the population of the island could technically increase by 25-30% for the day. Imagine 2m-2.5m people arriving by boat for the day in New York for a scaled up comparison
posted by inflatablekiwi at 4:14 PM on September 3, 2019


I literally just got back from a cruise in Alaska yesterday - on a small Lindblad-NatGeo thing. Boat probably held... 60 people including staff and crew? Fabulous experience, and everyone was very concerned about climate, waste, conservation etc (that was the point of the trip).

Before we boarded in Juneau I saw the enormous cruise ships there, including the Grand Princess and two other ones that hold 2-4 thousand passengers. Utterly astonishing and horrifying. Our boat was like a peanut compared to them — a hundredth the size. See here. The biggest one isn't even in that shot!

As others pointed out, they poured people onto the little strip there in Juneau, as they did elsewhere we ran into them, where they shopped at jewelry shops owned by the tour companies. Mind blowing!

I'm aware a smaller boat with National Geographic staff is a much different experience and more expensive, so the comparison is not apples to apples. But the tourism of the large boats seemed so awful and wasteful and corporate. I realize I'm preaching to the choir as well, but just wanted to throw this in here, having just seen it firsthand. I hope these big cruise companies get slapped, taxed, and regulated by every destination that can afford to do so.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:26 PM on September 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


The price is another thing that can be appealing. I was just checking out a cruise line's Alaska 7 day cruises, and a stateroom with a view can be found for $500 to $1000 per person (even cheaper if you forgo a window with an inside stateroom). That's quite affordable for 7 days with all on-board food and entertainment included with the price.
posted by ShooBoo at 4:55 PM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Are there not all-inclusive resorts that offer the same activities as cruises, only on dry land, and with bigger bathrooms? I'd just as soon do that, if my goal were to wallow in luxury for a week.

There were, but the resorts of the Catskills, et al are mostly dead. Vegas and resorts in Mexico are all that remain, I think. Every year we go to a trade fair in Reno that's mostly all inclusive because the sponsors pay so it's the closest thing I've experienced on land. Whatever we have available on land is usually pay-to-play and thus is not all-inclusive.
posted by fiercekitten at 5:02 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Clearly letting the unwashed masses in on things meant for their betters ruins them, just like with air travel and college.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:39 PM on September 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


Obligatory classic cruise ship review (PDF) by David Foster Wallace, Harper’s Magazine, January 1996: Shipping Out – On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise.
posted by cenoxo at 6:21 PM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


...preceded by Samuel Johnson on ship voyages, Lapham’s Quarterly:
• “No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.”
• “A man in a jail has more room, better food, and commonly better company.”
posted by cenoxo at 6:37 PM on September 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


I’m with y’all on ever taking a cruise. But a boat that holds 2-4K people with air conditioning, movie theaters, showrooms and pools impresses the engineering nerd in me.
posted by herda05 at 7:11 PM on September 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


Hal Mumkin: "Clearly letting the unwashed masses in on things meant for their betters ruins them, just like with air travel and college."

There is more than a whiff of classism in these comments, as people talk about how their 100 person boat is great but the 10000 person boat is so, so awful.
posted by crazy with stars at 9:26 PM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Viking Ultimate World Cruise 2019-2020
From $92,990 | 245 days | 111 Guided Tours | 53 Countries
posted by cenoxo at 11:18 PM on September 3, 2019


I was in Akureyri, Iceland last year during the summer, and one day a cruise ship was docked. The whole valley was filled with smog. I don't mean that you could see the smokestacks going, I mean people were coughing and the sky was dark. In Reykjavik, the cruise ship tourists are invariably the worst. Everyone I know who works in customer service has stories. I'm sure there are good people on cruises, but when 5000 passengers arrive at once they are not the ones who leave an impression. In Isafjordur I watched hundreds of people wander through town (a town with a population of under 2000) early on a Saturday morning, peeking in windows and walking in the middle of the main road. One woman had a table set up selling jam. I did not see anyone buying. In an hour, they were all gone, loaded onto tour buses (who have their own cartel).
posted by Nothing at 2:12 AM on September 4, 2019


Crazy with stars, it’s not just a whiff. As with my comment above, it often feels like a coded version of “ha-ha, look at the poors” from people who could never conceive of saying such a thing... but don’t actually much like those unseemly proles when faced to deal with them. (Which, yes, it’s not the destitute going on cruises, but with deals, packages, prizes, etc. it can be as much people who aspire to petit bourgeois as the arrivistes.)

