Cruises have become a large part of the tourism industry and are a popular choice amongst many who want a vacation that encapsulates news sights, sounds and the ability to sit back and relax. It sounds pretty good, right? But behind this veil of paradise is the reality that cruises tends to have the largest environmental impacts in the tourism industry, and do little to bring benefits to destination country.

Large vessel cruise ships are essentially floating all-inclusive resorts. They have everything you’d ever need aboard their ship. But although this may sound convenient, upon closer inspection, it means that little benefits flow into the destination that you're travelling to. Precisely because they have what you need on board, it provides little incentive for tourists to spend money on land. This means when you purchase something on board the cruise, the cruise company adds to their profits; money which otherwise could have gone to a local vendor or the local economy. This is especially true of meals. Meals are often part of your ticket, so why would you spend more money at a local restaurant in town? All this demonstrates the lack of benefits flowing into the destination when aboard a cruise.

The environmental impacts are also quite staggering. Cruise ships emit more carbon emissions per passenger than many long haul flights. This is obvious when you take into account the massive amount of energy required to power the cruise ships and all the amenities on board. According to the Climate Outreach Information Network, Cunard’s flagship vessel, the Queen Mary II emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile as opposed to 0.257kg for a long haul flight. Adding to the emissions is the fact that cruises can carry thousands of people, while flights are limited to a few hundred.

As bad as the CO2 emissions can be, pollution and waste are even bigger problems on cruise ships. A cruise ship with 3000 passengers (not including crew) can generate up to 30,000 gallons of human waste and 255,000 gallons of grey water a day. Cruises are required to have water treatment systems on board, however grey water (often produced by laundry) is often discharged directly into the ocean. Black water (toxic waste water often containing diseases and pathogens) can be lawfully discharged a mere 3 miles off shore. 

Damage to ecosystems and wildlife continue to be a problem for cruises as well. For example, cruises often operate in tropical regions rich with coral reefs. Corals are a sensitive species of Cnidarians that do not adapt well to changes in their environments. Pollution, waste, direct impact via a ship’s anchor and an increase in the water’s acidity can all lead to coral bleaching, the process in which the corals stress out and release zooxanthellae causing them to die and turn white. Coral reefs are the basis of the marine ecosystems in areas where they are found. Life in those waters begins with coral reefs. And when they die off, the entire ecosystem will begin to collapse. Additionally, slower-moving marine mammals such as Humpback Whales are often struck by cruise ships.

Cruises offer little to no cultural value. Chances are, you’re not likely to experience anything close to the culture of your destination country while on a cruise. And the time you spend on land to do just that is often very limited. You’re also not likely to interact with many locals as you’re surrounded by other tourists.

Sustainable travel is meant to respect the environment and support local cultures, people and economies. Unfortunately traditional large vessel cruises do not meet these criteria. We hope that the industry begins to make a shift towards a more sustainable future, but the progress has been slow and expensive to implement. For the time being, you will not see any large vessel cruises offered on FairAway Travel.