Whether there was classism in-built in our preference for a “smaller big ship” is something I can’t easily address. In general, though, Hal Mumkin is objectively right on at least some counts. I remember flying when there was “free,” if petite, steak lunch in coach on the plane. Watching Mindhunter, a thing I am repeatedly struck by (...as often in period pieces...) is the characters’ experience of flying. Amenities don’t tend to survive scaling or increased demands for profit
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:56 AM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


I feel like I know how responses to this will go, but for Southeast Alaska at least, I'm not sure you have a tourism industry without the ships. And maybe no tourism there is a good thing; I am sure some folks moved to the most isolated villages there specifically for the isolation. But I will say that I took one of those cruises this summer. The particular ship I was on was definitely too big for the route; we couldn't even dock in Juneau because of high winds one day. But I think people living along and benefitting from the Alaska routes are trying to create a space for tourism that's as ethical as possible. Alaska has done a good job of marketing their made in Alaska and native-made labelling system, and I made a point to shop in locally owned and independent stores. It wasn't hard, and the places in, for example, Creek Street in Ketchikan were lovely and very clear that they took no ship kickbacks (and they all had Dunleavy recall petitions!). People spoke passionately and urgently about climate change and the need for people in the lower 48 to vote accordingly. And if you are remotely interested in taking a cruise anywhere, you will have a much better experience anyway if you book any tours through independent operators, eat in local venues, and shop at the independent businesses immediately past the port area. Plus cruise food isn't very interesting, so you're really only cheating yourself if you only eat onboard to save money.

I will also say that I looked into taking the Alaska Marine Highway, but I only had a week and that route is not efficient, convenient, or especially affordable for a solo traveller. I think I may have just aged out of grungy backpacking. It's nice to just unpack the once. And I can only travel so light; one of my favorite parts of going places is buying local jams and crafts and things for my loved ones.

That being said, so much of the world is being loved to death and I think we are quickly reaching the point of needing a lottery/permit system or something for more places, the way an increasing number of parks have.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:28 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


So I am vaguely in the category of "the poors" as defined here (my family's travel budget per year is maxed out around $2k/5 people all-in, obviously we can save that up over multiple years and it has to do also with our priorities, but just saying that we're not going to be booking luxury stuff like the Star Wars hotel at Disneyworld; also we are definitely not poor) and I actually think this makes cruises worse rather than better, as an overall category of travel. I'm fortunate in that I used to travel for work and have more disposable income so I have actually been some places.

I have been on several cruises because my parents are maniacs, i.e. they live part-time in a cruise port specifically so they can hop on at will. I hope never to go on another one with the possible exception of one through the fjords and I will say that the very best part of the Alaskan cruise I went on was...Alaska. There just wasn't that much of it compared to the hours I invested. In my strong opinion the cruise experience is manufactured, marketed fun, and this concept of "fun" is is highly suspect, artificial, and revolves around actually never having to be in the place you actually are.

Basically, last time I went I observed everything on the ship was great because it was a) there and b) it felt like there were a zillion options, as long as you wanted those exact options and c) if you define a fun vacation as one where you don't have to engage in any real way with any actual people except in the role of servitor and you are treated like a child, then it is a great experience I guess. I mean, yes, collapsing somewhere and not having to think about anything but getting to the dining room on time is appealing; I have felt the appeal, I am not judging that too much.

And yet, that's not actually travel, it's an upscale sanitorium. And it seemed to me like people weren't actually having the time of their lives exactly (although that is theirs to judge.) Add in the human and ecological impact and...urgh.

For me...the ship I was on was so visually confusing in its decor -- carpets, door panels, art, statues, and fixtures all clashing in colour and style -- that my usual sense of expansion of my senses when I travel, where the new things and learning a sense of a different place gives me a heightened awareness...completely shut down. Even standing on deck watching our pollution spew over the ocean, I mean the wonder of the open seas, couldn't keep that sense of wonder I get from going two hours down the road from where I live but really standing there without a ship to get back on.

The food was certainly plentiful but the quality of it was not great, and definitely not anything like experiencing food from a place you're actually visiting, except maybe American which does fit with Alaska. Excess was encouraged over quality for sure. My child was pushed over by adults needing to get to the pasta -- PASTA -- bar, because they had regressed. The entertainment was middling but again, there are no decisions to be made so who cares, right? The sports activities, ditto. I enjoyed having yoga available without having to put shoes on between my bed and the studio. I loved Sitka, I am awed at the parts of Alaska I briefly saw while running up the road from a massive heard of souvenir shops, especially the birds of prey. (I could not afford the extra tours but luckily there were birds everywhere.)

But overall I felt like I was living on candy - little hits of pleasure with nothing to really grow on.

Conversely, this summer I went on a road trip where I burned carbon fuel, pitched a tent and ate in a small diner in a small town and hung out with a guy from the trailer next door who was up in the night with military-induced PTSD (with Trump slogans on his trailer) and I feel like I experienced more life and more understanding of (that part of) America in that one night than I did on 7 days of ship. Yes, there was some effort involved. 18 hours in Philly ditto (1 way streets argh!!!) but oh my god, I love that city. I'm plotting a return on the cheap. My kids are all into the American Constitution now. No, they didn't do 5 countries in 8 days but I feel like they got to both relax...and be stressed and learn and grow. We saw homeless people; they were not cleared off the streets for our arrival. We got lost. We ate some bad meals with the good. Etc.

I mostly don't look down on people who love cruises. There are real issues that are helped by cruises - accessibility, allergy awareness, anxiety management. Except I do a little bit my parents who I think actually have deliberately chosen to make their happy place a place that people serve them fluff all day long because that is kind of where their moral choices have led them despite being blessed with access to more...as is their right, but I would prefer to go another way.

And I do blame cruise companies, all-inclusive megacorporate resorts that make the same resort everywhere in the world, and Disney, for presenting humanity with a concept of leisure that involves not-feeling, not-experiencing, not-seeing, not-communicating.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:32 AM on September 4, 2019 [12 favorites]


I mostly don't look down on people who love cruises.

I'm sorry but yes, you do in fact look down on people who love cruises. Your comment is dripping with condescension for people who aren't vacationing authentically, like good people (i.e. you) do.
posted by tocts at 8:02 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


My parents have done several river cruises in Europe on small boats recently, through a smaller company called Grand Circle Travel. There are 50-100 people on the boat, mostly older, and it's a more respectful approach to tourism: for example, there's a morning lecture explaining the historical context of the area, and optional activities with an educational emphasis.

As a result, the passengers don't pour, braying with entitlement, off the boat and into the city, but instead approach it more like grateful guests.

I have never wanted to do a huge cruise ship trip, but a GCT trip sounds cool.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


Your comment is dripping with condescension for people who aren't vacationing authentically, like good people (i.e. you) do.

Well...yes and no. I think people like my parents (Boomers) have been led to believe that a vacation involves people serving them an endless parade of unlimited food, pretending that they are happy away from their families, and with a middle man (the cruise company) removing any awareness of the exchange of goods and services from them.

They have been to "authentic Samoan villages" from their cruises, for example, as well as quite a number of places all over the world without ever confronting colonialism in any real way, to my knowledge. My mother made up birthday celebrations on our Alaskan cruise because she liked the authentic birthday song the Filipino staff sang for her/our made up birthdays over. and. over. My parents have stated quite firmly that they like cruises because there's never any mess.

They don't represent the average cruise-goer, I don't think...they are kind of the apex of that.

But...yes, I judge cruise companies and the societal structures that have grown them and which have come to represent them quite harshly.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:12 AM on September 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


My parents have done several river cruises in Europe on small boats recently, through a smaller company called Grand Circle Travel. There are 50-100 people on the boat, mostly older, and it's a more respectful approach to tourism: for example, there's a morning lecture explaining the historical context of the area, and optional activities with an educational emphasis.

There are those things on big cruise ships as well, fwiw. The difference between the GCT and a big cruise ship is primarily one of size/volume. Would 40 GCTs pulling into Venice every day be better or worse than one Carnival Horizon?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:14 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


crazy with stars: There is more than a whiff of classism in these comments, as people talk about how their 100 person boat is great but the 10000 person boat is so, so awful.

Does it always have to be classism, though? Personally I generally feel better in smaller crowds. For that reason, I like smaller events/festivals (300 people) better than larger ones (3'000 or 30'000 people). It's more intimate, more personal, less overwhelming.
I'm pretty sure that some of us feel the same way about smaller boats for pretty similar reasons.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:45 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


bowtiesarecool: ...so much of the world is being loved to death...

CruiseMapper > Cruise Ship Tracker (zoomable)
posted by cenoxo at 9:49 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


jacquilynne: Would 40 GCTs pulling into Venice every day be better or worse than one Carnival Horizon?

*back away, hands raised* Hey now, I am the guy who lies to his kids to get them to stay away from cruise ships -- I already drew my line in the sand. :7)

But your point is well taken. The environmental impact is probably the same, but I like to think that the 40 GCT boats are going to deliver people who have a smaller destructive impact on the area they visit, and hopefully even do some good (albeit only economic good) while they're there.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:59 AM on September 4, 2019


“The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad.” ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad Quotes
posted by cenoxo at 3:40 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


There are always a shitload of cruise ships coming in to Portland, Maine, and I'm always thinking... why. I like Portland, but it's just a somewhat nice coastal town. How boring must where you live be to find this exciting enough to sail around on a giant boat?


I love ships so much that when I was visiting Seattle I’d just take ferries to ride the ferry, but I think a big cruise ship would be less interesting.

An elderly relative, known by me as The Sea Hag, takes a couple cruises a year. Even before she became incapable of walking she never got off the boat. I think it is a conspicuous consumption thing—it’s certainly not climate since she lives in Florida (low taxes, which she’s now finding out equals no social services—awww). It is a puzzlement!
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:43 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I live in Skagway, Alaska, a cruise ship town way up at the northern end of Lynn canal, we are the northern most stop for the ships. For seven months of the year we are a town of about 900. For five months we have ships in every day, and on a four ship day (the most we can accommodate) we can have up to 13,000 visitors. If not for tourism this town would barely exist. It would still exist, because we have the northern most deep water port that Yukon has access to and they need the port for incoming petroleum products and outgoing ore from the mines. Unlike most of the towns in Southeast Alaska, we have a road to the interior. We used to have a regular functioning railroad, but the road killed it and now it is a tourist attraction, recently bought by Carnival Corporation. For those of us who live here year-round, our relationship with the cruise ships can be kind of fraught and our nerves have been tuned up recently because of that purchase. Carnival is notorious for being pretty evil and all the people that live here especially with those good union jobs with the train are getting a little nervous.

This is the first year we have had the super giant 4000 passenger ships giving us an extra 75,000 visitors this year and it is really starting to stress our infrastructure especially the water treatment plant, and on a calm day it is smoggy AF here in our fjord. And yes we do tax them, but the tax money has to be spent on things that directly relate to tourism. Skagway and Juneau were sued by the cruise companies this last year because we were using the money for community improvements that they felt did not, so it's not just free money. We need to improve the port because the docks are old and the ships are now too big. The town is negotiating with the ships to get them to help pay for it. Can you imagine a town of 900 negotiating with these multinational corporations? My belief is that we are going to get creamed by them, but what choice do we have.

Visitors are starting to complain about how crowded it is here on a big day. They are angry and cranky. They complain about the lack of authenticity. They get into physical fights on the shuttle buses (I am not kidding, I drove one!) My theory is that they spend time on ships getting waited on hand and foot and then have to fend for themselves on the streets and in the stores and they don't understand that this is not Disney. But a Disney boat does come here.

Oh there's too much to talk about.

P.S. Nerd of the North! I lived in Ketchikan 13 years ago, lived there for 4 years. I wonder if we ever crossed paths. I worked at UAS. I miss Ketchikan!
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 9:54 PM on September 4, 2019 [8 favorites]


U.S. Justice Department Fines Princess Cruises $40 Million for Pollution, Cruise Industry News, December 1, 2016:
Princess Cruises has agreed to plead guilty to seven felony charges stemming from its deliberate pollution of the seas and intentional acts to cover it up, according to a statement released this morning by the United States Department of Justice.

Princess will pay a $40 million penalty– the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution, the Justice Department said, and plead guilty to charges related to illegal dumping of oil contaminated waste from the Caribbean Princess.

The plea agreement was announced today by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, Florida.
...
“The pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden, in the prepared statement. “It reflects very poorly on Princess’s culture and management. This is a company that knew better and should have done better. Hopefully the outcome of this case has the potential not just to chart a new course for this company, but for other companies as well.”

“The conduct being addressed today is particularly troubling because the Carnival family of companies has a documented history of environmental violations, including in the Southern District of Florida,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer. “Our hope is that all companies abide by regulations that are in place to protect our natural resources and prevent environmental harm. Today’s case should send a powerful message to other companies that the U.S. government will continue to enforce a zero tolerance policy for deliberate ocean dumping that endangers the countless animals, marine life and humans who rely on clean water to survive.”
Mayor says court ruling against Carnival would hurt Skagway more than any other U.S. port, The Skagway News, Leigh Armstrong, April 26, 2019:
It could be “highly detrimental” to Skagway if Carnival Corp. cruise ships are banned from U.S. ports, Mayor Andrew Cremata said.

A federal judge in Miami has scheduled a hearing for June to decide whether she will ban Carnival’s multiple cruise lines from U.S. ports for allegedly violating terms of a 2017 probation order for illegally dumping oil from its ships into the water.
...
If the judge decides to ban Carnival’s cruise lines from U.S. ports, “You could argue that no port would be more impacted than Skagway,” Cremata said.

Carnival currently has one cruise ship that stops in Skagway, but the case would impact other Carnival owned cruiselines, like Princess, Holland America, Seabourn and Cunard. In total 15 ships bound for Skagway would be barred from port if the ban were to happen.
Carnival to pay $20M in pollution settlement, KHNS-FM Community Radio [“Serving Haines, Skagway and Klukwan”], Claire Stremple, June 3, 2019:
Carnival Corporation accepted a plea deal to pay a $20 million fine and submit to more stringent oversight of environmental compliance for violating the terms of felony probation violations.

In April [2019], U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz threatened to ban Carnival Corporation from docking at U.S. ports for violating the terms of probation from a previous pollution conviction. In 2016 Princess Cruise Lines dumped oily waste in the ocean and covered it up, resulting in a $40M fine and five year probation. The company acknowledged violating probation by dumping gray water and food waste, a known threat to marine life.

Almost half a million of Skagway’s cruise ship passengers arrive in port on a Carnival Corporation owned ship—be it Carnival Cruise Lines or subsidiaries Princess Cruises and Holland America. The company’s cruise ships make a couple dozen stops in Haines and nearly 200 arrivals in Skagway.

A previous version of this story stated that the company settled a lawsuit. They settled a plea deal.
Carnival to Pay $20 Million Fine, Up Environmental Compliance, Cruise Industry News, June 3, 2019:
Carnival Corporation has reached a deal with federal prosecutors in which the company will pay a $20 million fine and agree to more environmental compliance measures. The deal is subject to approval by a judge.

The company admitted it had committed violations and violated terms of its previous probation [first article above] and its Environmental Compliance Plan.

Carnival will reorganize and enhance existing policies as they related to its environmental management system, including improvements to its waste management, according to court documents....
Big ships, big money, big deals.
posted by cenoxo at 7:06 AM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


The Guardian picture essay.
A rising tide: ‘overtourism’ and the curse of the cruise ships.
posted by adamvasco at 6:34 PM on September 16, 2019


It is not classism to criticize the impact these ships have on the environment and the harbor towns they visit. That's ludicrous. The people being impacted are typically leagues worse off than the tourists, no matter how "cheap" their vacation is. While the people paying $1,000 a head (plus airfare) might be worse off than the people paying $20,000 a head, they're still significantly better off than most of the towns they're flooding. If you can afford to go on vacation, you are a part of the global elite. End of sentence, full stop. I assume no one needs the links about Caribbean poverty especially with all the hurricanes in the news. Arguing that it's classist when people say they do not want their lifestyle dictated by mega corporations is nuts. The people in impacted communities most certainly have less economic power than the cruise ship lines, and it is not classist to say that the way of travel they promote is unsustainable, wasteful and disrespectful.

Using phrases like "the unwashed masses" distracts from and muddles the issue. Tourism is not an inalienable right. People do not have a right to visit anywhere they damned well please just because it exists. Particularly not when it has a disproportionate and negative impact on the people who actually have a vested interest in the place because they live there. This is not a classist objection. Wanting clean air and clean water - those are inalienable rights.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:07 AM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


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